Red Lentil Soup with Warm Spices

I absolutely love red lentil soup. I have made several versions and I have always been pleased with the results. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. This version was incredibly creamy. I loved the pop of color from the flavorful toppings too.

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I modified the proportions. We ate it with a green salad and warm naan- a perfect light dinner. Vegetable stock can be substituted for the chicken stock for a vegetarian version.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Soup:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped fine (I used a food processor)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock (I used 4 cups chicken stock & 4 cups homemade turkey stock)
  • 4 cups water
  • 21 ounces (3 cups) red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 T (1/4 cup, about 1 lemon) freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus extra for seasoning

For the Topping:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 3 tsp dried mint, crumbled (I omitted it)
  • tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

To Make the Soup:

  1. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Stir in broth, water, and lentils and bring to simmer. Simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and about half are broken down, about 15 minutes.
  6. Whisk soup vigorously until it is coarsely pureed, about 30 seconds. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and extra lemon juice to taste. Cover and keep warm. (Soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Thin soup with water, if desired, when reheating.)

To Make the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in small skillet or in the microwave. (I only did 1/2 of the topping because I froze 1/2 of the soup!)
  2. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika, as desired.
  3. Ladle soup into individual bowls, drizzle each portion with spiced butter (about 1 teaspoon), sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

White Borscht

Before I was introduced to this recipe, I thought that borscht was always a deep red, beet-based soup. I now know that borscht means “sour.” The sour tang in this soup comes from soaking sourdough bread in the broth, puréeing it, and incorporating it into the finished soup, along with crème fraiche which is stirred in just prior to serving.

I made my first homemade borscht (the beet-based version) for Christmas Eve, and my husband purchased pierogies at a Polish store for the same meal. Luckily, I saw this recipe and he was also able to buy house-made garlic kielbasa for this soup. The quality of the kielbasa is very important because it is used to create the broth for the base of this soup.

This recipe is from The New York Times, contributed by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I followed the recipe closely, but may decrease the amount of butter next time- I’m not sure it was necessary! (but it was quite delicious 😉 ) It was a creamy, indulgent, and delicious upgrade of potato-leek soup. Fabulous cold-weather comfort food.

Yield: 5 quarts, Serves 10 to 12

  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds full horseshoe link of high-quality smoked kielbasa
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 3 pounds leeks (6 long, lively leeks)
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes (about 4)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 large yellow onion, small-diced (about 2 cups)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 (4-ounce) hunk of dense, very sour sourdough bread, crusts removed
  • 1 full tablespoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, woody stems removed, fronds minced

Shortcut Chicken & Dumplings

More weeknight comfort food! This dish uses rotisserie chicken meat and store-bought gnocchi as shortcuts to create a close match to traditional chicken and dumplings. It was quick to prepare and very tasty.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Alexa Weibel. I incorporated my CSA parsley, leeks, carrots, and collard greens. In addition, this soup could easily gobble up many other vegetables such as frozen peas, fennel, squash, parsnips, or mushrooms. We ate it with a green salad. Great.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 to 5 cups 1/2-inch ribbons of collard greens or kale, ribs removed (optional)
  • 2 medium carrots or 8 ounces butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium leek, trimmed, white and pale green portion halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup) (can substitute 1 large shallot, if desired)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick (about 2/3 cup)
  • additional vegetables such as frozen peas, or diced parsnips, fennel, or mushrooms, optional
  • 3 to 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (optional)(I omitted it)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 (16 to 18-ounce) package fresh or shelf-stable store-bought gnocchi (I used Trader Joe’s 17.6-ounce gnocchi)
  • 1/2 store-bought rotisserie chicken, skin and bones discarded, meat torn into bite-size pieces (about 2 to 3 cups shredded meat)
  • fresh tarragon, parsley or dill, for garnish

Ukrainian Winter Borscht with Vushka

We missed celebrating Christmas with our extended family this year. 😦

Traditionally, my Mother-in-Law makes all of us the meatless 12-dish Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast as part of our celebration. It is a beautiful dinner, but a major undertaking. I didn’t attempt to make the complete meal, but I did make a couple of the courses for our celebration at home. 🙂

Our meal began with a (mini) shot of vodka and a bite-sized piece of challah with honey. We ate this Winter Borscht with Vushka (mushroom-onion dumplings) followed by sauerkraut and potato-cheese pierogies, which my husband purchased from a local Polish store, as our main courses. I made my Mother-in-Law’s apple strudel for dessert, post to follow.

