Italian Wild Rice and Chickpea Soup with Asparagus and Leeks

Italian Wild Rice Asparagus SoupWhen you live with a dog, you soon start to see the world through his eyes.

A dog’s world is rich–  infinitely richer than our human one. We appreciate the familiar and we are held back by our inhibitions and all those pesky little things like behaving yourself in public. A dog, with no such irritants holding him back, launches full-scale into appreciating everything he encounters on that hallowed daily ritual called the Walk. And by that I mean EVERYTHING. Plants, twigs, something incredibly delicious you can’t even see but must be there because your dog just spent five whole minutes trying to dig it out of the grass, a fire hydrant, even that bright orange cone left behind by a roadside crew gets a dog’s full attention followed, most likely, by a shower.

But the most attention is reserved, of course, for the animals.

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OpieNot the human animals so much because, let’s face it, humans are boring. All they will do is hover over you and hold out a hand to sniff, and after you’ve sniffed it in hopes that there was a treat in it what do you find? There isn’t. Give me a break, you can almost hear the canine say.

Luckily, other animals are much more fun. There are the squirrels, those little busybodies with their incessant ritual of picking up acorns and oversized objects in their tiny mouths, then carrying them back to little tree holes to stash them away. For dogs a squirrel embodies the final prize: this is the creature they were put on earth to chase. And no matter how many generations of dogs come and go, and how few the squirrels they catch, the mission stays alive and fresh and festering, like a vendetta in a Manmohan Desai movie.

At nearly 12, Opie walks slowly most of the time with lots of sitting breaks, but when he sees a squirrel– at least for a moment– he forgets he can’t run like the wind anymore. He will race away, tugging at the leash, me flying helplessly behind. It’s a picture I am glad you are not around to see.

And then there are the bunnies. Oh my god, the bunnies. Opie loves  bunnies even more so than the squirrels because they’re rarer and therefore worth the exercise. Sometimes, as we drive through the neighborhood, Desi will slow down to point out a bunny with big, beady eyes to our furry little Playboy and it takes all of my strength to stop him from jumping out the window.

The raccoons drive Opie just a little mad, the little ones and the big ones, with their lovely, black-and-white painted faces. They slink up and down the trees in packs and they baffle him because he never quite sees them, but he knows — he just knows– they are around. Arrgh. And the deer, all too visible when they visit our suburban neighborhood at night in groups to nibble on new plants. The best Opie manages, when he spots them, is a bark, because he’s not quite sure what he can do to a creature so elegant and so oversized.

There’s the fox. This beautiful, nimble little creature that stalks the neighborhood at night looking for food. He’s barely bigger than a cat with a pert, intelligent face and a bushy red tail. Each night, after his walk, Opie squats out in the front yard, looking for action. Occasionally I’ll hear him bark and go out to find the fox staring disdainfully at him, wondering why this fluffy creature is making all this noise.

But if there’s one creature Opie is truly besotted with and looks for each time he walks, it has to be Georgia the cat.

Georgia, a gorgeous tabby with huge eyes that talk, is a feral cat who gets fed by just about everyone in the neighborhood, including Desi who is madly in love with her and would have brought her home long ago except that she knows how to put him in his place with a well-timed hiss. Like his dad, Opie is obsessed with Georgia, although for different reasons: he’s not happy she’s eating all that delicious cat food daddy puts out which  should be going into his own tummy by rights. So every time he steps out of the house he starts looking for her, nose working fast, so he can chase her away whereever she is. He’s done it too, many times, but she is just too fast for him.

I am not even going to talk about the dogs here because that’s a long story for another day. For now, let’s just say that there isn’t a doggie butt for 10 miles around that Opie hasn’t sniffed.

So what are you still doing here? Don’t you have anything better to do on your Saturday morning, like sniff the fence, circle a fire hydrant, and squint up a tree to see who might just have scurried up there? Go on, have fun! It’s the weekend.

