Searching for a Vegan Broccoli Cheddar Soup

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Yesterday I woke up craving Broccoli Cheddar Soup, a demonstration to myself that I’m not vegan at heart yet.  Then it occurred to me: aha! a perfect opportunity to create something new.

My first thought was of a book I just purchased, Artisan Vegan Cheese by Myoko Schinner. While I’m very excited to try out some of these recipes, and the results look awesome and tantalize me, it wasn’t going to work for me on this one. The recipes require a curing process, which is probably what makes them good — I’m all for taking time with food — but I wanted Broccoli Cheddar Soup right now. Instant gratification.

My next thought was to check Pinterest, which is where I often do my initial research. Lots of possibilities there. I rejected the soups that use nutritional yeast. In my limited experience, they yield an odd flavor to foods when used to try to imitate cheese, and then a lot of salt is added to try to cover up the flavor.

I have a little bit of a conflict here. My approach to vegetarianism has always been to just make good food, not to try to imitate meat. As a result, I try to avoid adding unusual ingredients for the sole purpose of imitation. Part of me thinks I should use the same philosophy with veganism and cheese, which makes me question the addition of nutritional yeast. It also makes me question why I am trying to make a vegan version of Broccoli Cheddar Soup in the first place, but that is another story. For now, we’ll just say it is human to be contradictory.

Anyway, back to Pinterest. I found two recipes that were virtually the same differing only in the addition of tahina to one and garlic powder to another. The basic idea was to use cooked and pureed carrots and potatoes to mimic cheddar. I made a couple of modifications to the recipe . . . including bringing in some nutritional yeast! Why? Because it occurred to me that nutritional yeast is a seasoning and perhaps the problem was that the recipes I had tried with it just used too much and then had to use too much salt. I wanted to sneak in a little and see what happened. In addition, the soup was good but . . . well, lacked a certain pizzaz. I thought I might see if the nutritional yeast did anything for it if added in a smaller quantity.

The nutritional yeast improved the soup some, but I think if I’m going to use it, I will have to increase the quantity, which I may experiment with next time.  I also wonder about adding some lemon along with nutritional yeast. Lemon brightens the flavor of anything and doesn’t have to taste lemony.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that I can use this recipe as a start to create something with a similar mouth feel but that doesn’t really try to imitate cheese. I suspect it could be just as delicious and satisfying and be something in its own right.

What changes will I make next time? I would decrease the salt in the original recipe, might or might not use nutritional yeast or lemon, and might consider some curry powder or fresh ginger. I’ll also make the proportion of carrots smaller so the soup isn’t quite so day-glo, and I think I will use fewer cashews and perhaps add some extra virgin olive oil instead. The soup thickens quickly as it cools slightly, and the olive oil may help that.

I will share here the recipe I used for this soup but will wait to post it in my recipe files until I get it to taste just the way I’d like. It’s a work in progress, as I am!

This recipe makes about four servings.

Ingredients

  • Carrots, 2 or 1-2/3 cups
  • Potatoes, 2 medium or 1-1/2 cups
  • Spanish Onion, 1/2
  • Cashews, 1/2 cup
  • Water, 3-1/2 cups
  • Salt, 2 tsp.
  • Nutritional yeast, 2 tsp. (I added this to the recipe this time)
  • Hot paprika, 1/2 tsp. (I added this to the recipe this time)
  • Broccoli, 3 cups

Directions

  1. Soak the cashews for at least 2-3 hours before making the soup.
  2. Peel and cut up the potatoes and onion. Rinse and cut up the carrots.  Put into a pot with 2-1/2 cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer with the lid on until soft.
  3. Cut the stalks off the broccoli. I usually like to cut up the stalks and add to my soup base (the carrots, potatoes and onion) to cook. In this case, I added just a little bit because I was concerned about the color. I might try more next time.
  4. Steam the small flowerets in the remaining cup of water until just tender. Drain, reserving the cooking water.
  5. Place the cashews, reserved broccoli cooking water, and seasonings in a Vita-Mix.  When the carrot, potato, onion and broccoli stalks are soft, add them to the Vita-Mix as well. Blend well, at least one minute, until smooth.
  6. Return the cooked broccoli flowerets to the pot, and pour the blended “cheese” mixture over them.

People who are a little afraid of veganism or who prefer standard American foods will like this soup!

