No Croutons Required - Vegetable Soups

The winner for December's festive photo challenge is Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking who submitted this gorgeous image of frost laden berries. Congratulations Wendy!

I will be hosting this month's edition of No Croutons Required. Even the most moderate among us tend to overindulge at Christmas time. Sweets are abundant, as are decadent savory delights. Accordingly, January is a time of cleansing, so this month we are asking for nourishing veggie soups. Any vegetarian soup creation is welcome, but the focus should be on vegetable concoctions. For a recap of the submission guidelines, please go here.

Wild Rice and Portobello Mushroom Soup

Wild Rice and Portobello Mushroom Soup

Harsh winters call for some serious comfort food. As the wind rages outside, I take shelter inside with a warming bowl of thick and earthy mushroom soup and a big glass of red wine. Dried porcinis and plump portobellos are here combined with some wild rice to add some extra nutty chewiness and substance. A mushroom lovers delight, serve with whole wheat olive oil biscuits for a satisfying cold weather meal.

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Black-Eyed Peas with Fresh Dill


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Black-Eyed Peas with Fresh Dill

I was browsing a few of my favorite blogs a short while back and came across this delightful black-eyed bean stir fry at Red Chillies. I happen to have a friend who adores black-eyed peas, and always alert to easy but flavorful bean dishes to serve for dinner when I am pressed for time, I immediately resolved to make it, with a few minor modifications. Serve with a grain or Indian flat bread for a tasty and satisfying mid-week meal.

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Roasted Delicata Squash Stuffed with White Beans and Wilted Spinach with Basil

Roasted Delicata Squash Stuffed with White Beans and Wilted Spinach with Basil

As I've noticed with many other foodies in the northern hemisphere, I've been re-discovering the extraordinary taste and versatility of winter squashes lately, along with their abundant nutritional benefits. While each of the typical varieties enjoyed in southwestern Ontario — butternut, acorn and pumpkin — have their own delights, I've yet to find anything to compare for flavor or ease of use than the long and slender pale yellow gourd striped with green known as the sweet potato or delicata squash. Easy to peel and seed, and with very little loose or stringy flesh to scoop out, the tender inside has a sweet potato bouquet that immediately welcomes the senses and an equally inviting mild and delicate sweet potato flavor.

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Spicy Potato Pancakes

Spicy Potato Pancakes

The Christmas season is once again upon us. I don't fuss too much this time of year, but right now I have lots to occupy me, meaning I'm focusing on comforting meal solutions. A crispy staple is welcomed year round, and so I offer up my version of a pancake that is enjoyed around the world. I served these at dinner time to go along with some leftover green pea soup, but they are perfect for breakfast or for lunch.

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Brown Lentils and Moong Dal in a Cashew-Almond Sauce


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Brown Lentils and Moong Dal in a Cashew-Almond Sauce

If you are looking for curry in a hurry, then you simply must pick up a copy of 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. The elegance and sophistication of the offerings is an inspiration to the imagination and a treat to the palate. The book is not strictly vegetarian, including as it does recipes for meat and seafood curries, but the number of vegetarian and vegan offerings is astounding. In addition to recipes for legume, vegetable and paneer curries, the cook will find plenty of traditional, yet unique ideas for rice and flat breads in this fat cookbook. I'm finding this book is a good one to turn to when I don't feel like spending too much time figuring out the menu, especially considering many of the recipes include staples that I am likely to have on hand. The paragraph that proceeds each entry is instructive and pleasant to mull over, and the numerous tips scattered throughout much appreciated. Definitely a must for any cookbook collection.

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Goat Cheese Parmesan Biscuits with Dill

Goat Cheese Parmesan Biscuits with Dill

What better way to warm up a cold kitchen then to whip up a batch of biscuits? I've no shortage of quick bread recipes on hand, but I was in the mood for something new. I had an opened package of goat cheese on hand, and though goat cheese never goes to waste in my kitchen, I decided a cheese biscuit was in order. Moist and flavorful, with a hint of herb, these are a perfect choice for an afternoon snack, but you might consider serving them with "almost old-fashioned" baked beans and brown rice and corn for a very satisfying winter meal.

