Category Archives: Beans

Creamy Broccoli Soup

creamy vegan broccoli soup

The phrase “comfort food” conjures up images in my mind of Italian grandmothers slaving over hot stoves all day, of Southern dishes laden with butter and bacon, and of slow-simmered Indian dishes served with more rice than should fit in a human stomach.  But for me–and for many people who grew up in my generation–our real comfort foods are often the packaged, industrial kinds that frequently nourished us at dinnertime and whose cartoon mascots coached us after-school on TV.  Foods like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Trix Yogurt are often what pop up when millennials think of our first food memories.  I mean, I’ve already shared how Nutella was basically a third parent to me.

But one of the weird packaged foods like I absolutely loved as a kid was Lipton Cup-a-Soup in the Broccoli Cheddar flavor.  Basically it’s a “food” powder that you rehydrate in hot water and that should only be served to monkeys in space.  Somehow we thought that feeding this to a sick person would make them healthy again.  But admittedly, a lot of things that happened in the late 80s/early 90s don’t make that much sense to me: (See: shoulder pads, mall bangs, crack cocaine, WHY WINNIE AND KEVIN DON’T END UP TOGETHER etc. etc.)

But what does make sense to me is creating a healthy, vegan version of broccoli cheddar soup with–gasp!–real food.  Onions and garlic give a solid flavor base, and cannellini beans create that creamy texture and pack the protein, while lightly cooked broccoli adds vitamins C, K, and A, folate, and a brilliant green color.  Broccoli, like kale, bok choy, collards and other members of the cruciferous family, is thought to help prevent cancer because of its anti-inflammatory properties and high antioxidant concentration.

If you are hungering for that old-school broccoli cheddar flavor, you could even add a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast flakes to give it a cheesy flavor and add B vitamins.  Like most blended soups, this freezes beautifully and is great to have on hand for days you aren’t feeling great or just don’t feel like cooking.  No food powder required.

Creamy Broccoli Soup
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups of water
2 heads of broccoli, broken into small florets (about 1 lb)
juice of half lemon
salt, pepper, and chili flake to taste

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot and add onions.  Saute until they soften but don’t brown, about 5 – 7 minutes.

2. Add garlic and saute an additional 30 seconds.  Stir in the beans and add salt and water.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Add broccoli florets and let sit until they turn bright green, about 30 – 60 seconds.  Remove a few florets and set aside for garnish.  Blend the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth, adding lemon juice, salt, pepper and chili flake to taste.

3. Serve immediately, garnished with broccoli florets and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Note: The lemon juice will turn the broccoli an olive green as it sits.  If you aren’t serving the soup until later, add the lemon juice and re-season right before serving if you want to keep it bright green.

Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tagine with Apricots

chickpea and sweet potato tagine with apricots

When I started this blog last year, I agonized over what to name it.  For some reason I knew I wanted the word “chickpea” in there (or cecci or channa), and eventually my buddy Justin came up with “Urban Chickpea” and I loved it.  But it took a solid three months of meditating on the word “chickpea” and obnoxiously recruiting my friends for help for me to land there.  Based on that experience, it will take me at least 6 years to name my first child.  And there’s a 90% chance his/her name will be Chickpea.

And that’s why it’s a total outrage that I haven’t featured a recipe with chickpeas on this blog until today.  EVERYBODY CALM DOWN.  I’m finally giving you what you want: a healthy, vegan meal starring Chickpea.  In addition to looking great holding a fork and a handbag, chickpeas are a great source of protein and extremely high in folate, in addition to being good sources of other minerals like iron and manganese.  From a culinary perspective, they are a fantastically versatile legume because of their firm texture and unique shape and they hold up well in a dish like this.

Although the ingredient list looks long, this recipe is super flexible once you understand the basic seasonings.  Since it’s October, I used both summer squash and sweet potatoes, but you could sub in other vegetables like eggplant or butternut based on what’s available.  The key flavoring agent is Ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend that features a number of spices like cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon and gives this dish a warming, perfumed quality.  I also added harissa (which I’ve used before in pasta sauce), and the combination of rich spices, slow-cooked vegetables and dried fruits transported me back to a college trip to Marrakesh, where I was first exposed to the sweet-spicy combination that is characteristic of much Moroccan food.  (Although truthfully, the most memorable part of the trip was when a street vendor appeared out of nowhere and placed a filthy, 30-lb monkey on my then-boyfriend’s head and said–in what was meant to be the monkey’s voice–“Don’t be afraid….I like you.”)

