No Croutons Required - The Winner for September

no croutons required

The challenge for September was to come up with a vegetarian soup or salad showcasing mushrooms. The roundup was short this month but all of the entries are dishes that I would happily serve up in my kitchen. A winner we must choose though and the most popular this month is Shaheen's Chestnut Mushroom and Barley Broth. The balance and blend of flavors and ingredients surely makes for a perfect one pot meal. Congratulations Shaheen and thanks for sharing your lovely recipe.

mushroom broth

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

Quinoa Nut and Fruit Protein Bars

vegan protein bars

Often I don't want to fuss with breakfast, or should I say most of the time, meaning a quick alternative must be on hand for not only morning grazing, but also healthy bites to satisfy cravings whenever they hit. Energy bars have always been a good choice, though most of the store-bought varieties are filled with artificial sweeteners and are just too sweet and stale tasting. Did I mention how costly they are?

The solution is to make your own energy bars at home, for a fraction of the cost, with total control over what you are adding into the mix, and with very little investment in time. As a health conscious vegetarian, I find that these are especially handy for road trips. Pizza, bland oily salads and bagels just don't satisfy hunger when you need a real energy fix on the road. Packed with protein, homemade energy bars are also a great snack to take to work or school. What I particularly like about these homemade bars is that there is no added sweetener — just the goodness of dried fruit and some unsweetened apple juice. Feel free to mix and match your favorite staples. You really can't go wrong with this recipe.

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Teriyaki Mushrooms and Cashews

Teriyaki Mushrooms and Cashews

Fresh or dried, in any and all varieties, mushrooms are undoubtedly a weakness of mine, and so it was with some disquiet to find recently that I had gone two whole weeks without eating them in any substantial quantity! No wonder the craving hit with a vengeance. A breakfast out with a good friend failed to satisfy the need, yielding a very disappointing amount of miniscule mushrooms in a vegetable and egg skillet. So with a light dinner of an Asian-style roasted broccoli with miso-tahini-tamari sauce already mapped out, I decided to quickly fix the craving with these fast and easy teriyaki mushrooms to go along with the broccoli.

Quickly pan-fried over high heat to keep the juices in, these mushrooms are plump and tender and glazed in a simple and zesty homemade teriyaki sauce with a little garlic, ginger and dried red chili flakes to give them a delightful little kick. I really don't quite understand why anyone would bother with a store-bought teriyaki sauce when it's almost the easiest possible sauce to make at home with the quality ingredients you may already have in your pantry or can easily obtain — just a little tamari or soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. No more than 10 minutes prep and 10 minutes cooking, and you have a delicious and attractive side dish for any Asian-themed meal and a quick fix for mushroom lovers at that — double or triple the recipe if you're going to be feeding a few people. I also fried up some cashews and tossed them with the mushrooms to give the dish a little extra texture and because, well, fried cashews are always a treat in their own right.
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French Lentil Tomato and Harissa Stew

french lentil tomato stew

Lentils are the perfect solution for what I call "mid-week meals" when you need a fast and bother-free weekday dinner without giving up taste and nutrition. This is especially true on those days when I haven't planned ahead, because — unlike whole beans which require at least several hours of soaking before cooking — lentils don't have to be soaked at all or need only a couple of hours of soaking to speed up what is already a short cooking process. They're also extraordinarily versatile and can be prepared or paired with almost any number of other ingredients and flavors.

I'm especially fond of the Puy or French lentils that hold their shape when cooked - these beautiful dark green and blue speckled little pearls are especially attractive and toothsome in a soup. Their earthy and peppery flavor combines beautifully with tangy fresh tomatoes and spices, as with this quick and easy thick, nourishing and delicious stew made with lentils, tomatoes and harissa, the classic North African chile, garlic and cumin condiment. It's perfect if you have harissa on hand, whether store-bought or homemade. In fact, I used some leftover green harissa made with fresh jalapeños instead of dried red chiles that I had prepared to serve with some baked chickpea koftas earlier in the week! Delicious, but any variety of harissa will make this stew a savory delight … just adjust the amount of harissa to suit your preferences.

