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.

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“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. 

Breaded Tofu Cutlet Sandwich

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So, I thought long and hard about what my comeback post should be and though I really wanted to do something summery (to come), I felt the need to go back to my roots, comfort food, Italian comfort food. Been craving this and it doesn’t surprise me because this dish always brings me back to my mother’s kitchen.

I have had a lot of time to think these last few months. Life gets hard sometimes and it is interesting to see what gets dropped as a result. And it’s not so much what gets dropped, but more what you don’t have the passion for as energy gets depleted and diverted.

I have spent a lot of time soul searching (my husband laughs because it’s difficult to imagine doing more of this) and for me this has meant:

  • cutting down the number of people I see,
  • spending more time with key people,
  • indulging in what I feel like doing each day and this changes from day to day and even, at times on the same day, which necessarily means not making plans, but going with the flow,
  • yoga, lots of it, and more yoga,
  • exercise (now more and more outside of the gym),
  • bike rides along Ottawa’s rivers and lakes,
  • lots of time sitting by the water,
  • re-entering the world of Charlotte Bronte (if you haven’t read “Shirley” I highly recommend it),
  • less “I shoulds” (you should see the state of my house),
  • lots of walks especially by the water,
  • more time with my mother and grandmother,
  • longer and more frequent visits to my farmers’ market (even though I do less cooking there’s something about a farmers’ market – community, back to basics, the aromas, people, and quiet bustling),
  • catching up on sleep,
  • easing into my mornings,
  • more dessert,
  • playing at work (still working on work / life balance),
  • gentleness,
  • abiding by that inner voice,
  • honouring the grey zones, and
  • letting life ease in.

Essentially, feeding my soul, creating space for the things that I love, making time for things I want, continuing to lead a quiet life, and now simplifying it, manifesting magic…

A lot of this has taken me away from my beloved kitchen, which was ok because it too, in some ways, was becoming oppressive. The conundrum appears when life gets complicated and all of a sudden there’s less time and energy to cook when you most need nourishing on all levels. Walking away from the kitchen helped me make space for some of the other stuff, which eventually brought me back to my kitchen, just not in the same way. I have changed my attitude about cooking. I cook some three meals a week with bigger leftovers to mix and match for lunches and am doing more salads and sandwiches for dinner, good quality, but in a more manageable timeframe.

Dishes like this, breaded tofu cutlet sandwich have been feeding my soul on so many levels. Comfort food! But memories, gratitude for my mother, values-instilled, and my culture. My mom used to make this sandwich with both veal and chicken, but I preferred it with chicken. The cutlets were stomped thin, breaded and fried and then stacked in a classic Italian panino (bun) like the one featured with piles of romaine lettuce and an extremely generous serving of mayonnaise. The breading, savoury, the tofu, I would vouch tastes kinda like chicken, crisp lettuce, creamy and tangy mayo, and soft white crusted Italian bun.  Ohhhhhhh, there’s nothing more to say really – yum.

My version flavours the tofu with garlic, tamari and sriarcha. Employs nutritional yeast in addition to breadcrumbs, and gets baked with pretty much the same effect. When I bit into it, I said to John, tastes just like my mother’s. He laughed, having tasted hers and said, “you’ve been away from chicken too long”. Maybe, but when I bite into it, it takes me home, only now it’s just a little bit healthier.

You can eat the cutlets in a sandwich or on their own. I have also cut the tofu into long cubes to make tofu sticks / fingers and dip them in plum sauce, also very good and a nice protein topping to turn salads into mains for dinner or lunch.

So go ahead, come on home with me.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

 Tofu:
 Tofu, firm  2 pkgs (700 g)
 Garlic, clove, cut in half (to start)
 Tamari  ¼ cup
 Sriarcha  2 tbsp
 Breading:
 Flour  4 tbsp
 Eggs, beaten  2
 Breadcrumbs  3/4 cup
 Nutritional yeast  3/4 cup
 Canola oil
 Assembly:
 Buns  4
 Lettuce
 Mayonnaise

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Drain tofu. Cut tofu into 1/4-inch thick slices. Should end up with 8 tofu cutlets.

3. Cut garlic clove in half and use to rub both sides of tofu slices. Every couple of tofu slices, re-cut garlic clove ends off to re-fresh. Brush tofu first with tamari, then with sriarcha on all 6 sides.

3. Place flour and tofu slices in a ziplock back and toss until tofu is well coated. Coat tofu with egg then dredge with coating mixture.

4. Arrange breaded tofu cutlets in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.

5. Spray tofu generously on both sides with canola oil.

6. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping once, halfway through.

7. Assembly: Cut bun in half. Spoon some mayonnaise on top and bottom slices of bread. Place generous amounts of lettuce leaves of your choice on bottom layer of bread. Top with one tofu cutlet. Follow with more lettuce leaves. Top with another tofu cutlet. Repeat process with other buns. Enjoy!