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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

cozy, hearty soup & salad

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hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

When it comes to cooking and meal planning, I take inspiration from a huge variety of sources, influences and cuisines.  I like to mix it up.  Sometimes we eat a lot of meat.  Sometimes no meat.  Sometimes complicated.  Sometimes simple.  Sometimes spicy.  Sometimes herbacious.  Sometimes sweet.  Sometimes salty.  The way I see it, the world is a giant smorgasbord of inspirational deliciousness, and I want to help myself to the best.  ;)

Not that I'm selfish or anything.

One of my go-to sites for the last 10 years has been; epi was doing social media and web 2.0 before any of us even knew what that was.  When I first discovered them (and I've been saving recipes since 2001 on there), I loved it because I could see feedback from other people who'd made the recipe (i.e., they allowed comments; nobody else was doing this back then).  I could see reviews from people who'd made the recipe, and best of all, I could save everything in my own personalized recipe box.

Now, pretty much every site (including this one, naturally), allows comments.  And with Pinterest, we've pretty much eliminated the need for a site-specific recipe box (though I will continue to use epicurious!).  And there are hundreds of thousands of blogs and cooking websites out there.  And with this overwhelming amount of choice, it can actually be a bit intimidating to start a recipe search.

So with that in mind, and despite all this endless choice, sometimes I still retreat to my trusty cookbook shelf.  It's not a huge shelf, and I don't let just anyone have shelf space, but I have a few tried and true cookbooks that I keep around because they are fabulous.

One such pair is Clean Food and Clean Start (Terry Walters).  These are seasonally-based vegan cookbooks using natural, healthy ingredients.  First, I love the covers (which is shallow, I wholeheartedly admit, and it looks like the revised edition of Clean Food has a photographic cover, rather than the solid green cover with the half-jacket of the original edition, but the originals are pretty and I like them).  I also love the seasonal approach to cooking, using what's best from each season.  These aren't generally the recipes I serve to guests, as they do tend to have that distinctive wholesome flavour that is not necessarily universally enjoyed (but I love).  Anyway, bottom line, before I ramble too much more, these are great cookbooks for when you want to feel good about what you're eating.

And after a weekend of endless treats and sweets, I really felt like we needed to step back a bit and enjoy something healthy and wholesome.  But still tasty.  ;)

So I took inspiration from the hearty minestrone recipe in Clean Start, and went from there.  My version was not vegetarian/vegan, because I used a combination of chicken/beef broth (it's what I had).  Obviously, this is a very simple substitution.  I used different beans, because I have a massive container of 9-bean mix that I got from Costco.  I just soaked them the night before and let them bubble away for about an hour during the afternoon.  Nothing wrong with canned beans either though.  ;)  1.5 cups of bean mix made about 4.5 cups of cooked beans.

hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

And my salad dressing is not vegan either, but it's really darn good, so you should make it.  I have a hard time with bottled dressings now; I do generally keep a bottle or two in my fridge for when I'm feeling really lazy, but I find the saltiness and added flavourings are just overpowering.  Nothing like the pure deliciousness of homemade salad dressings, bright and fresh with herbs and garlic.  Also, I had buttermilk that needed using up, so this homemade buttermilk ranch dressing was a great way to do that.

hearty minestrone soup
inspired, but modified due to circumstances, from Clean Start; don't be afraid to modify based on what you have available!)
hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

1 medium yellow onion, diced
(3 stalks celery, diced) --> I was out!
1 T olive oil
3 carrots, sliced
3 cups chopped tomatoes (I drained a can and chopped those)
4.5 cups beans (chickpeas, kidney, black beans, etc. --> this is about 3 cans)
1 head broccoli with stems, chopped
1.5 cups chopped green beans (I was out; I chopped up some bok choy instead; any green would work!)
5 cups stock
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 t herbes de provence (or a mixture of fresh herbs, if you have them!)
1 bay leaf
salt, pepper to taste

1. In a big soup pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot of medium heat, about 5 minutes.

hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

2. Add tomatoes, beans, broccoli, stock, green beans/greens, balsamic vinegar, bay leaf and herbes de provence.  And lots of pepper.

hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

3.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes (until carrots/celery are done).  Remove from heat, discard bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 8.

buttermilk ranch dressing
hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

2 green onions, chopped
2 T fresh basil
1 t dried dill
2 T lemon juice
2 T dijon mustard
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 t salt, pepper to taste
1/3 c mayonnaise
1/3 c miracle whip/whipped salad dressing (if you only have mayo, use all mayo, but add about 1 t sugar and 1 t vinegar)
1/3 c greek yogourt
1/2 c buttermilk

1.  In a food processor/immersion blender, combine the onions, basil, dill, lejon juice, dijon, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Process until relatively smooth.

hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

2. Add mayo, miracle whip, greek yogourt and buttermilk. Process again.  Taste, and use on salad, or as a dip.  It's super yummy!  I had mine on a mâche mix, but it would be good on anything.  The recipe makes about 2 cups.

Hubs and Lil Z had theirs with garlic toast (SO EASY - make toast, rub with fresh cut garlic.  Voila.  Garlic toast.), but I just stuck with the soup and salad.  It was hearty and filling and I'm very stoked to eat more of it for my lunch today.

hearty minestrone with buttermilk ranch salad

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