This recipe was adapted from Tom Birchard and Natalie Danford of NYC’s East Village restaurant Veselka, via The New York Times, contributed by Julia Moskin. (I gave my husband the Veselka cookbook for Christmas!) I incorporated some of the beets, puréed, into the finished soup. I used dumplings wrappers instead of making the dough for the dumplings. I also modified the Vushka proportions and technique.

I used beets from my CSA share for the soup, made it in advance and stored it in the freezer. I made the Vushka a day in advance and stored them in the refrigerator. The recipe states that the dumplings are optional; in my house they are essential! The soup had a spicy kick which may have been from the fresh garlic, which is incorporated at the end. I enjoyed it but may consider omitting the garlic next time.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the Borscht:

  • 2 pounds beets, trimmed and scrubbed (do not peel)
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 whole allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • coarse salt
  • mushroom and onion dumplings (Vushka)
  • chopped dill, for garnish, optional
  1. Coarsely chop beets, preferably in a food processor.
  2. In a medium pot, combine beets, 4 cups water and vinegar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beets are soft, about 45 minutes. Strain and set juice aside. (Beets can be used for another purpose, like salad.)(I puréed half of the strained beets in a Vitamix and incorporated them in the finished soup.)
  3. Meanwhile, in a deep pot, combine carrot, celery, onion, stock, bay leaves and allspice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes. Strain and discard aromatics and vegetables.
  4. Combine strained stock and beet juice and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Add sugar, garlic (if using), and black pepper. Season to taste with sugar and salt.
  6. Add half of the reserved beets, puréed, into the finished soup, as desired.
  7. Serve with dumplings and sprinkle with dill, as desired.

For the Vushka (Ukrainian Mushroom & Onion Dumplings):

Yield: 80 to 100 dumplings

For the Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cups chopped button mushrooms
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the Dough: (I used Shanghai-style dumpling wrappers instead)

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, more as needed

To Make the Filling:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Let soften, about 10 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid and mushrooms separately.
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until golden but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add button mushrooms and cook, stirring, until mushrooms have released their liquid, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drain liquid.
  4. In a food processor, combine both kinds of mushrooms.
  5. Spoon in porcini liquid, leaving behind any silt in bottom of bowl.
  6. Pulse together until finely ground but not pasty: about 3 or 4 pulses. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

To Make the Dough: (I used dumpling wrappers and continued at Step 8)

  1. In a small bowl, combine egg yolk, oil and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water and whisk 1 minute.
  2. Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in center. Add a third of the egg mixture and lightly mix in with fingers or a fork. Repeat 2 more times.
  3. Using hands, fold dough together until soft: if crumbly, gently work in more water; if sticky, add flour.
  4. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead 3 minutes.
  5. Form into a ball, transfer to a bowl and refrigerate 45 minutes.
  6. Lightly flour a work surface and a pan or board for the finished dumplings. Divide dough into 3 sections.
  7. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll each section out until very thin and in a rough rectangle.
  8. Use tip of a sharp knife to cut dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. (I used a 1 1/2-inch square cookie cutter as a guide. Each dumpling wrapper yielded 2 squares. If using square dumpling wrappers, each one may be able to make 4 squares. Next time!)
  9. Cover the cut dough with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out.
  10. Drain any excess liquid from filling. Place 1/4 teaspoon filling in center of each square. (I found it helpful to pre-scoop the filling and place it on a cutting board because it dried it out slightly.)
  11. Wet the edges of the dough and fold squares in half to form triangles, sealing filling inside.
  12. Pinch the 2 opposing corners together to seal tightly, use water if necessary.
  13. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with plastic wrap or a floured surface: do not stack.
  14. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  15. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook dumplings until they float, 2 to 4 minutes. (If cooking frozen dumplings, cook until they rise to the surface and add 2 minutes.)
  16. Drain and serve in hot borscht, about 10 per serving, or just with sour cream.

North African Bean Stew with Winter Squash

This is a healthy and hearty vegetarian stew. We ate it over brown Basmati rice with steamed spinach on the side. I loved that it was loaded with warm spices.

