Monday, April 25, 2011

Meatless Monday: Simple Beet and Spinach Soup

I know I said I would be posting my Meatless Monday recipes on Sundays, but with the holiday weekend I did not find time to do that. So, here’s a meatless recipe on Monday…

It’s another soup, yes, and another one with beets, yes, but I chose this one because I made it recently and it’s very quick and easy with only a few ingredients so it could be made on short notice if you do want to stick to the Meatless Monday initiative. I hope you like- this is an original recipe by me!

Simple Beet and Spinach Soup

8 cups of water
4 beets peeled and diced
2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach or frozen chopped spinach
½ cup diced onion
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried thyme or 4 sprigs fresh thyme

Sauté the onion in the butter for about 3-5 minutes then stir in the beets and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil then cook over medium-high heat for about 30 minutes or until water is deep red and beets are tender. Add the lemon, salt, pepper and thyme and add more to taste if desired. Once it tastes to your liking, add the spinach and remove from heat, stirring the soup until spinach is wilted. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt if desired.

This is a very sweet and light-tasting soup and excellent served hot or cold. Great for spring and summer and great to dip whole grain bread into. Enjoy!

Babies and tots love beets too! They’re sweet and healthy and colorful and when pureed they make great baby food! If you cook the beets soft enough using the recipe above, you can serve them right up to your finger food-eater with some spinach and a squirt of lemon, or for baby puree a couple of spoon-fulls of the beets and spinach (without seasoning if they are under 9 months, if over 9 months then salt, pepper, thyme and lemon are fine unless deemed otherwise by you) and serve. Yum!!!

Beets are loaded with vitamin C, vitamin A and folates, while spinach is a very well-known superfood for its large sources of iron and vitamin K. And thanks to Popeye, your kid might actually want to eat it! Thyme is also loaded with vitamin K and the lemon with C, so this soup will help strengthen your bones, your immune system, and help fight free-radicals with strong anti-oxidant power! 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Meatess Mondays!

As I’ve said in a previous post, I was a vegetarian for most of my life. I only fell off the meat-free wagon 2 summers ago when the growing peapod inside of me decided it was craving a hamburger fresh off the grill, and Dr. Praeger’s wasn’t cutting it. Since then, I’ve definitely limited my meat intake and still have plenty of meat-free and often dairy and egg-free meals as often as possible. I whole-heartedly promote the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle (I tried the vegan thing once, but it was just too hard to give up chocolate and yogurt!) not only for health-related benefits, but for environmental and economical reasons as well, and especially in regards to animal cruelty. Most animals are raised in the poorest of conditions and pumped full of antibiotics and hormones then slaughtered without having ever seen the light of day.

For the sake of not sounding like a repeat of my previous pro-veggie post, even though I don’t think there is anything wrong with reiterating the advantages of the plant-based diet, I will get to my point. It has recently come to my attention that Meatless Monday is being endorsed by the non-profit public health initiative The Monday Campaigns, in association with schools like the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to Meatless Monday’s site, it was originally a program created by the USDA during WWI to help save food for troops and allies (I have been puzzled as to why this program has not been as widely publicized for the current war going on right now). During that time, it was a huge success and was endorsed once again during WWII with equal success, as all Americans at the time were proud to ration their food in order to support their loved ones overseas.

Now, it’s being pushed more for health, environmental and economical reasons, which do all relate to the current state of affairs our country is in right now, although it is not being directly linked to the war in Iraq or anywhere else we have deployed troops for that matter. The obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health-related conditions epidemics going on in the USA is probably a much bigger war at this time anyway; the war of the American people against the corporations that are pushing their synthesized, doctored-up, super sugary and fatty foods as everyday eating. It’s pretty terrifying if you really dig deep and do your research on all that’s going on with- aside from the infamous fast-food giants like McDonald’s –Monsanto, Tyson, and Nestle, to name a few.

