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Butternut Squash White Bean Purée

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Time: After soaking the beans in water overnight, the soup preparation takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes (45 minutes to cook the beans; at the same time you can clean and cut the squash and onions, and sauté the onions; then an additional 45 minutes to cook and purée the soup.)

Serves: 14-16 as a first course.

Inspired by: I saw this recipe in Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food”. It sounded good, hearty and healthy, and although she doesn’t purée the soup, I’ve been curious about how white beans would work as a thickening agent for a soup that was puréed. It worked perfectly! I look forward to trying this concept with other vegetables… carrot and fresh ginger, broccoli, zucchini, mushroom… perhaps roasted red pepper. I like that it adds protein and that it’s creamy without any butter or cream. Potato can be a nice thickener for veggie soups, but the white beans make it much creamer and healthier.  This version is doubled from the original Alice Waters recipe.

Supplies: Large soup pot and a sturdy vegetable peeler.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried white beans (such as cannellini, haricot blanc, or navy beans)
  • 6 cups chicken broth (or try vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian)
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 small onions (sliced thin)
  • 6-8 sage leaves (or 4-6 teaspoons dried sage)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium butternut squash, approximately 3 pounds each (peel with a vegetable peeler, scrape clean of strings and seeds, and dice into ½ inch pieces)
  • Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Preparation:

  • Soak 2 cups of beans overnight in 8 cups of water.
  • Drain and put in large pot with 6 cups chicken broth and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook until beans are tender (about 45 min). Season to taste when cooked.
  • While the beans are cooking, in large heavy bottomed pot combine 4 tablespoons olive oil, 4 onions sliced thin, 3-8 sage leaves and 2 bay leaves. Cook over medium heat until tender (about 15 min).
  • Stir in the cubed butternut squash and some salt to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, and then drain the beans (keeping the liquid) and add 12 cups of their cooking liquid to the squash and onions. Cook at a simmer until the squash starts to get tender. Add the beans and keep cooking into the squash is very soft.
  • Purée several cups of the mixture at a time – adding salt and pepper to taste in each batch – and then pouring into a large serving bowl. For a slightly thicker soup, remove approximately 2 cups of the liquid before you purée. You can always add it back in if you want to thin it out a bit.

Wine Suggestions: Contrast with a crisp, high-acid white such as Champagne, Chablis or White Burgundy  or compliment with a creamy white such as a barrel fermented (rich, buttery) California Chardonnay.


Gazpacho

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Gazpacho

Time: 15-30 minutes to prepare; I prefer to prepare this a day or two ahead of serving so flavors can meld.

Serves: 6 (I typically make 2-3 batches at a time for a party and fill up a punch bowl).

Inspired by: My mom made this when I was growing up. This is very similar to her original recipe. I’ve had many different versions of gazpacho over the years and love them all.  If you have access to really flavorful tomatoes, this is fabulous.

Ingredients:

  • 1 firm medium cucumber (2-3 cups chopped). I prefer English or Persian cucumbers so I can leave the skin on.
  • 6-8 medium to large ripe, red tomatoes, quartered with white cores removed (this recipe is all about the tomatoes so pick really yummy ones!). I leave the skins on.
  • 1-2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2-4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons Tobasco
  • 1 small piece fresh Jalapeño (optional for extra heat)
  • ¼ Bermuda or other sweet, white onion cut into a few pieces (optional – I skip this because I’m not a fan of raw onion)
  • ¼ – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 -3 cups organic tomato puree  – this is optional, but boosts the flavor and red color
  • Optional garnishes: garlic croutons, blue corn chips, chopped cucumbers, parsley, cilantro, green onions

Preparation:

  • Chop the cucumber into large chunks and pulse in the food processor. I prefer keeping the cucumber a bit chunky and crispy instead of turning it into white puree or foam. I think it improves the texture and color. White puree can make red soup turn pink. Remove and put into a separate bowl.
  • Use food processor on pulse mode again to combine the rest of the ingredients. You can stop pulsing when it is still a bit chunky or you can blend it smooth. I prefer it a little bit chunky. It’s best to do this in batches if your food processor isn’t that large.
  • Taste, and if needed, add additional salt, chili powder, Tobasco or Jalapeño to your preference.
  • Pour into large bowl and hand mix in the chopped cucumber.
  • Refrigerate to chill and blend the flavors.
  • Serve at room temperature or just slightly chilled.
  • You can garnish with chopped parsley, spring onions, cilantro, or with something crunchy such as blue chips or croutons.

Tabouli

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Tabouli

Time: Approximately 30 minutes of active time; 2.5 hours from start to finish.

Serves: 4-6 as a side dish

Inspired by: My love for Mediterranean flavors. I don’t even remember having Tabouli as a child with any of my Armenian relatives, but I have had it made by Lebanese friends. There are so many different variations on this dish. I prefer a nearly equal ratio of parsley to bulgur (many recipes are mainly bulgur and just a little parsley). This is the recipe I’ve refined and ended up with after trying various versions over the years – I love some of the subtle flavor nuances. I also usually add cucumber to give it a bit of crunch.

