Category Archives: Quick

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.

Marinated Mixed Olives

With the holiday season upon us, it seems that every other night there is a holiday party to attend (yay!), often with the request to bring a snack to share (boo!).  But forget that three-dollar bottle of Trader Joe’s wine;  Mixed Marinated Olives are a festive, no-cook recipe that’s easy to tote along to a cocktail party.  More flavorful and colorful that regular olives in brine, they have a homemade look with minimal effort.  The strong pine flavor of rosemary and thyme hold up to the salty olives and give the dish a wintry flair.

Olives are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and contain high amounts of copper and iron.  While they are high in fat (80-85% of the calories in an olive come from fat), it’s the “good kind” that we hear about–monounsaturated fat, which the same good fat found in extra virgin olive oil.  No surprise there.  Olives are also a good, wholesome way to satisfy that salty snack craving that seems to arise at a party about one beer in.

For these Marinated Mixed Olives, I used a mixture of pitted castelvetrano (bright green), kalamata (large purple) and nicoise (small purple), but use any olives that you like (I’m a big fan of meaty-tasting gaetas as well).  I think olives with pits tend to taste better than pitted, but depending on the familiarity of the party guests with one another, you might want to go pit-less.  It can be hard to pick up a dude while spitting an olive pit out of your mouth.  Or so I’ve heard.

marinated olives 2
Marinated Mixed Olives

makes 1 quart

1 quart of olives (I used a mixture of castelvetrano, kalamata and nicoise)
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flake, or more to taste
zest from 1 lemon (use a microplane or fine grater)
2 tablespoons minced rosemary
2 tablespoons minced thyme
4 garlic cloves

1. Drain the olives from their brine and put the olives in a large bowl.

2. Add the olive oil, chili flake, lemon zest, rosemary and thyme to the bowl. Using the side of your knife blade, smash each garlic clove and peel of the skin and discard. Add the peeled garlic cloves to the bowl and stir everything to combine. Refrigerate and return to room temperature before serving.

These can be served immediately or days later but taste best after one day of marinating.

Nutella Oatmeal with Dried Cherries


Many people vividly remember their first encounter with Nutella, the decadent Italian spread of chocolate, hazelnuts and deliciousness.  My situation was different in that rather than being the Special Treat That Changed Everything, Nutella was actually one of about three foods that I would eat until the age of 12 (the other two being chocolate pudding cups and bread).  Determined to make my sister and I into independent young women, my mother insisted that we pack our own lunches for school beginning in the first grade.  So as you can imagine, my daily lunch consisted of a Nutella sandwich and a chocolate pudding cup.  While this meant that I was the most popular six-year-old at the lunchtable, it also meant that my blood, muscles and most of my major body organs were composed predominantly of chocolate.

While my tastes have certainly since expanded beyond those three foods, there is still a special place in my belly for Nutella.  However, especially after looking at the listed ingredients (I don’t recommend it), Nutella seems better suited to a supporting role in the daily diet.  Here, I’ve paired half a serving size of Nutella with hearty rolled oats, Omega-3-packed flax seeds, and tart dried cherries, to add a little luxury to what can be a humdrum morning meal.  If you are just getting used to “health foods” like whole grains and flax seeds, think of this dab of Nutella as the proverbial spoonful of sugar to help you start eating the good-for-you stuff.  Sugar, coincidentally, is the number one ingredient in Nutella.

I added a teaspoon of cocoa powder to bump of the chocolatey taste, without adding the additional sweetness and calories that would be in extra scoops of  Nutella.  Oatmeal is an inherently customizable dish, so make this according to your tastes–more Nutella, less cocoa powder, no oatmeal, etc.  You can even garnish with sliced almonds or chopped hazelnuts in addition to the cherries for a little crunch.  I always give flax seeds a buzz in my spice grinder before using them because your body assimilates the nutrients better when the seeds are ground; however, if you don’t have a spice grinder, you can leave them whole.

