No Croutons Required - The Winner and October's Challenge

The winning entry for the September fruit soup and salad challenge is a feast for the eyes and palate. Srimathi of Five Minute Wonders came out ahead of some tough competition with this delightful and unique Spicy Fruit Salad. Congratulations to Srimathi!

I will be hosting the October edition of No Croutons Required. Undecided until the last day of this month what the challenge should be, I found my thoughts kept returning to the idea of a warming bowl of soup to ease the Fall chills. So, with the soup season upon us, I'm asking for hearty vegetarian soups. The idea is to make a bowl of soup that would essentially be filling and satisfying enough to serve as a meal in itself. For a recap of the submission guidelines, see here.

Brown and Wild Rice with Fried Corn

Brown and Wild Rice with Fried Corn
Sweet corn fried in bacon fat is an old treat down south, but it's plenty tasty fried in plain old butter for us vegetarians as well. Add to a pot of hot cooked brown and wild rice for a warm and earthy, slightly sweet and salty dish that will look lovely on a fall table.

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Gingered Carrot and Pinto Bean Soup

The light curry and ginger fragrance of this warm, creamy and colourful soup is as inviting on a cool fall evening as your favourite sweater … and almost as simple as putting it on. Loaded with carrots and beans, it's very nourishing besides.
Gingered carrot and pinto bean soup

3/4 cup dried pinto beans
3 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 red cayenne peppers, seeded and chopped
2 green onions, both white and green parts, chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated or minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
sour cream or yogurt, and chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Rinse the pinto beans and soak overnight in several inches of cold water with a little yogurt whey or lemon juice added. Drain and discard the soaking liquid. Place the beans in a medium saucepan and add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1/2 hours or until tender. Set aside with the cooking liquid.

Heat a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil, wait a few moments, then swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the carrots, onion, cayenne peppers, and the white parts of the green onion, and sauté for 5 minutes or until the onions are soft. Add the ginger, stir in the curry powder to coat the vegetables, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Now add the beans along with their cooking liquid, and the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Remove from heat, add the green parts of the green onion, and purée the soup with a hand blender or in batches with an ordinary blender.

Ladle into warm bowls for serving. Stir in a spoon of sour cream or yogurt, and garnish with a few leaves of fresh parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

Fried Green Tomatoes and Old Cheddar

I've been hoping to try fried green tomatoes for years now ever since I'd heard of this famous old down-south comfort food — after all, if anyone does comfort food like Southerners do, I don't know about it. But as much as I like to add my own touches to classic recipes, I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to the basic articles … so I'm not about to start putting ordinary tomatoes where a genuine green tomato belongs. Unfortunately, green tomatoes — as opposed to unripened tomatoes — seem to be the stuff of legend here in southwestern Ontario where we grow plenty of otherwise red, orange or yellow ones.

So I was extraordinarily delighted — and surprised — when I finally came across a few small handfuls of green heirloom tomatoes sitting in a basket at a small store where I ordinarily pick up my dairy and dried goods. It was a matter of seconds for me to grab them up, and just half-a-day later for fried green tomatoes to appear on my breakfast plate.

Green tomatoes have a full, sweet but less acidic tomato taste with a smooth texture — one could say almost oily, but in a good way — that makes the fruit almost slide down your mouth. There are plenty of ways to coat and fry green tomatoes — in cornmeal, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or flour, with or without beaten eggs — but a simple variation on the traditional salt, pepper and cornmeal method with a little added cayenne for spice seemed to me to be a proper way to go for my first taste. Of course, the green tomatoes are traditionally fried in bacon grease too — and while I won't deny the comfort food pleasures of bacon for meat-eaters, something a little different in the flavour department was required for vegetarians, and I decided to melt a little sharp aged cheddar cheese on top instead.

Warm, soft and sweet on the inside, crisp and a little spicy on the outside, and with the mild salty palette of melted old cheddar on top … these fried green tomatoes are a small simple pleasure and definitely deserve the comfort food label. Green tomatoes are not absolutely necessary, and I'll be making these again with whatever variety I have on hand, but be sure to use firm and just ripened tomatoes.
Fried green tomatoes and old cheddar

1 pound firm green tomatoes
1/3 cup fine cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup aged cheddar cheese, grated
paprika or cayenne for garnish

Finely slice the tops and bottoms off the tomatoes, and slice the rest into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Pour the cornmeal on to a dinner plate and mix in the salt, pepper and cayenne evenly with a fork. Dredge the tomato slices through the cornmeal mixture, pressing lightly on each side to form a thick even coating.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan and preheat the broiler. Add the tomato slices to the pan and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes on each side, until the cornmeal is browned.

