Polenta-Kissed Spinach

I’ve been away, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking.

So much has transpired since I last posted. Too much to recount… Tending to a host of health issues became a full-time job and that included returning to nourishment, on all levels, which meant the real beginning of nourishing me – body, mind, and soul.

I was forced, literally, to do a reset and though that journey was definitely not an easy one, there were many gifts along the way.

Food, a rediscovery of it, re-interpretation, re-engagement, and re-integration, was one of them and of course, recipes like this one.

I was cooking one evening a recipe I hadn’t made in a long time, not because it wasn’t a favourite, but because my compulsive need to keep experimenting with new and different recipes and love for diversity has both blessed and cursed me with many favourites to the point that there are beloved recipes we don’t return to for years.

That dish was one of its victims. This time, due to a strict food regime to fix severe stomach issues, I sadly adapted the recipe to accommodate my dietary restrictions at the time. As I stood at my stove, hovering over the dish, it came to me, polenta-kissed spinach.

Over dinner, I told this to my husband and on the weekend it became our next weekly brunch feature. Fresh spinach normally abundant was difficult to find that week, but on one of our daily walks, we happened to stop in at the grocery store and managed to procure the required bundles.

In my mind, the spinach was silky, loose, and just barely coated with a thin sheen of polenta. To be clear, it was a spinach dish kissed with polenta and not intended to be polenta containing spinach (though this is now on the list to make because I’m really loving this duo).

We came home and commenced the now insanely long process of properly sanitizing the greens for safe consumption. I embarked on making the dish fully expecting to make adjustments along the way to match the picture in my head. My husband was close by taking notes and carefully tracking ingredients and amounts and on standby to revise accordingly.

Never before has a recipe come together so effortlessly. Every ingredient and measurement was correct from the start, and nothing needed adjustment, nothing. It turned out, on the first attempt, exactly as I had envisioned.

As usual, I was telling my mom about our brunch meal when later we spoke and she fell quiet. When I inquired about her silence (extremely rare for my mother), she responded she was remembering back to her grandma, who used to make this dish for her when she was a child. Then, it was my turn to fall silent. My mom had never mentioned the dish, nor made it for me growing up, and she explained that she had even forgotten about it, but concluded she too would resurrect it. I have always said that food is extremely powerful, particularly as a connector, on many levels, including our past, and the long ancient lineage of ancestral wisdom.

To say I love spinach is an understatement. I have fond memories growing up of my mom making mounds of spinach for me, simply blanched, seasoned with salt and drizzled with olive oil. I would eat mounds of it. Couldn’t get enough!

I now have yet another way to enjoy it, except now it has a little bit more substance and a lot more character. It’s simply gorgeous as a side dish and stunning as an ensemble for brunch, particularly with poached eggs. Such a beautiful way to get my fill of spinach, eat my spinach, and pay hommage to my ancestors. Thanks great grandma.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

 Olive oil  1 tbsp
 Garlic, clove, minced  1
 Water  1 cup
 Chili flakes  pinch
 Salt  1/2 tsp
 Black pepper
 Cornmeal  2 tbsp
 Spinach  2 bunches
 Juice, lemon  1/2 tsp
 Olive oil (if needed)  1 tbsp

Directions:

  1. In a medium, but deep skillet, over medium heat, heat olive oil.
  2. Add garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add water and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add chili flakes, salt and black pepper and simmer for 2 minutes.
  5. Add cornmeal and cook for 8 minutes.
  6. Remove half the polenta from skillet and reserve for later use.
  7. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
  8. Return to skillet other half of the polenta and fold into spinach until coated.
  9. Add lemon juice.
  10. Add olive oil if required.
  11. Divide spinach into two bowls.

Serving suggestion:

  1. Top with 2 poached eggs.
  2. Season eggs with salt, black pepper and paprika.
  3. Garnish dish with parmesan and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Serve with a piece of toast cut in half.

Lemon Saffron Quinoa Soup


It’s at this time of year that I begin to miss soups, even before I actually stop making them. I push soup season for as long as I can and keep soups on my weekly menu plans until the end of May or early June, if it’s still cool enough. In fact, I don’t typically stop making soups over the summer, at least not entirely.  I just slow it down. I get one or two hot soups in before the summer months are over, not because they are seasonal, but because some seasonal ingredients work so well in soups, but more importantly because I love soups in any season. 

I’m not sure from where the inspiration for this soup came except for the fact that I enjoy soups and love quinoa. Quinoa is now being added to almost everything, soups, chillies, tacos, etc., but as one of many ingredients, and it frustrates me because I never seem to get my quinoa fill. This is a light, brothy soup with plenty of quinoa swimming in a saffron, lemony pool packed with sweet leeks, loaded with parsley and rounded by a soft hit of pepper. It’s intricate simplicity at its best. 

You can have fun with this soup by changing up the broth. A sweetcorn broth works quite nicely, as would a carrot, parsnip, or fennel broth. A single shredded carrot or parsnip is also a nice addition. 

This is a fast weeknight meal that can be made in 30 minutes or so and a complete vegetable protein!

As I lament the upcoming “hiatus” from soups, I must admit that I am tired of the winter grade produce and am wildly anticipating the spring goodies. Oversized bunches of asparagus sit in my fridge as I decide how to celebrate the debut of spring. 

