Asparagus, Green Bean & Lime Spring Soup

Some people love green smoothies, some find solace in kale. I can’t remember the last time I had a smoothie let alone a green one, and I prefer rocket (arugula) over kale. Health and food trends come and go just like fashion trends, therefore I stopped paying attention long ago and feed my body what it likes and definitely enjoys. By all means if you love them, enjoy them with all your heart. The key here is to remember that food is nourishment, but it is also pleasure and memories.

Cue soups (and dark chocolate). I know, I know, it’s getting a bit ridiculous with this being the 3rd soup amongst a very short list of ‘main meal’ recipes on So Matcha To Love. Call it genetics, but ‘soup love’ runs deep.

July this year I went up to the Padina Plateau, in the Bucegi Mountains of Romania with my cousin and his girlfriend. After a day of hiking and fresh mountain air, we returned to Sinaia, a fairytale-like town and mountain resort of my childhood, with an intense hunger and one simple goal in mind. An extraordinary soup.

My cousin had this place in mind and would not budge, he insisted their beef soup is worth it. I honestly would have been happy with anything, my stomach is easily appeased after exercise. Less connoisseur than usual. We sat down. We perused the menu but we knew what we were getting, so the waitresses response that she had sold out was less than desirable but I could get anything else off the menu, right?

Wrong. He was so passionate about this soup, much to even my discontent, that we visited several restaurants until we landed on one that hadn’t sold out of this mystical soup. Boy, was it delicious. That night we devoured soup, freshly baked bread, and I had a side of goat’s cheese as per usual. Here is a snap I took at the table that night that really captures the atmosphere – Traditional Romanian.

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I’ve since come to realise Australians are less passionate about soup than we are, and that’s totally okay as well. As spring is now in full swing ‘Down Under’, I’ve created this simple soup of fresh spring produce like asparagus and green beans, with a few delicious twists in the form of chilli flakes, fennel seeds, and lime. I served it with a perfect poached egg per bowl (quick instructions below), crumbled goat’s feta and a side of buttered rye sourdough toast. I imagine peas, zucchini (courgette), leeks, spring onions, chives, sugar snap peas or anything green would be great additions. Fresh, delicate, comforting yet not in the absence of an element of surprise, this soup highlights everything that’s important to me when it comes to enjoying my meals. Furthermore, it brings up beautiful memories like that night up in the mountains. Poftă bună!

Asparagus, Green Bean & Lime Spring Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • sea salt
  • 350g green beans, trimmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ‘woody’ root ends snapped off (just bend until it snaps – magic), chopped into bite-sized pieces and halved lengthways
  • parmesan / pecorino cheese rind (optional but delicious)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced (or lemon if preferred)
  • 1.25 L / 5 cups of water (or stock if you have on hand)
  • 1 x 400g tin lentils, drained (I used the brown ones)
  • 20g coriander or parsley, leaves picked and set aside
  • 2 Tablespoons capers
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • poached egg, wild rice, goat’s feta, to serve
  • buttered rye sourdough, to serve

Heat the olive oil/butter in a large pot over medium heat, add the onion, garlic, chilli flakes, fennel and sea salt. Sauté for 5 – 8 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the green beans, asparagus and lime zest, and give this a stir – cook for a further 3 minutes. Now add the water/stock, parmesan rind (if using) and bring to the boil. Simmer for a further 5 minutes, we do not want to boil the crisp vegetables for too long – they should be perfectly tender. Add the lentils, capers, lime juice, coriander/parsley leaves and take off the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls (with a base of wild rice if preferred), and serve with crumbled goat’s feta, rye toast and a perfectly poached egg. Plus extra pepper is always nice.

Notes: you can always substitute ingredients with what you have on hand or easily obtained. For example tinned white or cannellini beans can be substituted for the lentils.

 

Quick Poached Egg

In a small saucepan, bring a lot of water to the boil. Add a big splash of apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar) to the pan and decrease heat until it’s a simmer. This is crucial as we do not want the egg to break apart by a violent boil. Crack the egg in a little cup and lower smoothly into the water in one motion. For a semi-runny yolk I find 3 minutes to be a good guide. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a tea/paper towel to soak up the excess water. Then use to top your soup, toast or salad.