This tagine can easily stand alone, or you can cook up a whole grain like millet or quinoa to accompany it.  I was making this dish to share with a friend who just had a baby, so a large quantity of a refined starch seemed totally necessary.   I love the pearled look and tapioca-like chewiness of Israeli couscous, so I experimented with ways to cook up a perfect batch and the results are below. Israeli couscous is also sometimes called Pearl Couscous, although my grocery store has taken to calling it “Middle Eastern Couscous” perhaps to avoid seeming political.  Not that it helps to distinguish it from all other couscous…that it also Middle Eastern.

Ahh, chickpea love.

Chickpea and Sweet Potato Tagine with Apricots
serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon Ras el hanout
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon harissa
pinch of saffron in a couple tablespoons of hot water
1 zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
1 15-ounce can chickpeas
1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, sliced into half-moons
1 cup water
1-2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
juice from half of lemon, to taste

1. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil. Add cumin seeds, and when they start to sizzle and pop, add onion and saute until soft, 5 minutes.

2. Add carrot and sweet potato and saute 5 more minutes. Then add Ras el hanout, cinnamon stick, harissa and saffron and stir until you can smell the spices, about 30 seconds. Then add the zucchini, chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, apricots, water and salt. Bring up to a boil, reduce to a low simmer and cover. Cook on low until sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes–but the longer the better.

3. Remove from heat and add parsley, cilantro and lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon or salt if necessary. Serve alone or with a cooked whole grain or couscous.

Perfect Israeli Couscous
serves 4

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous or Middle Eastern couscous)
1 3/4 cups water
pinch of salt

1. In a medium pot, heat oil and add couscous. Stir to toast couscous until you start to smell a toasty scent or until the couscous starts to turn a light golden color, about 2 minutes. Add water and salt, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and let cook 15 minutes.

Persian Black Lime and Herb Soup

persian black lime and herb soup rezas

Some of my earliest memories as a child take place on food tours of
Chicago.  A given excursion might take me from buying mangoes and
ten-pound sacks of basmati rice on Devon to eating the city’s best
chicken koubideh in Andersonville and then finishing up the evening
with a quick swing by Taylor Street for Italian ice.  And while
these tours weren’t formal—in fact, they were mandatory and led by two
bickering parents cruising in a Subaru station wagon—they are really the root of my interest in food and culture.  And of course, why I now give food tours in Chicago.

One of my family’s major hotspots in Chicago was always Reza’s, a Persian restaurant in Andersonville, and not just because we were for some reason treated like royalty by the Indian maitre d’.  While my family certainly craved Reza’s chicken koubideh and the aromatic dill rice, the first course of an herbaceous lentil soup is what made us go truly bananas.  It was healthy and light, but also hearty and filling, with a tangy depth of flavor.  Even to this day, my sister/roommate/hero/Game of Thrones-watching partner and I have mastered the mathematical acrobatics necessary to exactly meet the minimum delivery requirement for Reza’s to get this soup delivered when we aren’t feeling well.

My mom spent a good part of my childhood trying to perfectly recreate this soup at home with sumac, a dried, ground, sour berry used in Middle Eastern cooking.  With this recipe, I’ve continued her good work with the discovery of black lime, another spice common in this region’s cuisine.  Black limes are basically salted, boiled, and sun-dried limes, and they impart a hard-to-match sourness to balance other flavors in a dish.  Now, yes, I realize you probably don’t have either of these spices on hand, but I strongly recommend seeking them out to add to your pantry, as you’ll likely find many uses for them, adding a brightness to otherwise flat dishes.  I picked up a huge bag of  black limes at a Persian grocery store in Chicago for under $3.  You can also find them online from LA’s Spice Station.  Just make sure to poke a couple holes in them before cooking to make sure the flavors fully infuse.  Sumac is easier to find in stores, but it is also available online.

The other characteristic quality of this soup comes from bucketloads of dried herbs, added at the beginning of cooking.  I’m the unofficial ninja master of my local grocery store’s bulk section, so I snatch up dried herbs for pennies, but you can also substitute handfuls of fresh herbs, finely chopped, if that’s more convenient.  Just be sure to add them at the beginning of cooking as well to ensure the right final consistency.

