Sunday, February 20, 2011

How about a nice pot of chicken soup?

Okay, so, no matter how healthfully you’re eating and regardless of the amazing response of your immune system, if you have kids, you’re going to get sick sometime. It happens. I, too, have lain in bed with a stuffy nose and foggy head and that familiar tickle in the back of my throat and repeated the mantra, “I am not going to get sick. I am not going to get sick. I am not going to get sick….”

Yeah, right. So much for mind over matter.

That’s where having a reliable alternative to chicken noodle soup comes in handy. And, yes, I’m talking about miso soup.

Miso is amazing stuff: it’s a good source of tryptophan (that feel-good, sleep-inducing amino that knocks out half of America every Thanksgiving), manganese, vitamin K, zinc (critical to immune functions), copper, and even omega-3. Besides, it’s salty, and that’s always good for soothing a sore throat.

Please don’t get all squeamish about the so-called seaweed (and, fyi, we’re calling them “sea vegetables” now). If my 4- and 7-year-olds can slurp up giant bowls of this stuff and like it, so can you. Eat those veggies! Drink that broth! You’ll feel better!

Oh, and do make a big batch and freeze at least half of it in one cup portions. This recipe makes way more soup than you think you’ll ever need, but one day you’ll thank me (i.e., on the morning when you wake up repeating your “I’m not going to get sick” mantra and would rather pull out your own fingernails than cook).

By the way, this is a great way to start your day anytime. Many a morning I heat up a frozen cup of miso soup for breakfast; it warms me and makes me feel good and healthy and possibly even virtuous. Add an apple and I’ll bet you’ll be able to keep the doctor away — at least for a while.


(A big pot of) Miso soup

4 c. vegetable OR mushroom OR “no-chicken” broth
8 c. water
1/2 c. dried wakame, cut into small strips or pieces (you may want to use kitchen shears, as wakame can be tough to cut with a knife)
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
6-8 T miso paste
8 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ dice

Soak wakame in cold water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring stock and water to a simmer in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add carrots and cook until tender. Add drained wakame and simmer one minute. Add scallions and simmer another minute. Remove the pot from the heat.

Remove 1 cup of stock from the stockpot and set aside, then add the tofu to the stockpot. Stir the miso into the reserved cup of stock until it has dissolved. Return the mixture to the stockpot. Taste and add more miso (using the same method for dissolving) if desired. Cover the pot and steep 2 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 servings

Note: If you aren’t sure where to find miso paste, start with the refrigerated “healthy foods” section of your well-stocked supermarket or health store. Miso paste is usually sold in small tubs. Whole Foods stocks several varieties; any will work with this recipe, though I usually favor white miso.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hmm, it looks like mac and cheese....

We’re members of a local, organic CSA, and our last load of the growing season always includes lots — and LOTS — of squash, pumpkins, and other storage vegetables.  That’s a good thing, because I’m a fan of squash of all varieties; in fact, our whole family really likes it these days, especially when it’s prepared with some yummy spiral pasta.  When I need to make a quick, hot meal, this is almost always at the top of the list; it comes together really quickly, and when you add a side of steamed broccoli, there are few meals that are more nourishing.

This is a great dish to make for kids who don’t like veggies, but could eat mac and cheese daily for the rest of their young lives.  We like to use whole wheat rotini, but if your clan is really picky, you can use elbow macaroni to make it even closer to their favorite pasta.


Butternut twirls

1 small butternut squash, halved and seeded
1/2 box whole wheat rotini
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4-6 fresh sage leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 c. Imagine No Chicken Stock (or vegetable stock)
1 T nutritional yeast (or more to taste)
Thinly sliced scallions (optional, for garnish)
Toasted pine nuts (optional, for garnish)

Cook squash in microwave, cut side down, in 1″ water in a glass dish until tender, about 15 minutes.  Allow to cool enough to handle.  Cook pasta according to package directions (to al dente).  Meanwhile, in skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Saute onions until just tender.  Add sage, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and stir.  Scoop out squash and add to skillet.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is fairly smooth and starting to caramelize.  Add broth and nutritional yeast, stirring, until the mixture is the consistency of a thick sauce. Add more broth if you need to thin the sauce.  Stir in pasta until thoroughly coated.