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Du Puy Lentil Dhal

By now you have probably noticed my adoration for soups, stews, curries and dhal’s runs deep and this blog will no doubt showcase this. The lentil is a staple in my diet. This is partly due to my personal constitution; I tend to gravitate towards ‘warming’ foods, only easing off slightly in the 30 degree Celsius and above summer weather down here in Australia. Whether blended into a sweet potato and carrot soup or left whole as done here to appreciate it’s flavour, lentils are incredibly versatile, inexpensive and an amazing source of plant-based protein. This dhal is perfect to serve at a dinner party, served alongside bowls of toppings that each guest can customise to their desires.

One of my goals and something I’m absolutely passionate about is breaking the barrier between plant-based foods and the current perception that they cannot be satiating, delicious or easy to prepare. As always there will never be any judgement over one’s eating style on my blog and I only hope that my project (So Matcha To Love) brings to light all the amazing foods we can enjoy rather than banish whole food groups. I’ve become more conscious of my role as a nutritionist and a big sister, that reducing foods to its composites rather than embracing food in its entirety is a recipe for disaster, especially in a society where there is always a new fad, trend or diet. Therefore, as ironic as it may be as I’m always highlighting star constituents of ingredients, I want to take this space to highlight that eating wholefoods as well as treating yourself with balance is way more peaceful than worrying about every little morsel. Food provides us with nourishment, strength, rituals, experiences and memories.

The specific memory this dhal/soup brings me is my Saturday night swims at the Sea Baths followed by hydrotherapy. We frequent the organic health food store and cafe after, which serves this amazing split pea, chickpea and coconut curry (I always choose a side of kale & carrot slaw, kimchi, dukkah and scrambled tofu – magical combo). I wanted to recreate dhal but under my own terms, including beta-carotene rich sweet potato and oven-roasted capsicum…cue love-heart eyes emoji. This soup is inspired by so many cultures, a fusion of sorts. My secret, and totally not a traditional inclusion, are dried porcini mushrooms. They’re quite easy to find in Australia so if you can get your hands on them, this will change your dhal experience, bringing out that elusive umami flavour. But don’t overdo it, these little guys are powerful. If you can’t find them, do not let this deter you from making this soup.

The Beautiful, Humble Lentil
High in soluble fibre, plant-based protein and phytonutrients, the lentil boasts an impressive nutritional profile. Several studies, referenced below, have explored the cholesterol-lowering effect of viscous fibres such as lentils. They decrease both serum total and serum LDL cholesterol, stabilise blood sugar through their high fibre content, and contain significant amounts of folate and magnesium. Despite being moderately high in iron, the jury is out regarding their level of phytic acid, with sources claiming they may inhibit non-haeme iron absorption whilst another source claims that lentils are very low in phytic acid. Despite this, soaking the lentils as I have done in this recipe will help, even slightly to remove phytic acid. The addition of vitamin C in the form of citrus (lemon), vegetables and a variety of toppings (see below) will also aid absorption of non-haeme iron significantly.

Du Puy lentils are also called French lentils in Australia and have a dark green colour. I have used them in the dhal as opposed to red lentils as they hold their shape and bite much better than red lentils. I highly recommend soaking your lentils for a few hours or overnight to improve digestibility as well as shorten cooking time. I’ve served this dhal alongside Zeally Bay Seed & Sprout organic sourdough bread that I buy (made in Torquay) spread with genmai miso paste and avocado – a match made in heaven. I really love quality sourdough.

Du Puy Lentil Dhal with oven-roasted capsicum & sweet potato

Serves 6, soak the lentils for a few hours (see below)

**Note:
– If you cannot find dried porcini mushrooms, omit them and just add an extra cup (250ml) of water when adding the stock.
– This feeds a lot of mouths, halve the ingredients or you will have leftovers if you aren’t feeding a lot of people. 😉

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups Du Puy/French lentils (300g), dried
  • 20g dried porcini mushrooms + 1 cup hot water (250ml)
  • 1 red capsicum/bell pepper (approx. 300g), diced
  • 1 sweet potato (approx. 350g), cubed
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red chilli, seeds discarded and diced
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1L vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • alfalfa sprouts, to serve
  • watercress, to serve
  • olive oil, to drizzle

The night before or the day you plan to make the recipe, begin by rinsing 1 ½ cups (300g) of Du Puy/French lentils in a colander and place in a bowl. Cover with enough water to cover the lentils and some more to account for the fact that they’ll absorb some water. Leave on the kitchen counter overnight or for a few hours.

