Tag Archives: soup

Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

For the fifth meal of the Cuizoo Arsenal, I was planning to do a hearty soup.  Because this time of year especially, it is a fantastic one pot meal for cold days.  I thought I’d do something with beans and maybe some sausage, because that is an almost weekly occurrence for us.  But after doing the Black Beans and Rice, I realized you could simply tweak that a bit, add more broth, saute some sausage and you’d be going down a path for a decent bean soup.  I figured maybe I’d branch out and do something a little different and I had a ton of sweet potatoes to use up.  So, I started searching for recipes and the African Peanut Chicken Stew at Simply Recipes caught my attention.  Obviously, I would have to modify it for my daughter’s nut allergies, but it seemed like a flexible recipe that could easily be made into a weeknight meal.

In my version, I used skinless, boneless chicken thighs and skipped the stock making step with the chicken parts.  You could still do this if it is a weekend or you have some extra time.  Because I don’t have stock in the freezer right now and I have decided not to buy the boxed stuff anymore (most are really bad products),  I just made a simple vegetable stock with carrots, onions, celery, turnips, and garlic.  Your own veggie stock is going to taste much better than any store bought stock (chicken or otherwise) — and it is basically free (water and leftover veggies hanging out in your fridge) and has no additives or chemicals.  Quite honestly, even if you don’t have time for that, I think plain water would be as effective as any store bought stock.  The thing that stocks impart (in most cases) is really just salt.  So, in a pinch, just use water and up your seasonings.

I didn’t make it too spicy because of the kids, but that’s easily remedied with a bottle of hot sauce on the table.  My kids were divided — the boy loved it, the girl barely tolerated it (she is picky with soups), but managed to get through her plate because there was dessert on the horizon.  In most cases, I think kids would like it, especially if you focus on the fact that it is “Sunbutter or Peanut Butter Soup.”

And it’s obviously very reasonable to make.  The major ingredient is one package of chicken thighs and the rest you may have in your pantry and fridge already.  Feel free to substitute other nut butters and other seeds or nuts.

As far as flexibility goes, even though it seems very unique, you must think of it as a basic stew.  This one happens to be thickened and flavored with sunbutter/peanut butter and nuts/seeds, but you could just as easily remove the nut butter and thicken with a flour or cornstarch slurry, a roux, beans, heavy cream or simply cooked down white or sweet potatoes.  Other versions of stews that you could make might include a Chicken Corn Stew or Chowder, made instead with white potatoes and corn and thickened with cream or a slurry (and seasoned with Thyme and Sherry); a Thai Chicken Stew, keeping the nut butter, but adding a bit of Thai Red Curry Paste and coconut milk; a Smoky Vegetarian Stew with lots of root vegetables (some mashed to thicken it), Smoked Paprika, with maybe some Corn Bread Dumplings on top; or a Mexican Chicken version with added diced tomatoes, thickened with Masa Harina, and topped with shredded cheese.

I *hope* what you are beginning to see is that you have to look at any recipe as more of a method, where ingredients can be interchanged and experimented with based on what you have or what you like.  While I think you will really like this recipe, I am more interested in you knowing how to look at your refrigerator or pantry and and invent your own versions.  When you get to that point, cooking becomes much more interesting and takeout seems far less attractive.

Quick African Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 6-8

Inspired by Elise at Simply Recipes

1 cup pumpkin seeds (hulled)
3 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5-2 pounds)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger root
5 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
1 large onion
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
5 cups of stock (veggie, chicken, or just plain water in a pinch)
1 cup of Sunbutter (or other nut butter of your choice)
1 t coriander
1/8 t cayenne pepper
2 t salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
Fresh Cilantro
White or Brown Rice (if desired)

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes.  Peel ginger root piece and finely chop.  Peel and finely chop garlic cloves.  Peel onion, cut in half, and slice.  Stem and core the red peppers and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

3.  Spread pumpkin seeds in a thin layer on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven and toast for 8-10 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven.  Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown on both sides over medium heat.  Remove chicken to a plate.

