When I was going to culinary school, one of our instructors would frequently remind us that all of the fuss, the immense preparation for a 7:30 am cooking lab, the pressure, the precisely laid out plans of attack, the possible fear of inadequacy; it was all just for the sake of food. If you screwed up, the end result would still be edible and quite nourishing, perhaps with a touch more salt, the faintest splash of acid and a bit more time on the fire next time though.
And that was fine. The phrase certainly helped take some of the pressure off; not in a way that made you apathetic either. It just helped your hands to shake less when you were tying up roulades, mindful of the distant but aware gaze from the chef professor. You wouldn’t over-think it if you decided to throw a whole clove in to steep with a savory apple, onion and balsamic jam. You knew it would work and it freed you up to focus on your small dices, sautes, blanches, on and on. It helped us to consider the bigger picture.
The “just food” mantra has worked its way into my home cooking too. Making soup used to be a rather daunting task to me. I always thought that soup was the one simple thing that showed real kitchen prowess. It was certain proof of authentic experience. Thinking of its transformative nature, its ability to turn inexpensive items, scraps, leftovers and afterthoughts into something comforting and whole, a dish with renewed purpose and character, was intimidating as hell to me.
When it finally kicked in that it was just food, an infinitely variable nourishing substance no matter the end result, the soups started tasting a lot better. I take my time, taste as I go and linger over the pot so as to take it all in with every languid stir. I’ve also realized that most soups can be quite forgiving if you take a wrong turn, use too much spice or absentmindedly forget to stir up some rapidly browning onions. It all comes out in the wash. Everyone eats and feels warm and everything is certainly quite good with a decent crust of bread.
This is my go-to lentil soup. It’s a bit smoky and rich with pimenton, tomatoes and olive oil, studded with the usual celery, carrots and onions, earthy and lemony from thyme and tarragon. It is a simple serving of food that has great effect. Rather easily thrown together but complex and rich. Economical but satiating and full of grace. It is something that every home cook can (and should) tuck under their sleeve for when the deep winter chill sets into the bones and the variety of vegetables winds down to a bit of a minimum. It embodies the benefits of preparation and self-care and it makes your heart feel warm, maybe going a little bit past the criteria of “just food.”
favourite lentil soup with tomatoes, tarragon and garlic
serves: makes a big pot
notes: I know a 1/4 cup sounds like a lot of oil, but this makes a giant pot of very nutritious food. The volume of oil helps to stew the onions, garlic and herbs so that they effortlessly melt into the soup, meshing all of the flavours seamlessly (and rather luxuriously). Alternatively, you can use less oil and add spoonfuls of stock gradually to prevent sticking/over-browning.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, small diced
4-5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
2 tsp dried tarragon, crushed up with your fingers a bit
1 tsp smoked paprika
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and small diced
1 large stalk celery, small diced
1 28 ounce can dicd tomatoes
1 1/3 cups french lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
6ish cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium low. Add the onions and saute for at least 10 minutes, stirring them around frequently. It shouldn’t sizzle too loudly, this is a slow-cooking kind of process. When the onions are quite soft, add the herbs and paprika and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the garlic and stir until very fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until all vegetables are soft.
Add the can of tomatoes and stir to coat vegetables. Cook out the tomatoes for about 5 minutes so as to remove some of their raw, tin-y-ness. Add drained lentils and stir to coat in the vegetables, oil and tomatoes. Add a splash of the stock and scrape any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add remaining stock, give the whole mix a good stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, return pot to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Check in on the pot once in a while and give it a stir. Season to your liking
Serve hot with a bit of fresh herb on top and a nice crust of bread.
Just a little quickie today. I have a guest post over at the gorgeous, gracious and brilliant Happyolks today. Kelsey’s blog is one of my favourites and I was completely flattered when she asked me to pay a little visit over there for a recipe, a little tale and some pictures (secret time: when that little “similar to you” tab on twitter pops up and her handle is listed there, I feel pretty cool). If you haven’t already, I encourage you to subscribe to her blog. Her observations are profound, but very real and relatable. Plus she totally high vibes on the plant-based, whole grain, real food ideology with killer, but approachable and deeply satisfying recipes. How could you go wrong?
You can check out the guest post here.
So in my last post I was talking about how the whole juice fast experience really put me in tune with my body and what it needs food-wise and whatnot. Guess what? My body needed pancakes. On a weekend winter morning, something a bit heartier than a kale, ginger and cucumber juice is… let’s just say it’s ideal. Plus, now that I’ve transitioned out of the juice fast and into solid foods, a healthy indulgence was surely deserved on my part. These little golden beauties did not disappoint.
The batter is crazy stiff and looks kind of weird because of the chia gel, but once you lay it into the hot pan with some coconut oil, it starts to smell awfully familiar in the kitchen. These are like thin, little carrot muffins with a bit of an orange aroma and slightly crisped edges. Slather some tangy, lime-y and rich cashew cream on there with a drizzle of maple syrup and you get full-on breakfast indulgence not unlike the ubiquitous cake slice of choice. I wouldn’t say that cashew cream is low fat by any stretch, but it’s reasonable to say that it’s a more nutritionally virtuous option than sugared up cream cheese icing.