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No Croutons Required - Mushrooms

This month was my turn to host No Croutons Required, and because I adore mushrooms so much, I asked for a soup or salad that focuses on these succulent bites. I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years and I haven't missed meat since giving it up. I also don't go for faux meat products. Mushrooms are rather meaty though, and if you find yourself missing that texture that you may once have enjoyed, skip the products that try to masquerade as meat and try one of these dishes. Thanks to everyone who submitted a recipe this month. As usual, they are all lovely, but please do cast your vote in the comment section or via email to help us crown a winner. Please do note that my submission is not eligible for the vote.

cream of mushroom soup

First up is this lovely Low Calorie Cream of Mushroom Soup from Fiona posting at London Unattached. Autumn is arriving and it's that time when we crave comforting soups. Here, we have a version that is easier on the waistline but surely not lacking in flavor. Mushrooms of any variety that you crave, both fresh and dried, are combined here with shallots, quark, parsley and seasoning. I certainly wouldn't have much trouble eating a few healthy bowls of this blended soup.

raw mushroom soup

Next up is Lauren of Raw Lau with this heavenly Raw Mushroom Soup. This bowl is just packed with goodness and flavor. Described as "a green smoothie moonlighting as a bowl of delicious creamy soup", combined are white button mushrooms, portobellos, cashews, garlic, ginger, tamari, avocado, lemon juice and greens. This luxurious mixture is then pureed in a blender with some warm water and garnished with parsley and pepper. I feel healthy just reading about it.

Chestnut Mushroom and Barley Broth

Shaheen of Allotment 2 Kitchen serves up this warming and filling bowl of Chestnut Mushroom and Barley Broth. How could I resist chestnut mushrooms, onion, barley, carrot, garlic, tamari and chickpeas all nestled into the same dish? Certainly a well balanced vegetarian meal that surely will be appearing on my table soon. Adore the photo too.

Holy Shiitake Lentil Soup

Janet of the Taste Space is up next with this glorious Holy Shiitake Lentil Soup. I've always maintained there has never been a mushroom that I've met that didn't fill me with joy. Shiitakes and oyster mushrooms steal the show here, with lentils making their presence known along with kale, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and garlic. Any mushroom would be just fine in this earthy soup no doubt. The blend of flavors here would have me going for a second bowl.

couscous salad with mushrooms

After some warming soups, you may want to try some salad. Katie has just the thing with her Couscous Salad with Mushrooms. Designed to be part of a lunchbox meal, I would gladly eat this anytime of day. Button mushrooms, leek, courgette and yellow pepper are dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper and then tossed with little gems of couscous and toasted almonds. Served with a mixed salad and coleslaw, you truly couldn't go wrong. Power packed and bursting with goodness.

creamy thai coconut mushroom soup

I didn't get a chance to come up with anything new this month due to time constraints, but I am sure you will agree that this luscious Creamy Thai Coconut Mushroom Soup is worth serving up again and again. It's certainly one of my favorites. Fresh and dried mushrooms with shallots, galangal, carrots and lemongrass are fried up and then simmered with bean sprouts, coconut milk and stock, tamari, kaffir leaves, paprika, and homemade red curry paste . Rice noodles are then stirred in for even more texture and flavor, along with lime juice and scallions. It's a long list of ingredients, but absolutely worth the effort and easier than you might think at first glance.

stale bread soup

Our final entry is from Ruth of Makey-Cakey. Here we an intriguing Stale Bread Creamy Mushroom Soup. Stale bread soup might not sound appealing we are told, but after looking at the photo and reading through the post, I think it would be delightful and Ruth assures us it is. Slices of stale whole meal bread come together with some onions, mushrooms, corn, oat milk and and some seasoning. It's very creamy without any dairy added and that's a bonus if you are a vegan.

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

Vegetarian Samosa Cakes with Tamarind Chutney

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
samosa cakes

Happiness to me often comes in the form of savory Indian appetizers, such as samosas. I never can resist playing around with the classic preparation and so, after recent fusion dishes such as samosa potpie and samosa-style stuffed baked potatoes, I now present these soft, lovely little savory "samosa" cakes that reminded me very much of koftas.

samosa cakes

These are perfect as an appetizer, but substantial enough to serve as an entrée. It is true that I don't have a samosa "proper" documented on this blog, but my best friend Basil keeps encouraging me to make it happen. And I will, as I have before, complete with photos and recipe this time for my readers. I think that I am going to try a baked version to cut down on the oil. You will all have to stay tuned to see what I come up with. On that note, if you want to skip shallow frying, I think these little cakes could easily be baked in a preheated 350° oven for about 20 minutes until browned on both sides, much the way I do with kofta.