5.  In the same pot, add a bit more olive oil and add chopped ginger, garlic, and sliced onions.  Saute for 3-5 minutes over medium heat until fragrant and slightly softened.

6.  Add the sweet potato chunks, five cups of stock, and the browned chicken thighs.  Mix in the 1 cup of sunbutter (or other nut butter), coriander, cayenne pepper, 2 t salt, and 1 t pepper.  Bring to a boil.  While you are waiting, place toasted pumpkin seeds in a plastic bag and smash them finely (you can use a food processor if you like).  Add 3/4 of a cup of the ground pumpkin seeds to the stew (reserving other 1/4 cup).  When it has come to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. (If you are cooking rice, you will want to start it during this cooking time.)

7.  After about 30 minutes, add the chopped red peppers and cook for 15 minutes longer.  Remove chicken thighs and let cool slightly.  Mash the sweet potatoes in the soup so they are not large chunks.  Shred or chop chicken thigh meat and return to the pot.  Add about 1/4 chopped cilantro and simmer for 5-10 minutes longer.  Serve as-is or over rice (if desired) with additional chopped fresh cilantro and reserved pumpkin seeds.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

I read this article in the New York Times yesterday (Told to Eat Its Vegetables, America Orders Fries).  Here’s a little quote to blow your mind:

For example, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable, Mr. Balzer said. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does.)

Truthfully, I am not surprised by this.  With busy schedules, it does seem difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables.  There are plenty of nights in my house when I ask my husband, “Do we really need a salad tonight?”  I am often hoping for a response that goes something like this:  “No.”  It’s just that washing the lettuce and spinning it dry and making dressing and then washing the salad spinner and washing the salad bowl sometimes seems like an insurmountable task.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but I am pretty sure ours isn’t the only household where this happens.  (And yes, I know I should wash all of my salad greens the minute I bring them home and store them in a bag with a paper towel and then magically use as needed while wearing a Mary Poppins costume.  But I don’t generally do that, OK?)

What did surprise me about this quote is how the study authors defined a “vegetable.”  A single piece of lettuce on a hamburger apparently qualifies as eating a vegetable.  One piece.  A piece that is probably a wilted up scrap of iceberg with more water than nutrients.  If only 23% of meals contain a vegetable serving with those pathetic standards, we are in trouble.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t think putting baby carrots in a vending machine with super cool graphics is the answer.  First of all, the junk food they are competing against is so loaded with fat, sugar, sodium, and chemical flavor enhancers that the carrots are just not going to win.  They’re just not.  Beyond, a super sweet vegetable like a carrot is not the flavor profile we need to develop in kids (and obviously adults too).  We need to get children eating the non-sweet, non-starchy vegetables — things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and zucchini.  When we start our babies out with sweet and starchy things like sweet potatoes and peas, do we really expect them to develop a taste for broccoli as two year olds?

In my entirely unscientific opinion, I think we need to begin training our children’s palates as soon as they begin solid food.  That means pureeing some zucchini or broccoli and as the infants get older, maybe even adding in some spices or a bit of garlic.  If we constantly train them to expect sweetness (in their vegetables, in their snacks, in their yogurt, etc.), I am just not sure how they will ever develop an appreciation for the other wonderful flavors that exist.

Beyond, here are a few ideas for the older ones … My kids have learned to love sauteed garlicky greens (spinach, chard, kale, etc.) and they especially enjoy the fact that they can eat a tablespoon or two and that equals about 2 cups of fresh greens.  Another idea is roasting vegetables.  This works well with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans.  Simply roast at about 425 degrees Fahrenheit after tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper.  The veggies get crispy on the edges and are delicious.  A soup like this is also a wonderful way to integrate a lot of vegetables with different flavors or textures.  You could puree it for the most finicky, but I do think that if we always hide vegetables or puree them away, it is harder for kids to learn to like anything in its normal form.