Remove the tomato slices to a baking sheet and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese and a few pinches of paprika or cayenne. Place under the broiler just long enough for the cheese to melt.

Let cook for a few minutes before serving.

Smoked Gouda Gougères

Smoked Gouda Gougères

I picked up a copy of the Autumn edition of Food and Drink magazine the other day. As expected, the focus is on the fruits of the harvest and other foods that Canadians enjoy during the Fall. With cooler temperatures setting in, more substantial and warming foods are favored. The glossy images had me craving many foods at once and I'll be trying several recipes from this issue over the next few months.

One of the first recipes that caught my eye was for black pepper Gouda gougères. For those unfamiliar with the term, gougères are a savory French-style cheese puff that is often made with Gruyère cheese, and sometimes stuffed with other ingredients. Any flavorful cheese can be used. I decided to try the recipe with smoked Gouda, but feel free to substitute Gruyère, aged sharp Cheddar, or even goat cheese.

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Sweet Potato and Apricot Croquettes

I've been rather occupied of late with various projects, distractions and interests, including a rekindled passion for my classic guitar. Battered fingertips and cramping left hand are my punishment for shamefully neglecting this beautiful instrument for the past two years. As there are only so many hours in a day at one's disposal, and sleep is one of the activities I enjoy, this means I have less time to devote to other passions, like cooking, cookbooks and food blog browsing.

Of course, the art of cooking and good nourishment is never far from my mind, and so my interest was piqued when I read that Allen of Eating Out Loud was exploring the delights of Turkish cuisine. Like Allen, I don't know all that much about Turkish culinary traditions, though I've enjoyed all the dishes I have prepared and regularly read Almost Turkish Recipes.

A big thanks to Allen for purchasing a copy of The Food and Cooking of Turkey and for noting and sharing his adapted version of these tender shallow fried rolls that I successfully adapted and enjoyed with friends. Slightly sweet, but also a little tart, with a hint of herbs, I served them alongside a mixed green salad splashed with Lemon Mint Dressing for a delightfully satisfying light meal.

Sweet Potato and Apricot Rolls with Mint Yogurt Sauce

For the Mint Sauce:

1 cup of plain yogurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup of finely minced fresh mint
juice from one small lemon

For the Rolls:

1 medium sweet potato
1 cup of cooked chickpeas (1/3 cup dried)
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup of dried apricots, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of pine nuts
1 - 2 fresh red chillies (or cayenne peppers), finely chopped
1/4 cup of fresh basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup of fresh dill, finely chopped
lots of freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup of cornmeal
1/2 - 1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of unbleached white flour
oil for frying (I used peanut oil)

Whisk together the ingredients for the Mint Sauce and refrigerate.

Peel the sweet potato, cut into slices, place in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and cook until soft. Drain and transfer to a medium bowl, along with the cooked chickpeas. Mash the chickpeas and sweet potato together until well combined.

Stir in the green onions, apricots, pine nuts, red chili, dill, basil and salt and pepper. Now stir in the egg. Add the cornmeal and 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs. Add more breadcrumbs until the mixture is slightly moist and holds together.

Shape into roughly 3" long croquettes. Roll each portion in the flour.

In a heavy frying pan or pot, heat roughly 1/2 inch of oil over medium high heat. When it is hot, put the rolls in the oil, and fry for roughly 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn the rolls every few minutes so they evenly brown. Drain on paper towel. Serve with the mint yogurt sauce.

Yields roughly 14 - 16 croquettes.
Other Turkish recipes from Lisa's Kitchen you might enjoy:

Wilted Spinach with Pine Nuts and Lemon Yogurt Dressing
Turkish Yogurt Hummus
Feta and Olive Scones
Turkish Barley and Apricot Porridge
Turkish Sour Cherry Pilaf

Lemon Mint Dressing

Bold and tart but appealingly sweet, this attractive and assertive dressing should be paired with strong-flavoured greens like arugula, chicory, spinach or mustard leaves.
Lemon mint dressing

juice from 2 large lemons (about 2/3 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Whisk together the lemon juice, mint, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil and poppy seeds, and mix again just before serving.

