Vaguely Indian Butternut Squash Soup

While we’d all like to pretend it does not exist sometimes, there is most definitely that category of food known as “more effort than it’s worth.” At least, more effort than it’s worth to make at home (ahem, rugelach). This soup (particularly the stock that is it’s foundation), is gingerly teetering on deserving such a title. And yet, look at the colors! And, yay, vegetables and healthy cooking! Wow, flavor combinations I’ve never encountered before!

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You’ve been warned. But if you have a day you are planning on spending sitting around at home anyway, and you don’t mind an hour or so of vegetable prepping and chopping, then consider adding this soup to your agenda. You will be rewarded with amazing smells and tastes, though your heart will sink when you see all the vegetables that get discarded once the stock has been made. I guess these are the sacrifices we make when trying to make a flavorful stock without meat. Though can we acknowledge that just a few chicken bones could accomplish what over a dozen vegetables, herbs, and spices are needed for here? Nonetheless, if you are still full of new year resolve to eat healthy, and willing to put in inordinate effort to fulfill your resolution, then this dish is for you.

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Indian Butternut Squash Soup

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 6-8 servings

For the Curried Vegetable Stock:

1 large yellow onion

2 large carrots

2 celery ribs

1 bunch green onions, including 2/3 of the greens

2 tablespoons sunflower seed

8 cloves garlic, smashed

8 parsley sprigs

6 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

4 whole cloves

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

2 cardamom pods

skins and seeds of the butternut squash from the soup

trimmings of the lemongrass from the soup

5 pieces dried slices of galangal (you can get these at spice markets)

2 sprigs each of mint, basil, and cilantro

For the Indian Butternut Squash Soup:

Curried vegetable stock from above recipe (about 6-7 cups)

1 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, the tender middle section minced

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

juice of 2 limes

mint, cilantro, and basil, finely chopped, for garnish

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First, make the stock. Clean and dry all of the vegetables and herbs thoroughly and chop into 1 – 2 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add all of the ingredients except the salt and brown for 10-13 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. The more fragrant, the more flavorful your stock will be. Add the salt and 8 cups of water and bring to a strong boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer (without a cover) for 40 minutes. Strain out everything and reserve the liquid.

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Next make the soup. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add the squash, minced lemongrass, onion, half the jalapenos, and the garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-13 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a strong boil. Lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash is quite tender. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender (or an old-school blender) to puree the soup to your desired consistency. Place back on heat, and stir in the coconut milk. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and add salt as needed. Serve garnished with the remaining jalapeno and the chopped herbs.

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Savory Coconut Rice and Spiced Golden Tofu

I’m all for New Year’s resolutions, though I am not one for extremes. You won’t find me on a Paleo diet, completely cutting out carbs, or not eating sugar for a month. But there are modest efforts we can all make towards being healthier.

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My effort this year is to eat more home-cooked vegetables and focus on portion sizes (and learn how to make more of my mom’s classic Polish dishes, but that’s a story for another day). I’ve found that the best way for me to stick to proper portions of healthy foods is to have filling grains like rice, balanced well with protein and fiber. And, because I have a day job, to make things that reheat well.

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This savory coconut rice with spiced golden tofu hits all these requirements while packing some great flavors you may not have encountered before. It’s comfort food that you don’t need to feel too bad about. And it’s delicious.

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Savory Coconut Rice with Spiced Golden Tofu

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 4-6 servings

For the Rice:

2 cups basmati rice

4 teaspoons peanut or sunflower seed oil

1 small onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 15 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (use lite coconut milk if you wish)

3 kaffir lime leaves

For the Tofu:

1 package extra firm tofu, rinsed, and with as much water as possible pressed out

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons peanut or sunflower seed oil

4 green onion, including half the greens, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3/4 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish

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Wash the rice, and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and dry well. In a large saucepan or french oven, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Cook for 8 minutes, then add the rice and salt. Stir until well combined, then add the coconut milk, 2 cups water, and the lime leaves. Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat until the rice is simmering. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just slightly liquid-y. Set it aside–the rest of the liquid will get soaked up as you prepare the tofu. Remove the lime leaves before serving.

img_5350Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine the spices, sugars, and salt in a medium size bowl. Throw in the tofu and gently mix until it is evenly coated. Warm the oil in a deep skillet or french oven over medium high heat (it is likely to spatter later so you want something deep). Add the tofu, and let cook for 8 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is golden brown and crispy. Pour off excess liquid/oil as needed to help the tofu fry. When it is almost done, add the green onions, and cook just until slightly wilted. Remove from heat, and stir in the lime juice. Serve the tofu atop the coconut rice. Garnish with cilantro.

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Pistachio Spiced Lamb Chops with Raita

With the recent Passover and Easter holidays, amid thoughts of chocolate eggs, jelly beans, matzo, and more traditional Polish Easter fare (cold cuts, sausages, a variety of cold salads), I found myself most often thinking about some spicy, pistachio-crusted lamb chops that I recently made. I had a hard time figuring out why—though the dish was delicious, the price of the chops meant it wasn’t a great option for a large feast—and eventually determined that this must have been because of the oft referenced Paschal Lamb.

Lamb Chop Perfection

I did a quick Wikipedia search on the Paschal Lamb, and I’ll spare you the somewhat gruesome reference. The mind, it goes to strange places. Suffice it to say, these lamb chops are so delicious, they’re thought-provoking, and no firstborns were slain in the making of this meal.

A Balanced Celebratory Meal

I actually made these lamb chops for a birthday dinner, and I’ll let the bones, which were left sucked dry and meatless, serve as evidence of the meal’s raging success. Stick to the suggested times for cooking the meat, and you can’t go wrong. I had never made lamb before, and spent most of my time cooking worried that this meal would be a complete flop, but the searing and baking method served me well. If you have any small, special occasions coming up, may I suggest you make these and bask in the site of your guests working hard to get at every last piece of this meal. It does great things for the ego.

All That Remained

Pistachio Lamb Chops and Raita

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 3 to 4 servings

Pistachio Spiced Lamb Chops:

1/2 cup shelled pistachios, unsalted

1 teaspoons garam masala (you can also use chaat masala)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

6 small lamb chops (3 to 4 ounces each)

salt and pepper, for seasoning

olive oil, for cooking

Meat of Champions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the pistachios and spices in a food processor and pulse until they are finely ground and combined.

Pistachios

Salt and pepper the lamb chops generously, and let them sit for 15 minutes before cooking. Pour a generous layer of olive oil on a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the lamb chops for 2 minutes per side on the pan. If the pan begins to smoke, lower the heat.

Chopped Lamb

Searing to Perfection

Dip the lamb chops in the pistachio mixture, coating all sides. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Paschal Lamb

Raita:

1 cup plain yogurt (don’t use reduced fat!)

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced

1/3 cup English cucumber, minced (other varieties of cucumber will do as well)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Cukes and Mint

Combine all ingredients. Voila!

Raita

Serve the lamb chops with the raita. Enjoy the spicy and cool combination!

Oven Lamb