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Italian Wild Rice Asparagus SoupItalian food is what I cook most often in my kitchen– after Indian food– and that just goes on to show just how popular, and delicious, this cuisine is. And how versatile and easy. No matter where in the world you live, pastas and pizzas are quite likely among your favorite foods.

My love for Italian food perhaps started, like many others, with a delivery pizza that has very little to do with real Italian food, but it was honed and refined over years of  watching public television chefs like Lidia Bastianich and Mary Ann Esposito create magic in their kitchens. The one thing that had always put me off about Italian restaurant food was that everything seemed to be drowning in tomato sauce or in cheese or both. But watching Lidia and Mary Ann taught me that real Italian food can be fresh, wholesome and even healthy. I still love watching them because although neither of these cooks is vegan or even vegetarian, a lot of the foods they make are, to my mind, very vegetarian friendly.

I adapted the Italian Wild Rice Soup with Asparagus, Leeks and Chickpeas I have for you today– a soup with the true Spring flavors of fresh vegetables– from a recipe in the cookbook Lidia’s Italy. Her version is vegetarian, although it contains cheese. I subbed out the arborio rice for some nutty, delicious wild rice and the cheese for some heart-healthy chickpeas. It was divine.

I am going to run now to enjoy my weekend, but first, here’s the recipe. It’s super easy with very little prep and although you need to let the soup cook for more than an hour, it is a labor-free hour because you have to do precisely nothing.

Enjoy!

Italian Wild Rice Asparagus Soup

Italian Wild Rice and Asparagus Soup
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 6 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 15 stalks of asparagus, hard ends trimmed. Cut the asparagus into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 leeks, washed thoroughly and green and white parts cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup wild rice (can substitute with brown rice)
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Instructions
  1. Place the oil and garlic in a large pot over medium heat. Let the garlic cook, stirring often, until the garlic becomes lightly golden.
  2. Add the potatoes and let them cook for about five minutes, stirring ever so often, until they begin to lightly color.
  3. Add the red pepper flakes, season with salt and ground black pepper, add the sage, and the add 10 cups of water or vegetable stock to the pot.
  4. Add the asparagus and the wild rice. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower heat until the pot is gently boiling and let the soup cook, uncovered, for about an hour. If the soup gets too dry (it shouldn’t with this much water) add some more water.
  5. Add the chickpeas and more salt and black pepper, if desired. Ladle into bowls and drizzle on some EVOO– it’s really worth the few additional calories, trust me, and olive oil is actually good for you.
  6. Serve hot with a crusty Italian bread or by itself. This soup is a one-pot meal.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 244 Fat: 3.5 grams Fiber: 9.1 grams Protein: 10.4 grams

 

Black Rice Risotto with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions

Black Rice RisottoThis one’s going to be a short post today because it’s 10 pm now and the only reason my tired eyes are open is because I can’t wait to share this recipe with you: my Black Rice Mushroom Risotto with Caramelized Onions.

You know I am always looking for easy weeknight recipes to brown bag for lunch, and this one is one of my favorites so far. Black rice, if you’re not familiar with it, is a glutinous rice which makes it perfect for risottos. It cooks up purple rather than black and tastes nutty and quite delicious.

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Black Rice Risotto

It’s also a nutritional star — much healthier than white and even its brown counterparts. It’s packed with antioxidants and ounce for ounce it has more protein and more iron.

But forget about all that for a moment and think of this: isn’t it a little special eating something that — if you were born a few centuries ago– you could have only eaten if you happened to be the emperor of China? True story.

So I promised a short post and a short post it will be. Enjoy the recipe, all, and if you feel just a little blue blooded after eating this incredible dish….well, you could always go to London and look up the queen.

Ciao.

