No Croutons Required - The Winner for May

no croutons required

The challenge for May was to come up with a soup or salad that would make for a perfect appetizer to start a meal. We received some delicious little bites, but a winner we must choose. The most popular submission this month is this gorgeous Avocado and Strawberry Salad with Honey Vinaigrette from Jagruti's Cooking Odyssey. Congratulations Jagruti. Once strawberries are in season here, I will be giving this one a try.

avocado strawberry salad

Jacqueline will be hosting the June 2013 edition of No Croutons Required. Check back at the beginning of the month for the theme.

Sweet Potato Roti

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
sweet potato roti

Indian flatbreads often make their appearance on my dinner table and truly I could eat them everyday, anytime of day. They are perfect for breakfast or brunch with some chutney and they're an ideal accompaniment to curries — as I eat a lot of dal and vegetable curries, it's no wonder I crave savory breads such as these roti as often as I do. In this case, I wanted a wrap for some spicy jerk chickpeas and with the sweet potato filling in these flatbreads, the combination was perfect. Rotis are not only enjoyed in India and throughout Asia, but are also popular in the Caribbean. To my delight, the roti rolled up perfectly without breaking apart. Feel free to add more spice to the breads if you want to heat things up further.


As with most unleavened savory Indian crêpes and flatbreads, these are really easy to make but the process is more seamless if you have a helper in the kitchen while frying up the breads. The rotis didn't take long at all to brown up and by the time I got another rolled out and ready for the pan, I would have been running a short marathon in the kitchen to keep up the pace. But a helper is not necessary, as you can roll out a few ahead of time or remove the pan from the heat briefly if you start to fall behind. Do keep the dough and any rolled out rounds covered with a clean kitchen towel so they don't dry out.

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Jerk Chickpeas

jerk chickpeas

Growing up I never did much care for chicken even before I became a vegetarian, and my parents generally did not prepare ethnic dishes, so I never did try the classic Jamaican jerk chicken. But now with plenty of ethnic cooking behind me, I found that the seasonings that are commonly used in jerk spicing — Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg — appealed a great deal to me, and I thought I would try a vegetarian version with cooked chickpeas instead of chicken. I wasn't quite sure what to expect as generally I am more at home with Indian spicing, but I went with my instincts after a bit of research and was surprised and pleased with just how good the result was. Hot, sweet and sour, tangy and zesty, this chickpea recipe is now one of my top favorites.

These easy-to-make jerk chickpeas are made on the stove top, but you may want to consider a baked version. Be very careful with the Scotch bonnet peppers in this recipe — the traditional pepper in jerk seasonings, they are about as hot as habaneros, and if you're not used to a great deal of heat then just use half a pepper or substitute serrano or jalapeños for a milder kick.

I served these chickpeas wrapped up in homemade sweet potato rotis for one of the most satisfying meals I have enjoyed in a while. My dining companions agreed too.

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Mung Dal Kitcheree

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
split mung and basmati rice

A kitcheree is a traditional dish originating in North India that consists of legumes and rice and often vegetables. For those who enjoy Indian creations, this is a one-pot meal that won't take you long at all to prepare. Split mung beans are an especially easy legume to digest, making this a nourishing and restorative meal. I've always enjoyed the distinctive sweet and earthy aroma and flavor that these little gems impart to a dish. Here they are all nestled in with rice after simmered together with some spices and coconut milk.

To fill out the meal, serve with a vegetable side and some Indian savory flatbreads. I served it with butter paneer masala and a spicy potato and green bean salad.

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Creamy Herbed Potato and Green Pea Salad

herbed potato salad

Spring is toddling into summer with faltering steps this year, but the respites of warm sunny weather along the way bring to mind the comforts and pleasures of summer eating. Soups and hearty meals give way to salads and light fare that can be transported to the patio, warming foods give way to refreshing plates, and dried and canned goods give way to fresh herbs and produce. This simple salad of steamed baby potatoes, green peas and fresh herbs tossed in a creamy and vibrant Dijon mustard dressing is just the thing to give you a taste of summer comfort food — especially if you can get your hands of fresh garden peas, although frozen peas will also make for a lovely salad.

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No Croutons Required - Appetizer Soups and Salads

The challenge for May was little bites. We asked for soups and salads that would make for a perfect starter for a meal. Certainly the entries this month stimulated my appetite and I would be delighted to serve each and every dish. Thanks to everyone who found the time to share their creations. We do need to determine a winner, so please vote for your favorite in the comment section or via email. Note that neither my submission nor Jacqueline's is eligible for the vote.