The recipe was adapted from Brooklyn’s Kos Kaffe via The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used farro instead of barley, used canned beans, and increased the amount of garlic. I also reduced the amount water to achieve a thicker consistency. Nice.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

For the Baharat Spice Blend:

  • 1 T sweet paprika
  • 1/2 T ground coriander
  • 1/2 T ground cumin
  • 1/2 T ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice

For the Stew:

  • 5 T extra-virgin olive oil, more for serving
  • 2 leeks, white and green parts, diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated
  • 1 cup finely diced fennel, fronds reserved (1 medium or 1/2 large fennel bulb)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons baharat spice blend
  • 1 small (or 1/2 large) cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley or farro (I used Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
  •  large pinch saffron, crumbled
  • 4 cups cooked beans or chickpeas (I used 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash (1/2 large or 1 small squash)
  • 3/4 cup peeled and diced turnip (1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • plain yogurt, for serving (I used Greek yogurt)
  • aleppo pepper or hot paprika, for serving
  • brown Basmati rice, for serving, optional
  1. Make the baharat spice blend. Set aside.
  2. Cut leeks in half, slice into half moons, and soak in a bowl of water. Drain and finely chop in a food processor.
  3. In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil and cook leeks until they begin to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (I used a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  4. While the leeks cook, finely chop the cilantro stems, fennel and garlic in a food processor.
  5. Stir the cilantro stems into the pot, along with diced fennel and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in baharat, cinnamon and tomato paste, and cook until paste begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes.
  7. Stir in broth, 1 cup water (water can be omitted for a thicker consistency), the barley/farro, and the salt. Bring to a gentle boil, stir in saffron, if using, and reduce heat to medium. (The original recipe uses 3 cups of water- increase for a more soup-like consistency, as desired.)
  8. Simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. (I simmered the stew for 20 minutes because I used par-cooked farro.)
  9. Stir in beans, squash, turnip and lentils; cook until barley/farro and vegetables are tender, about another 30 minutes.
  10. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Remove cinnamon stick.
  11. Ladle stew into bowls. (I served it over rice.)
  12. Spoon a dollop of yogurt on top and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with cilantro leaves, fennel fronds and Aleppo pepper or paprika, as desired.

Cream of Fresh Pea Soup

I have one more green soup to share. This bright green soup screams “springtime” to me but it can be a wonderful summertime soup because it is also delicious served chilled. It is a classic soup in my house- I have made it for years using both fresh or frozen peas.

The fresh herbs provide the bright flavor in the finished soup. I have always incorporated fresh dill but I can imagine that it would also be delicious with basil or a combination of fresh herbs.

This recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Fast, healthy, and delicious.

Yield: 5 to 6 servings

  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or water
  • 4 cups peas, fresh (about 20 oz) or frozen
  • 1 cup milk (low-fat or soy okay)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 T minced fresh dill, mint, basil, tarragon, parsley, and/or chives
  1. Melt the butter in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion and salt, and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the stock/water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the peas, cover again, and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until the peas are tender.
  4. Purée the soup with the milk using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender, then return the purée to the pot.
  5. Reheat the soup very gently. Add the minced fresh herbs just prior to serving.

Note: This soup also tastes wonderful served at room temperature or chilled.

Lemony Spinach Soup with Farro

It is hard to relay deliciousness when looking at a bowl of “green!” This healthy soup was beyond delicious. Similar to the soup in my last post, this soup also gets its creaminess from puréed potatoes. I also loved that it was loaded with greens and herbs and also incorporated farro (one of my favorites) as a bonus.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used a combination of olive oil and butter, homemade turkey stock, and Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro. I also left the potato peels intact and increased the amount of garlic. Yum!

Yield: 6 servings

  • 4 T unsalted butter or olive oil (I used 3 T butter & 1 T olive oil)
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 rosemary or thyme branches
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound tiny potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (unpeeled)
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (I used homemade turkey stock)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt or fine sea salt, plus more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup farro (I used Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro)
  • 1 pound baby spinach (about 20 cups)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems (or use dill)
  • 1 cup parsley leaves and tender stems
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more for serving
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
  • flaky sea salt, for serving
  • Aleppo, Urfa, Turkish or other red-pepper flakes, for serving
  • grated Parmesan or pecorino, optional, for serving (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  1. Melt the butter and/or heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Stir in the leeks and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic, thyme/rosemary and bay leaves; cook 1 minute more.
  4. Stir in the potatoes, stock, 2 cups water, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer, partly covered, until vegetables are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook according to the timing on the package until just tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
  6. Discard thyme/rosemary branches and bay leaves from the soup pot.
  7. Add spinach, cilantro and parsley, and simmer uncovered until very soft, 5 to 8 minutes.
  8. Using an immersion blender, purée soup until smooth. (Alternatively, you can purée the soup in batches in a blender or food processor.)
  9. If necessary, adjust the consistency. If the soup is too thick, add a little water. If it’s too thin, let it simmer uncovered for another few minutes to thicken.
  10. Stir in lemon juice and more salt to taste.
  11. Stir in farro.
  12. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, flaky salt, red-pepper flakes and a little grated cheese, as desired.

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