A childhood favorite: Alphabet soup

This weekend, while on a historical tour around Mennonite country in southern Ontario with our family, I came across dried alphabet noodles at a Mennonite General Store. Up to this point, I have never seen dried pasta in the shape of alphabets before. They lived only in the much-loved cans of Campbell’s alphabet or Heinz’s Alphagetti soups – both of which were considered an occasional treat in our household. Especially the Alphagetti, because of its perceived lower nutritional value.

In any case, I quickly scooped up a bag. For less than $3 for a reasonable-sized bag of homemade nostalgia, I didn’t need to think twice.

First thing I made when we returned to Toronto: my own homemade alphabet (and numbers, since it turned out the bag also contained numbers) vegetable soup. In a word, delicious.

As a tip, if you like adding rice or pasta to your soup, make the soup first and then cook the rice or pasta separately when the soup is ready for serving. Spoon in the pasta or rice into your serving bowls first, and pour in the soup over top. This keeps the pasta or rice from overcooking and falling apart.

Most of you will have a fabulous vegetable soup recipe already. However, in case you’re interested, I’ve included my uber-simple vegetable soup recipe below. You can really use any vegetables you happen to have in your fridge. Corn is fantastic to include for the sweetness it adds to any soup base.

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Tomatillo salsa

Image credits: Vivian Chan

We received some beautiful, fresh tomatillos in our foodshare this last week, and decided to whip up a quick salsa out of them.

Tomatillos are a mainstay in Mexican and Latin American cooking. Chances are, if you’ve ever had a green salsa or sauce at a Mexican restaurant, then you’ve had tomatillos. They are part of the nightshade family (same family as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and gooseberries), and are usually bright green in colour, although there are tomatillos that are a green-purple. They have a firm texture, tart flavour, and grow with a paper-like covering over the fruit. Needless to say, we were really excited to get them and to make our own version of the tart salsa. The great part is that this salsa is really simple, quick, and easy – perfect to whip up for an appetizer or snack.

Ingredients: (makes about 2 cups of salsa)

  • 5 tomatillos, chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of either parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper, or to taste
  • Chips!

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Sprouted buckwheat spinach salad

Ah, sprouted buckwheat, the Hercules of healthy green food – perhaps rivaled only by kale. The great part about sprouted buckwheat is that it is one of the most complete sources of protein you can find (containing all eight amino acids), which is particularly fantastic for our vegetarian and vegan friends, but also for meat-eaters too. It’s also gluten-free and jam packed with enzymes and important nutrients. So imagine how thrilled I was to found a beautiful fresh stash of sprouted buckwheat as part of our foodshare bag recently.

Sprouted buckwheat

It felt like a waste to blend it down into a protein shake, which is what it’s often used in, so I decided to integrate it into a fresh spring salad. Sprouted buckwheat tastes a lot like a grain food, while not being a grain, so the flavour is rather neutral. This makes it a great complement for just about anything. I went with spinach – another green superfood. My recipe below makes enough for two people, so if you have a larger family, you may want to increase the portions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of sprouted buckwheat (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 cups of spinach (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries
  • 1-2 ripe vine tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic fig vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh mint
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • salt, to taste

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Tomato Dill Chickpea Salad

It’s a glorious, sunny spring day and I came home feeling inspired to have something as spring fresh as it was outside. I ended up settling on making a tomato dill chickpea salad.

Ingredients:

  • 3 vine tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 baby cucumbers or 1/2 english cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1 sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 5 green onion sprigs, finely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons of lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of salt, or to taste
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Fa’alifu Ulu: Coconut Breadfruit

Image credit: Vivian Chan

I fell in love with breadfruit in Jamaica a few years back, so when I came across breadfruit in one of my local grocery stores recently, I was elated. I decided to make my version of Fa’alifu Ulu, a simple Samoan breadfruit dish. “Fa’alifu” is a savoury coconut sauce and “Ulu” is breadfruit. You can use this sauce with any starchy vegetables or fruit like sweet potatoes, yams, Chinese taro root, and even bananas. If you use bananas, use green bananas that aren’t ripened yet. The cooking process is the same no matter what you use.

Ingredients:

  • 1 breadfruit (peeled, decored, and chopped)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/2 medium sized white onion (or a Spanish onion if you prefer the sweetness)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt, or to taste
  • water

Optional:

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut flakes (according to preference)
  • 1/4 cup chives, finely chopped

First, fill a large bowl 3/4 of the way with water. As you peel and cut the breadfruit, you will need to put the pieces into the bowl of water to keep the fruit from going brown. If you don’t care too much about the fruit browning a little you can skip the water bowl.

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Behind a tough skin

The colder weather of the winter season always brings out the cravings for hearty, hot foods. One of my favorite seasonal ingredients to cook with is squash.

Not only is squash high in nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B, and antioxidants, but its versatile flavour and dense texture makes it a great complement to pretty much any main dish. It’s all in how you prepare it. My own preference: baked maple-glazed butternut squash. And all you need are a few simple ingredients.

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme (or 1-1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried or fresh rosemary (if you’re using fresh rosemary, chop the rosemary or bruise it with the back of your knife. This will release the essential oils from the rosemary.)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon maple syrup (or 3/4 tablespoon of brown sugar if you don’t have maple syrup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper, to taste

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