A Meatless, Unprocessed Christmas (With Pumpkin Soup Recipe)

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Satish and I drove down to LA last Wednesday to spend the Christmas holiday with his sister and family. I had planned to make the Christmas Eve dinner as I really want to create tradition for Satish and I.  This entire  meal was going to be vegetarian, since my sister-in-law is a vegetarian and with all respect doesn’t like meat cooked in her kitchen. Therefore, I had packed up all of my key spices, herbs, oils, and favorite kitchen tools. I almost packed up my most versatile pan, zester, and spatula, but decided I could live without them. (Later, I learned I can’t live without the zester.) It’s tough cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I had plans to visit a farmer’s market in LA for the main ingredients.  LA has at least 120 farmer’s markets happening during the week, so there is hardly no excuse to not go.  I curiously went to the Westwood farmer’s market on Thursday, with high hopes of finding all of the ingredients I needed for the Christmas Eve dinner.  I was disappointed to find that it was a sparse market, but I still bought kale and parsley. Later, I met my dear friend for tea and hot soup. She suggested we stroll through the farmer’s market nearby, but time seemed to slip by at the Jewish bakery as we sipped our tea, flirted with the rows of baked goods, laughed, cried, shared, and reminisced. By the time we were ready to leave the bakery, it was dark and I needed to rush back to avoid being stuck in traffic. Of course, I didn’t listen to our GPS, made a couple of wrong turns, and missed the closest 10W onramp. Awhile ago, I stopped getting upset with myself for making wrong turns and getting lost and started enjoying the new route I created. Due to the wrong turns, I happened to drive by the La Cienega Farmers Market. Since, I was crawling in the local traffic, I got to look into the farmers market held at the parking lot of the La Cienega Plaza Shopping Center. It was beautiful. The sun was already gone, Christmas lights were bright, food trucks, fresh flowers, all amidst red break lights. Peering, I saw berries, popcorn, chestnuts, citrus, and greens. I was surprised by the berries…maybe it’s the mild, spring like weather in SoCal. I was tempted to pull into the driveway and finish shopping for the ingredients needed to make the next day’s dinner. Though, I knew that every minute I waited to get onto the highway would be to risk being stuck in major LA traffic. I sighed and kept driving.  The next morning, I woke up early and rushed to the nearest Whole Foods in hopes of avoiding the last minute mad dash for groceries. I had a simple grocery list: pumpkin, Delicata squash, arugula, eggplant, spinach, ricotta, feta, and Parmesan. The Whole Foods in Santa Monica has a very tiny fresh produce section so I drove to the one in Brentwood. Surprisingly, most of the Whole Foods in West LA are much smaller in general. I nearly had a panic attack when I couldn’t find half of the fresh ingredients that I needed. The problem was solved easily by asking the grocers, who went into the back to get what I needed. (I had not made a back-up dinner menu)…

After getting a great latte at Caffe Luxxe (which was recommended to me on twitter), I was ready to start cooking. The menu was simple but I wanted to give myself ample time and not rush to finish during the end. The starter was a rather easy pumpkin soup spiced with cumin and cinnamon. I had an incredible pumpkin soup at Garibaldi’s earlier this week, which was the main inspiration. I had even made it on Tuesday, using my beloved Fairy Tale Pumpkin. Next on the menu was the Squash and Pomegranate Salad, Kale and Quinoa, and Garlic + Bread (inspired by Little Star Pizza). The main course was a variation of my vegetable rich lasagna. My niece helped me make the pistachio cookies that I made for 18 Reasons’ cookie swap, which would be dessert along with rich, hot chocolate.

Cumin Scented Pumpkin Soup

1 medium Sugar or Fairy Tale pumpkin (4-6 lbs)
olive oil for coating pumpkin
4 large garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons cumin, fresh grounded
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/2 stick of unsalted butter or 1/3 cup olive oil
6 cups water, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Creme Fraiche (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Cut pumpkin in half, discard the stem, seeds and stringy pulp.  Rub oil over the pumpkin, coating well. Place the pumpkin cut side down on the prepared pan. Tuck 2 garlic cloves under the cavity of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin until it is very tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, remove the peel. Cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces so it’s easier to puree.