Ingredients – Salad:

  • 1/2 cup dry bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups minced parsley (or just use one large bunch of parsley)
  • 1/4 cup minced mint leaves
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced persian cucumber (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion (optional)

Ingredients – Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (kosher if you have it)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Boil 3-4 cups of water. When it reaches a boil, add the bulgur, remove from heat, and let stand for 45 minutes. Once bulgur is soft, drain excess water and cool to room temperature.
  • Toss bulgur with parsley, mint, tomatoes and optional cucumber and green onions.
  • Separately, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, cinnamon and crushed garlic.
  • Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until well coated. If you plan to refrigerate before serving, hold off on putting the tomato in until serving as tomatoes lose flavor in the refrigerator.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Time: 10 minutes to prepare; approximately 15-20 minutes to cook.

Serves: 4

Inspired by: My good friend Jeanette brought these to the Thanksgiving dinner I hosted this past year. That dinner reminded me how much I love them and I’ve been making them much more often ever since. I don’t know why so many people turn up their noses to brussel sprouts. It makes me wonder if they’ve had them cooked properly. When they get roasted like this with olive oil, they get soft and even a bit sweet. I think the key is to cook them really well – I don’t even mind if they get pretty charred – yum!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups brussel sprouts, washed and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Toss the halved brussel sprouts with the olive oil on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish – keep them spread out well.
  • Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  • How fast they cook depends a bit on your oven. If one side seems to be cooking much faster than the other, you can flip them over with a spatula or thongs about half way through cooking.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

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Time: 40-45 minutes

Serves: 8-12

Inspired by: I’ve always loved creamy mushroom soup and have thought about trying to make it, but prefer not to eat soups with a lot of cream. Once I tried my version of a healthy creamy zucchini soup that turned out well, I thought I’d use a similar approach to a mushroom soup – creamy without the cream! This turned out even better than I had thought it would. Wow! Yum! It’s amazing how much creamy texture yellow potatoes can add!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 small to medium yellow potatoes
  • 2 pounds cremini mushrooms
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth (don’t use low fat or low salt – get the ones with all the flavor or make your own)
  • Approximately 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Approximately 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2-4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Preparation:

  • Wash the mushrooms and let them drain in a colander.
  • Wash, peel and dice the potato.
  • Pour the chicken broth into a medium sized soup pot and add the diced potatoes (the broth should cover the potato). Simmer for about 15 minutes until potato is soft.
  • While potato is cooking, slice the onion and sauté it on medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil until it’s well cooked and translucent.
  • Once the onion is cooked, add it to the chicken broth and potato.
  • Slice and dice the mushrooms. In the same pan, sauté the mushrooms on medium heat with 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper until cooked through – about 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  • Remove 2 cups of the sautéed mushrooms and place in a bowl. Add the rest to the soup pot and cook for 1 more minute.
  • Using a cup or ladle, take about half the mixture from the soup pot, put it in a blender and puree – about 1 minute. Taste and add salt if needed and then pour into a large serving bowl. Repeat this with the rest of the mixture in the soup pot until it has all been pureed and salted to your liking. Add half of the reserved mushrooms to the soup and stir in.
  • Chop some fresh parsley.
  • Serve the soup into bowls, garnishing each with fresh parsley and the rest of the reserved sautéed mushroom slices.

Wine Suggestions: This would be fabulous with a Red Burgundy. Mushrooms and an earthy Pinot Noir are awesome! We drank this with a yummy older earthy Bordeaux last night and it was also a fantastic combination.


Papaya-Cucumber Salad

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Papaya Cucumber Salad

Serves: 4-6 as a side dish

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

Inspired by: Tony Khalife, amazing musician/artist. He taught me so much about the beauty and nuances of food.  This was one of those many salads that he just threw together one day because it sounded good and we had the ingredients. It has become a favorite because it balances out many of the spicy dishes I love to make, and when I’m in Mexico, which is quite often in the winter, I can easily find all the ingredients at a tiny market. It is often my contribution to potluck parties there with friends.

Ingredients – Salad:

  • Papaya  – 1 cup diced
  • Cucumber – 1 cup diced
  • Slivered almonds – 1/2 cup
  • Jicama – 1 cup diced (optional)
  • Avocado – ripe but firm (optional) – 1 cup diced

Ingredients – Dressing:

Preparation: Put all ingredients into glass bowl and toss gently (if you include avocado add this at the end). I do not normally add the spice, but this is fun if you want to add some zing.

Notes: This is an easy salad to bring to a party. Use the entire papaya with the same cucumber and almond proportions. Dice the cucumber and papaya in advance and add the almonds and dressing near serving time.



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