Makes about 1 cup of dressing. Keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Cheese and Sage Damper Bread

If you are looking for inspiration in the kitchen, Celia Brooks Brown's World Vegetarian Classics is a good place to start. There are over 250 authentic vegetarian recipes from around the world to choose from and nearly all of them are accompanied by some stunning mouthwatering photographs. Each chapter begins with a discussion of the region's culinary traditions, complete with a focus on vegetarian ingredients. Each recipe is straightforward and calls for ingredients that are easy to obtain.

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Green Bean and Toor Dal Poriyal

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Poriyals are dry-textured vegetable curries native to south Indian cooking, typically tempered with fried mustard seeds, dried hot red chilies, urad dal and a spice masala for a uniquely smoky and pungent finish. Usually so simple and fast to make that you'll spend as much time cleaning up after as it will take you to prepare and cook, poriyals are often served as elegant little starters or side dishes — but they also make delightful lunches or light meals by themselves with a little rice or some naan bread on the side.

Green beans are among the most common of vegetables used in traditional poriyals, and the crunchiness of lightly cooked fresh beans is complemented here in this version by a crisp, lightly fried mash of dals that makes the texture as enjoyable as the layers of flavours. This recipe is adapted from one in Chandra Padmanabhan's delightful and varied collection of south Indian dal, rice and vegetable dishes, a book that fully deserves its evocative title Dakshin— an ancient Sanskrit word meaning "South."
Green bean and toor dal poriyal

1 cup toor dal or yellow split peas
5 dried hot red chilies
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

1 pound green beans, ends snapped off and cut into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 red cayenne peppers, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons urad dal
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 scant teaspoon cumin seeds
6-8 fresh or dried curry leaves

Rinse the toor dal thoroughly under cold running water and place in a bowl. Add the dried red chilies and cover with several inches of cold water. Soak for one hour.

Drain and place the dal and chilies along with the salt and asafoetida in a blender or food processor. Grind to a smooth paste, adding a little water if necessary. Set aside.

Cook the beans in a large wok or saucepan over medium heat with a 1/4 cup of water added, stirring until the water has evaporated and the beans are just tender and a vibrant green. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Wipe the pan, return to the heat and add the olive oil. As soon as the oil is hot, add the chopped cayenne peppers, stir around for 30 seconds, then toss in the brown mustard seeds, urad dal, cumin seeds and curry leaves. Stir until the mustard seeds begin to pop.

Turn down the heat to low and add the toor dal paste. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the paste just starts to turn crisp and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans and combine throughout the dal.

Remove from heat and serve right away. Serves 4 to 6.

Ricki's Radish and Grapefruit Salad

An exclusive government monopoly on liquor sales is one of the peculiar features of life in Ontario. A holdover from the early 20th-century post-prohibition days, the continued existence of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (quite the bureaucratic-sounding name) is an example of the lobbying power of public service unions as well as a continual reminder that our provincial government still doesn't really quite trust us. It has been quite a few years since wine and liquor was stored behind a closed wall and customers had to write their order on a slip of paper in a bare Soviet-style room and have it delivered to them in brown parcel paper from behind a counter, but even now locations are few and far-between even in cities, and plastic bags have been discontinued; yes, half-a-dozen wine bottles get put in a handle-less paper bag, unless you bring your own bag or choose a box instead. So much for the customer always comes first philosophy.

Still, the Board has kept up with modern marketing trends and now the LCBO (yes, a user-friendly acronym) has turned itself into a snazzy, upscale brand with fancy furnishings and funky in-store signage. One of the best things to come out of this marketing consciousness is the LCBO's quarterly Food and Drink Magazine, an attractive and glossy high-production Martha Stewart Living-type giveaway featuring dozens of beautiful gourmet recipes in every issue.

So I was intrigued right away by the odd combination of flavours in this salad from an old Food and Drink Magazine and posted by one of my favourite food bloggers, Ricki from Diet, Dessert and Dogs. Grapefruit, olives and radishes sounded like such disparate tastes that I never would have thought of putting them together myself, but given the reputation of both Ricki and the magazine I knew that it had to be worth a try.

Like so many other interesting suggestions the recipe ended up being bookmarked for a long time, but it finally got made with colourful and delicious results. As the unusual ingredients suggest, the overall effect is difficult to describe … Ricki calls the results "tart, salty, peppery, juicy," to which I can only add "fresh," "tangy," and "bizarrely appealing."