2. In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the cinnamon sticks. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add in the cumin and ground cinnamon. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.

3. Puree the pumpkin in batches by adding in 1 cup of the pumpkin pieces  with a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add water to reach a consistency of your liking.

4. Put the pot back on the stove-top and heat on medium. Once the soup is heated thoroughly, add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the Creme Fraiche. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

Pumpkin Soup garnished with Sage

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Meatless Monday: Pistachio Quinoa and Butternut Squash

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Since Autumn has really hit San Francisco, I have fully embraced the seasonal vegetables. Pumpkin, squash, persimmons, carrots, potatoes, heirloom beans, grapes, pistachios, and pomegranates. Mondays are my favorite days to cook, because my … Continue reading

Meatless Mondays: Fascination or Obsession

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I am love with farm fresh vegetables, particularly tomatoes. I fell in love with tomatoes when in first grade I got to take home a small tomato plant from a school field trip to a greenhouse. About 15 years later, my parents went on a vacation leaving my brother, a blooming tomato plant, and myself to fend for ourselves. For some reason, I couldn’t let the beautiful heirloom tomatoes  rot on the vine and there must have been a dozen ripe tomatoes.  These tomatoes were shiny, imperfect in shape, large, dark greenish red, and plump. I had an urge to use all of them up at once, so I decided to make an Italian meal. I had no clue on how to make my own sauce, but I had convinced myself that it was easy. I also convinced myself that I didn’t need to look online for methods on making your marinara from scratch. I cut each tomato in half, put them into the food processor, and liquefied them until they became a thin juice….to make a long story short, we had liquidy lasagna for dinner. And my brother and I still swear that it was the best lasagna we’ve ever had.



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Farmer’s Market Find: Cooking Indian Food

We were traveling in the North Coast last week, and came back to a stark empty fridge.  I was happy to return to my FM today and stock up my kitchen with fresh veggies, eggs, cheese, olives, and fruit. It’s also a special week- Satish’s birthday, and I plan to spoil him with food that he loves. Each birthday, I make him an elaborate brunch of all of his favorite things. The first year, I made goat cheese bruschetta, beets salad, mushroom omelets, and a few other things. This year, I am going for the “less is more” theme for brunch. Though, I am going to make a healthier version of Saag Paneer and Chicken Curry for the rest of the week. So off to the market I went with a specific grocery list (usually I just buy whatever appeals to me). Recipe follows.

Today, the fog lifted and it was a full 8 hours of bright sunlight.

Mango Peaches- Ken's Top Notch Produce CCOF

I took a pizza sauce making class recently and couldn't resists these perfect tomatoes. I am actually going to make a thick gravy for the Chicken Curry- Happy Boy Farms CCOF

The fig season is short-lived, so hurry get them fresh while you can!

Beets contain higher amounts of natural sugars, along with beta-carotene and deliciousness. Serendipity Farms CCOF

Other Farmer’s Market Finds:

-Spinach, heirloom tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, salad mix with edible flowers ($15.00)- Happy Boy Farms
-Mixed stone fruit ($5.00)- Ken’s Top Notch Produce
-Beets and strawberries ($5.25)- Serendipity Farms
-Dried olives and lemon ($4.50)- California Olive Farm
-Zucchini and one pint fresh salsa ($6.25)- Swank Farms
-1 large marigold ($0.50)- Hollie’s Homegrown
-Figs $4.00
Total: $40.50

I will have to stop by Whole Foods to pick up eggs, yogurt, and chicken breasts later this week.