So, make some vegetable soup and be truly Un-American.  You are not limited by the vegetables that I have used here.  This is what I needed to use up and you can certainly add or substitute based on what is languishing in the back of your crisper.  And by the standard of one-piece-of-lettuce-equals-a-serving, you should be good on nutrients for about a month and a half.

Vegetable Soup with Basil Pistou

Serves 6-8 with leftovers

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, chopped
8 cups of broth (I used homemade beef broth)*
24 oz. pureed tomatoes (I used the Bionature Brand in glass)**
1/2 cup of red wine
2 cups of green or yellow beans, stemmed and in bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups of edamame (cooked and shelled soybeans) or peas, limas, etc.
1 cup of pasta or rice (your choice, I used penne)
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of heavy cream
Olive Oil

Pistou:
Handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 t salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1.  In a large stock pot, heat 1 T olive oil.  Sauté garlic, onions, and peppers until just softened.  Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine and cook until reduced slightly.

2.  Add broth and pureed tomatoes.  Season with 2 t. of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a few red pepper flakes (more or less depending on spice preferences).  Simmer for about 15 minutes uncovered on medium heat.

3.  Meanwhile, make the pistou.  You can chop it finely, use a food processor/chopper, or a mortar and pestle.  Simply chop up the basil and garlic, add the olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.  Set aside.

3.  Add green/yellow beans and pasta to soup.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes until pasta and beans are done.  Add edamame, chopped rosemary, and cream.   Cook for about 5 minutes longer.   Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (You can certainly let this simmer and reduce longer if you like, but we like ours with vegetables that aren’t cooked to death.)

4.  Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a spoonful of the Basil Pistou on top.

*Use a simple homemade broth rather than buying it.  It’s much better for you and much cheaper. Just cover some chopped onion, garlic, a few herbs, celery if you have it, salt and pepper, etc. with water and simmer for as long as you have.  Strain out the solids and use the broth in just about anything.

**Research is showing that BPA is easily transferred to anything acidic in a can.  If you don’t have your own tomatoes to use, buy tomatoes only in glass containers if possible.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Making soup is one of my greatest pleasures.  After you know the basic models and processes, you can do just about anything and use up just about anything.  It is a tremendous stress reliever for me too — before every presidential debate (I get a little worked up over politics), I have to make soup to focus my attention elsewhere.  Plus, it is obviously about the best comfort food you can find.

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And summer time makes me miss soup a lot.  As much as I like the idea of chilled soups (and love the flavors, to an extent), they are just not the same.  Somehow, I just feel like I am eating a giant bowl of salsa or leftover sauce from the refrigerator.  It just doesn’t seem … finished.

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So, the rainy weather (combined with everyone feeling a little run down) gave me the urge to make a summer soup.  Of course, I had zucchini to use.  And leftover corn.  And some beautiful fresh garlic and onions.  I added smoked paprika because I wanted the smoky quality to add depth and contrast to the sweetness of the corn.  From there though, I went in a slightly Italian direction with lots of basil and a parmesan crisp garnish.  But I am actually going to change this recipe up next time and make a Cuban Corn Bisque (with smoky chipotle, garlic, cilantro, lime zest, and a little queso fresco to garnish).

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See what I mean?   You can do anything with soup.  The only rule is that you cook it until it tastes good.  There is no excuse for a bad soup because you can keep tasting and adding to it (very much unlike other dishes).  You cook soup until it tastes good.  Period.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Serves 4

1 large zucchini, cubed (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups of corn
2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
3/4 t smoked paprika
Small bunch of basil, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
Parmesan Cheese

1.  In a large sauce pan or stock pot, heat about 1 T of olive oil.  Saute the zucchini, onion, and garlic until soft (about ten minutes).  Season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

2.  Add 3 cups of corn and a nice handful of chopped basil.  Saute for 1-2 additional minutes.

3.  Add water and white wine, cover with lid, and cook 5-10 minutes more until very soft.

4.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth.  (You can also use a regular blender, however be VERY careful with blending hot liquids.  They expand and can make a huge mess or burn you.  You must do it in small batches and keep the lid slightly off, while covering with a towel, to allow the steam to escape without having the soup splashing out and burning you.  I would strongly suggest an immersion blender … they are great for all sorts of tasks and are not expensive at all.)

