A nourishing soup recipe

I had some periodontal work done yesterday afternoon and it has really wiped me out. This is the second periodontal procedure I’ve had since January and I still have at least one more to do within the next month or two. As a person who has had minimal dental work done in my lifetime (short of wisdom teeth removal under general anesthesia I’ve needed nothing besides routine teeth cleaning until now) it seems the Novocaine shots are the most excruciating part of the whole procedure. Yesterday I actually writhed, whimpered, and had tears streaming down my face as the doctor injected the front part of my mouth.

Afterwards, I made it home via the el and an eight block walk (because I’m trying to get more exercise and I didn’t want to wait for the bus), and then thought that I should take advantage of the remaining daylight to mow my lawn. And the elderly neighbor lady’s lawn, too. Let’s just say I was pretty tired after such a demanding afternoon and lay on the couch doing nothing the rest of the night.

I needed to cancel my trip to the office today and squeeze a nap in this afternoon, but by late afternoon I was finally feeling more recovered. Then it occurred to me how wonderful it would be to have a bowl of this soup.

Whenever I’m feeling not my best, a bowl of tasty, nourishing soup goes a long way towards restoring me. Turmeric, one of the key ingredients in this recipe, has been used as an anti-inflammatory for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and the other seasonings in the soup soothe, warm, and comfort me. It’s vegan and has no fat or oil in it, but I find it still satiates me. It also freezes quite well, so I will often make a double or triple batch to put up for another day when I need the healing properties of soup.

The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. It’s an amazing cookbook and I highly recommend it for more mouth-watering recipes than just the one soup. Like the previously posted recipe, I’ll be adding some bracketed comments of my own.

Masoor dal soup

10 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup red lentils (masoor dal), picked over, washed, and drained
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lime juice [I just juice half of a fresh lime]
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use as desired)

Tie the cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth. [I use one of those cloth teabags and just clean it out to re-use the next time I make this soup.]

Put the rinsed lentils and 5 cups water into a heavy 2 1/2-to-3 quart pot and bring to a boil. Remove the scum that rises to the top and discard. Add the turmeric and spice bundle to the pot. Turn heat to low, cover so the lid is slightly ajar, and simmer very gently for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the spice bundle and discard it. Put the soup in a blender or food processor (you may have to do this in two batches) and blend until it is smooth. [If you have an immersion blender, you can use one here. However, I never blend this soup. The lentils have softened so much that it seems unnecessary to me.] Add the salt, lime juice, and cayenne. Stir to mix.

This soup may easily be made ahead of time and reheated. [The author recommends serving homemade croutons on the side. I like it without the croutons and will eat it with toasted bread or pita, or with a scoop of rice right in the middle of the bowl. Naan would be even better!]

Baked oatmeal recipe

The busyness continues here, severely cutting into my writing time. Truly the adage that you can have anything you want, but not everything you want applies to more than just finances, it also applies to time management.

Besides my (more than) full-time job being extra demanding at this time, it’s also Spring which is the most critical season to gardeners. I’ve decided that I’ll scale back my usual food gardening this year for a few reasons, but I still have to manage the perennial beds and keep the small lawn in the back tended.

March and April were really rainy so it was difficult to find a day or two that fit my requirements of being dry enough (meaning that a day or two had passed to dry out the soil) and when I could step away from the work computer for several hours. Finally, the universe provided me with not just one but two days like that last weekend. Hooray! I spent both days weeding, dividing and moving plants, and pruning. I can’t say I’m completely done, but I’ve made enough progress that I am happy.

The weather here has not just been very wet, it’s also been quite cool. Warm, hearty food like baked oatmeal is perfect in these conditions.

I first tried making baked oatmeal a few weeks ago so I could bring some to my mother. I had plenty left for myself and was happy to find that it froze well, too. Last Monday night I decided to make another batch, tweaking the recipe a bit to better meet my personal tastes.

I wasn’t sure if I could post the original recipe (from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book) so I checked into copyright rules first and ran across an article that put my mind at ease.

As I made the recipe for the second time I ended up changing the recipe a bit more than originally planned since I ran low on some ingredients and made substitutions. This recipe as presented in the book has several suggestions for modifications to create different flavor combinations, so I knew that changing the type of dried fruit would work.

While changing the amount of sugar in a baked item such as bread or cake can affect the structure and texture, I felt confident decreasing the sugar in this recipe, too, since here the sugar is more for flavoring. (I like sweets, but find that the amount of sweetness I prefer is usually less than in standard items.)