This salad is best eaten in one sitting as it will turn to liquid-y mush after only a short time … but finishing it off in one dinner didn't prove to be any problem at all! If you're ambitious and finicky, a more appealing and tantalizing result can be had by peeling the membrane off each of the grapefruit sections, but I'm afraid that I'm not the kind of girl to go to that kind of trouble except in extraordinary circumstances!

This is my contribution to No Croutons Required, hosted this month by Holler. The challenge is to make any vegetarian soup or salad featuring fruit.
Ricki's radish and grapefruit salad


2 small red grapefruits
2 small white grapefruits
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup kalamata olives
12 radishes, thinly sliced


1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Peel the grapefruit and cut into sections over a bowl, to catch the juice for the dressing. Place the grapefruit sections, green onions, olives and radishes in a salad bowl. Chill until ready to serve.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Just before serving, pour dressing over the salad and gently toss together. Serves 4.

Olive Hummus

This past weekend felt more like the middle of August than mid-September. Little inclined to cook in a kitchen thick with humidity, I remembered a tempting recipe for Olive Hummus that I stumbled upon at Jugalbandi. Hummus served along with some chopped vegetables and pita breads has long been a favored solution for a quick and easy meal, and how could I resist the combined flavours of olives and chickpeas? Only slightly modified from the original recipe, this is quite possibly a new addiction. My only regret is that I didn't make twice the amount.

I'm sending this along to Lucy who is guest hosting My Legume Love Affair, a monthly event started by Susan to celebrate the mighty legume.
Olive Hummus with Sun-dried Tomatoes

1/2 cup of dried chickpeas
4 tablespoons of tahini
juice from one lime
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cayenne or jalapeno pepper, roughly chopped
3 - 4 sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup of black olives, pitted
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
sea salt to taste
1 teaspoon of oregano
1/4 teaspoon of paprika

Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover. Drain, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cover and simmer until the beans are buttery soft - roughly 1 - 2 hours. Drain and set aside.

Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 15 minutes. Reserve the soaking liquid and roughly chop the tomatoes.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, tahini, lime juice, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, hot pepper, cumin seeds, cayenne, olives, salt and olive oil. Process until all of the ingredients are combined and form a dip-like consistency. Add a bit of the reserved sun-dried tomato liquid if necessary.

Stir in the oregano, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with paprika and garnish with a few olives.
Other hummus recipes you might enjoy from Lisa's Kitchen:

Turkish Yogurt Hummus

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Creamy Cannellini Bean Soup with Jalapeño Gremolata

Creamy Cannellini Bean Soup with Jalapeño Gremolata

White bean soups are most thought of as winter staples, but a bouquet of fresh garden jalapeños and lemon zest burst out of this cannellini bean soup like a blast of summer sunshine. Quick, simple, and delicious at any time of year.

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Cucumber Dill Dressing

Cucumber Dill Dressing

Summer may be coming to an end, but it's not too late to take advantage of locally grown produce. This cooling blend of cucumber, yogurt, vinegar and fresh herbs turned out to be a most refreshing dressing to serve over fresh tomato and greens. It's also thick and creamy enough to serve as a vegetable dip if desired.

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Indian-Style Smoky Black Bean Chili

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Indian-Style Smoky Black Bean Chili

As cooler temperatures move into Canada, I begin to think once again of comfort food. And nothing speaks comfort like a warming bowl of chili. The smoky flavor in this hearty chili comes from a blend of toasted cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. Of course, it's spicy too, as my regular readers have no doubt come to expect.

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Cannellini and Grape Tomato Salad with Lemon Dressing and Rosemary-Garlic Infused Olive Oil

Cannellini and Grape Tomato Salad with Lemon Dressing and Rosemary-Garlic Infused Olive Oil

As pretty on a patio table in the summer time as it is refreshing and delicious, this light and cooling bean salad is a favorite — and a wonderful idea if you're being buried under fresh garden grape or cherry tomatoes. Little preparation time is needed for this simple recipe adapted from an old Canadian Living magazine entry.

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Baked Whole Wheat Crêpes with Apple Blueberry Sauce

Baked Whole Wheat Crêpes with Apple Blueberry Sauce

Not really a crêpe at all, of course, but these thin soft baked pancakes are just as ideal for filling and rolling as the traditional pan-fried version — and with far less fuss and chance of error, these are guaranteed to come out perfectly every time. The ideal solution for when you only want a couple of crêpes … as with a nice breakfast or dinner for two.

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