Drain the water and rinse the lentils. Set aside the drained lentils in a bowl. Place the dried porcini in another bowl and pour 1 cup of hot water over them, and let them soak for 20 minutes – they should be soft. Remove the mushrooms from the liquid, trying to squeeze any excess liquid out of the mushrooms and chop them. Set the chopped mushrooms aside as well as reserving the liquid/mushie stock as I like to call it.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the diced sweet potato and red capsicum on a lined baking tray, drizzle with about a tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the sweet potato is tender.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pot over medium heat, add the diced onion, red chilli, minced garlic, chopped porcini mushrooms and cumin. Sauté for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. If it starts to stick, add a little water. Add the diced tomatoes and drained lentils to the pot and give this a stir. Add the vegetable stock, reserved mushroom liquid and bay leaves – stir again. Bring to the boil.

Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer partially covered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. You don’t want mushy lentils for this dhal. Turn the heat off and take out the bay leaves. Take your veggies out of the oven and tip them into the dhal, including the olive oil and veggie juices. Zest the lemon peel of one whole lemon (using a microplane grater/zester) ensuring that you only take off the yellow skin, not the white pith. Cut the lemon in half and juice both halves, adding the juice and zest into the soup. Give this another big stir and season to taste.

Serve hot, garnished with alfalfa sprouts, watercress, sesame seeds, fresh cucumber & red capsicum, a little lemon zest, and sliced chilli/chilli flakes if you like it hot. See below for more serving options. As this soup sits it may thicken so you may need to add more water if there are leftovers the next day. The flavour definitely develops, making the dhal tastier the next day. Enjoy!

 

More serving options:

  • spring onions, fresh red capsicum, pomegranates, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, chilli flakes, dukkah, sesame seeds, pepitas, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, steamed cauliflower, rocket, chopped parsley/coriander, lemon/lime juice, jalapenos, tofu, tempeh, feta, yoghurt, nutritional yeast, sourdough bread…

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References:

  • Britton, S. (2015). My new roots. London: Pan Macmillan.
  • Karakoy, T., Erdem, H., Baloch, F. S., Toklu, F., Eker, S., Kilian, B., & Ozkan, H. (2012). Diversity of macro- and micronutrients in the seeds of lentil landraces. Scientific World Journal. doi:10.1100/2012/710412
    – Click here for article.
  • Linus Pauling Institute. (2012). Fiber. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/fiber
  • Linus Pauling Institute. (2016). Iron. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/iron
  • Migliozzi, M., Thavarajah, D., Thavarajah, P., & Smith, P. (2015). Lentil and kale: Complementary nutrient-rich whole food sources to combat micronutrient and calorie malnutrition. Nutrients, 7, 9285-9298. doi:10.3390/nu7115471
    – Click here for the pdf.
  • The World’s Healthiest Foods. (n.d.). Lentils. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=52

Sweet Potato, Lentil & Miso Soup with a Hazelnut, Mint & Parsley Pesto

Soup is my love declaration to winter. Although knits, snow, mountains and hot chocolates are just about the only things that get me excited for winter, warming up a pot of this veg-filled, hearty soup truly fixes (just about) anything. Other than that, I’m a true summer gal at heart. ♥ With my upcoming European adventure only a month away, I couldn’t leave without posting my favourite immune-boosting combination. It is sweet, salty and warming all in one beautiful hit.

Warming up a big pot of this soup every winter to share with your friends and family is so good for the soul and your body. If you’re feeling in need of a cleanse or a detoxifying meal, then this is your jam. Soups are much gentler and warming for your system therefore they can be digested easily by the body leaving you with a combination of healing nutrients cleansing your organs. I make this for dinner usually after a really rainy day and whilst it’s on the stove I’ll whip up this pesto using whole bunches of greens and a new Spotify playlist on repeat (and dance). 😉 This soup is also indicated if you really want something delicious to eat, which is good enough for me, just saying!

