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.


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.


Italian Wild Rice Asparagus Soup

Italian Wild Rice and Asparagus Soup
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 12
  • 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
  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


Beet Burger with Chipotle Cashew Hummus

Beet BurgerGet a delicious start to Spring with my Beet Burger with Chipotle Cashew Hummus.

This burger is simplicity itself: instead of making a patty with grated beet and other ingredients, I take a thick, juicy slice of roasted beetroot, saute it with some seasonings to add more flavor, then sandwich it between layers of caramelized onions, hummus flavored with chipotle chili,  and crisp, clean greens. All of this goodness goes on my whole wheat burger bun. Yum.

This is the perfect recipe for the grill: you could marinate the slices of roasted beet in the seasonings and then saute them in a grill wok, adding yet another layer of smoky flavor.

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Beet Burger

The hummus recipe, which I’ll also share with you, is a simple variation on the traditional recipe. I love adding chipotle chilies to various sauces (remember my Pasta with Chipotle Cashew Cream?) and this time, instead of tahini, I decided to use roasted cashews in the hummus. The experiment really worked– I know I’ll be making this amazing hummus again and again.

I won’t chatter on too long today because I can’t wait to share the recipe with you. It involves a few steps, but none of them is hard. If you try this once, I guarantee you will be making it again. And again. I know I will.

Beet Burger

Beet Burger with Chipotle Cashew Hummus
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • For Beet Burger Patty:
  • 3 large beets, scrubbed clean
  • Oil to spray
  • 2 tsp minced or crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Ground black pepper and salt to taste’
  • 1 tsp dry sage
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • For Chipotle Cashew Hummus:
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas. If using canned, drain thoroughly.
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced
  • 12 roasted cashew nuts
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • For Caramelized Onions:
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Leafy greens like baby spinach, baby chard or baby kale. A mix of spring greens would be great here also.
  • For the buns, follow my Whole Wheat Burger Buns recipe but shape into 12 buns instead of 6. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23 minutes.
  1. Make the beet patties:
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Place a large piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet, spray with oil, place the beets inside in a single row, and fold the foil over to cover completely. Crimp the edges of the foil to seal.
  4. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted in the thickest part of the beet goes through cleanly and without resistance.
  5. Remove the baking sheet and let it cool for 15 minutes, then open the foil and let the beets cool until they can be handled.
  6. Peel the beets by rubbing the skins off, then slice into ¼-inch-thick slices.
  7. Heat the olive oil in a wok or large saute pan.
  8. Add the garlic, sage and salt. Add the beets and salt and saute for about five minutes.
  9. Sprinkle on the lemon juice and set aside.
  10. Make the chipotle cashew hummus:
  11. Place the garlic pods in a small piece of aluminum foil sprayed with oil, roll up the foil into a ball, and roast with the beets for 30 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, discard the skins and reserve the gooey, roasted garlic.
  12. Place the chickpeas, cashew nuts, roasted garlic, chipotle chili and salt in a food processor. Add enough water to make a smooth paste that’s thick enough to smear on a burger bun. Blend into a really smooth paste. If you are using the extra virgin olive oil, pour it in through the feed tube as the hummus is blending.
  13. Make the caramelized onions:
  14. Heat the oil, add the caramelized onions and a pinch of salt. Saute for a minute, then add the ground black pepper and sugar.
  15. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become golden brown and soft. Turn off heat and remove to a bowl.
  16. To build your burger, cut a whole wheat burger bun in half, smear some hummus on the base of the bun, layer on some greens, then a beet patty, and finally some caramelized onions. Smear some more hummus on the top half of the bun before capping off your burger.
  17. Dig in, and enjoy!

Beet Burger

Easy Chana Masala

Chana MasalaI bought this huge can of chickpeas from the warehouse store the other day– bigger than two people can possibly use up in a week’s time, but a six-pound can for under $3 just looked too good to pass up to someone who thinks she could eat chickpeas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert. Well, maybe.

So I got home, promptly opened the can, and did the easiest thing I know to do with chickpeas– made hummus. I still had a ton of chickpeas left over so they went into a box and in the refrigerator (this is common sense but don’t store your leftover canned goods in the can) and there they waited for a couple of days until I started to squirm at the thought that those idle chickpeas might be planning to go rogue on me. And although I am not the least wasteful person you’ll ever know (I am embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true), the idea of wasting all those delicious chickpeas just didn’t sit well with me.

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Chana MasalaSo into the kitchen I went and cooked up some chickpea burgers that I shared with you the other day. I still had a truckload of chickpeas left over. And then, as I wondered what to cook for our friends Willis and Naomi who were coming home for dinner this past weekend, the light bulb went off. Chana Masala, of course.

Chana Masala  is a surefire crowd pleaser — no one who loves Indian food does not love this tangy, spicy, tomatoey dish. It is also a supremely healthy dish, packed with protein and fiber and low in fat. And for the time-starved cook Chana Masala can be a blessing, especially if you have the right ingredients on hand.

I had shared a chana-masala-from-scratch recipe with you on this blog long ago, and that post includes a recipe for Bhatura, a delicious, puffy fried bread often served with Chana Masala. This recipe is almost as good for half the trouble and time. The only thing you need to chop up is onions and coriander, if you are using it as a garnish. You do need ginger and garlic paste, but here’s a time-saving tip– if you cook Indian food often, take some time on a weekend or a slow night to make some ginger-garlic paste and store it in the refrigerator.Here’s a simple recipe for that:

Ginger-Garlic Paste: Take 4 heads of garlic and a 4-inch piece (or pieces adding up to 4 inches) of ginger. CHop roughly, place in a blender and whiz, adding just enough water to keep the blades moving. You should have a thick paste at the end of it. Scrape it all into a mason jar and store it in the refrigerator where it can sit for weeks, saving you time every day.

Now on to the main recipe, for my quick and easy Chana Masala. It’s a keeper. Our friend, Willis, a carnivore for sure, eyed it, proclaimed it “Bill Clinton food,” then proceeded to devour it anyway.


Chana Masala

Easy Chana Masala
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Curry
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (if you decide to take the long way and cook with dry garbanzo beans, soak them overnight and cook with enough water to cover until they are really tender. It should take about an hour or more. You want the cooked chickpeas to be mashable)
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock (preferable) or water
  • 1½ cups canned, pureed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 heaping tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (use less if you want less heat)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp chana masala powder (You can find my recipe on the DIY spice blends page and you can make a batch and keep it for future use, but even easier, you can also buy this at the Indian store.Use garam masala if that is all you have on hand)
  • 1 tsp aamchoor (mango powder, also at the Indian store)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ½ cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they sputter, add the onions.
  2. Add some salt and saute the onions over medium heat until they start to get brown spots.
  3. Add the tomato puree and the powdered spices, including the turmeric, cayenne, paprika, chana masala powder and aamchoor. Let the mixture cook until the tomato puree is a few shades darker and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Scrape so it doesn’t burn. This should take about 5 minutes.
  4. Add 2-3 cups of the vegetable stock or water and chickpeas and let the curry come to a boil. Lower the heat and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Add salt and sugar. If the mixture is too dry, add more stock or water
  5. Garnish with the coriander and serve hot with rotis, bhatura or rice. I love it with some simple pilaf rice
Nutrition Information
Calories: 135 Fat: 2.3 grams Sugar: 6.6 grams Fiber: 6.5 grams Protein: 6 grams

 Chana Masala