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
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 flavourful 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 flatbread for a tasty and satisfying mid-week meal.
Black-Eyed Peas with Fresh Dill

1 cup of dried black-eyed peas
1 tablespoon of oil
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
a small handful of dried curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
dash of cayenne
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, mince
3-4 green chilies or jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon of sea salt
juice from one lemon

Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover. Drain, transfer to a medium-large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are soft - roughly 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large wok or frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Stir and fry until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the curry leaves, ground coriander and cayenne to the pan. Stir and then toss in the onion, garlic, and green chilies. Saute until the onion is soft.

Now add the tomato and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the cooked black-eyed peas to the pan, along with the dill, salt and lemon juice. Cook for another few minutes to blend the flavours.

Serve with rice or a grain of your choice for a balanced meal.

Yields 4 servings.

Eggs on Sunday's Roasted Delicata Squash Stuffed with White Beans and Wilted Spinach with Basil

Eggs on Sunday's 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.

Spicy Potato PancakesSpicy Potato Pancakes
Recipe by
Published on December 19, 2008

Simple spicy and crispy potato pancakes, great for dinner, breakfast or lunch

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  • 2 large potatoes (2 lbs or 900 g)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • oil for frying
  • Peel the potatoes and cover with cold water for about 20 minutes. Drain and grate the potatoes with a grater or in a food processor. Mix the grated potato with the onion, jalapeño, cayenne, eggs, cornmeal and salt and pepper.

  • Heat a shallow pool of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When hot, drop heaping tablespoons of the batter into the pan. Flatten each pancake firmly with a spatula. Fry until golden brown — about five minutes — then flip and cook the other side for another 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve hot and top with sour cream if desired.

Makes about a dozen 3-inch pancakes
Spicy Potato Pancakes
Other potato recipes you might enjoy:
Scalloped Potatoes with Wild Mushroom Soup
Aloo Gobi
Bengali-Style Crunchy Potatoes

Brown Lentils and Moong Dal in a Cashew-Almond Sauce

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
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 flatbreads 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, pleasant to mull over and the numerous tips scattered throughout much appreciated. Definitely a must for any cookbook collection.

My latest excursion between the covers inspired me to make this lentil korma. The original recipe suggested a combination of brown and green lentils, but I substituted some split mung for the green lentils, and made a few other minor modifications besides. Do double the recipe if you have more tummies surrounding you requiring good nourishment.

I'm sharing this spicy little number with Tasty Palettes, who is hosting the sixth helping of My Legume Love Affair, started by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook.
Brown Lentils and Moong Dal in a Cashew-Almond Sauce

1/2 cup of whole brown lentils
1/2 cup of moong dal (split mung beans)
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
dash of cayenne
6 green cardamon pods, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup of yogurt
1/4 cup of almonds
1/4 cup of cashews
3 hot green or red chilies
2 tablespoons of ghee or a mixture of butter and oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
1/2 cup of fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped

Rinse the lentils and moong dal in a strainer under cold water. Transfer to a large pot and cover with 3 3/4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, cardamon pods and cinnamon sticks. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the dals are tender.

To make the nut sauce, puree the yogurt, almonds, cashews and chilies in a food processor or blender.

Heat the ghee in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and stir and fry until it is browned - about 10 - 15 minutes. To deglaze, add 1/3 cup of water and scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the nut sauce and fried onions into the cooked lentils, along with the salt. Stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes or so to blend the flavours.

Stir in the parsley or cilantro and serve hot.

Serves 4.
If this sounds tasty, they you will also be sure to enjoy:
Rice and Green Lentils in Coconut Milk
Marawadi Mixed Dal
Dal Makhani

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

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 flavour 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. Because they are baked instead of fried, the effort involved is really rather minimal, but the dining experience most delightful.

This recipe can easily be doubled, which is what in fact I did. I served some cooked quinoa on the side and scooped my Best-Ever Mushroom Sauce over top. My mushroom sauce does contain yogurt, so this is not a strictly vegan combination, but I'm not a vegan and was only craving a partial cleanse of animal products, which explains why I resisted the urge to include eggs and cheese in the croquettes. Honestly, not needed, whether or not you serve them with a vegetarian or vegan friendly accompaniment.
Black-Eyed Pea and Quinoa Croquettes

For the Croquettes:

1 1/2 cup of cooked black-eyed peas
1 generous tablespoon of olive oil
1 generous tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce
1 cup of cooked quinoa
1 red or green chili, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of paprika

For the Coating:
1/4 cup of bread crumbs
1/4 cup of cornmeal
pinch of sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of grated lemon zest

In a medium-large bowl, mash the black-eyed peas with a fork or potato masher. Mix in the olive oil, tamari and hot chili. Add the quinoa to the bowl, along with the spices and herbs and stir until well combined.

Combine the ingredients for the coating in a small bowl.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease the sheet.

Shape the bean and quinoa mixture into small patties, roll in the crumb mixture and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Turn them after 20 minutes have elapsed.

Serves 4.

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.