In general, I’m pretty crazy for breakfast. It’s easily my favourite meal and one that I never, ever skip. There’s a whole ritual with the tea and that first piece of fruit and the effort to make the meal balanced in the early hours. Everyone has their routines and preferences. When you work as a server or cook for a brunch shift at any restaurant, you see and experience this so strongly: the infinite styles of eggs, sweet or savory dishes, sauces on top or on the side, ketchup on everything!, light or dark toasted white, wheat or rye bread, just toast and butter!, fruit, potatoes, milk, cream and sugar, smoked fish, preserves, yogurt and granola, sausage or bacon?, salads, beans and rice, scones, croissants, doughnuts, indulgence!, but then.. sensibility! It’s very individual and all of the personality and life tied up in it is pretty interesting to me. I feel like I’m learning something about the person as I listen to their precise order. If someone makes these pancakes for your breakfast, you yourself will learn that a) they are the coolest person ever and b) they probably really like you. Another reason to not skip breakfast, am I right?
carrot cake pancakes with tangy lime cashew cream
special equipment: a blender or food processor
notes: Grate the carrots on the fine side of the grater for a more refined textured pancake. Oh, and if you don’t have cashews, you can always make almond cream!
1 cup raw cashews soaked for at least 4 hours
scant 1/2 cup water
juice from 1 lime
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1.5 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup white spelt flour
zest of 1 orange (or clementine is delicious)
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 tbsp maple syrup + more for serving
1 tbsp melted coconut oil + more for cooking pancakes
2 cups finely grated, loosely packed carrots
handful of toasted walnuts, chopped
Make the cashew cream: Combine the cashews, water, lime juice, vanilla and lime juice in a blender or food processor and blend/process on high until smooth. Scrape cream into a container and refrigerate until ready to serve (it will firm up a bit).
Stir the ground chia seeds and 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water together until combined. Set aside for 5 minutes or until the mixture gels.
Stir the apple cider vinegar into the non-dairy milk and allow it to curdle for a few minutes.
Make the pancakes: Combine the whole spelt flour, white spelt flour, orange zest, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the maple syrup, coconut oil, chia gel and curdled milk mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in grated carrots gently.
Cook pancakes: Heat a large saute pan to medium-low. Pour in about a tablespoon of coconut oil to get started. Once it’s heated up, place 1/4 cup portions of batter into the pan (not too many at a time!). Cook until bubbles start appearing on the surface and bottom edge looks slightly browned. Flip it over and repeat cooking process. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping cooked pancakes warm in a foil covered plate or in a low oven on a parchment lined sheet.
Serve hot with cashew cream, maple syrup and chopped walnuts.
You might also like…
I’m not one to count nutrients, calories, fat grams etc. I’ve talked about this on here before. I cook and eat based on the season, the colours, the market and where my body/mood is at. It’s a very simple and totally gratifying way to live. Having said that, I just finished a juice fast/feast and I’m starting to look at things a bit differently. Rather, I’m feeling things differently.
I did the juice feast because a) I am adventurous and love challenging myself and b) I totally needed a little recharge/refocus kind of thing in terms of eating. I wouldn’t call it a cleanse but more of a body and mind reset. It makes you look at your eating habits differently and helps you get in tune with your bodily needs a bit. I’m only speaking from personal experience here. I’m sure this kind of thing is so incredibly varied from person to person.
Anyway, I feel good. Like crazy good. I have tons of energy right from the moment I wake up in the morning, amazing stuff. I’ve been slowly working the solid (mostly raw) food back into my routine. A huge role in that whole transition period? Smoothies. Protein shakes. Energy shakes. Whatever you wanna call them, they’re awesome in this kind of situation. There’s a lot of high quality, plant-based protein mixes out there and I have my own personal favourites (Vega, Amazing Meal and Manitoba Harvest are all great). After a run or in the middle of a busy service when you can’t actually stop and eat, it’s a pretty satisfying substitute.
Taking a look at some of the ingredients, I knew I could make a homespun version on the cheap that might just taste a little better. Sometimes the plant-based protein mixes are decidedly… green tasting. So just for the fun of it, I give you a whole food-based, vegan, homemade protein mix that tastes pretty awesome. It’s got hemp, ground almonds, sesame seeds, chia, raw cacao, cinnamon, vanilla powder; all kinds of good things. And! According to my not exactly scientific, but still totally decent calculations, there’s 2.8 grams of protein in one measly tablespoon of the stuff. Not shabby at all if you end up using 3-4 spoonfuls per smoothie like me (up to 10 grams of protein!). Or if you use a dab of natural peanut butter and some almond milk in your little drink concoction, that number’s going even higher. Shall we get pumped? I think so.
tasty, whole & vegan protein mix
note: Just use the cinnamon and vanilla powder in appropriate amounts. Like if you do 1/4 cup measurements of everything, use a tbsp of each or so.
