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Category Archives: Year-Round Soups

These are soups that really could be made and enjoyed all year round.

Ma Petite Choufleur (Cauliflower Soup)

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The Soup:

The cauliflower has had a long and involved history, making its way through various cultures and numerous eras. Once considered a delicacy, today the cruciferous vegetable has settled into a more humble status and is highly understated in its nutritional might. Although it is best known for its creamy white color, the cauliflower can also be purple, green or even orange. Fortunately for cauliflower devotees, this versatile vegetable is typically available all year round. It boast nutrients such as vitamin C, K, Folate (excellent for pre & postnatal moms or anyone who struggles with high blood pressure or anemia), Fiber, and Omega 3. It acts as an anticarcinogen, provides anti-inflammatory nutrients, as well as cardiovascular and digestive support.   Not only is the beloved cauliflower nutritious, it is low in calories.

For many years the cauliflower bored me . Yet, I have discovered that the beauty and taste of the cauliflower lies in the way it is prepared and the ingredients added to it. I usually saute cauliflower.  One of my favorite ways to prepare it is with garlic, turmeric, cumin, cayenne and fresh ginger, making it spicy. Recently, however, I have made a couple of visits to the Lazy Ox Canteen in Los Angeles where I discovered a fantastic cauliflower dish that I was determined to turn into a soup. The dish combines caramelized cauliflowers with fresh mint, green chiles, lime juice and pine nuts. After creating the soup I discovered a new love at first bite. It is a dairy free soup, but with a creamy taste that is accented by a flavorful and savory kick. The best part about it: it’s so easy to make.

Vegan Soup/Gluten Free Soup (Chicken Broth optional for meat eaters)

Serving: 6 small bowls, 4 large bowls

What you will need:

  • Pot
  • Vegetable Chopping Knife
  • Bowls for ingredients
  • Blender
  • Juicer for lime
  • Small pan for the pine nuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 Large cauliflower head
  • 1 Onion
  • 6 Garlic cloves
  • 1 Lime
  • Generous handful of fresh mint
  • 1-2 green chiles ( I use what I can find – jalapeno, serano)
  • 32 oz. of Broth (vegetable or chicken for meat eaters who want a deeper flavor)
  • Tablespoon of oil (I prefer olive, grapeseed or coconut oil – here I use grapeseed or olive oil).
  • Salt & Pepper (to liking)

For Serving:

  • Pine nuts
  • More Fresh Chopped Mint

Preparing:

  1. Chop the onion and garlic cloves. Saute in the pot with tablespoon of oil of your choice (see above).
  2. Cut the the cauliflower into small florets, discarding the leaves and the base of the stem. The stem is nutritious so I don’t throw it all away.
  3. I usually let the cauliflower sit after it is cut up for about 5 minutes after I have cut it up, which is said to promote the health benefits of the cauliflower.
  4. Saute the cauliflower at a medium heat with the onions, garlic, adding salt and pepper to your liking until the flavors blend together (approximately 3-5 minutes – it is important NOT TO OVERCOOK THE CAULIFLOWER).
  5. Chop up the chiles.
  6. Add chiles to the cauliflower blending in its flavor to the saute (1-2 minutes).
  7. Add the broth.
  8. Cook at a medium heat until the cauliflower is soft – not mushy. (15-20 minutes) Typically I frequently check by putting a fork into a cauliflower floret.  Making the cauliflower mushy kills its nutritional value.
  9. Ladle the soup mixture into a blender, leaving extra broth in case the soup is too thick and you need more liquid.
  10. Add handful of mint leaves
  11. Blend the soup – I usually don’t make it totally smooth as it is nice to have chunks of the cauliflower. If you prefer to have it smooth, blend it completely. Add more broth/water if it is too thick.
  12. Return soup to the pot, adding the lime juice (add more or less depending on your liking).
  13. Salt and pepper to liking.

Serving:

  1. Saute the pine nuts in a pan for a minute or two to give them a roasted flavor.
  2. Sprinkle freshly chopped mint to each bowl/cup
  3. Add teaspoon of pine nuts to each bowl/cup
  4. Break out the loaves of crusty bread and maybe add a glass of white wine to your setting.
  • I usually find that by putting the soup in the fridge for a day or two, it tones down the taste of the peppers.