Black Rice Risotto

Black Rice Risotto with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 cup black rice
  • 4-5 cups of hot water (vegetable stock is even better)
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 3 medium onion, one chopped and the other two thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • ¼ cup of white wine (optional)
  • 12 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp white miso paste (optional)
Instructions
  1. Make the cashew cheese for the risotto by blending together the cashews and the miso with enough water to make a smooth paste. If you don’t have miso you could use 2 tbsp nutritional yeast, or leave it out altogether and just use the cashew paste.
  2. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a saucepan.
  3. Add the chopped onion, season with some salt, red pepper flakes and ground black pepper and saute until softened, about three to four minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, saute for a few seconds, then add the mushrooms and white wine.
  5. Turn up the flame to medium-high and cook until the wine has evaporated and the mushrooms have taken on a nice sheen.
  6. Add the black rice, season with more salt and pepper to taste, and saute for a minute. Now add ½ cup of water and let it cook until the water evaporates, stirring frequently. Just before the rice dries completely, add another ½ cup of water. Repeat, stirring the risotto frequently, until the rice is cooked but still has a bite to it. This process takes some time, so be patient.
  7. Now add the cashew cheese and mix well. The risotto should have a creamy, slightly soupy consistency when done. Add more salt if needed.
  8. Now heat the remaining 2 tsp of oil in another saucepan, add the sliced onions and sugar with a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions turn golden brown.
  9. Top the risotto with the caramelized onions and serve hot.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 246 Fat: 9.2 grams Sugar: 6 grams Fiber: 3.3 grams Protein: 7.7 grams

Black Rice Risotto

 

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Squares with Peanut Butter Glaze

Sweet Potato Muffin SquaresSpring is finally here and if you need confirmation (which you might if you live here in the DC area where there’s still a bite in the air) you only have to look at the deep pink magnolia blossoms blanketing tree limbs that were bare only yesterday.

This is my favorite time of year, not just because everything’s so gorgeous after a long, bleak winter but because Spring is a reaffirmation of life and a reminder that the cold and the dreary and the dark always gives way to resplendent, perfect beauty.

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Very soon the cherry blossoms will be out on the Tidal Basin and if you’ve never been, you must. A  manmade reservoir that runs along the spectacular Jefferson Memorial, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is home to thousands of cherry trees — a gift of friendship from Japan a century ago. Early each Spring the trees flower, creating a profusion of pink and white blooms that turns an already beautiful landscape into something almost other-worldly.  It has to be seen to be believed.

You know how, when you have something in your backyard, you get blase about it. I haven’t been to see the cherry blossoms in years now, and this year I am putting it on my list of Things I Absolutely Must Do This Spring. That, and keeping my eye open for great yard sales. And giving my brown thumb another workout in the vegetable garden.

What are your plans this Spring?

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Sweet Potato Muffin SquaresI have for you today this delicious — and healthy — recipe for my Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Squares with a Peanut Butter Glaze, which are just about the most perfect breakfast food ever invented. Honest.

I used a muffin batter to make these squares partly because I was too lazy to scoop out individual muffins (yes, I am just THAT lazy sometimes) and partly because I thought the squares would look rather cute.  The squares are all whole wheat and low fat and they are yummy without being cloyingly sweet.

I love sweet potatoes because they put a healthy halo around just about any food.  They are particularly perfect for breakfast and a great way to sneak some nutrition into a kid-friendly snack. The peanut butter glaze complements the sweet potato flavor and adds some more sweetness and crunch to the cakey squares.

Here’s the recipe. Happy Spring, all, and may yours be filled with all the beauty in the world.