A Quick Vegan Meal in a Dish

It’s great to have a list of fast, nourishing meals in mind for those nights when you’re tired after a long day. Here’s what we had for dinner a couple of evenings ago:

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Here’s all I needed to do to make this lovely plate of delicious food:

1. I cut up four juicy tomatoes and put them in a pot with extra virgin olive oil (maybe four TB), some minced garlic (two cloves) and lots of oregano (fresh would have been great, but since I didn’t have it on hand, I had to go with dried).  I let them simmer with the lid on while I made the rest of the meal.

2. I brought a pot of water to a boil and threw in some salt and extra virgin olive oil (about a tsp.) and added the black bean pasta to it. What a great find this product was! I keep it on the shelf all the time now.

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3. While the pasta and tomatoes were cooking — which just takes a few minutes — I used my spiralizer to make a little zucchini “pasta”. It’s very festive looking with the black bean pasta:

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4. When the black bean pasta was al dente, I drained it and placed it on the dish, added some of the zucchini “pasta” on top of it, spooned on the stewed tomatoes seasoned to taste with salt and red pepper flakes, sprinkled on a little chopped parsley (again, fresh oregano would probably have been nicer).

Voila! A delicious and pretty home-cooked meal from real foods in ten minutes. Can’t do better than that!

Now to use those Moroccan carrots…

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After I made my Moroccan Carrot Salad, I decided maybe I should make a meal to go with them.

On the left is a favorite Algerian and Moroccan salad combination, cauliflower and roasted zucchini. To the right of that is a lemony and garlicky cooked spinach salad . . . then, of course, Moroccan Carrot Salad. Around the back are Red Lentil Kefta, for which I will soon post a recipe. Just in case those kefta weren’t zesty enough for anyone, I included harif/harissa, a very hot sauce.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

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This Moroccan Carrot Salad is a traditional Shabbat salad among my friends in West Rogers Park, and I got in the habit of making it weekly. Its beautiful colors contribute to a festive table along with my other salads.

Ingredients
(Makes 1 Quart)

Ingredients
Carrots, 1 lb.
Garlic, 1 clove, minced
Lemon, 1 juiced (2 TB)
Extra virgin olive oil, 2 TB
Sea salt, 1 tsp.
Cumin, 2 tsp.
Szeged hot paprika, 1 tsp.
Cilantro, 1 oz., chopped

Directions

  1. Wash, slice and cook the carrots in water just to cover (bring water to boil before adding carrots).
  2. While carrots are cooking, mince the garlic and chop the cilantro.
  3. When carrots are just tender, remove from heat.
  4. Add lots of ice to quickly cool carrots.
  5. Drain.
  6. Place cooled carrots in mixing bowl.
  7. Add olive oil, fresh lemon juice, minced garlic and chopped cilantro.
  8. Season with salt, cumin and hot paprika to taste. The salad should be “zesty.”

An inspirational project

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When my son, Jeremy, decided on a career shift, he got engaged with an amazing volunteer organization. Their story is inspirational and a reminder that “people are basically good at heart.”

Check out this article from the front page of the New York Times online this week: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/science/hand-of-a-superhero.html?_r=0.

Read more in Jeremy’s blog at 3duniverse.org or check out his business page at shop3duniverse.com.

Food Products or . . . Food?

“You have a choice. You can continue eating the foods manufacturers want you to buy that are making you unhealthy. Or you can return to eating the foods God provided for you, already magnificently packaged in their own skins, rinds, pods and shells” . . . Rabbi Celso Cukiercorn

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Picture this: a five-year old watching TV happily munching a fluffer-nutter sandwich on something manufacturers alleged was white bread. That was me, more than 60 years ago (OMG!).

I enjoyed fluffer-nutters and many other American favorites for the next 15 years. Then in 1968, my Fort Smith, Arkansas, grandmother died of colon cancer at 65 years of age. I had a vague sense her disease was what some of us call “a foodborne illness.”

I began a lifelong research project with a consistent theme: “real food.” I campaigned to bring real food back to the center of my table. I raised a family on real food, much of which got its start in my organic garden. I even owned and operated a five-star vegetarian cafe featuring real food. I never ate another fluffer-nutter.

What is real food? In Food Rules, Michael Pollan says: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” Food choices I make for myself, my family and my cafe are guided by the real food principle. I cook my own food and choose the least processed ingredients — plant food, organic when possible. I stick to the produce section of the supermarket.