Now that the weather is getting cooler, you can skip the delivery charge and warm up with this unique homemade soup.  Because winter is coming.

black limes and sumac

Persian Black Lime and Herb Soup

serves 4

1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 celery stalks, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/3 cup red lentils, rinsed
1/3 cup beluga lentils, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup dried parsley
1/4 cup dried dill
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 or 2 black limes, poked with a knife
1 tablespoon sumac
about 6 cups water
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1. In a large pot, heat up oil and saute onion, carrots and celery until soft, about 8 minutes.

2. Add red lentils, beluga lentils, turmeric paprika, dried, parsley, dried dill, and dried mint, black limes and sumac.  Stir to combine.  Add enough water to cover and so that the lentils have something to absorb, about 6 cups.

3. Once the lentils are fully cooked, about 15 – 20 minutes, add the chopped tomatoes and salt.  Let simmer an additional 10 minutes, then taste for freshness (add more herbs), tartness (add more sumac) and seasoning (add more salt).

Velvety Harissa-Spiked Tomato Sauce

tomato sauce with harissa and cilantro

I have a friend who used to date a guy who was more giving and generous than anyone I’d ever met–but almost to an uncomfortable point.  Mention you liked his shoes?  He would take them off and give them to you.  Never met him before, but he heard you played the drums?  He’d invite you to his parents’ house in the suburbs to jam and sleepover.

However, on a Saturday night not too long ago, I turned into that guy.  My buddy Nate and I were hosting our second Seek Supper Club event, when in the middle of the 2nd course, a diner burst into the kitchen raving about the tomato sauce I’d put on the plate.  I immediately packaged the remainder of the sauce into a quart container, and foisted it upon him before he left.

There are thousands of marinara sauce recipes out there, and certainly rules about what makes one “authentic” or not.  I’ve nicknamed this sauce “Not-Your-Nonna’s Tomato Sauce” because it really doesn’t follow any of those rules.  The recipe has three unexpected ingredients that are key to its balanced flavor and that would make your Nonna shudder: pureed white beans, cilantro and harissa.

Since I’m not Italian, I don’t have an Official Nonna, but I’m pretty sure neither of my actual “nonnas”–one is Pakistani, the other, German–would have approved of this sauce either.  It doesn’t take a whole day to make and there’s no secret pinch of sugar.  This shortcut method, however, creates a balanced, smooth sauce: the carrot and onion sweeten up the sauce naturally, the white beans lend a velvety texture, and the cilantro and harissa add brightness and spiciness to balance out the tomato’s acidity.

Harissa is a North African chili paste that’s pretty easy to find in the international food aisle of most supermarkets.  I’ve seen gourmet jarred versions that I’m sure are delicious but I find myself drawn to the kind that looks like a terrifying, red toothpaste and costs less than $2 at the grocery store.

While I served this sauce as an accompaniment to quinoa patties, you can use it anywhere you’d use a regular marinara.  This tomato sauce especially makes a great topping to a vegetarian pasta, since it has extra protein from the white beans.  Make a double-batch and freeze it in one-cup portions.  Add some water and fresh veggies and you’ve got a great tomato soup as well.

Velvety Harissa-Spiked Tomato Sauce
makes about 3 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 carrot, chopped
1 box (about 26 ounces) pureed tomatoes (recommended:Pomi)
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 can of cannelini beans
3 sprigs cilantro, tied together
1 teaspoon of salt or more to taste
1 – 2 tablespoons of harissa

1. Heat up the oil in a pot and saute the onion, carrot and garlic for 5 – 8 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes, cannelini beans, cilantro, salt and harissa and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, adding water to thin if necessary.

2. Remove the cilantro sprigs and blend the sauce in a blender until smooth. Add water to thin to desired consistency. Taste and add more salt or harissa if necessary.

Black Lava Cakes

black lava cake

I know, I know.  I don’t normally tempt you with delicious-looking desserts like this.  As the name “Urban Chickpea” implies, you often find healthy, plant-based dishes on this site featuring greens, some new-fangled squash or maybe just a big plate of beans.  Today, however, I’m sharing a rich, decadent recipe for a molten lava cake spiced with cinnamon and cayenne and topped with the perfect contrast of sea salt.

Except…surprise!  The main ingredient in this cake is black beans.  Insert catchphrase here!

Now, I didn’t invent the bean dessert trend (check out some notable versions on Joy the Baker and My New Roots), but I like to think that I’m crushing it with this upscale, wholesome twist on the ’90s restaurant cliche: molten lava cake. Hey, as a friend told me, in the food world, somethings are ubiquitous because they are delicious.  (I was talking about St. Germain and she was talking about bacon, but I think we could both agree that the rule applies to gooey chocolate desserts as well.)