If desired, top with thinly sliced scallions and/or toasted pinenuts.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chilly day chili casserole

Brr! It’s a cold, snowy day, and I’m really hoping we don’t have a repeat of last February (the snowiest on record).  I’m watching the flakes sift down from the big gray sky right now — although it doesn’t seem nearly as bad since I’m enjoying a nice, big, hot serving of the casserole I made last night.

When we gave up dairy and meat, I thought sadly of the family favorites we’d be leaving behind: turkey pot pie, creamy tuna noodle bakes, cheesy Mexican casserole….  Oh, I could go on and on.  But, happily, we’ve found new recipes for equally delicious dishes.  This falls into that category.

This dish was inspired by a recipe from Robin Robertson’s wonderful cookbook “Vegan Planet”; her version was too spicy for my little one’s sensitive tastebuds (and it also took a little more time to make than I had), but I loved the idea!  With a few tweaks, this turned into an easy, wonderful family dish that both my 3 year old and 6 year old ate with gusto.  (My husband and I are big fans, too!)

Oh, and here’s a quick note on a couple of the ingredients.  This recipe calls for a cup of vegan sour cream.  Many grocers carry vegan sour cream substitutes, but they’re on the pricey side.  Following the casserole recipe is a recipe to make your own vegan sour cream.  It’s quick and easy, and I think you’ll be surprised at how tasty the result is!

As for the cheese, Daiya is the way to go.  I always adored cheese (a plate of brie and crackers left me positively giddy!), and I can tell you, truly and with great sadness, that no vegan varieties come anywhere close to approximating its taste or texture.  However, Daiya is a very reasonable subsitute that you can use in recipes (I would never recommend eating it straight from the fridge, but if you’re cooking with it, it’s a good facimile).  It melts very well and the flavor is as close as you’ll get to the real thing.  If you can’t find Daiya, Follow Your Heart is the next best that I can find locally.  Be careful with other brands; many that are marked as vegetarian or dairy-free still include casein, the protein found in dairy products.  (You can read more about the dangers of casein in T. Colin Campbell’s “The China Study,” where he discusses in detail his research and the links between casein and cancer.)

I hope you enjoy this hearty, healthy dish as much as we do!


Chili and potato gratin

1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 med. potatoes, sliced very thinly
1 med. onion, halved and sliced very thinly
1 c. vegan sour cream (purchased or homemade; see recipe below)
2 c. vegan chili (I used leftover chili, but you can also purchase it in cans)
1/2 c. Daiya shredded vegan mozzerella “cheese”
1/2 c. Daiya shredded vegan cheddar “cheese”

In a small dish, mix together basil, oregano, garlic powder, and salt.  Oil a large casserole dish.  Cover bottom with a layer of potato slices, then onions, and then some of the spice mix.  Continue layering the potatoes, onions, and spices until all have been used (you should have 3 or 4 potato-onion-spice layers).  Cover casserole with wax paper and microwave until veggies are tender, about 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375.

Remove casserole from microwave, and spread vegan sour cream evenly over the potatoes.  Top with the chili, spreading evenly, and then sprinkle with the vegan cheeses.  Bake, uncovered, until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

Vegan sour cream

12 oz. box of soft silken tofu, drained
1 med. lemon, halved
2 T. canola oil
1 tsp. salt

Place tofu, oil, salt, and the juice of half the lemon in a food processor and process until very smooth.  Taste mixture and add more lemon juice if needed, processing after each addition, until desired flavor is achieved.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  “Sour cream” will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.  Makes approximately two cups.

Note: If you don’t have a food processor, you can also use a blender or even put all the ingredients in a bowl and use an immersion blender (my preferred method).