Sweet Potato Muffin Squares

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Squares with Peanut Butter Glaze
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 16
Ingredients
  • For the squares:
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup cooked sweet potato, well mashed (about 1 small sweet potato)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1½ cups non-dairy milk (I used soy. Almond milk would be great too)
  • 2 tsp chai spices (I used a combination of cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom and nutmeg. You can go with just cinnamon if you’d rather)
  • For the peanut butter glaze:
  • ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • 6 tsp powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
  2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oil, vanilla extract, sweet potato and non-dairy milk until well mixed.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just until you have a smooth batter.
  4. Grease a 9-inch square cake pan or, for easier removal, line the bottom of the pan with parchment or foil and oil the surface.
  5. Pour the batter into the pan and with a spatula or ladle spread evenly and smooth out the top.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake in the oven 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Make the glaze by whisking together the peanut butter, water, vanilla and powdered sugar until you have a smooth mixture.
  8. Let the muffin “cake” cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake, place on a rack, then pour the glaze over with a spoon, ensuring you spread it evenly.
  9. Cool thoroughly before serving.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 139 Fat: 6.1 grams Sugar: 4.2 grams Fiber: 2.4 grams Protein: 3.4 grams

 

 

 

Mango Curry

Mango CurryThis silky mango curry is a delicious memory of growing up in India’s sultry summers.

Each year, when May rolls around, Indian markets are overwhelmed with a flood of mangoes, lovingly referred to here as the “king of fruits”. Mountains of mangoes in every shape and size add brilliant orange color to an already colorful mileu and their heady fragrance hangs thick in the air. No matter how much of this delicious fruit you eat, it seems you can never have enough.

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Mango CurryBut mangoes are not just eaten as a fruit in India. Raw mangoes are pickled or curried and ripe mangoes are often cooked up into sweet — and more rarely savory– dishes.  It’s one such savory dish I have for you today: a mango curry that goes, in my native tongue Konkani, by the name “Ambya Sasam.”

 My mom would cook up Ambya Sasam several times each summer, and we couldn’t wait to devour it.  She would always use a certain kind of mango, round, with a softer flesh than your average mango, for this curry. I made it with champagne mangoes, which are often the only kind I can find here in the United States, but it was still delicious.

You do want a really sweet mango for this dish– don’t get tempted into throwing in a half-ripe fruit. It’s the chemistry of the sweet mango with the spices that makes this curry so special.

I followed Meera’s recipe — which is very authentic and looks amazing (head over to her blog, Enjoy Indian Food, to take a look) –to make this curry, but I made some small changes. My mom would put in the whole, peeled mango, seed and all, and we would have a great time slurping the flesh off the seed as we ate the curry.  Since not everyone wants to do that — I knew Desi wouldn’t, the little snob– I removed the seed. I also used coconut milk instead of fresh coconut to add a little more sophistication (and make my life easier).

Here’s the recipe, then, and trust me, it’s fabulous. Better still, it comes together in no more than 20 minutes which, in my book, makes it an all-round winner. Serve it up with some bitter gourd subzi and rice for a delightful dance of flavors. Thanks, Meera.

Mango Curry

Mango Curry (Ambyache Sasam)
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Curry
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 3 ripe champagne mangoes. Make two clean cuts on either side of the seed. Make criss-cross cuts in each slice of mango, the way you would to dice an avocado, and slide them off the skin with the help of a spoon, again just like you would an avocado.
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk (the thick part). If you’re using fresh coconut milk, use two cups of the first extraction and skip adding any water.
  • 2 dry red chillies, like arbol or Kashmiri chillies.
  • 1½ tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • A generous pinch of asafetida or hing (optional)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 2 tsp grated jaggery or sugar
Instructions
  1. Grind together the coconut milk, ½ cup of the mango flesh, chillies and ½ tsp mustard seeds. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil and add the remaining mustard seeds. When they sputter, add the curry leaves, turmeric and asafetida, if using.
  3. Add the mangoes and the ground coconut milk paste. Add a cup of water and stir the jaggery or sugar. Add salt to taste.
  4. Heat through until the coconut milk barely simmers. Turn off the heat and serve hot or warm with rice.

 

 

Asparagus Potato Pizza with Kale Pesto

Asparagus Pizza
This past weekend was pretty much a washout here in the Washington area. It rained in the morning, it rained in the afternoon, it rained in the evening and it rained all night. It rained on Saturday and it rained on Sunday. In fact, it even snowed for a couple of hours. Imagine.