This pesto was created out of my love for parsley, lemons, mint and hazelnuts. *ahem that’s why I’m Hazelcoco* What initially was purely an experiment, turned into something delicious I now make regularly. Add a dollop to the soup when serving, lather it on anything that is edible and use it as a face mask. The lentils really bulk this soup out and add some protein, you can’t really taste them though which is great if you have a bit of an aversion to lentils. If you’re after some ‘food as medicine’ immunity, the onion, ginger and garlic which all contain antibacterial and antiviral properties accompanied by the alkalising greens in the pesto all provide the body with strength to prevent illness, promote healing and cleanse the body. Despite all these benefits, food for me is about enjoyment, pleasure and fun, so if this soup didn’t achieve those first primary satisfactions it would not have been posted. 😉

β-carotene – the Vitamin A powerhouse
I really cannot go past sweet potatoes, whether they are roasted as wedges, mashed or simply pureed into a soup, they are my favourite (along with 50 other foods have you noticed?) All orange vegetables contain carotenoids, specifically β-carotene, which act as precursors to vitamin A. Not all carotenoids express this ability but β-carotene most certainly does. They exhibit antioxidant activity, and aid in immune system function and vision (after conversion of provitamin A to vitamin A). Therefore, there is a lot to love about all my favourite orange veggies so definitely try to include a few servings of these body-loving vegetables throughout the week.

A few notes on the ingredients. As you can see I have suggested to peel the sweet potatoes and carrots, although these contain a lot of goodness, when the origin is unknown and you’re not sure where they were grown (which I admit is most of the time for me), then it is safer to peel. The miso paste is essential in this, please don’t skip it, although we are boiling it at this stage and the probiotic effects will be nullified, the taste is out of this world. I love Spiral Foods brown rice miso paste, which is readily available at Woolworths though any health food store will carry miso. Use your leftover miso scraped onto toast with avocado, tahini or hummus on top and use to make your own dip creation. Your jar of pesto can be used on anything from crackers, homemade pizza, wraps, zoodles, omelettes, quinoa salads, grilled fish, on a savoury pancake etc.. Leftover mint leaves make great tea when combined with lemon, raw honey and boiling water. If you haven’t realised yet I really want to encourage you to use ALL your leftovers.

Sweet Potato, Lentil & Miso Soup with a Hazelnut, Parsley & Mint Pesto Topping

Serves: 6 + (depending on your appetite)

Ingredients for the soup:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil/olive oil
  • 2 brown onions, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled & grated
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (approx. 1.3kg), peeled & roughly chopped into cubes
  • 2 carrots (approx. 350g), peeled & roughly chopped into cubes
  • 1 and a 1/4 cups of dried red lentils, rinsed (200g)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons red/brown rice miso paste
  • water
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • salt and pepper

Ingredients for the pesto:
(makes a full jar)

  • 2 – 4 garlic cloves, sliced (depending on your taste – I use 4)
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (approx. 65g)*
  • 1 bunch of parsley, ends trimmed off with leaves and stalks roughly chopped
    (yes, the whole bunch, approx. 130g/4 handfuls)
  • 1/2 bunch of mint, leaves only
    (approx. 50g/1 handful)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil + extra if needed
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt/herb salt/Himalayan pink salt
  • pinch of pepper

*I’ve made this with pecans as well with similarly great results.

Make sure all your vegetables are chopped prior to beginning. Heat the oil in a large pot on low heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the chopped sweet potatoes, carrots and lentils and stir with a wooden spoon, coating the vegetables with the onion mix. Add the 2 heaped tablespoons of miso paste to the pot, and now add water. I haven’t provided measurements as the consistency is up to you, I find the perfect consistency to be enough water to just cover all of the vegetables in the pot. Give this another stir to break up the miso paste and combine it with the rest of the ingredients.

Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and the lentils have cooked (they should look soft). While this is happening, make your pesto. Add all of the pesto ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth making sure there are no green or garlicky chunks. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times. Truthfully, I use a hand blender for this process. Taste and adjust seasonings, add more olive oil if you like, I usually end up using 1/3 of a cup. Place the pesto in a jar and set aside.

When the vegetables and lentils are soft, use an immersion/hand blender and puree the soup until really smooth and creamy! If you have a blender you can use this (carefully). Squeeze the juice of 1 lime into the pot and stir with a wooden spoon or blend again to incorporate that. Taste and adjust the seasonings, I find the miso gives it enough saltiness already. Ladle the soup into bowls, add a spoonful of pesto to the top of each bowl and swirl through. Enjoy!

The pesto keeps in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge, use for up to a week on everything.

Serve with: rye sourdough toast, lemon/lime wedges, greens (like arugula/rocket, watercress), dukkah, pepitas, #avoontoast + lemon or hummus + sliced tomato (use good quality bread/sourdough), sesame seeds, goat’s feta cheese etc.
* In the pictures I served it with homemade millet and zucchini toast.

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Useful links: