Black Bean Chili With Mushrooms and Toasted Spices

black bean chili

Spring is finally here, though in a rather cool manner, but warmer weather is coming soon and that means lighter meals for most of us. Usually more salads appear on the table, along with a greater selection of raw creations. Still, no matter the season, there is always a place on the table for a thick, steamy and spicy chili, unless of course it is blazing hot outside, but even then, you won't be slaving over a hot stove for this pot of comfort — besides, spicy foods do have a cooling effect for some relief from the heat as they raise your body temperature and induce sweating.

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Gigantes Bean Tomato Casserole

baked gigantes

I never used to like lima beans, which is rather odd I suppose as I have quite a supply of different dried beans on hand at all times as they occupy such a central place in my diet. My first experience was less than pleasant, as I used beans from a can that had a slimy texture that just didn't work with a mixed bean salad, and another time I made a huge pot of "lucky bean" soup that lacked any real flair and seemed as if it could have fed five thousand men.

That was during my early days of exploring vegetarian food and cooking. Since then, my cooking skills have strengthened and my knowledge and palate are more refined, and this recipe certainly proved to me that often when we think we don't like certain foods, it is because of how they have been prepared and served. Lima beans or giant lima beans — gigantes — have joined the ranks with the other dried legumes in my kitchen.

I've shared this dish before on this space but made a few minor changes to the recipe and it's worth sharing again. It's a comforting casserole that you will want to serve on a regular basis. Easy to make, you can prepare the rest of your meal while it bakes in the oven. If this recipe doesn't convert lima bean skeptics, I don't know what will.

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Indian-Spiced Chayote (Chow Chow) Rice


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
chayote rice

An enormous array of fresh exotic vegetables and fruits is something I've become accustomed to seeing in the big city supermarkets and ethnic grocery stores, but it's something that would have astonished me as a girl growing up in a small northern Ontario town where dinner produce consisted mostly of potatoes, onions, carrots, corn and peas with brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower occasionally making their appearance on the supper plate.

I like to take advantage of the abundance to be found in my urban centre and test produce that is completely new to me. I've discovered the delights of bottle gourds, bitter melons, mustard greens and plantains this way, and the exercise adds adventure to the kitchen and the dining experience.

chayote

This time around I've added a chayote to the basket and come up with a lightly spiced white rice dish to serve as a backdrop for it. Pronounced "chi-YOH-tee", the chayote or custard marrow is the fruit of a squash plant native to central America that looks like a green apple with a large wrinkled pleat tucked in at one end, with a firm white crispy and juicy flesh like an apple and a mild and slightly sweet flavor that resembles the tastes of apples, cucumber and summer squash. The chayote is widely used in Latin America and in the American South, where it is known as a mirliton or merleton. It's also used occasionally in India where it goes under the charming name of "chow chow" and where it's mild flavor makes it a perfect vehicle for the characteristic assertive spicing of Indian food.

Although paired here with cumin, coriander, cloves and cayenne, this chayote rice is really quite mild and serves as a delicious and palate-soothing accompaniment to a hot and zesty curry. Tender pieces of lightly cooked chayote add wonderful bursts of crisp, juicy and refreshing light sweetness that make a wonderful contrast in flavor and texture to the soft buttery rice and astringent spices. This is really a lovely dish to add to any Indian meal, and I quite plan to use chayote again soon … possibly just simmered in a little milk or cream with cinnamon and nutmeg for a simple palate-cleansing dessert.

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Mini Vanilla Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Molasses Icing

mini vanilla cupcakes

I'm a savory gal, but sometimes I like a wee treat and I do like to bake. Most cakes are loaded with way more sugar than I can handle and the culprit is often the icing, so I came up with a mini cupcake recipe with reduced sugar content and one of the most mellow but pleasing toppings that I have enjoyed on a baked good. Cream cheese with a few dashes of molasses and powdered sugar really take the cake to the next level without overpowering the taste buds or spiking blood sugar to near lethal levels.

My husband and best friend Basil were most pleased with the result and I indulged in a few of these cute bites myself.

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Kashmiri Chickpeas with Mushrooms


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
chickpea mushroom curry

This dish is an easy, nourishing and satisfying curry with bold and complex flavors that is an especially good choice for a midweek meal when you are pressed for time and energy and want some spice in your life. I will add that it is a good choice for mushrooms fiends like myself to get their weekly fix. Serve with a bed of hot steaming buttered rice and you have all the makings for happy tummies.

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Black Bean and Quinoa Chili Casserole

quinoa bean casserole

Every year I sound like a broken record as I declare that each winter is the one that will never end, because it always feels like that, even in March and now April. Comfort food can often improve my mood. and although this dish is not the most photogenic, or at least I was in too much of a rush to spend much time with plating and lighting, it is a balanced, substantial and comforting meal.