Healthier Saag Paneer

I have to note that paneer is not the healthiest food you can eat. Paneer is firm, mild Indian cheese. A three ounce serving contains 300 calories and 15 grams unsaturated fat. Though, paneer is also a good source of calcium, protein, and vitamin A. It’s cheese, to be enjoyed in moderation on occasion. You can substitute the paneer for tofu. The paneer dishes often found in restaurants is made with a lot of heavy cream and ghee/butter, making it unhealthier. I took a traditional recipe found on multiple sites and substituted ghee for olive oil (and drastically reduced the amount) and heavy cream for yogurt. I like to make this dish once in every two months, and keep a block of paneer in my freezer. Paneer can be found in Indian grocery stores and sometimes Whole Foods. I don’t use a heavy hand on the spices and keep the flavors subtle, yet mouthwatering. The key is in the freshness of the spices and vegetables. Indian food isn’t so daunting or a time-consuming process if you have all the basic ingredients at home.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces paneer
  • 2 lbs fresh or frozen spinach (fresh preferred)
  • 1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • Salt and red chili powder to taste
  • 1 tbs cilantro/edible flowers for garnish (optional)

Directions

Simple Indian spices to have on hand: turmeric, coriander, cumin, and red chili powder, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and whole cloves. Store in an airtight container in the dark.

Heat oil in large non-stick pan over medium heat, sautee onions until translucent, then add garlic, ginger, and spices. Sautee for another 2-3 minutes. The spices will brown and aroma will be pungent.

Liquefy washed/wet spinach and yogurt in the blender until it's smooth and creamy. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in batches. Gently pour into the pan of spices, stir well to blend the creamed spinach with spices. Simmer or medium-low heat for 5 minutes.

Chop the paneer into bite sized pieces and gently fold into the spinach. This is a checkpoint for salt. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes. Just beforing turning off the stove, add the lemon juice.

Garnish and serve. Eat with roti, naan, flatbread, or rice. Eat slowly. 🙂

Serves 4

The lemon juice is optional, but really helps to lift up all of the flavors  without making the dish tangy.  The marigold petals add a beautiful pop of color, sweet fragrance, and a taste that makes you want to go back for more. It’s unexpected, looks fancier than it really is and impresses. (Inspired by Hollie’s Homegrown). The flavors only become more intricate with time, so the Saag Paneer will taste even better the next day.  Totally foodie moment: keep the cinnamon stick in the Saag Paneer and suck on it the next day. The flavors will be a sensual party in your mouth. Trust me.

What are your opinions on garnishes and edible flowers?

Meatless Monday: Traveling

It’s a Monday and we are traveling, away from the comfort of our own kitchen or known restaurants. I have been a vegetarian on each Monday and Tuesday for the last 20 something years and will always be- no exceptions.  “Meatless Mondays” maybe a hot trend, but it’s a lifestyle for me. I have canoed, hiked, camped and swam in a rainforest in Venezuela, eating beans, rice, and tomatoes while everyone else ate rabbit. (It was a Monday-Tuesday). I never felt low on energy or deprived. Of course, you do not have to adhere to MM as strictly as I do. I am just saying that it can be done!  A little planning goes a long way for your palate.

1. It’s usually better to dine at an ethnic restaurant such as Indian or Thai, as options are endless.
2. You can call the restaurant ahead and let them know of your dietary restrictions. The chef can make something for you with what they have on hand or can be realistic about meeting your needs.
3. Visit a local market/grocery store and pick up a few ingredients to make something quick and easy, such as a tomato and cheese sandwich.
4. If practical, bring your own food with you.

Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy options in the Northwest for vegetarians. Oh, I ate well on this trip!

Hearty Portebello Mushroom Sandwich- Portage Bay, Seattle

Green waxed beans with tomatoes- Sitka & Spruce, Seattle

Farro- Tilth, Seattle

Homemade Chai at Prado Cafe -Commercial Drive Vancouver

Vegetarian Tacos- grilled egglplants, roasted peppers, garlic and white beans

Didn't even miss the meat in this one- Havana in Commercial Drive, Vancouver

Tostones with chile sauce- Havana in Commercial Drive, Vancouver

Meatless Monday

Giving up meat for one day is not as hard as you have convinced yourself it to be. There are plenty of delicious vegetarian options available; you just have to be open-minded and willing to try new foods. Also, you will not become protein deficient by not consuming meat one day a week. Continue reading