Recent eats and recipe: Lentil Fennel Soup

The garden is bountiful these days: loads of red and black raspberries, bunches of greens, big bulbs of fennel, and sweet, crunchy sugar snap peas.

I love eating the sugar snap peas as-is (and so does Sir), but we have enough that I felt like experimenting, so I tried this sugar snap salad recipe.  Fortunately, I had grabbed some mint from my MIL’s yard, so I was good to go (I didn’t have shallots, so I just substituted some onion).  It was a snap to make and tasty, too!

Next up, marinated fennel.  I started this on the same afternoon that I made the pea salad, planning to give the fennel a nice long marinade before using it for the next day’s dinner.  It just so happened that the fennel marinade in the recipe I wanted to try was almost identical to the dressing for the pea salad, so I just made extra and tossed it on the fennel.


The next night, the marinated fennel paired with fresh mozzarella and grilled bread for a satisfying, summery sandwich (recipe here), shown above in a deconstructed, bread salad version that I tossed together for a picnic dinner later in the week.

We’re awash in fennel right now, so I created a lentil soup recipe to make use of the fennel, as well as some greens.

Recipe by Melissa


One large bulb of fennel
1-2 T. butter1-2 T. olive oil
Chopped garlic scapes or minced garlic
Oregano (dried or fresh)
1/4 t. tumeric
1/2 t. onion powder
1 t. salt
1 c. dry lentils
1/2 c. wild rice
3-4 c. loosely packed fresh spinach, washed and chopped


Cover wild rice with 2 c. water.  Bring to boil, lower heat, and simmer for 60 minutes.

Cook lentils in 4-5 cups water.  The extra cooking water will become part of the broth for the soup.  Once at a boil, simmer for about 15 minutes until tender, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, quarter fennel (discarding tough core, if present), then chop into bite size pieces.  Sauté fennel in butter and olive oil, with a bit of salt, about 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add the garlic or scapes and sauté an additional minutes, then turn off heat.

Puree about 1/3 of the cooked lentils and 1/3 of the cooked fennel with some of the extra lentil “broth.”  Combine puree and all remaining ingredients in a large pan.  Check salt and seasoning level, and adjust as desired.  Simmer 2-3 minutes to wilt spinach.


This was good the first night, but, as is the way of soups and stews, it tasted even better for lunch two days later, after the flavors had time to meld.


Easter sushi

We kicked our Easter off with a relatively low-key breakfast and Easter baskets.  I discovered yet another reuse for receiving blankets — the small, pastel-colored blankets make a nice basket liner, without the mess of Easter grass (bonus points if the blankets happen to have bunnies on them!).


Someone got creative with his Easter bonnet.

Later in the morning, we headed over to Matt’s dad’s house for a traditional Easter brunch.  I realized as we were in the car driving that the timing (and weather) was such that we could have attempted our first South City to Webster Groves bike ride with Gabriel — another time, I guess.

The fabulous spread included a fritatta, a Parmesean artichoke quiche, waffles with blueberry sauce,  and fresh fruit.  And then there was dessert — sour cream coffee cake and lemon coconut cloud cake.  I don’t need to look too far to see where Matthew gets his penchant for baking.

Anyway, the mother and sister of one of the other brunch guests are in Japan, and we guessed that their Easter brunch may have included sushi.

After a post-brunch nap, Gabriel was ready for some egg hunt action.


Back home, Gabriel and I hung out in the yard, while Matthew worked on bread, including a variation on our chocolate cherry bread.  I snapped some more pictures of Gabriel in his Easter best (vest: one American dollar at the SVdP thrift store).


That night, looking for a light and healthy dinner option after the rich brunch,  I remembered an idea I had for sushi filling (based on a snack I made for Gabriel a few days prior).  I’d actually forgotten about our brunch conversation, and that Easter sushi connection, until I sat down to write this post.

I’ve already done non-traditional rice for sushi, so why not experiment further?


Our Easter dinner: sushi and Asian-inspired salad with garden-fresh purple cabbage and mache lettuce.