Japanese Cucumber Salad

Our first entry is this refreshing Japanese Cucumber Salad from Charul of Tadka Masala that would be just perfect on a hot and humid day. No cooking required for this combination of cucumber, lemon juice, a bit of sweetener, wine vinegar and toasted sesame seeds. Cucumber gets elegant here.

appetizer salad

Preety is up next with this tempting and rejuvenating Skewered Bite Size Appetizer Salad. The possibilities are endless here. Try grapes, mint leaves, red pepper, cucumber and paneer or feta or mozzarella. Good without any dressing at all, but dress it up with some lemon juice, olive oil, seasonings and herbs, or perhaps a combination of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

tempeh miso salad

Janet of The Taste Space presents us with a gorgeous Tempeh and Arugula Salad with a Mustard Miso Dressing that is sure to make your table shine. Tempeh is marinated in cider vinegar, tamari, ginger and a bit of oil and then baked. Next arugula, tomatoes and cucumber are topped with the tempeh strips and this goodness is drizzled with a dressing of white miso, Dijon mustard, lemon, oil, garlic and maple syrup. The dressing we are told is especially addictive.

avocado strawberry salad

The next dish to get the taste buds watering is this beautiful Avocado and Strawberry Salad with Honey Vinaigrette from Jagruti's Cooking Odyssey. I'm more eager than ever for the strawberry season and here they are combined with avocado and baby salad leaves and then tossed with a tangy dressing of honey, fresh lemon or lime juice, olive oil and seasoning. Certainly a sweet way to make a sunny day even sunnier.

creamy raw mushroom soup

My contribution this month is this light and earthy Raw Mushroom Soup. A variety of wild mushrooms are whizzed up in a blender with cashews, pine nuts, almond milk, yellow miso, dill, paprika and seasoning. It's incredibly easy to prepare and makes for an elegant starter despite its simplicity or perhaps because of.

fava yogurt soup

Ma Niche tries fava beans at home for the first time and experiments with a Fava Yogurt Soup that has my mouth watering. Skinned fava beans are lightly cooked with sauteed onions, garlic, ginger and chives and then pureed with yogurt and some water and served up chilled, garnished with fresh mint. This is a delightful warm weather appetizer soup for a variety of meals.

halloumi salad

My good friend Jacqueline and co-host of this event shares this stunning Halloumi Salad with Balsamic Tomatoes. Lightly seasoned halloumi is paired here with potatoes, salad greens and herbs, balsamic pan-fried tomatoes and all this goodness is dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard and black pepper. This is a hearty salad, but served in small portions, it would make for an exciting appetizer to start your meal.

cucumber mint soup

Our final entry is from Sweatha of Tasty Curry Leaf. Served up for our consideration is a delightfully cooling Cucumber Mint Yogurt Soup. Easy to prepare, cucumber is blended with shallots, fresh mint leaves, yogurt and a bit of water. This delicious concoction is then seasoned and garnished with more fresh mint and some olive oil. Sounds like a perfect summer meal starter to me.

Jacqueline will be hosting the June 2013 edition of NCR. Check back at the beginning of the month for the theme.

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites

peanut butter cookie dough bites

I found the idea for these easy, soft and moist, and healthy gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies while browsing on facebook one day and eventually found out that the recipe was created by Erin at Texanerin Baking. Egg-free and flour-free too, they contain cooked chickpeas that end up like a flour-based dough after they are whizzed up in a food processor with other ingredients. The dominating flavor is the peanut butter combined with the chocolate resulting in a pleasant rather unstated sweetness from the presence of the raw honey. Do I really need to note that one of life's sweet pleasures is peanut butter paired with chocolate?

They truly are heavenly and guilt-free too, despite the rich flavor experience that awaits you. If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a household where homemade cookies were often made, you will be nostalgic for those bits of raw cookie dough that you sneaked on the sly before you were granted permission to lick the bowl. Again, no need to feel guilty about snacking on some of the dough even before they go into the oven. Nothing bad here at all. These cookies stay moist in a sealed container for several days too, although keeping them around for several days isn't all that likely.

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Mung Beans in a Golden Karhi Sauce

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
mung beans in yogurt sauce

One of my favorite dishes from Yamuna Devi's gospel of Indian cooking, Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking is her tender chickpeas simmered in a golden karhi sauce. I've more than a few favorites from the book that often appear on my table, yet each and every time I browse through the 800 pages of culinary Indian bliss, I find yet another recipe that I can't believe I haven't tried … I have owned this treasured cookbook for about 20 years. Then there is the pleasure of revisiting some of my favorites from the book and tinkering with the recipes and my initial adaptations.