In addition to being made from protein-, fiber-, and iron-packed black beans, these cakes are gluten-free, vegan, and sweetened with maple syrup, not sugar.  So while they are still a dark chocolaty indulgence, they are filled with wholesome nutrients as well, like Omega-3s from the chia seeds.  Individual ramekins keep the portions in control, to prevent you from pulling a Miranda Hobbes and eating cake out of the trash.  After melting the chocolate, you just buzz up the ingredients in the food processor and the cakes are ready to go in the oven.  Feel free to play around with the flavors in this recipe.  I go coconuts for cinnamon and cayenne with dark chocolate, but you could try adding orange zest, a splash of frangelico or even more vanilla to make this cake suit your tastes.  Also, you can definitely omit the brown rice flour if you don’t have it on hand.  Without it, the cake will have a fudgier, more brownie-like consistency that’s equally delicious.

I’m typically not much of a dessert person (clarification: I don’t make them, but I definitely eat them) but I was inspired to create this recipe because I wanted to serve something special for a my new supper club, Seek.  It’s an underground dining event in Chicago that features a multi-course, whole foods-based vegetarian meal in a secret location.  Last weekend, we held an Anti-Valentine’s Day dinner and I figured what could be a more perfect dessert for jaded, cheeky urbanites than a rich chocolate cake for one?  Check photos from Seek’s Anti-Valentine’s Day dinner here.  The dinner and recipe were also featured this week in the wellness newsletter Vital Juice!

Come on, Treat Yo’ Self 2012.

Black Lava Cakes
makes 4 small cakes

1 tsp. chia seeds
3 tsp. water
1 4-oz. bar of dark chocolate (70 – 80% cacao), chopped into rough 1/2″ pieces
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon (I recommend Vietnamese Cinnamon: it’s stronger and spicier)
pinch of cayenne
1/4 heaping tsp. fine grind sea salt
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/4 c. brown rice flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 3-oz. ramekins
coconut oil and extra brown rice flour for prepping ramekins

Optional garnishes:
scoop of coconut-based vanilla ice cream
hiwa kai black lava sea salt (or black sesame seeds or coarse sea salt)
blackberries

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Mix chia seeds and water in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, set aside four pieces of the chopped chocolate. Put the rest in a metal or glass bowl and place over a pot of simmering water to melt. Set aside.

4. In the food processor, combine black beans, maple syrup, vanilla, lemon juice, cinnamon, cayenne, fine sea salt, melted chocolate, cocoa powder and chia mixture. Process until smooth. Let sit five minutes in the food processor.

5. Oil the ramekins with coconut oil and dust with brown rice flour. This is an optional step if you want to unmold the ramekins after baking.

6. Add the 1/4 c. brown rice flour and baking powder to the processor and pulse to fully combine. Fill each ramekin with the mixture about 1/2 – 3/4 full. Push a piece of the reserved chopped chocolate into the center of each. Bake at 350 for 20 – 30 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving. Top with scoop of ice cream, hiwa kai sea salt and blackberries.

Wintry Butter Bean and Kale Saute

wintry butter bean and kale saute

Since the clock struck midnight on January 1st, it seems like every newsletter from the ever-proliferating world of daily deal websites has contacted me about my New Year’s resolution to sculpt my flabby arms, consume only liquids until the point of collapse, or finally lose that baby weight.  I was surprised because not only did I not make these resolutions in a public forum, I also did not make them at all (or even gain baby weight in the first place).

It’s not that I’m opposed to resolutions; in fact, the opposite is true: as a New Year’s baby I’m especially prone to thinking about January 1st as a time for change and renewal.  I even made a few resolutions of my own this year (ranging from being more giving to using a purse).  However, it’s disturbing to see this dietary yo-yo culture propagated by those who aim to profit off of it.  If Hallmark is believed by conspiracy theorists/bitter singles to have “invented” Valentine’s Day, then the American weight loss industry certainly concocted the concept of new and old years.

So this Wintry Butter Bean and Kale Sauté recipe isn’t because you made a resolution to eat healthier, cook more, eat vegetarian meals a couple days a week, or even–gasp!–lose weight, although it certainly fits the bill for those physical goals.  Instead, it’s a nutrient-packed, high-protein simple meal that will leave you energized to accomplish all your other goals and daily activities.  Like using a purse.