The Story:

Cats – they have never really been my pet of choice.

Without hesitation, I will always pick a dog over cat. My fondness for canines goes unrivaled, as they are such engaging and loyal animals. The only exception to my puppy  love were my two prized, pet parakeets that I was gifted for my 8th birthday. Mysteriously, they disappeared from their cage one summer day when it was perched outside on our back porch. I always believed that they flew away freely, as they were meant to be. Years later I learned that they were eaten by my neighbor’s cat. Amazingly enough, I got over it and I have never consciously harbored any negative feelings towards cats based on that incident.

I actually consider cats to be enigmatically enchanting and beautiful creatures. They move with such nobility, have incredibly penetrating stares and behave so surreptitiously.  Yet, as fascinating as they are, their energies emit something that I have never been able to be fully comfortable with. Try as I might to bond with them, I feel they sense my unease in their presence. This would explain why while cat sitting for a dear friend, as I tried to stroke little pumpkin, she clawed at me drawing blood from my hand. It was a minor scratch, but majorly indicative of my relationship with cats. We made fine acquaintances, but certainly not bosom buddies.

As my lifelong companion irony would have it, I would have to face my cat issues, as I gave birth to a daughter who is undoubtedly feline. Lulu is a true dichotomy –  one half feisty alley cat and the other a bewitching lap cat. She is our updated version of Bastet – the ancient egyptian goddess whose body was that of a woman with the head of a cat.

Lulu entered our lives with an inherently frisky spirit.  She will not hesitate to attack, even those she loves most. Look at her the wrong way, touch her when she wants to be left alone, do something she doesn’t like or tell her something she doesn’t want to hear – she will pounce and strike. She has a remarkably piercing gaze and will engage in a showdown with her eyes only. She is certainly no stranger to biting. We are constantly having to be mindful of “declawing” her as she will scratch and leave her mark. It is as if we have taken in a feral street cat and are futilely trying to domesticate her.

Her main victim, incidentally, is also the one she person she will defend fiercely, her older brother, who has dubbed her “the tiger”.  Although we have all endured some sort of casualty of Lulu’s wrath, Kiko bears the the brunt. There have been a number of times that he has gone to school with her scratch marks on his face. The first time it happened, his teacher, who was slightly confused, gently confronted me about “the tiger” who scratched his face. Needless to say, she was relieved to learn of his amusingly apt moniker.

We are doing our best to redirect her aggressiveness in positive ways lest she hurt a undeserving kid in the sandbox. And in spite of the challenges that lie ahead in mothering Lulu, as I am no cat whisperer, I hope to preserve her fiery character so that she will always be able to hold and protect her own.

All things being even, however, Lulu is truly one of the most delightful beings I have ever encountered. She gives affection like no other and oozes with sweetness. She will curl up on my lap whenever I sit down, nestle in bed with me while I sleep, and cling her body next to mine when I am in the bathroom in the morning or at any other time of the day. She loves to be embraced. Much like a cat, she will knead her feet into my body and will make a humming sound that is suggestive of a purr.

With no surprise, for halloween she chose to be a kitty and insisted on wearing her purple, felted ears and tail for weeks on afterwards. Tidiness is also important to Lulu and she will often be found cleaning herself. Curiously enough, she is fastidious about hygiene between her toes.

In true cat form when someone wants to play with her when she isn’t yet at ease, she quickly will scamper off until she is gradually ready to come out. She invariably determines what she will and won’t do and who she will and won’t engage with.

Interestingly enough, Lulu will typically choose an animal over a doll any day of the week. She adores stuffed animals, whereas I have always cringed at the sight of them. In her baby stroller, she will often push around her most precious and extremely tattered sleep sheep, who has transformed from being soft and creamy colored to brown and slightly crusted in texture because he’s toted around everywhere.  When spotting a dog, she will race to catch up with it and no matter the size she fawns over it as one would over a small infant. She fantasizes over horses and sports an ear-to-ear permagrin when she actually gets to ride one.