Healthy vegetarian foods can be a tough sell, easier in recent years as research supports what was anecdotal 40 years ago. Finally, though, healthy eating has to taste good and satisfy. I believe that is most likely to happen with real food, prepared by hand from whole, fresh ingredients.

Veggie Chili

(Makes about 1/2 gal. – 6-8 servings)

This chili is a favorite that I have made in my family for many years. Originally it contained meat, but with certain adjustments to the recipe, it remained a favorite when we moved to meatless meals.

Please read my post about handling the beans before preparing this soup: http://vegetatingwithleslie.org/?p=818

Ingredients
Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
Garlic, 1 TB
Green bell peppers, 2
Spanish Onion, 1
Poblano pepper, 1
Dried small red beans, 1/2 lb.
Dried dark red kidney beans, 1/2 lb.
Plum tomatoes, 8 large (or one 19 oz. can petite diced tomatoes)
Tomato paste, one 6 oz. can
Salt, 1 TB
Cumin, 1.5 TB
Hot chili powder, 1 TB
Hot paprika, 2 tsp
Cilantro, 1 bunch

Directions
1. Prepare Beans. Read my post on preparing beans – http://vegetatingwithleslie.org/?p=818

2. Prepare Veggies. Cut bell peppers and onions into 1″ dice. Mince poblano and cilantro.

3. Prepare Tomato Sauce. Hand-dice tomatoes or pulse briefly in a food processor. Measure the tomatoes, which should come to about 1 pint. Fresh tomatoes can be replaced with one 19 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes.  Add tomato paste to this mixture and water to reach 1-1/4 quarts (including the tomatoes and tomato paste).

4. Make Chili. Add olive oil to bottom of a 1 gallon pot. Saute garlic, peppers and onions until slightly soft. Add tomato mixture, and heat until entire mixture is simmering. Add remaining seasonings, and simmer a few minutes. Add cooked beans, reserving juices. You can add this back into the chili if it is too thick. Bring to a simmer.

5. Season and Finish. Add seasonings to chili, and simmer all together at least long enough to allow seasonings to permeate ingredients. Add cilantro toward end of cooking time, and adjust seasoning.

Black Bean Soup

(Makes 1.5 Gallons)

Ingredients

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/2 cup
  • Spanish Onions, 1 lg., small diced
  • Garlic, 16 cloves (2 TB minced)
  • Carrots, 1/2 lb., small diced
  • Celery, 5 lg. stalks, small diced
  • Red bell pepper, 1 lg., small diced
  • Black beans, 3 lb.
  • Plum tomatoes, 1 lb. petite diced (about 8) or one 19-oz. can petite diced)
  • Tomato paste, 1-6 oz. can
  • Water, about 4-5 quarts
  • Salt, 1 TB (to taste)
  • Cumin, 2 TB
  • Hot chili powder, 1-1/2 tsp.
  • Hot paprika, 1-1/2 tsp.
  • Lemon or lime to taste
  • Cilantro and red pepper garnish

Directions

  1. Prepare the beans – read my post: http://vegetatingwithleslie.org/?p=818
  2. Add extra virgin olive oil to another pot, covering the bottom to about 1/8″.
  3. Add onions and garlic to saute briefly.
  4. Add diced veggies and saute briefly until softened.
  5. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and seasonings. Simmer for a moment or two and remove from burner while preparing beans.
  6. Drain cooked beans in a colander over a bowl to capture cooking liquid.
  7. Measure the cooking liquid and add 4-5 quarts to the tomato and veggie mixture along with the beans (add less to start if you use the blanch-soak method of bean preparation).
  8. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook the soup until all has blended together well, beans are very tender and soup has reached desired thickness.
  9. I usually mash some of the soup with a potato ricer.
  10. Add lemon or lime if desired.
  11. Adjust liquid and other seasonings.
  12. Garnish with chopped red peppers and cilantro and serve.

Babaganoush

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I love babaganoush with its creaminess and fresh taste. I used to make mine with labne, a Middle Eastern yogurt spread, but this vegan version, made with Tahina Sauce, is just as creamy and good.

Although a good variety of smoked paprika will give a beautiful smoky flavor to the babaganoush, smoking the eggplants rather than running them under the broiler will accomplish the same.