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Ricotta Gnudi with Homemade Chunky Tomato Sauce

fresh tomato sauce

The tomato sauce I present here was made with fresh tomatoes from my garden. All of a sudden I found myself with an excess of them and figured a rich and luscious homemade tomato sauce made perfect use of the harvest. I can't imagine making a sauce this delicious during the winter months when the fresh tomatoes available are expensive and rather bland. Canned varieties often don't satisfy my palate either. I was delighted to go "grocery shopping" in my backyard for hot peppers and fresh herbs to complete the experience.

I made this sauce for another reason too. I recently came across a recipe that Rosa posted for ricotta gnudi. It looked so gorgeous and was completely new to me, so I figured, why not give it a try. I admit that I was rather nervous, as I didn't know what to expect, but I adore ricotta cheese and it pairs so well with tomato sauce. Dumplings I have made, yes, but these are unlike any dumplings I have tried to date.

ricotta gnudi with homemade tomato sauce

What is gnudi you may ask? These pillowy little pasta-like dumplings are Tuscan in origin and are much like a gnocchi without the potatoes, so they are lighter and easier to prepare. They sort of reminded me of ravioli, without the pasta component. Once you have tried them, you will find yourself craving them time and time again.

I left the ricotta mixture to chill for an hour or so in the refrigerator before shaping them, but the dough was still rather sticky and I started to worry that the gnudi was going to fall apart when I added it to the water. Gently shaping them with floured hands on a floured surface helps, and I am still researching all of the different ways cooks can make their own gnudi, and that may take a while, as there appear to be a variety of methods and flavor combinations. For the most part, they didn't fall apart and although these little bites of goodness might not look all that pretty at first to you, when you add the sauce into the mix, it becomes an attractive plate indeed. The gnudi is fairly mild on its own, making it a perfect vehicle for the slightly spicy and herby sauce.

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Spicy Curried Millet and Vegetable Soup

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

Any combination of vegetables can be used in this nourishing and spicy curried millet and vegetable soup. I used millet, but feel free to substitute quinoa instead. As with most soups, it tastes even better the next day once the flavors have had a chance to blend together. Make it up ahead of time and simply heat it up before serving for lunch or dinner the next day. The recipe yields a large pot making it an ideal soup to serve if you have lots of mouths to feed or if you want leftovers for a few days.

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Cocoa Fruit Energy Bites

cocoa fruit bites

When I want a snack or a quick bite for breakfast, I often just want instant gratification and don't wish to clatter and bang around dishes and pots and pans to gratify the mind and tummy. An easy and healthy solution is to have a batch of power-packed homemade protein treats on hand at all times such as these seedy little cocoa and peanut butter energy bites that are packed full of nutrients, sweet without any added processed sweetener, and just bursting with dried fruit goodness. They take very little time at all to mix up and they are raw too. No baking required.

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Mini Gruyère Scones

Seems I have a reputation for making savory quick breads to go along with a meal. Whenever I suggest, or simply serve them up without saying a word, the response is always positive. An empty plate is always a sign of appreciation. My latest excursion into savory meal accompaniments somehow had to be cheesy as the weather gets cooler. There is nothing quite like Gruyère cheese, smoky or otherwise. It's truly a wonder the small block even made it into the scones, but I am glad it did, strutting it's goodness with flair as it does in these little bites. Nothing more needs to be said. Easy, irresistible and just fine with tea or any meal that you wish to adorn.

Mini Gruyère Scones

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Indian-Style Samosa Potpie

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
samosa potpie

It's easy to get excited about pie and my husband is visually animated when he knows that I will be making homemade pie from scratch. This is not a sweet pie, however, but something even better in my opinion, and that is a savory pie with a spicy and hearty samosa filling complete with plump chickpeas and a rich butter crust. It is a dinner pie. I was fortunate to have access to local produce, making this unique fusion-style Indian dish an extra special flavorful centerpiece for the dinner table. Think of it as a samosa on steroids.

samosa potpie slice

Inventive uses of pastry, in particular pies, appear to be all the rage currently. I've noticed quite a few new publications featuring pies, mini ones and full sized ones, both savory and sweet, vying for the attention of home cooks and chefs alike. This one comes shortly after the aloo palak paneer pie with a potato crust that I served up recently as part of a ritual weekend meal that we usually enjoy with our best friend Basil. I can assure you no one left the table hungry, especially as I served it up with some pappadums with an avocado salsa, grain and side leafy green salad.