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Spicy Yellow Lentil Tomato Soup


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
lentil soup

This vibrant and elegant soup is not only easy to make, but full of lovely and subtle flavors. It makes for a perfect nourishing light lunch or side for dinner. Sometimes there is nothing better than a comforting warm soup, especially during this chilly time when spring just doesn't want to shine. Yes, spring seems to be poking around the corner, and a few robins have been sighted, but it’s still mainly soup weather if you ask this chilled girl.

Serve with lemon cashew rice, chickpea koftas and some Indian flatbreads for a special meal.

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Classic Blueberry Muffins

classic blueberry muffins

For many years I have been trying to come up with a classic blueberry muffin that focuses on the natural sweetness of fruit. Too often, blueberry muffins are loaded up with refined sugar and are more like mini cakes. The twist here is adding some chopped apple that adds extra moistness and more natural sweetness combined with the berries. I like to bake, usually simple quick breads, as they are ideal for breakfast, brunch or lunch and indeed a snack when the craving hits. Yes, there is still sugar in these delights, but much less than most blueberry muffins I have tried.


Classic Blueberry MuffinsClassic Blueberry Muffins
Recipe by
Published on April 11, 2013

Simple, moist and not-too-sweet blueberry muffins with a classic texture and delicious blueberry flavor

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Ingredients:
  • 2/3 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup unbleached spelt or white flour
  • scant 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon (1 tablespoon)
  • juice from 1 lemon (3 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
Instructions:
  • Preheat an oven to 375° and grease 10 to 12 standard muffins cups.

  • In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and lemon zest. Make a well in the center.

  • In a small bowl, gently whisk together the lemon juice, buttermilk, egg and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the dry ingredients, along with the melted butter, and stir until everything is just combined and the dry ingredients are moist. Gently fold in the blueberries and chopped apple.

  • Evenly spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. For larger muffins, fill only 10 cups.

  • Bake for 20 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the tops of the muffins begin to brown lightly. Let sit in the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 10 to 12 muffins
blueberry muffins

Other muffin recipes from my kitchen you are sure to enjoy:
Blueberry Goat Cheese Muffins
Cherry Blueberry Muffins
Cornmeal Honey Muffins
Tomato Cornmeal Muffins with Cheddar Cheese

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Audio: Carbon Based Lifeforms

Mixed Lentil and Rice Indian Pancakes


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
mixed lentil pancakes

Adored is an understatement for me when it comes to Indian savory pancakes. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, snack or dinner accompaniment pretty much covers the range of my favorite ways to serve up delights like these soft and fragrant Indian-spiced griddle-fried flatbreads. Very easy to make too, though they do take a bit of time to cook up, one by one. It's more than worth it, though, and if you have breads leftover, they store well in the refrigerator for a few days and can be reheated in foil with most satisfying results. I served them up with a chickpea curry and a chunky cashew-tamarind chutney. Lots of legume goodness in that meal.

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Chickpeas Smothered in a Tangy Tomato Gravy


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tangy chickpeas

Tender and plump chickpeas really need no introduction as far as I'm concerned. Even my comrades who profess not to like beans can be persuaded to enjoy them. And they present so many possibilities to the cook. Now, as should be clear from even a quick look at my blog, I adore spicy food so it's no wonder that I should be especially smitten with spicing them up. When I cook them, I always boil up more than I need for the dish as I can never resist snacking on them just as they are while I complete my dinner prep.

I tend to eat small meals throughout the day, but this longtime favorite dish is one that I am tempted to eat just a bit more than maybe I am accustomed to at one sitting. But so long as I am not too stuffed, I don't feel guilty in the least. Despite its relative simplicity, or perhaps because of, it's a signature dish that I have perfected over the years. If you like a thick and spicy chickpea curry with a tangy and tart flavor, consider this as a meatless alternative to your usual fare or another recipe to add to your vegetarian or vegan repertoire. Give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.

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Chia Seed Pudding

chia seed pudding

I've been hearing a lot about the benefits of chia seeds lately, one of the latest "superfoods", but until recently I had yet to try them although they have long been a traditional food in some cultures, so they might best be considered an ancient superfood.

My best friend Basil had a bag of them that was passed on by a co-worker and he thought that I might be interested in coming up with a recipe. Surely I was but, well, with my distracted attention span combined with Basil's, those little gems nearly went to the grave with us. We didn't forget about them, but Basil forgot to bring them to me when he visited and I forgot to remind him to send them home with me when I visited. Finally they arrived back in my kitchen and I went with a simple custard-like pudding that turned out even better than I imagined. I suppose you may describe the dish as tapioca-like. The chia seeds puff up into little pearls as they soak, contributing a pleasing texture to this vegetarian and vegan-friendly delight. It might not be the prettiest pudding you'll eat, but one of the most delicious I've had in a long time.

It makes for a fine breakfast because it's not too sweet, but it's also a lovely dessert to end any meal. If you are going to enjoy the pudding for breakfast, I would suggest getting the soaking process started before you go to bed — it won't take long.

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