Nutella Oatmeal with Dried Cherries
Serves 1

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cups water
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flax seeds, preferably ground in a spice grinder (can be left whole)
1 tablespoon Nutella
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of dried cherries

1. Place 1/2 cup of rolled oats a small pot with 1 1/4 cups of cold water and the pinch of salt. Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oats are fully cooked and most of the water is absorbed. There will be a little excess liquid for the flax seeds and cherries to absorb.

2. Stir in the ground or whole flax seeds, Nutella, cocoa powder and dried cherries. Let stand for 1 minute to thicken before eating.  Garnish with additional cherries if desired.

Green Pea Soup with Cucumber Raita

green pea soup with cucumber raita

Chicago has two seasons: an arctic Winter survivable only via heinous marshmallow-shaped coats and convenience store robbery face masks and a skin-melting, eyeball-liquifying Summer.  But for a few short weeks in May, we enter what people in most cities would call “Spring” but what my friend Claire aptly describes as “Seasonal Limbo.”  It’s freezing, then it’s hot, the flowers start to bloom, then they all freeze and die, then it rains so much that you regret not buying that ark when you saw it on sale at Target.

The unpredictability of Seasonal Limbo calls for a flexible meal plan.  Not only is this soup made in about 15 minutes from ingredients like onions and frozen peas that are easily kept on hand, but it can also be served either hot or cold.  I like to have it hot when its fresh and then cold as leftovers.  The only difference is that you’ll want to salt the cold version more than you would the hot version: an extra pinch or two will do.  Like in the Mushroom Walnut Pate, your palate can’t perceive saltiness as much in cold food as in hot, so cold dishes require extra salt.

While the basis of this soup is almost painfully simple (cook onions, broth and peas and puree), I’ve deepened the flavors by adding a dash of cinnamon for a warming spicy hint and lemon juice and mint for brightness.  Pureed soups like this are often topped with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and I’ve taken that as an inspiration to swirl in raita, a traditional yogurt condiment in North Indian and Pakistani cuisine.  Raita can be made with a number of spices, seasonings and raw vegetables, but here I’ve kept it simple with minced cucumber and dried mint for a cool contrast to the sweet soup.  You can also make this raita on its own to use as a condiment to a fiery Indian dinner or as a dip for veggies or shrimp.  Thinned out with water, it also makes a great dressing.

The soup and raita call for two different kinds of mint, but feel free to substitute fresh for the dried if you don’t have it.  Dried herbs like mint and parsley are one of the hallmarks of Middle Eastern cuisine, so if you like cooking that type of food, they may be worth the investment to help you attain more authentic-tasting results.  Regardless, this hot-cold soup and its Seasonal Limbo Green color will help you get through the “season.”

Green Pea Soup with Cucumber Raita
Serves 2 as a main; 4 as a starter

For the Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 16-oz bag of frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped mint, loosely packed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, about 1 lemon

For the Raita:
1/4 cup minced or grated English cucumber, with the seeds and peel (extra for garnish, optional)
1/2 cup plain yogurt, non-fat OK
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
pinch of salt

1. First make the cucumber raita by mixing the minced cucumber, the yogurt, the dried mint, and the salt in a small bowl. This can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.

2. In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the diced onions and the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. You do not want any browning on the onions. Stir in the cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the vegetable broth and the water and bring up to a boil. Stir in the frozen peas and cook until just defrosted and warm. If you cook them longer, the soup will lose its bright green color.

3. Pour half of the soup into the blender with the lemon juice and the fresh mint and blend until smooth. Then repeat with the other half of the soup. You should never fill a blender more than half-way full with a hot liquid, so work it more or fewer batches according to the size of your blender. Combine the pureed soup into one container and taste to see if it needs more salt.

4. If serving hot, ladle or pour the soup into bowls. Then take a spoonful of the chilled raita and swirl it in a spiral pattern into the bowl and garnish with some extra minced cucumber if you’d like. If serving cold, add an extra pinch of salt and then chill for several hours. Swirl in the raita and serve.

Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie

Now, I know one of the words in the title of this recipe seems glaringly out of place to you, and it’s not “peanut butter” “banana” or “smoothie.”  In fact, you might even think  that I placed the wrong photo here, instead inserting one from my gallery of vintage Ecto-Cooler glam shots.  But today is Earth Day, and I’m giving you an appropriately green gift: introducing you to the trend of Green Smoothies.