It is a time to be educated in what you’re eating, and not only about what it tastes like. Many people are coming to their senses, but many more aren’t. There are too many pesticide-ridden and genetically engineered produce out there, and too much dairy coming from cows living in unfit conditions to be providing quality milk. And don’t get me started on the meat industry; Upton Sinclair must be rolling over in his grave.

Anyway, I am doing what I can to take part in Meatless Mondays by doing exactly what the initiative stands for- eating meat-free every Monday, and more often if it works out that way. In addition, I will offer a meat-free recipe every Sunday here on my blog so readers can use it for their own meat-free Mondays and be able to prepare in advance. In turn, I hope that anyone who does decide to join the Meatless Monday movement will share their experiences and thoughts here in comments and also let me know if you actually use the recipes I provide. I would love to know how it turns out!

So, without further ado, I present my first meatless recipe for Meatless Mondays. Since I’ve been on a bit of a soup-kick, I thought the one I selected would be appropriate.

Nanny Rose’s Lentil Soup (adapted)


1 cup dried lentils
1 cup ditalini pasta, or other small-shaped pasta
1 cup peeled and sliced carrot
½ cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice or juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Fresh chopped cilantro for topping

Pour the lentils into a large pot and cover with water until it is about 1” over the beans. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over low heat until soft. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan for about 3-5 minutes or until slightly browned. You can also go ahead and start boiling water in a separate pot for the pasta. Once the lentils are cooked, add the garlic and onion and remainder of any olive oil left in pan to the lentils and mix together. Then add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil, then add the carrots and lower heat, cooking for about 10 minutes. After the carrots have softened a bit, add the parsley, celery seed, salt, pepper and lemon juice and stir. Lower the heat to a simmer and stir occasionally.

If you have not prepared the pasta yet, go ahead and do that in a separate pot, cooking until al dente. Once it’s ready, drain and keep aside tossed in the other tbsp of olive oil. Cover and cook the soup over low heat, tasting every so often to see if you want to add any additional seasoning. This is meant to be a mild soup that is mostly flavored by the lentils, so don’t expect it to be a jolt to your senses! Nanny Rose refers to it as a “poor man’s soup” since it is great for families on a budget, plus very easy to make, but also very healthy and tasty.

Let the soup simmer so the flavors meld together for about 10-15 minutes, then throw in the pasta and remove from heat. Stir it all together and serve nice and hot with the cilantro on top. Great with French or multi-grain bread for dipping. You can also add some chunks of soft white cheese, like Brie, Monterey Jack or Havarti. I think the Brie tastes best, but this would defeat the whole “poor man’s soup” aspect of it. You can also use fresh, sliced celery instead of celery seed if you have it available. Makes 6-8 servings.

Looks sort of like a pot full of eyeballs


Lentils are great for babies and toddlers to eat too, although I haven’t had much luck with getting Lily to eat them. The night I made this soup last week, she had

½ cup steamed mixed chopped broccoli, cauliflower and carrot
2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese (she loves her cheese!)

Happily eating her veggies

For baby, simply steam and then either mash or puree one or a combination of the 3 vegetables and top with cheese, or mix-in. Yummy!

I just want to add here also that currently Lily is being raised pesco-vegetarian. She has only tried tuna recently, which she wasn’t too crazy about, but I think she will learn to like it soon enough since she is such a typically good eater. She gets plenty of B vitamins and protein from legumes, grains and greens, plus she drinks almond milk for the added vitamins and nutrients she may miss from eating meat-free, plus a daily multi-vitamin supplement as well. If you are wondering what her weight is like because of this, she is a big girl in the 75th percentile for babies her age. So, if you have ever thought about or considered raising your young child vegetarian or simple without meat in their diet, it is perfectly healthy and most likely backed by your pediatrician who can help you with dietary guidelines if you talk to them about it. I’ve found there are a lot of misconceptions about raising children on plant-based diets out there, but I’ll save my take on that for another time.