For Lulu, however, the most beguiling creature is the cat. She is absolutely captivated by them and lives for an opportunity to play with one. For her, sighting a live cat is like sighting a celebrity. She gushes with excitement and hardly knows what to do with herself. Comically whenever she sees one she chases it down and the cat, completely overwhelmed, will scurry away from her. One would think she’d know better and give it space. Yet she pursues her goal of hugging the cat with such joyful determination. She will camp out on our front porch endlessly just to spot the neighborhood cats and her fondness for the strays is heartwarming. Being a nurturing soul, she  keeps a watchful eye over them and dutifully leaves them food.

Incidentally food is something for which Lulu has the utmost appreciation.

Mon petit choufleur is known among the French as a term of endearment that they use to refer to their beloveds. Taking some literary liberties, I have given Lulu the pet name of ma petite choufleur, as it fits her so well.

In literal translation, choufleur is a cauliflower. Turns out the cauliflower is one of Lulu’s favorite vegetables. Unlike her brother’s severe aversion to vegetables, Lulu will eat most of them with pleasure. Somehow they are all her self-proclaimed favorites. Recently, in all my soup making, Lulu has become my little muse. Her eagerness to try new things inspires me. She is always open to the experience of soup. There are very few bowls of soups that she won’t greet with wide eyes and a big smile. The highest form of approval is to find her with her head back and the soup bowl tipped over covering her face, catching every last drop.

The sweetest sight, however, is that of Lulu propped over the table, face first in the bowl, lapping the soup with her tongue, just as a kitten would.

It has been said that children choose their parents. How incredibly fitting. Although I would not choose a cat for a pet, somehow ma petite choufleur, my little kitty has found her way to me.

La Cubana

Birthdays – the quintessence of a love-hate relationship.

We spend the earlier years of our lives anticipating them with such keen enthusiasm, if not impatience, only to reach a certain age when we recoil from the very thought of them and possibly “forget” they are drawing near. In fact, over the past few years I have literally lost count of how many annual laps I’ve taken. It takes a few minutes, if not longer, to do the subtraction in my head and then to confirm with someone else that I haven’t made a mistake.  I watch how Kiko gleefully counts the months, weeks, days until he will be a year older. Only days after his 4th birthday, he set his sights towards turning 5, as if time couldn’t fly fast enough. His endearing enthusiasm triggers tears of sorrow through my laughter, as motherhood has taken the fast forward mode I’ve been living in and kicked it up to double speed.

I can’t remember the last time when my birthday did not induce a state of panic, if not a mild case of anaphylactic shock complete with dizziness, labored breathing and low blood pressure.  This annual psychosomatic attack was notably pronounced during the months before my 30th birthday. The dread intensified as I hurtled towards the completion of another decade. I swelled with feelings of disgrace as I examined my life achievements and choices.  What did I really have to show for myself? Where was I headed in life, if anywhere?  I laid there, ailing, as self-criticism prepared to swallow me whole. Immediately, I sought refuge with my greatest consolation in life — escape, preferably with a passport in hand.

Needless to say, it was with fate that I stumbled on an invitation to attend an International Education conference in Cuba – a destination which had been on my top 3 list for years. The stars were fortuitously aligned as I was granted permission to make the trip with my father, who would be visiting as a medical doctor. Flying directly from Florida to Havana, there would be no need for a below-the-radar/illicit stop over in Mexico or Canada where we would beg or even bribe officials not to stamp our passports.  It was a dream realized just weeks before my birthday. With a reanimated spirit, I turned my back to the looming number 30 and boarded the plane to Cuba.

In Havana, I felt as if I had landed on a run-down movie set that lit up with the most vibrant of colors …the band of men, who have honed their auto-mechanics skills, repairing the sea-green Chevy Pick-up right in the middle of town; the constant flow of music from all corners and alley ways, where, when night fell, the Cuban people could always be found dancing with infectiously carefree passion; stained glass windows; shrines of Che Guevara on every wall; propaganda of the revolution; El Malecón;  trips to the local elementary schools, where we were met by the wide smiles of pupils, whose eagerness to chat was heart-warming; and, of course, the splendid mojitos made with fresh sugarcane. We also traveled by taxi a couple hours west, where we spent some days in the province of Pinar del Río -a lushly green landscape of tobacco fields and mountain ranges. The rural life was a stark contrast to that of the city, but equally intriguing – thatch-roofed houses with oxen and cows standing out front, captivating expressions on fascinating faces bronzed by the sun, horse-drawn carts, sugarcane and baseball fields side by side, and breadlines. Even in the countryside setting, the villagers, in classic Cuban style, gathered after sunset to dance into the dawn.