But for just a little while, I’m going to sit on the fence as I reminisce about the days of winter now gone and await the fresh bundles of spring.  So, enjoy a hearty bowl of soup as you awaken from the winter’s slumber and delicately step into spring. 

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

 Olive oil  1/4 cup + 1
 Leeks  2
 Garlic, cloves, minced  3
 Chili flakes  1/8 tsp
 Broth, vegetable  10 cups
 Quinoa  3/4 cup
 Salt  2 tsp
 Black pepper
 Parsley  1 cup
 Saffron, pinches, generous  3
 Turmeric  1/4 tsp
 Zest, lemon, small  1
 Juice, lemon  1 tsp
 Watercress, baby


Directions:

1. In a medium pot, over medium heat, heat oil.

2. Add leeks and sauté for 5-7 until softened, but not browned.

3. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook for a couple of minutes.

4. Add broth and bring to a simmer.

5. Add quinoa, salt, black pepper, 3/4 of the parsley, saffron, turmeric, and lemon zest and simmer for 15 minutes (or until quinoa is cooked – check package directions).

6. Add lemon juice and remaining parsley and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.

7. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a handful of baby watercress.

“Chorizo” Tacos

Chorizo 3
The inspiration, Ottawa’s Ola Cucina, one of my favourite restaurants right now. It’s one of my Friday night hangouts because of its scratch-made, no-nonsense, casual dishes that taste ‘more-ish’. 

We have had these twice this last week. Yes, they are that good, but that’s not the reason. Been working long hours and in anticipation of getting home late, been planning simple and quick meals, with the understanding that dinner would most probably fall to my husband. Last Monday I got home to some less than appealing ‘chorizo’ tofu with all the fixings. I asked, “what happened? It was supposed to be a simple meal.” My husband explained that it was simple until he tried to make two batches of the ‘chorizo’ filling. He’s not a vegetarian and we thought it would be nice to have a meat option for him for a change. The end result? Two ‘chorizo’ fillings. Both burnt. Both extremely dry. Let’s just say that my husband is not a great multi-tasker. It was eight o’clock and I was very hungry, so I ate it, but it left me wanting more. I appreciated my husband’s efforts, truly, but decided he’s not ready to graduate from soup making, not quite yet. 

This, is my version. Yum! And exactly what I had envisioned. You’ll recognize the ‘chorizo’ tofu recipe from my Romaine Salad with Ground Cherry Vinaigrette & Crumbled Chorizo Tofu. It’s my go-to recipe for anything relating to tacos, fajitas, burritos, etc. Such a beautiful vegetarian filling, full-bodied, spicy, and savoury with a hint of lime to balance all those flavours out. The sour cream imparts a cooling effect and creaminess that’s abided by no else, but the avocado slices (sometimes guacamole when I have leftovers). The cabbage, carrot and and radishes bring crunch and hit of freshness. The tomatillo sauce and hot sauce are flavour boosters balanced by the pickled onions that provide just a hint of sweetness. All topped off with fresh cilantro leaves to aromatize it all and wrapped in a warm, rustic, corn tortilla, for which there’s truly no substitute. 

It’s a taco to rival any of the others out there. For sure! It’s a fast week night meal, but you’d never guess by the power house of flavours. Ola fiesta!

Serves 2 hungry vegetarians (makes 8 tacos)

Ingredients:

 Chorizo Tofu:
 Tofu, crumbled  300 grams
 Olive oil  5 tbsp
 Garlic, cloves, crushed  4
 Black Pepper
 Tamari  3 tbsp
 Hungarian paprika  1 tsp
 Smoked paprika  ½ tsp
 Aleppo powder (or other spicy pepper powder)  ½ tsp
 Coriander, ground  1 tsp
 Cumin, ground  ¼ tsp
 Lime, zest  1
 Lime juice  2 squeezes
Tacos:
 Tortillas, corn, small 8
 Sour cream  3 tbsp (1tsp per taco)
Cabbage, shredded 1 cup
Carrot, julienned 1
Radishes, slivered 4
Avocado, sliced  1
Cilantro, leaves,  fresh  
Onions, sliced, pickled
Salsa verde  1/2 cup
Hot sauce  
Lime, juice  


Directions:

1. Drain tofu and using your hands crumble tofu into ground-like consistency. Place crumbled tofu in a small sauté pan on medium heat. At this point, if the tofu chunks are still too big, I apply a potato masher to make the adjustments. Cook tofu for 1-2 minutes on its own. This helps evaporate excess liquid. Add remaining ingredients: olive oil, garlic, spices, seasoning, lime rind and juice and continue to cook until tofu crumble is golden brown, approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. To warm tortillas, dampen with water a few sheets of paper towel. Place tortillas between the two layers. Place on a plate and microwave for 45 seconds. Wrap plate in foil to keep tortillas warm. 

3. Assembly: Layer on the warmed tortillas in this order: sour cream, radishes, cabbage, carrots, chorizo tofu, avocado, pickled onions, cilantro leaves, tomatillo sauce, hot sauce, a squeeze of lime juice. 

4. Serve on their own or with a simple green salad on the side.