While many meat-eaters get too much protein in their daily diets, getting ample protein can still be an issue for some vegetarians and vegans if they don’t plan their meals well.  Personally in winter, I’m attracted to sweet complex carbohydrates like whole grains, squashes and fruit that leave me feeling sluggish if I don’t balance them out with proper proportions of beans, nuts, lentils, soy proteins or eggs and dairy.  This recipe is a balanced one-pot meal that has a hearty wintry feel, without relying too heavily on the classic starchy vegetables of the season.  Assembled just like a stir-fry, you can sub out beans, greens, and veggies based on what you have in your fridge.  If you do dairy, a tiny pat of butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan will make this divine.

This year, I’ve got a lot of exciting things planned for Urban Chickpea, including sharing recipes from my new supper club Seek and introducing a new series called Healthy Kitchen Essentials, which highlights key ingredients and tools to keep on hand to make healthy eating a snap.  Feel free to share with me anything else you’d like to see on the blog this year in the comments section.

Happy New Year!

wintry butter bean and kale saute 2

wintry butter bean and kale saute 3


Wintry Butter Bean and Kale Sauté

serves 2 as an entree

2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
1 teaspoon chili flakes, or to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (an 8-ounce package)
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into small (1/2-inch) florets
1 can of butter beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons of tamari (or other high quality soy sauce)
zest of one lemon
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
optional garnish: diced avocado/chopped nuts/ground flax seeds/shaved Parmesan

1. In a large skillet or pot, heat oil on medium until it shimmers and add chili flakes and garlic. Saute for 30 seconds. Add the shiitakes and a big pinch of salt and turn heat up to high. Saute until mushrooms have released their moisture and begin to brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the cauliflower and another pinch of salt and saute until cauliflower is browned at edges, about 3 minutes. Remove cauliflower and shiitakes from skillet into a bowl and set aside.

3. Over medium heat, add a little more oil to the pan and add the butter beans and a pinch of salt, browning each side, about 2 minutes. Add the tamari and lemon zest and stir to combine. Then add the kale, stir and cover for 2 minutes until it wilts slightly. Stir the cauliflower and shiitakes back to the skillet and let remain on heat until everything is warmed through. Turn off heat and add the lemon juice and salt and pepper if necessary. Garnish each portion with half an avocado, diced, or anything you’d like.

Golden Wild Rice Salad

Wild Rice Salad

Beets.  Nothing polarizes the sexes quite like them.  Well, maybe frozen yogurt, strip clubs, and perhaps inane declarations about the differences between men and women.  Nevertheless, lots of men I know think that beets taste like dirt, and many of the women I know like the fact that they taste like dirt.

But that’s where golden beets come in.  They have a slightly mellower, less “earthy” flavor than their red brethren and they are still packed with folate, potassium, and beta-carotene.  Also, you won’t have Lady Macbeth hands after handling the golden variety.  Roasting any beet enhances its natural sweetness; then after roasting, the skin easily slips off under running cold water and they can be sliced into bite-sized wedges.

The sweet, roasted golden beets are the star of this balanced wild rice salad.  To round it out, I added a mixture of wild and brown rice, black-eyed peas, pistachios, basil and an orange dressing.  Basically you could use this basic formula to construct your own sophisticated bean and grain salad out of whatever you have in your fridge: cooked grain + cooked (or canned/frozen) bean + veg + herb + nut + dressing.  I keep this general formula in mind when I’m making myself a salad to ensure that it will have enough protein and healthy fat to keep me full and enough flavor and variety of textures to keep me interested.  Inspired by an autumnal color palate, I chose the golden beets as a starting point and branched off from there.  The basil really brightens up the energy of this hearty salad, but another fresh green herb like tarragon, parsley or even baby spinach leaves would work just fine.  This warm salad doesn’t need much of a dressing–just a squeeze of orange and a pat of butter.

Golden Wild Rice Salad
Serves 4

1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup brown basmati rice
8 small golden beets
1 1/2 cups of frozen black eyed peas (or canned, rinsed)
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
juice from 2 oranges
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped basil
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
black pepper

1. Wrap whole beets in foil together and place on a sheet tray. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for 1 hour, or until they are fork tender. Let cool for a few minutes, then run under cold water and rub off the skin with your fingers.  Slice into wedges and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring 1 1/4 cup of water up to a boil, add wild rice and brown rice and reduce to a simmer and cover until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. Defrost black-eyed peas in hot water and drain. Combine warm rice, black-eyed peas, beets, pistachios, butter, orange and lemon juice, basil and salt and pepper.  Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if necessary.