1 part raw sesame seeds
1 part raw, hulled hemp seeds
1 part chlorella powder (or spirulina if it’s easier to find)
1 part ground chia seeds
1 part raw, ground almonds
1 part raw cacao powder (or regular cocoa, although the nutritional/mineral content will be quite different)
an appropriate amount of ground cinnamon (optional)
ditto for vanilla powder (optional)
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and place into a container. Store in the fridge.
So how did you fare over the holidays? Oh me? Pretty great. There was plenty of food, amazing people, kisses, hugs, cookies and unexpected (but still wonderful) gifts around every corner. Celebrating anything with those you love is definitely the best thing. Like ever. I never make new year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve decided that it’s important to infuse that celebratory feeling into my routine a little bit more. If it means cozying up to a book when I have a million other things to do, I am going to fully enjoy that luxury. Or maybe after the work week’s done and I wanna get myself some really fancy lady-level bath salts? No question. It’s happening.
More importantly, I want to put in the effort to make more meals like this. I wouldn’t say that it files neatly away under the quick and easy column. It takes some time and consideration. Even if you buy sheets of pasta (rather than making them), it’s going to be a little time consuming making the filling, making the pesto and crimping the little raviolis shut just so. But it’s worth it! All of your hard work resulting in a delicious, wholesome, totally handmade meal with someone you like. I’m pretty convinced that there’s nothing better in life.
Santa brought me the pasta roller attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer this year (lucky girl, I know) so I tried a spelt and chia seed combo for the dough. The ground chia works as a binder and contributes perfectly to the confetti-like flecked appearance of the sheeted whole grain pasta. The sweet potato and pine nut filling is similar in texture to ricotta- whipped and airy with light, acidic notes of lemon. The kale pesto compliments the sweetness nicely with its heavy, cruciferous flavour. A little sprinkling of buttery toasted pine nuts and you’re poised to have the most celebratory feeling dinner of recent times, guaranteed.
spelt and chia seed ravioli with sweet potato filling and kale pesto
serves: makes 25-30 ravioli (like 4 servings-ish)
special equipment: a food processor
notes: This recipe uses a whole cup of pine nuts. I know they can be expensive, so feel free to swap in the nuts/seeds of your choosing (walnuts would be delicious). Most grocery stores carry decent quality fresh lasagna sheets in the refrigerated section if you don’t have a pasta roller at home (or don’t feel like making an extra hour of work for yourself).
2 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp water, divided
1 cup white spelt flour
3/4 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet potato, roasted or steamed until very soft
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic, smashed
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
1/2 bunch of kale (about 4 stalks), leaves removed
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Make the dough: combine the ground chia seeds with 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water. Give it a stir and set aside until it forms a thick gel. Place the flours, sea salt, remaining tbsp of water, olive oil and chia gel into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until lightly combined (about 30 seconds). Switch to the dough hook on your mixer and knead on medium speed for 2 minutes (or knead by hand for about 5-7 minutes). Dough should be smooth and feel a bit sticky, but doesn’t leave residue on your fingers when you pinch it. Cover and set aside.
Make the filling: scoop sweet potato flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Add the pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse 10 times to break up the nuts. Scrape down the sides and turn it onto low for about 30 seconds until smooth and homogenous. Cover and set aside.
Make the pesto: place the kale leaves, pine nuts, garlic and 2 tbsp of the olive oil into the food processor. Pulse 10-15 times to break up the nuts and chop the greens a bit. Scrape down the sides. Put the food processor on high and drizzle the remaining oil into the feed tube until a smooth paste is achieved. Season to taste and set aside.
Sheet the pasta: cut the dough into 4 pieces. Take one of them and flatten it out, brushing some flour on both sides as you press into it. Feed it through the pasta roller at the “1” setting. Fold the sheet of dough in half and feed through again. Repeat this step 2 more times or until the sheet of dough is uniform width. Adjust the roller to setting 2. Feed lightly floured dough into the roller. Feed through at this setting 2-3 times. Flour the dough lightly again. Adjust the rollers to the “3” setting and feed the sheet of dough through twice. It should be fairly translucent, but not so thin that it would break if stretched too much. The sheets should be about 2 feet long. Repeat with remaining dough. Allow dough to dry for 15 minutes or so before filling and cooking.
Make ravioli: cut pasta sheets into 2 inch squares. Place a little bowl of water near your working area. Place a scant tablespoon of sweet potato in the middle of the square. Dampen two sides of the pasta square with your finger and fold the opposite side of the square over, pushing down on the seams to form a seal. Push down on edges with a fork to strengthen the seal. Repeat until dough/filling is used up. Lightly dust the shaped ravioli with flour, place in a dish and cover loosely with a tea towel until ready to cook.
Cook/plate ravioli: boil a large pot of water with a solid glug of olive oil in it. Place about 10 raviolis in the water at a time. When they all start bobbing at the surface (about 2-3 minutes), remove from the water with a slotted spoon. To serve: place a good schmear of kale pesto on your serving plate, place raviolis on top, put a few dabs more of pesto on top and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.