Weekly Winner: Great Green Goodness!

IMG_1598Maybe it’s the arctic freeze that has Chicago in its unrelenting grip. Maybe it’s the vast, white blanket of snow and ice covering everything I see outside. Maybe it’s simply the fact that it’s February, but lately I’ve been craving the site of something green. And preferably warm … like a soup! Well, my wishes came true because I have never seen a greener bowl of soup…. ever!! Seriously green. Emerald green. Kermit green. (Don’t worry, no celebrity frogs were harmed in the making of this soup).

I’ve also been on sort of a chickpea kick lately. I honestly never thought much about them, but find that I’ve been cooking them a ton lately — for us and for clients. In salads, in side dishes, of course as hummus. So when I saw this recipe for Creamy Spinach Chickpea Soup, well, it’s like the stars aligned and I knew what had to be done. I had to make this soup. And man, am I glad I did! It is fabulous. Actually, I find it better than it has any real right to be considering the short list of ingredients and super-easy preparation.

The recipe comes from Sunset Magazine. And trust me on this, you may think that making the curry-lime oil to drizzle on is fussy and unnecessary — It’s not!!  It is critical to making this delicious soup complex and special. Don’t cheat yourself out of this and it really only takes a second.

Without further ado — the greenest soup to ever come out of this kitchen. And one of the tastiest too!

Creamy Spinach and Chickpea Soup

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

4 1/2 Tbsp canola oil, divided

3/4 cup diced shallots (2 medium)

1 Tbsp minced garlic

2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger

2 cans (15 oz. each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1 tsp kosher salt

6 cups packed spinach leaves (from about 10 oz. bunch spinach, rinsed well and stems trimmed)

1 1/4 tsp curry powder

1 1/2 Tbsp lime juice

2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves

Preparation:

1. Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a medium pot over medium heat and add shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute more.

2. Add chickpeas, broth, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until flavors are well blended and chickpeas are very soft, about 25 minutes. Add spinach and cook just until softened and bright green, about 2 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. oil in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Stir in curry powder and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

4. Whirl half of soup at a time in a blender, starting on low-speed, until very smooth. Ladle into bowls. Just before serving, stir lime juice into curry oil and drizzle over soup. Garnish with mint.

 

Weekly Winner: The Marriage of Two Recent Obsessions

Saag PaneerLately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Indian food.  I crave it.  It is a fairly new discovery with me as far as home cooking is concerned.  I’ve always enjoyed going to Indian restaurants and I do make a fairly awesome Chicken Tikka Masala (if I do say so myself), but that has pretty much been it.  Until now.  I’m now collecting recipes like mad and experimenting with Indian spices in everyday cooking.

At the same time, hubby has become obsessed with making his own cheese.  I know, I’m a lucky woman.  Mozzarella, ricotta, you name it, he’s been tinkering with it with great success.  Which brings us to a recent, cold, Sunday evening and this week’s Weekly Winner — Saag Paneer.  Indian food and homemade cheese… ding, ding!!  We have a winner!

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and while a bit time-consuming is actually quite easy … and most delicious.

Saag Paneer

Ingredients

For the cheese:

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the spinach:

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds baby spinach
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper (seeded for less heat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

Directions

Make the cheese: Line a colander with a double layer of damp cheesecloth; put in the sink. Bring the milk to a simmer in a wide nonreactive pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, lemon juice and 2 teaspoons salt. Continue to stir gently until large curds form and separate from the whey, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain through the cheesecloth-lined colander, discarding the whey. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth and twist to squeeze out any excess whey (run the sides of the bundle under cool water if it’s too hot to handle). Tie the ends of the cheesecloth around a wooden spoon handle and lay the spoon over the colander, letting the bundle dangle; let drain, 10 minutes.

Untie the bundle and twist the cheesecloth again, squeezing out any more whey. Lay the bundle on its side on a plate. Top with another plate and weigh it down with a large can. Refrigerate until a firm cake forms, about 1 hour; unwrap and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, or up to 2 days.

Fry the cheese: Cut the cheese into 3/4-inch cubes. Toss in the flour until well coated, shaking off any excess. Heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the cheese and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt and set aside.

Make the spinach: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Working in batches, cook the spinach until just tender, about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of salted ice water. Drain and squeeze dry, then chop and set aside.

Pulse the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, coriander, cumin, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor until finely chopped. Whisk the yogurt, 1/4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and the vegetable oil in a wide pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger mixture and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 5 minutes (add a splash of water if the mixture is sticking). Reduce the heat to medium low; add 1/2 cup water and scrape up any browned bits, then add the cooked spinach and stir until heated through, about 4 minutes. Stir in the yogurt mixture and simmer gently until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the fried cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt.

Weekly Winner: Great, Green Goodness

I adore soups.  I particularly adore creamy soups.  Nothing makes me happier than when the weather gets a bit chilly and I know its time to start rifling through all my wonderful soup recipes.  I also love spinach.  And while I have plenty of soups that include some spinach, and I have loads of “cream of (something)” soups, I noticed I didn’t have a spinach soup recipe where spinach was the main attraction.  Until now.  And a creamy spinach soup?  Now you’re talking!  This was a luscious, flavorful, soul satisfying soup that could definitely be considered healthy and was relatively low in calories.  Bonus!  I believe I got this recipe from a recent issue of Cuisine at Home Magazine but I’m not entirely sure.  I am sure that it is a definite Weekly Winner.  Here it is: Creamy Spinach Soup.

Creamy Spinach Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients:

1 cup diced onion

3 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups half-and-half

2 cups chicken broth

12 cups baby spinach, divided (7.5 oz)

1 Tbsp minced lemon zest

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Store-bought croutons

Procedure:

Sauté onion in oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until softened, 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.  Stir in flour and cook 2-3 minutes.

Whisk half-and-half and broth into flour mixture.  Bring soup to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Add 8 cups (5 oz) spinach and cook until tender, 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to low.

Puree soup with a handheld blender until smooth.

Stir in remaining 4 cups (2.5 oz) spinach (chopped) zest, lemon juice, and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper.  Serve soup with croutons.

The Salad Stands Alone

I made this salad for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it made me very happy.  My husband and I each took our first bite and sat back and said “Wow!  This is better than it should be!”  This was definitely a case of the final product being surprisingly better than the sum of its parts.  Now, understand… my husband is totally not a “salad” guy…. and the fact that we had a lovely grilled steak with this and he even noticed the salad speaks volumes.

The original recipe comes from Eating Well magazine and is designed to have the sliced steak served on top.  As I said, we did do that the first time, but this salad is definitely tasty enough to stand on its own.  As a matter of fact, I made the salad, sans steak, last weekend for Easter dinner with friends.

Spinach Blueberry Salad  – serves 4

1 cup fresh blueberries, divided

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

3 Tbsp fruity vinegar (I used a raspberry vinegar)

1 Tbsp minced shallot

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3 Tbsp walnut oil or canola oil (I used walnut)

8 cups baby spinach

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Pulse 1/4 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup walnuts, vinegar, shallot, sugar and salt in a food processor to form a chunky paste.  With motor running, add oil until incorporated.  Transfer the dressing to a large bowl.

Add spinach to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. Divide the spinach among the 4 plates.  Top the spinach with feta and remaining walnuts and blueberries.  Enjoy!