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Nigella Lawson's Christmas Pavlova

Nigella Lawson's Christmas Pavlova

Like an enormous roasted marshmallow with a thick crispy caramelized-sugar exterior surrounding a light and creamy meringue, pavlovas have the same lumpy and carefree charm of appearance, sweetness and ease … or a charm that is actually improved by a jaunty slathering of whipped cream and a reckless scattering of fruit on top. One of the most ridiculously simple desserts you can possibly make, the entrance of a fresh pavlova at any holiday gathering will make a disproportionately cheerful and enchanting impression upon your guests. And if after one slice you're tempted to swear off sugar for the rest of your life, be comforted that you're probably lying in the first place and, in the second place, that leftover pavlova will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for almost two weeks.

Pavlova Baking

Any fruit or even gummy candy topping will always look and taste delightful on a thick bed of whipped cream floating above a baked meringue, but Nigella Lawson's suggestion of juicy bright red pomegranate seeds seemed an especially seasonal choice for color — and one in which I was so pleased that this Christmas pavlova is my entry to Holler's No Croutons Required "Taste of Christmas" roundup this month. This recipe is transcribed for those of us who don't otherwise bake in British idioms or metric measures from Lawson's wonderful How to Be a Domestic Goddess collection.

Slice of Nigella Lawson's Christmas Pavlova

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Indian-Style Green Pea Soup


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Indian-Style Green Pea Soup

My Mom was a good cook and baker, but soup was rarely part of the menu when I was growing up. Occasionally, we would be served the canned variety for lunch, which probably explains why it took a few years of cooking for myself before I developed a passion for a comforting bowl of homemade soup. I enjoy soup year round, but when the cold temperatures have me in their grip, there's really nothing finer to ward off the winter chills.

This Indian-style creamy pea soup that includes frozen peas in addition to green split peas is quite possibly one of the best pea soups that I have ever eaten. Slightly spicy, earthy, thick and satisfying, I served it up to some friends with some cardamon rice cakes and plump Cheddar Dijon biscuits. If my dining pals were still hungry after dinner, it wasn't food they were craving.

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Brown Rice with Lime, Cilantro and Jalapeño

Brown Rice with Lime, Cilantro and Jalapeño

Lime, cilantro and fresh jalapeños offer a fresh and zippy contrast to the earthy nuttiness of brown rice in this simple Mexican-style side dish. This would go well with my classic refried beans, or Southwest vegetarian chili, or black bean and corn bake with cheese topping.

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Black-Eyed Pea and Quinoa Croquettes with a Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Black-Eyed Pea and Quinoa Croquettes with a Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Tempted by the idea of quinoa, my favorite grain, which also happens to contain nearly complete proteins, and further attracted by the idea of combining its nutty flavor with the earthy taste of black-eyed peas, I whipped up a batch of these satisfying little croquettes that I based on a recipe I found in Vegan with a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock. Because they are baked instead of fried, the effort involved is really rather minimal, but the dining experience most delightful.

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Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup with Pinto Beans and Roasted Garlic and Herbs

Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup with Pinto Beans and Roasted Garlic and Herbs

A hot bowl of creamy tomato soup always provides warmth and comfort on a cold winter day, so why not turn that bowl into a filling meal as well? Puréed beans lend a hearty and heartening creaminess to any soup, while adding plenty of fiber, protein and numerous essential minerals and vitamins.

This roasted tomato soup with pinto beans is flavored with a sweet and smoky blend of roasted garlic and herbs, and while it's nothing to look at particularly, the delicious aroma will certainly draw the attention of anyone within sniffing distance. Best of all, the soup is easy enough to make that you won't flinch at having to prepare it after a long day of work.

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No Croutons Required - The Winner for November and December's Festive Challenge

Congratulations to Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe who won the November Pasta Soup and Salad challenge with this delightful Pumpkin and Tofu Laksa. Congratulations Johanna! This is the second time Johanna has emerged victorious. Her Wanton Dumplings in Ginger Broth was the winning submission to our very first challenge.

Holler has kindly offered to host December's challenge, even though it was supposed to be my turn. I've got a busy month ahead of me and dare not take on any extra projects. Holler is changing things up a bit for December. Instead of a taste sensation, the challenge this month is to post a holiday image. Your submission can be of food, your backyard, your Christmas tree or any photo that you find festive. The deadline is the 20th of this month and the winner will be announced at the end of December.