Not the least of Cuba’s draw would be the fetching, blue-eyed and staunch Communist who became a friend and my tour guide in Havana. Sitting on the back of his motorbike my last night there, he drove me through the streets as I absorbed the energy of the enchanting city in all its hauntingly tainted beauty. It was all so sobering and uplifting in one breath. Any angst I harbored for my age or nebulous life accomplishments drifted out into the Straights of Florida, as la vida cubana surrounded me with a good dose of perspective.

Within days of my return from Cuba, I was able to usher in my 4th decade with a renewed sense of joie de vivre and gratitude.

Yet, for all the appreciation of the culture, personally the Cuban cuisine left something to be desired. I had higher expectations since one of my favorite go-to eateries in NYC was Café Habana as well as Versailles Restaurant in Los Angeles. Café Habana is a Cuban/Mexican diner known for its delicious sandwiches, among other dishes, made with tender and juicy meats that are well-seasoned and spiced to perfection. They are well complimented by the side dishes, that sublimely blend together smooth, spicy and tangy flavors to create a delectable feast. As for Versailles in LA, they have the most mouth-watering plate of arroz con pollo that I have tried in town, the chicken is prepared with the perfect combination of citrus and garlic flavors. Perhaps we missed all the right spots in Cuba, but I found very little to rave about in the epicurean vein. Normally, one of my greatest pleasures, when traveling, is eating. But while I was there, I ate out of necessity. In many cases the foods in the restaurants were overpriced and lacking in flavor. I was especially excited to try out some of the paladares (family-run restaurants out of their own homes) that serve up rustic Cuban cooking. Yet, I remained mostly unimpressed, save for the fresh and divinely flavorful tropical fruit that I lived on daily: mango, pineapple, guava and papaya (which normally I am not an avid fan of, but in Cuba I couldn’t get enough of). Another noteworthy mention was a scrumptious plate of arroz con pollo accompanied with plantains and a delightful bowl of sopa de frijoles negros (black bean soup) at a paladar we stumbled on, down one of the small streets in Havana. At that moment, I was reminded of my appreciation for Cuban cooking, specifically for one of my favorite bowls of soup.

    La Cubana – Black Bean Soup

The sacred black bean is said to have been domesticated over 7,000 years ago in Central and South America, becoming a staple of the Latin cultures. Today the black bean is ubiquitous, crediting the Spanish discoverers who returned from their travels to the New World and exchanged them in their international trades.

The black bean – a legume – is reverent in the nutrition it provides the body, yet it can play a formidable role in modern diets and nutritional guidelines.  For those vegetarians, it creates a complete protein when combined with rice. In addition, it offers folate and fiber (known for reducing cholesterol), promotes heart health, acts as a powerful antioxidant and has been suggested to protect against cancer.

One of the many beauties of black bean soup is its suitability for almost any day of the year, be it in the dead of winter or in the sweltering heat of summer . Fortunately, for black bean lovers – it is easily accessible all year long.  Moreover it is a meal in and of itself.

My preferred ingredients to include in the soup are: homemade veggie broth, black beans which I have soaked overnight, caramelized onions and garlic, peppers (both bell and jalapeno, although serrano peppers work well too), diced tomatoes, a splash of red wine, lime juice, as well as a mix of herbs such as cilantro and spices like cumin. I like to let this soup cook slowly so that all the flavors really meld together. The soup has a vibrant taste and texture with a bit of a punch thanks to the fresh jalapeno peppers. There are plenty of additions that can top off your pipping hot dish- sliced avocados; shredded cheese or sour cream – although a dollop of yogurt is a perfectly delicious as well as less caloric substitute; more lime juice; a handful of fresh cilantro and salsa – possibly a mango or papaya salsa, which for me will always bring to mind the tropical flavors and colors of Cuba in all of its evocative splendor.