Strong Arms for Kids

 
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After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver made me so jealous of her fresh asparagus that I went out to a local farmstand and bought the freshest asparagus that they had available.  It still didn't taste the way she describes the taste of her asparagus but it was definitely less bitter than the stuff you buy in the supermarket.  The recipe for this soup was completely random, well there is a method to my madness, sort of, but I definitely didn't know what I was getting myself into when I started roasting the asparagus soup.  I started out wanting to make the Roasted Asparagus soup from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen until I realized I didn't have any cashews to make the soup creamy.  I thought about using walnuts but then decided that might make the soup gritty/ gross.  I was a bit stuck and almost desperate enough to use milk, until my mom thought about using tahini.  That didn't seem like such a bad idea, but I originally wanted to use thyme as my spicer-upper but I thought the thyme wouldn't go well with the tahini, so I decided to go with a hummus themed soup and it actually turned out pretty well.  BTW I had no idea how easy it is to make asparagus soup!!


RECIPE

2 lbs asparagus
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil

2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 heaping spoonful tahini
1 tsp cumin

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
grated peel of 1/2 lemon
grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450F. Place the asparagus spears on a baking sheet and drizzle some olive oil over the spears. Roast for 10 minutes. Turn asparagus and sprinkle the onion and garlic over it. Roast for about 10 more minutes, until asparagus is very tender. If anything looks like it’s browning too much, take it out. (Important Note: These directions are for thicker asparagus. Thin asparagus may take much less time so start with 6 minutes, turn and add onions and garlic, and check again in 5.)

While the asparagus is roasting, blend 1/2 cup of the broth with the tahini until smooth.

When the asparagus is done, select several of the best-looking spears, remove the tops, and set aside to use as garnish. Cut the remaining asparagus into pieces and put it and the onion and garlic into the blender, along with the remaining broth. Cover the blender and blend on high until perfectly smooth.

Pour the soup into a saucepan and heat until hot, stirring frequently. Once its hot, turn off heat and add the lemon juice and grated lemon peel.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and garnish each bowl with the reserved asparagus spears and serve hot.

Servings: 4
Yield: 4 cups
 
 
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After returning from two years of Peace Corps in Nicaragua, I remember searching high and low for cuajada (farmer's cheese) and corn flour to make tortillas.  Luckily there is a large population of Central Americans that live on Long Island and the simple ingredients needed in order to make an authentic Latin feast is not too difficult to find. 

Now that I have recently returned from Japan, I have been doing a lot of Asian cooking.  I feel like my body craves these foods because it has become accustom to eating them for the past two years.  Its very strange having your diet completely change about every two years and it takes my body a while to adjust, even if everything that I am eating is healthy. 

Looking back at how much I knew about food before I left the United States and seeing what I know now...wow! I can't believe how much I have learned.  Now, with ease, I can go into the kitchen, see whats in the refrigerator and make a healthy, creative and delicious meal.  I am so grateful for all the experiences I have hand the culinary education I have received from these adventures. 

While making this miso soup, I was thinking to myself, how I would have never been able to put all these ingredients together on my own, just five years ago.  I wouldn't have even known what some of these ingredients were, five years ago.  And now, I have created a delicious soup just from pulling stuff out what was already in my refrigerator.

Miso Soba Soup

1/2 package buckwheat soba noodles
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms (pretty much any mushroom could be used)
2 tbsp dark miso
2 cup baby bok choy
1/2 block firm tofu, cubed
soy sauce, to taste
4 green onions, chopped
fresh mint, chopped

Boil salted water and add in soba noodles.  Let boil until noodles are soft, drain water and rinse noodles under cold water.  Set aside noodles

In a pot, add 4 cups water, ginger and the mushrooms.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Let simmer for 15 minutes.  While it is simmering, take out some of the water, put it in a bowl, with the miso.  Mix the miso and hot water until it is well-blended and set aside.  After the 15 minutes, add the tofu and bok choy to the soup.  Let cook for another 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat, add the miso to the soup.  Then add soy sauce, to taste.

Split the soba noodles between two bowl.  Pour the soup on top of the noodles.  Sprinkle some mint and green onions on top of both bowls. 

This makes a very big portion of soup, and can be used as an entire meal or split into four servings and used as an appetizer.
 
 
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Squash Sweet Potato Soup

I have made this soup countless times, and have never once seen a disappointed look on anyone's face.  I have gotten a number of astonishing compliments including "This is the best soup I have EVER eaten" and a "delicious" from my mother, which means a lot (she is a very tough critic).  As much as I don't want people to know how easy and simple it is to make this soup (I like having people think that I am an amazing cook, who slaves away in the kitchen all day just to please them), I also want my friends and family to know how easy it is to cook delicious healthy food.  For this reason, I am giving up my secret and posting this recipe.  I am even entering the recipe in the food blogging contest "No Croutons Required" for this month hosted by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes.  The challenge of this month is the store cupboard.  Squash and sweet potatoes and ginger can be stored for a long time, and easily forgotten about.  This way, whenever you have them just sitting around, here is an easy satisfying way to use them.

Recipe
   Adapted from a recipe on nytimes.com

1 butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes or kabocha, steamed (both work well)
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
4 cups water (or vegetable broth)
3/4 cup soy milk
2 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper, to taste

If you are using kabocha, you have to steam it first, in order to remove the skin.  To make the soup faster, you can steam the sweet potato with the kabocha, and then the actual soup making process will go much faster.

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a big pot.  When the oil is hot, add the onions.  Saute until the onions are translucent, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and the ginger.  Saute for another couple of minutes, until the garlic and ginger just begin to brown. Add the squash and sweet potatoes and saute for another couple of minutes.  Now add just enough water to cover all the squash and potato (about 4 cups).  Bring to a boil, then lower the flame and let it simmer, until the squash and potatoes are really soft, almost mushy, about 20-30 minutes.  The time depends on whether you are using the steamed kabocha or the butternut squash.  Once the squash and potatoes are completely soft, turn of the heat and add the soy milk, and the soy sauce.  Using a hand blender, blend the soup until its completely smooth.  Finally, add salt and pepper, to taste. 

This soup could definitely be made a day or two ahead of time.  It actually tastes better the next day. 
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