(Makes about a quart)

BABAGANOUSH

Ingredients

  • Eggplants, 3 lg.
  • Tahina, 1/2 cup
  • Lemon, ½ juiced (up to 1 TB)
  • Garlic, 1 tsp., (or 2 cloves, minced)
  • Sea salt, 1.5 tsp.
  • Cumin, 1.5 tsp.
  • Szeged hot paprika, ½ tsp.
  • Smoked paprika, 1/4 tsp. (Opt.)
  • Parsley, 1-3 oz. (start with 1 oz., add until the mixture has a beautiful light green cast)

Directions

  1. Roast eggplant with peels on under the broiler to blacken skin (about 15 minutes, turning every five minutes).
  2. Cool eggplant.
  3. Remove skin from flesh, and drain thoroughly (an hour is best, but at least while preparing the remainder of the recipe).
  4. Place roughly chopped parsley in a food processor bowl. Process until fairly smooth, scraping down the sides. Set aside.
  5. Mince garlic in processor.
  6. Add cooled, peeled, drained eggplant to processor bowl with garlic.
  7. Add Tahina Sauce, lemon juice and seasonings to the processor bowl with eggplant and garlic. Pulse all until barely mixed. DO NOT OVER-PROCESS. It should have texture.
  8. Taste, and add hot paprika as desired (or not) — and add parsley as desired. Pulse once or twice to mix in.

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9. Spread on a dish for serving, garnish with extra virgin olive oil, Tahina Sauce, parsley or paprika or sumac or za’atar and enjoy.

Salad for breakfast

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My favorite ingredients for Israeli/Jerusalem Salad: tomato, cucumber, red bell peppers, avocado, red onion . . . and sometimes I add a little finely chopped cilantro.

“The breakfast of champions is not cereal, it’s the opposition” …Nick Seitz

Finding a breakfast cereal without sugar can be challenging. Finding one that doesn’t taste like sawdust even more so. I propose a solution to this problem: an Israeli-style breakfast.

I visited Israel for the first time almost 40 years ago. Israel is one of those places that floods one’s mind and senses with thoughts and images. It resonates with the voices of its history and culture, voices which have become part of so many of us through biblical literature although we may have never been to Israel.

One of the most memorable experiences I had on that first visit was totally unanticipated: an Israeli breakfast. Originally a very simple meal, Israeli breakfasts have become famous. Many contemporary restaurants specialize in elaborate versions of it.

Israeli breakfasts originated with the halutzim (early pioneers). Quickly prepared from local ingredients, the meal featured a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onion and perhaps avocado, dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Other typical components of the meal were soft cheeses, hard boiled eggs, pickles, olives and bread. Beans in the form of  hummus (a chickpea “dip”) or ful (fava beans) might also be part of the meal. Ful is the breakfast food of choice in Egypt and is served up with lemon, chopped garlic, onions and olive oil.

When I returned home from that first trip, I began to make a simple version of the Israeli breakfast every morning. Although my knife skills are unfortunate, I became proficient in the small dice typical of an Israeli or Jerusalem salad. We sometimes enjoyed dicing contests to see who could make the salad most quickly and with the most precision.

I love to make Israeli Salad. Because of its precision (some would call it tedious), it requires focus, especially if you don’t have great knife skills. For me, it’s “vegetative,” that is, a meditative exercise involving beautiful vegetables:

ISRAELI SALAD

Ingredients
(Serves four along with other breakfast items)
Plum tomatoes, 6 ripe but firm
Pickling cucumbers, 2-3 or Persian cucumbers,* 3-4
Green onions, 2
Red bell peppers, 1-2
Avocado (opt.), 1-2 ripe but firm
Cilantro (opt.)
Extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper

*Pickling cucumbers are preferable because of their finer grain and because they require no deseeding. Persian cucumbers are even better where available.

Directions
Although not necessary if the salad is eaten immediately, deseeding the tomatoes extends the time the salad will last without drowning in its own juices. Cut all the veggies into a uniform 1/4″ dice. Chop the onions and cilantro. Add extra virgin olive oil, the juice of a lemon and salt and pepper to taste.

VIDEO #1: For a demo of the dice, see the video my son created of himself preparing Israeli/Jerusalem salad in my cafe (mandolin optional – I do it by hand): http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bzEcBa9bzu0.

VIDEO #2: Here’s one more video – a session I did at our Woodstock Farmers Market on the Israeli Breakfast. I’m a good deal slower and less expert than my son, but here’s the good news: if I can make this salad, anyone can! – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XNAdGkxq5vc

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.