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Butter Fried Corn with Potatoes, Beans, Peppers and Mushrooms

green bean and corn stir fry

Colorful stacks of fresh local vegetables are practically bouncing off the market shelves and bins these days, and there may be no better way to enjoy the vibrant fresh tastes of the local produce than to fry them in plenty of good quality churned butter. I'm especially smitten with slathering butter on ears of amazingly sweet local corn, but I can't resist all of the other local vegetables either — tomatoes, green beans, garden peas, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, radishes, carrots and so many more. It's been a bumper crop this year, so why restrict yourself? Fry up a bunch of these seasonal goodies in one pan, and you've got an extraordinarily flavorful, colorful and wholesome plate that will be gone in no time.

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Green Peas Curry (Mattar Masala)

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
mattar masala

I could assert that this green pea curry smothered in a rich and spicy tomato herbed sauce is restaurant quality, but that would be an understatement and wouldn't be quite the truth either, as this dish is even better than any such preparation I have ever enjoyed outside of my home.

There is something to be said for the tranquility and solitude of your own kitchen, complete with your carefully chosen staples and fresh produce. Oftentimes, home cooks can deliver bliss to dining tables that matches the ability of trained chefs or perhaps even outshines it, complete with the ambiance that makes for a fine meal. Surely that must sound arrogant, although I don't mean it that way, but cooking for fewer table companions may yield finer results than most of the alternatives that are readily available and affordable.

Intimacy is priceless.

pea pod

And cooking for yourself is sometimes equally rewarding.

There may perhaps be no substitute for working in an established kitchen with cooks and learning from them and sharing, but we can also learn from a distance and impart our small culinary footprint and nourish cherished fellow travelers wherever we may tread.

fresh peas

On to today's featured entrée — or side dish if you please — from my fragrant kitchen. Freshly shelled green peas are simmered in a vibrant spicy tomato gravy with fresh herbs and a hint of nuttiness from naked cashews. This classic dish has appeared on my table on numerous occasions and as with most of my favorite Indian classics, there is always yet another way to cook and spice it up. Exploring the spice and herb stash never loses it appeal.

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Red Lentil and Moong Dal

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

There are times when there is nothing more comforting than a simple lentil curry. Spiced with attention, showcasing staples from the pantry, and vibrant tomatoes from my backyard garden, simplicity in this case steals the show. In my opinion, such easy dals, especially suited for busy midweek meals, are sometimes just as good, maybe even better, than more elaborate preparations. The creamy texture of the dal is an ideal base for rich and pungent spices and audacious hot chilies. In fact, this dish is so delightful and flavorful, it deserves a spot on any table with an Indian theme, no matter the occasion or lack thereof.

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No Croutons Required - The Winners for August and the Theme for September

no croutons required

The challenge for August was to come up with a soup or salad showcasing seasonal ingredients. No matter where you reside on this mighty globe, there are plenty of ideas to choose from and many that you will probably want to bookmark. We have two winners this month and both of these salads make good use of seasonal offerings and look and sound fantastic. I'm not sure which one I will try first.

Janet's Peach and Hemp Salad with a Creamy Balsamic Hummus Dressing has me wanting dinner for breakfast. I can't resist the idea of a hummus dressing smothering all the goodness on this platter.

peach and hummus salad

Tahini certainly was a popular ingredient this month. Our other winner is Brittany who made us this lovely Tahini-Dressed Zucchini and Green Bean Salad. Not only is it pretty, it's certainly good for you too. Maybe I'll have this one for breakfast. So hard to choose.

tahini salad

Congratulations ladies.

I will be hosting the September 2013 edition of No Croutons Required. After some thought, I have decided to go with mushrooms. We have featured mushrooms in the past for this long running event, but both Jac and I adore various varieties of shrooms so much, I figured we would shout out for more mushroom recipes - you never can have enough ideas. September also happens to be National Mushroom month in the US. As every month, and every week for that matter, is an excuse to celebrate mushrooms in my kitchen, this food month only just serves as a springboard for culinary ideas and inspiration for those of you who wish to take up the challenge.

All you need to do to participate is come up with a soup or salad that showcases the earthy goodness of mushrooms of any variety, 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. Please note that only one entry per blogger will be accepted and it must be vegetarian friendly. We look forward to your delicious creations.