Opie, who will not give up his walks for hail or high water, put his best face on the weather. On Sunday morning he went to his favorite trail, got soaked in the rain, sniffed around three other intrepid (and equally soaked dogs) who were also braving the weather, sat around on the slush-covered grass, and came home smelling like… wet dog. It took Desi the best part of an hour and multiple towels to dry him out.

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Asparagus PizzaWith Opie’s walk out of the way and not much else to do, it was time to get cooking. Something warm and comforting, like sunshine for the belly. And what’s sunnier than a slice of crispy, crusty pizza?

I have been dreaming of an asparagus pizza for months now, and I’d been dreaming of a potato pizza for even longer. Why not combine the two, I thought. I love the idea of potatoes on pizza — in fact, there isn’t a better substitute for cheese, in my mind. Potatoes are just as satisfying as cheese, most people love them, and icing on the cake, they are far healthier with no cholesterol or fat to worry about. Yes, they do have carbs but you are not eating so much potato here that you have to worry about that. In fact, there are just about four super-thin potato slices in each slice of pizza.

Besides, you have all that great healthfulness from the kale pesto that also goes on this pizza, making it super delicious and super good for you. In fact, this kale pesto is perfect not just for this pizza but for pastas as well. Try it and you’ll never stop making it.

Gotta run now, but here’s the recipe. Enjoy, all!

Asparagus Pizza

Asparagus Potato Pizza with Kale Pesto
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • For the pizza dough:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package (2¼ tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup or sugar
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • For the kale pesto:
  • 1 packed cup baby kale
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • For the toppings:
  • 20 asparagus spears, woody ends trimmed
  • 4 red bliss or yukon gold potatoes, sliced very thin (1/8th of an inch). Place the sliced potatoes in a bowl of cold water and let them stand 30 minutes.
Instructions
  1. Make the pizza dough:
  2. Combine the yeast, warm water and sugar or maple syrup in a bowl and set aside to activate the yeast.
  3. After five minutes, add the whole wheat flour and a cup of the bread flour along with salt.
  4. Knead by hand or on low speed in a stand mixer until the dough comes together. If needed, add more flour a few tablespoons at a time. You want a smooth, slightly sticky dough. Continue to knead for another five minutes.
  5. Shape the dough into a smooth ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning over once to coat the top. Cover loosely with a plastic bag or kitchen towel and set aside to rise and double, about 2 hours.
  6. Make the kale pesto:
  7. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until they have broken down into a fairly smooth paste. Set aside.
  8. Prep the veggies:
  9. Heat a large pot of water and add some salt to it, like you would for cooking pasta. Blanch the asparagus and the sliced potatoes by adding them to the pot of boiling water. Let them be for three minutes, then turn off heat, strain the vegetables and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
  10. Assemble and bake the pizza:
  11. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to deflate, then let it rest for 10 minutes, covered.
  13. Roll out the pizza dough as evenly as possible to a diameter of about 15 inches. If the dough is too resistant, let it rest for a few more minutes, then roll.
  14. Transfer the pizza dough to a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or, if you have one, a pizza peel also sprinkled with cornmeal. Shape and stretch again with your fingers if the dough shrinks. Using your fingertips, make dimples in the surface of the pizza. This will keep the pizza from forming air pockets when it bakes.
  15. Slather the pesto on the pizza, then top with the blanched slices of potato and asparagus spears. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top, if desired and sprinkle some salt and pepper.
  16. Place the pizza directly on top of a pizza stone in the preheated oven or leave it in the baking sheet if you don’t have a pizza stone. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is all crispy and golden.
  17. Remove carefully, slice, and serve hot.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 320 Fat: 5 grams Sugar: 4.2 grams Fiber: 6.5 grams Protein: 10.8 grams

 Asparagus Potato Pizza***

More pizza recipes at Holy Cow!

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