5.  Stir in heavy cream and remaining 1 cup of corn.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional smoked paprika.

6.  Garnish with parmesan crisp, additional chopped basil, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

For the Parmesan Crisp: Preheat oven to 400 F.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, thinly slice or grate some parmesan cheese in square shapes.  Bake for 7-8 minutes until very bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool (they will crisp up as they cool).

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Rustic Ham, Bean, and Spring Green Soup

Our spring this year has been very dreary.  And cold.  And cloudy.  Actually that is pretty typical, I think.  We get one sunny day and I am nearly manic — excited to exercise and clean and parent with limitless energy.  But then we have to endure at least three cloudy and cold days because of it.  So I get a little taste of nice weather and then it is snatched away, which sometimes feels worse than if it were never here at all.  These are soup days.  

I was inspired today by leftovers from Easter — a ham bone with some meat remaining, the greens from my Kohlrabi and Radish Slaw, and a veggie drawer that was overflowing with aromatics.  I have to tread very carefully with this sort of soup, because my daughter insists that she hates beans (all forms of white, black, and red beans).  If I tell her we are making it with lima beans (dried ones which taste almost identically to any white bean), she’s cool.  So that’s where I started.  

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This is a fully made-from-scratch soup and takes about two hours start to finish.  However, I should add that most of this time is unattended.  Trust me, I was outside chasing the boy out of the mud, having impromptu playdates, and attempting to get the girl to practice the piano.  (I should also mention that you could certainly make the broth and cook the beans ahead of time which would leave you with less than an hour to just make the soup.)

The best part of this soup is that it reveals a kitchen secret:  you don’t need to soak dried beans.  I have spent the last 15 years of my life thinking I could never use dried beans because I hadn’t soaked them.  It’s not true!  You can simply simmer them for about an hour and you are good to go.

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And as usual, take liberties based on what you have available.  Use more beans if you like to make it heartier (you can even pull some out and mash them at the end to thicken the soup) or add a bit of heavy cream to make it richer.  Most importantly, enjoy with a nice glass of vino and hold out hope that the strange, bright orb in the sky might reappear tomorrow.   

Rustic Ham, Bean, and Spring Green Soup

Serves 6 with leftovers

Step 1:  Make the broth and cook the beans

(Takes about 1 hr, mostly unattended.  Prep your veggies for step two at some point during this cooking process.)

Broth:
1 Ham Bone or Ham Hock (preferably naturally smoked/no nitrates from a local source)
1 onion, cut into chunks
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 t sea salt
Peppercorns

Combine all of the above in a large stock pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and let cook for about one hour.   When finished, strain stock into a colander set over a large bowl to catch the stock while separating out the veggies/bones.  If there is meat remaining on the bone, you can pick it off and set it aside.  (Discard cooked veggies.)

Beans:
1 cup of dried white beans (we used Limas, could use any kind and up to 2 cups if you want more beans)
4-5 cups of cold water (more if using more beans)
1 clove garlic, smashed
Freshly Ground Pepper
1 T rosemary
1 bay leaf

While broth is coming to a boil, put beans and other ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour until tender.  Remove from heat and allow to remain in cooking liquid until ready to make soup (if cooking up way ahead of time, remove from cooking liquid.)  When ready to make soup, strain beans.  