I hope everyone reading this opts in for the meat-free idea. It’s a great way to stay healthy, reduce our carbon footprint, and support the planet in general by just simply cutting meat from your diet for one day out of the week. If you are a big meat-lover, I will be sure to post more “beefed-up” recipes here that include yummy meat substitutes that don’t taste like cardboard featuring tofu and seitan in future posts. You can do it!!! Thanks for supporting the cause, and be sure to pass it on!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A hearty, zesty soup for a stuffy, achy head

It’s that time of the year again- the transition from winter into spring, meaning cold and flu season, and the start of my seasonal allergies. I love the flowers, but that pollen can be relentless when it comes to my sensitive nostrils! Lily and I seem to be passing a head cold back-and-forth and currently I am experiencing the brunt of the symptoms. Sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, stuffy head, bodyaches- I have it all. So, yesterday I was thinking: “chicken soup for dinner, yum!”

But, I didn’t want just any chicken soup, I wanted something hearty and zesty as well. And I didn’t want to have to go out shopping for any additional ingredients. After searching through a few Southwestern-style chicken soup recipes on good ol’ google, I didn’t find any that really made me go “ooo” except for a good one by Alton Brown that I didn’t have all the ingredients for. So, I raided my fridge and pantry and below is the soup I came up with.

Creamy Southwestern-style Chicken and Vegetable Soup

3 cups water
3 cups low-fat chicken stock
½ lb chicken tenders or breast
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium Yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup light cream
½ cup onion, chopped
¼ cup cooked black beans
¼ cup frozen corn kernels
¼ cup sofrito*
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 bay leaf
Chopped fresh cilantro for topping

Start by boiling the chicken. While you are waiting for that, you can go ahead and chop all the vegetables like I did. Once the chicken is all white instead of pink, drain it and rinse with cold water until you are able to handle it with your hands. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot for about a minute, then add the onion and garlic. Let it fry for about 2 minutes, then add the sofrito, bay leaf and all seasonings except cilantro and cook stirring until most of the liquid is gone. Add the chicken by tearing it into shredded pieces then tossing it in and stir into the soup base you have created so it is covered, then add the water and chicken broth. 

Heat until the broth boils then add the potato and carrots. Cook until they are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the beans, corn and cream and cook for another 5 minutes, then you can taste the broth and add additional seasonings if you like. I added a few more shakes of everything at this point, so know that the measurements I gave above are just guidelines. Once the broth tastes to your liking and all ingredients are cooked, go ahead and serve it up with as much cilantro on top as you want (I like to put a lot in mine!). Makes 4-6 servings.

*For the gringos who may not know what sofrito is, it’s a tomato-based Latin food base mainly used in soups, stews and meat dishes. You can make your own by searching for it on the internet (I recommend this one) or just buy one by Goya like I did, they carry it at just about every grocery store. I use it in a lot of dishes and most Latin recipes, it’s really good, especially with beans and chicken.

Now since this recipe was totally made up by me last night, you should be aware that it is completely alterable to your liking. For instance, Paul suggested I add rice to it next time. Some ingredients that I may have used had they been in my kitchen are tomatoes, red peppers, green chilies and avocado. It could even be topped with cheese, but of course that would add more fat and this is a low-fat recipe. You could also use heavy cream or sour cream instead of light cream, but that would also make it more fattening and I assure you, this soup was quite tasty without the extra calories.

Lily also had a similar meal of

2 tbsp cooked black beans
2 tbsp shredded Mexican mix cheese
2 tbsp cooked whole-wheat pasta

That can all be blended if your little one is still spoon-fed. Lily prefers finger foods only now, although I can still get her to eat some applesauce or yogurt if she’s in the right mood.

So, although the cream may have not been the best for my phlegm, the spices did get my stuffed up nose running (TMI?), so I think this soup was a success. Plus, Paul liked it and he can be picky :)
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