Green Smoothies are an easy way to incorporate more raw leafy greens into your diet by blending them with fruit and drinking the mix like a smoothie.  Pioneered by fervent raw foodists like Victoria Boutenko, green smoothies taste like fruit but are packed with all the nutrients that we know come from leafy greens like calcium, iron, B vitamins and cancer-fighting antioxidants.  They make a great snack or a quick breakfast in the morning.

Since this green smoothie is likely your first, I’ve used banana and natural peanut butter because they have very strong, dominating flavors.  Baby spinach has such a delicate flavor so all you will taste in the final smoothie will be peanut butter and banana.  I promise.  But boy will it be green.  If you are hesitant, try using only 1 cup of the baby spinach.

Have you ever tried green smoothies before or heard the health claims about them?  Are you afraid or excited to try this?

Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie
makes 1 smoothie

1 banana
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
2 cups of baby spinach
juice from 1/2 lemon
3-4 ice cubes (optional)

1. Put the banana and peanut butter into the blender and puree until smooth.  Then, 1 cup at a time, add the spinach, each time blending until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the blender with a spatula between blends and add a tablespoon or so of water if you need to get the spinach blending.  Then add the ice cubes, if using, and pulse until smooth.

Sauteed Broccoli with Cumin and Mustard Seeds


This recipe was born out of revenge.  When I visit my parents’ house, I become the de-facto short order breakfast cook for my father.  As he’s walking out the door to grab the newspaper, he’ll call out a breakfast order which usually includes how he wants his eggs to be cooked and a non-negotiable number of pieces of toast.  One morning, I tried to mix it up by making him basic oatmeal, sweetened with sliced bananas.  This was a mistake.  Like many men of a certain age, he’ll refuse to try anything that screams “health food,” but I thought I could win him over with my charm as the youngest daughter in our family.  This was my second mistake.  After one bite, he ran to the trash, spit out the oatmeal, then looked to the heavens and exclaimed, “THIS IS FOOD FOR ANIMALS!”

Little bit of a drama queen, that one.  However, let the record state: I make damn good oatmeal.  This was war.

Now, I always sneak a veggie or two into his breakfast, whether its spinach in a frittata or sliced tomato on the side.  But fuming over this tantrum, I decided to go extreme: that man was getting a plate full of steamed broccoli for breakfast.  I quickly pan-steamed broccoli florets and, feeling benevolent, gave them a quick saute in oil with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and plenty of salt.  I still wanted to win him over to the green side.  The result was perfectly tender broccoli with Indian flavors crusted on top and none of that cabbagey flavor that broccoli-haters crinkle their noses at.  Not only did he gobble it up, but he requested more.

I prefer to keep whole spices on hand since they last longer and have more flavor.  But if you only have ground cumin, you can definitely substitute that for the cumin seeds.  Just add it to the oil and then immediately add the broccoli.  Unlike whole spices that take a minute bloom and give flavor to hot oil, ground spices will generally just burn if left in a pan alone to sizzle with oil.

This dish takes 3 minutes to make, and it’s still my favorite way to eat broccoli.  Love  you, Dad!

Sauteed Broccoli with Cumin and Mustard Seeds
Serves 2

1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Take a large saute pan with a lid and fill it with a half-inch of water.  Generously salt like water and then bring to a boil. Add the broccoli florets in an even layer and then cover.  Let steam for about 30 seconds or until bright green.  Remove the florets from the water and let drain in a colander or on a kitchen towel.  Drain the water and wipe out the saute pan.  If you have a steamer basket, you can use that to steam the broccoli, if you prefer.

2. In the same saute pan over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and let it heat up.  You’ll see a slight shimmer across the surface of the oil.  Then add the mustard seeds and the cumin seeds.  Once they heat up, the mustard seeds will start to sizzle and pop.  As soon as they start to do this, add the red pepper flake and the drained broccoli florets.  Sprinkle the salt evenly over the whole pan, adding more to taste if necessary.  Saute for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.