Truly, if I had to pick just one cookbook to keep out of my extensive collection, this would be that desert island choice. I'd hope for a truckload of legumes, grains and spices to go along with it and fresh produce from the isle. As I have noted in the past, this was my earliest introduction to Indian cooking shortly after I became a vegetarian. It opened up a whole new nourishing and exciting culinary world to me that I continue to cherish and explore.

This time around, earthy mung beans are simmered in a tangy yogurt sauce. This recipe called for sprouted mung beans, which I am sure would have been just perfect, but I didn't plan ahead — mung bean sprouts take 2 to 3 days of preparation — and so came up with a version using whole mung beans that I soaked overnight and then simmered until tender.

Karhis are yogurt based dishes that are usually served with rice. Often they contain cooked or sprouted legumes, sometimes dumplings and vegetables. This one is on the tangy side of the spectrum and I went with a thicker gravy that is popular in Northern India. Depending on the yogurt you use, a karhi sauce might be slightly sweet, thinner, with a consistency like a soup or a thick gravy. I experimented with the original recipe and came up with this treasured vegetarian main that I served with buttered Jasmine rice. You may want to consider serving up yellow lemon rice with fried cashews as a side for some extra flair and tart flavor.

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Rich and Creamy Raw Mushroom Soup

raw mushroom soup

As the temperature rises, raw creations occupy a shining spot on the dinner table. My dear friend Susan thoughtfully sent me a gift of raw in the form of an elegant cookbook that celebrates the beauty of vibrant raw creations that can be made with ease. Everyday Raw Express by Matthew Kenney is certainly worth your attention. The presentation of the dishes within the covers is gratifying, but even better is using the ideas as a template for vibrant nourishment. And the book uses only vegan friendly ingredients too.

As I am a mushroom fiend, one of the first recipes I tried was this raw mushroom soup. I never can resist nibbling on raw mushrooms as I prepare a dish, so why not a soup with humble seasonings and some nuttiness? This rather unusual earthy soup was a lovely starter for my Asparagus Pesto Lasagna.

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Asparagus Pesto Lasagna with Mushrooms

asparagus lasagna

After such a long and dreary winter, spring seems like even more of a treat this year than usual. Spending time outdoors is nearly impossible to resist. It's a time of renewal. Everything is so fresh and lush. The sunshine warming and pleasing to the body, mind and eyes. The fresh foliage and exploding blossoms and spring flowers are still displaying much of their earliest glory and new delights await.

And if you enjoy cooking and place great importance on making healthy and nourishing meals for yourself and your family, then the beginnings of locally harvested produce will stimulate your imagination and palate as will the future fruits of the upcoming seasons.


One of the earliest crops here in southern Ontario is local asparagus. The season is rather too short for my liking, and for my husband too, who adores this unique and rather robust vegetable. It is true that you can pretty much get asparagus anytime of year where I live, but local produce has a freshness that simply cannot be matched. Each year I come up with new ways to serve this treasured veg and typically tend to go with simple pairings of classic flavors and dress it up with butter, olive oil, lemon and seasonings so the asparagus can shine in all its glory while it lasts.

In this instance, I wanted to experiment with a bolder combination and came up with an asparagus lasagna that features a sun-dried tomato and basil pesto that stars right alongside the asparagus. Mushrooms add some meaty texture and understated earthiness. The cheese mellows the dish out resulting in a complex yet synchronous layering of sensations, literally and figuratively, that you won't soon forget.

asparagus pesto lasagna

The inspiration for this comforting and luscious dish came from a recipe I stumbled across from Joanne Bruno. I will admit that I had never really thought of the idea of including asparagus in lasagna before, but after doing a bit of research and brainstorming, I revised the recipe, revised it yet again while cooking, and the result was even better than I imagined. It's an ideal spring recipe that is refreshing and really rather light and easily digestible despite the obvious cheesy component.

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Tamarind Chutney with Coconut, Mint and Parsley

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
tamarind chutney

Chutneys and sauces are pretty much a necessary and staple pairing for many savory Indian appetizers and flatbreads. Store-bought chutneys really pale in comparison to the freshness and flair that homemade chutneys can impart to your snacks and meals. This chutney is incredibly easy to prepare and will keep in the fridge in a well-sealed glass container for up to a week. I will note that this is one of the most interesting and unique chutneys I have ever made. Vibrant and zesty, with some spicy kick from fresh green chilies, sweet tamarind mingles with toasted coconut and fresh herbs for a special palate pleasing experience.