Step 2:  Make the Soup

(Takes about 45 minutes, mostly unattended)

1 large onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced 
1/2 cup of Sherry
White beans (about 2 cups or more, cooked from above)
Ham Broth (6-8 cups, cooked from above) 
2 cups of shredded/chopped ham
3-4 cups of chopped cooking greens (we used Kohlrabi and Radish greens, could use spinach or just about anything else)
Sea Salt, Freshly Ground Pepper, Cayenne Pepper (if you like)
Fresh Rosemary

Croutons for garnish (bread cubes toasted in a saute pan with butter, salt, and herbs)

1.  Saute onions and garlic in a large stock pot or dutch oven in a bit of olive oil or butter over medium high heat.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3-5 minutes until they begin to soften and brown a bit.  Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of Sherry and stir to scrape up any browned bits and allow it to reduce for 1-2 minutes.

2.  Add 6-8 cups of ham broth, cooked white beans, carrots, and celery.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes or so until vegetables are softened. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne if you like (if your soup is not tasting right, it usually just needs salt — soups are salt hounds.)

3.  Add in 2 cups of shredded ham and simmer 5-10 minutes more.  

4.  When ready to serve, stir in 3-4 cups of chopped cooking greens and cook until they are wilted.  Add some freshly chopped rosemary.  Taste and season more if necessary.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes until soup is slightly thickened and reduced, beans are tender (but not mushy), and greens are cooked.  (If you like, you can pull some of the beans out and mash or puree them and add them back into to make a heartier soup.  Or add some cream for richness.)

5.  To serve, ladle in large soup bowls and top with some buttered croutons.  (Or nice crusty bread…)

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Make Your Own Asian Noodle Bowl

 “Make Your Own” anything is always a popular choice with kids.  And in my family of control freaks (the males) and perfectionists (the females), it is especially popular. (I should add that I am a perfectionist because a control freak sounds too negative.  Shut up.  I know they are essentially the same thing).  

Anyway, last night was a “Farmer’s Market” night as Tuesday is our CSA pickup day.  I basically figure out what we are having on the way home from our CSA.  The choices are getting a little more plentiful — radishes (both regular and daikon), greens, spinach, and herbs.  Soon there will be more than I know what to do with.  And because it was so cold here yesterday (we drove home in snow!), I was leaning toward soup.  I had leftover chicken broth and the daikon radishes were making me think about something Asian.  

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I came up with this noodle bowl and the kids really loved choosing their own garnishes.  I forced a few choices by putting the onions and spinach in for everyone — but you certainly don’t have to.  And it was a great, light and easy dinner that warmed up a family of Type A’s on a snowy April day.  

Make Your Own Asian Noodle Bowl

Serves 4-6

  • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced very thinly (or protein of your choice:  tofu, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 4 cups of chicken broth (homemade is pretty essential, but experiment if you like)
  • 2 cups of water (or more broth if you have it)
  • 1/2 cup of sherry
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced 
  • 1 bunch of spinach, washed, stemmed, and chopped into thin shreds
  • 6 oz. pasta (we used whole wheat spaghetti, but soba or rice noodles would be great)
  • 1 t salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
Garnishes
  • Thinly sliced cabbage
  • Carrots, in ribbons (use your peeler to make ribbons)
  • Sliced or grated daikon radish
  • Chopped Green Onions
  • Sliced Fried Egg 
  • Chile Garlic Sauce/Spicy Asian Sauces
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sesame Oil
Prep
  1. Slice pork thinly.  Chop ginger and garlic.  Wash and chop vegetables/garnishes.
  2. Bring broth, water, sherry, soy, ginger, and garlic to a simmer in a stock pot over low heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
Cooking
  1. Increase heat on broth to medium and add in pork slices to cook (or other protein — if using shrimp, however, save those until the end and cook until just done).
  2. After 2 or 3 minutes, add in pasta.
  3. When pasta and pork are done, reduce heat and add in chopped onions and cook for 2 minutes.  Stir in spinach and cook until wilted.
  4. Taste and season with salt and pepper and more soy sauce if needed.
To Serve

Arrange garnishes on plate and put on table with sauces or condiments.  Ladle out a bowl full of noodles, pork, and soup for everyone and allow them to add the garnishes that they enjoy.

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