Finally, the biggest change I made was in substituting other flaked grains for some of the oatmeal. I had planned to swap rolled quinoa for a small portion of the old-fashioned rolled oats, however it turned out that I was much lower on rolled oats than I thought so additional substitution was required.

Why rolled quinoa? Quinoa is a seed that provides a complete protein. Like the whole grains in this recipe, it also is very filling and high in fiber. While I do like the taste of standard, whole quinoa, I’ve found that I don’t like the texture of rolled quinoa as much, so when I substitute rolled quinoa in a recipe, I don’t do a complete or large substitution.

The result is even more delicious to me. 🙂 Bracketed notes throughout the recipe indicate how to adjust this recipe back to the original version. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Baked Oatmeal

1 cup steel-cut oats
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats [original recipe: 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, and omit other rolled grains]
1/2 cup rolled quinoa
1 cup rolled barley
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar [original recipe: 3/4 cup packed brown sugar]
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced apple
1/2 cup dried cranberries [original recipe: 1/2 cup diced dried apricots plus 1/4 cup diced crystallized ginger]
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened, plain almond milk [original recipe: 1/2 cup milk]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish (or coat with non-stick spray as I did).

Place the steel-cut oats and the butter in a large bowl. Bring the water to a boil, and pour over the oats. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, stir in the rolled grains, brown sugar, apple, dried fruit, salt and spices. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, almond milk [or milk], and vanilla. Stir into the oat mixture. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

(Note that this *entirely* fills a 9-inch baking dish to the top, so be careful when filling. I placed the baking dish on a cookie sheet as it baked just in case there was a spill, but it is not a very “wet” mixture and should not bubble over.)

Bake, until the center is set, 35 to 40 minutes. (I found that it needed a full 40 minutes or even a bit longer in my oven.) Remove from the oven, and serve warm with milk or cream for breakfast, or warm with whipped cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt for dessert. (Or just eat plain, without the dairy accompaniments, like me. Yum!)

Yields 16 servings. This freezes well, so make it, portion and freeze, and you’ll have healthy breakfasts for many hurried mornings!

Control and comfort

I’m a control freak and I realize that. Digging deep into my life as I was growing up, there is an explanation for this. I won’t go into great detail here as I try not to get too heavy on this blog; I have a therapist for a reason, and that’s the proper venue for such revelations.

I only note this fact here to introduce the reasoning behind my nearly fanatical focus on food and exercise in the past few months.

I am NOT in control of what is going on around me these days, and I find that very stressful and anxiety-provoking. I am buffeted by the crazy economy and an internal reorganization at work; by a wildly changing mortgage market that impacts my ability to lock down a monthly budget on which to live, and; by the wacky legal system and it’s impact on my personal space/life due to divorce. (*STILL* no final agreement on paper or date for this to end and me to be living alone…arrggghhhh!)

One sure thing I CAN control is what goes in my mouth and how I expend those calories. So, my freezer is pretty much full of containers of the various soups I’ve cooked up nearly weekly over the past 2 months, as well as the fruits, veggies, and other freezable things I’ve put by such homemade crepes and bread. It makes packing lunch every day pretty easy, and it is a great way to make sure I am eating healthy, nourishing food.

I love soups, and I’m a big fan of beans and other high-fiber veggies. So when I ran across a recipe for Garlic Lover’s White Bean Soup I had to try it. This is gooooddd soup that’s really thick and stew-like. It’s vegan, but can be adapted for those who love meat. (I had some chopped ham on hand so I added it near the end.) I talked so favorably about this soup to my friends that I’ve been chided once already for not yet providing a link to the recipe. My friends, have at it and enjoy!

Today was a very special day for Chicagoans as our former senator was sworn into the office as president. Many of us took a break from work to cluster around the television on our floor (perpetually tuned to CNN and usually spewing dire financial news or disasters) to watch the key inauguration activities: Obama’s swearing in and his acceptance speech. I’ll admit that I was one of the people wiping tears from my cheeks. I still tear up as I see the replays of his speech on the news programs.

I know that Obama is just a man and that he will likely make mistakes, but it is such a relief to have real hope for the direction of this country. This is also an area where I have no control, but it makes a big difference to have a person that I trust and admire in this position. And the fact that so many outside of this country responded with great enthusiasm to this event, too, gives me great hope and comfort.