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Mushroom, Lentil and Spinach Risotto

lentil risotto

Warm, creamy, elegant, earthy and sweet, risottos are comfort food to me. And although people are often intimated by the idea, I love cooking them too. They're actually very simple to make, and although risottos do require pretty much constant attention, they're only really fussy toward the end of the cooking time when you want your rice grains cooked just to a perfect creamy and toothsome or al dente texture. But with a careful eye to this last step, risottos are actually a snap to make.

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Potato and Green Bean Chaat Salad

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
spicy potato chat salad

I wasn't quite sure what to call this spiced up vegetable stir-fry, but it really is rather like a dry side salad, so a salad it is. I cooked up a three course Indian meal and this delightful little dish made up the vegetable component of the dinner. It's incredibly easy to make, and if you want to save time, roast or boil your potatoes the evening before or in the morning before you really get down to kitchen business.

Chaat — or chat — masala is essential in this dish, and can easily be made in your own kitchen (see this recipe here) or purchased from Indian grocery stores. Overall, this dish is rather mild on the heat side, making it a lovely and tempering accompaniment with some zesty flare to a spicy butter paneer masala. I also served a split mung and basmati rice kitcheree. It was a fine meal that was rather a homage to the culinary traditions of northern India.

spicy potato and green bean salad

This would be a good salad to take along for an outdoor outing as it contains no dairy and won't spoil as quickly in the hot sun as many other potato salads do that are dressed with mayonnaise or include cheese.

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Raspberry-Banana Oat and Chia Seed Smoothie

raspberry banana oat chia seed smoothie

I haven't entirely jumped aboard the chia seed bandwagon, but even if they're not the universal panacea as has been suggested, I don't mind taking advantage of the omega-3 acids, fiber, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants that chia seeds provide. Apart from delightful chia seed puddings, chia seeds are easy to incorporate in smoothies, which I frequently enjoy for a healthy, easy-to-digest and quick and easy no-cook breakfast pick-me-up. And since chia seeds benefit from the same soaking and fermentation method that make the proteins in rolled oats digestible, they're a simple addition to the oat and yogurt mixture that I prepare the night before my smoothie in a variation of the traditional muesli technique — simply stir oats and chia seeds into plain whole-fat yogurt and leave overnight at room temperature, and the next morning you've got a nourishing, tangy and delicious base for adding any variation of fruits and natural sweeteners to make a smoothie.

This combination of yogurt, oats, chia seeds, raspberries and bananas makes for a particularly refreshing and substantial breakfast smoothie — so tasty, in fact, that it felt like I was drinking a fresh dessert!

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Pineapple Upside-Down Pancakes

pineapple upside-down pancakes

I love making pancakes for a special weekend breakfast, so I'm always looking for new and creative ideas to liven up the treat. One of these ideas occurred to me when I was looking at my recipe for a pineapple upside-down cake in which butter, brown sugar and rings of fresh sweet pineapple are baked at the bottom of a simple white cake, after which the cake is inverted so that the cooked pineapple sits on top. Well, what could be simpler than pineapple upside-down pancakes, since the pancakes have to be flipped anyways? So this recipe was born, with the fresh rings of pineapple fried in butter and brown sugar until golden-brown and then placed on top of pancakes right before they're flipped. These turned out to be a delicious weekend treat.

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No Croutons Required - The Winner for April and the Challenge for May

The theme for April's No Crouton Required Challenge was to come up with a soup or salad featuring Indian spices. Thanks to everyone who contributed their spicy dish. Do check out all of the tempting entries. We do have a winning dish to announce, though as usual, all of the submissions are winners. Congratulations to Preety from Preety's Kitchen, who entered her tempting and nourishing Red Kidney Beans and Corn Salad with Rice.

red kidney bean salad

I am hosting the May 2013 edition of No Croutons Required. This month I am asking for little bites. The theme is appetizer soups or salads. Come up with a soup or salad that would make for a perfect starter to begin a meal. There are no restrictions when it comes to ingredients or cuisine but please ensure your submission is suitable for vegetarians.

All you need to do to participate is come up with your soup or salad, post about it on your blog, mentioning I am the host this month with a link to this announcement, and submit your recipe via the linky tool at the end of this post by the 20th of the month. Note that only one entry per blogger will be accepted. I look forward to your little bites of goodness.