Rice millet sushi

1 c. cooked rice (I used a red variety)
1/4 – 1/3 c. puffed millet [cereal] OR 1/2 c. cooked millet
2 T. almond butter
2-3 T. tomatillo salsa OR 1 T. seasoned rice vinegar
1 t. olive oil
3-5 Nori seaweed wrappers
Avocado, carrot, radish, etc., thinly sliced for rolling
Soy sauce and wasabi for dipping

Mix the top five ingredients.  Spread a thin layer on the non-shiny side of the nori sheet and place other fillings on top (see here for more detailed instructions) — don’t overdo it on the fillings, or your roll will fall apart.

Roll, dipping your fingers in water as you work, let the roll sit for a couple of minutes, and slice with a sharp knife.  Serve with soy sauce and wasabi paste for dipping.

Risotto gets a makeover: Easy and healthy

In my recent post on lunches, I mentioned risotto, with the promise for a recipe soon.  I had to look back through my archives to make sure I hadn’t already shared the recipe here.

Turns out, this was NOT the first time I mentioned my risotto method — the previous instance occurred over two years ago, in December 2010.  At that time, I also said I would post the recipe, yet a search of my archives shows zero risotto recipes.  Let’s call it pregnancy brain, shall we?

If you’ve been waiting over two years for my top-secret-easy-and-healthy risotto recipe, I do apologize.  If you’ve only been waiting since last week, think how good you have it!

The secret to my risotto is using oat groats instead of the traditional arborio rice.  Though they sound like something a horse (or a goat?) might eat, oat groats are simply the whole oat grain — what they steam and flatten to make rolled oats.  It looks like a wheat berry.

So, why use oat groats?  Well, nutritionally, you get the health benefits of whole grain oats, with a good serving of heart-healthy fiber.  While this is not a fat-free, or even necessarily a low-fat recipe, the natural creaminess of the starch in oats produces an effect similar to arborio rice, and you can have a very rich tasting dish without having to add too much fat.

While oat groats take just as long, if not longer, to cook than arborio rice, they require less babying.  Traditional risotto has you standing at the stove stirring the whole time, gradually adding small amounts of hot broth every now and then.  With oat groats, after toasting the grain for a few minutes, you can toss in the broth, bring it to a simmer, cover it, and walk away.  Sure, you’ll have to come back every now and then to give it a stir, but it’s not a big deal.


Butternut squash and asparagus risotto

Recipe by Melissa

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leeks (or sub. diced onions)
2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 cups oat groats
5 c. vegetable broth
8-12 saffron threads
1-2 c. cooked butternut squash
2 c. asparagus pieces
1 c. frozen peas (optional)
salt (to taste — amount will depend heavily on how salty your broth is)
1/3 c. nutritional yeast
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesean cheese

Melt butter over low heat in large sauce pan.  Add leeks, and cook gently until softened, 10-15 minutes.  Add olive oil and 1/2 t. sea salt.  Add oat groats, increase heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes to lightly toast the grain.

Add 3c. broth and the saffron — broth can be hot or cold, but if you start from hot, it will speed things up a bit.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer while covered (the oat groats will need to simmer for a total of 60-90 minutes).

After 20 minutes, add the butternut squash.  You want it to dissolve into the risotto, adding to the depth and richness of the dish.

At this point, the risotto should be thickening nicely.  You may need to stir it a bit more frequently now.  Add the nutritional yeast, and more broth if necessary.

After 60 minutes of simmering, check tenderness of the grain, it should be chewy, but tender.  If it’s close to ready, add the asparagus and peas.  Maintain a gentle simmer for 10-15 more minutes.  When vegetables are tender and cooked through, remove from heat and stir in the grated Parmesean cheese.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Ingredient variations are pretty much endless. The picture above is actually a sun-dried tomato and leek [oat groat] risotto, originally mentioned here.

Injera stew

One of the many restaurants we tried in Portland was Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant.  While we have an Ethiopian restaurant we like quite a lot in St. Louis, Queen of Sheba made the cut for its mushroom dishes and the fact that it was an easy walk for picking up take-out.

Given many of the green efforts I witnessed at various Portland eating establishments, I was disappointed by the plastic take-out containers.  I mean, I knew take-out would generate waste of some form or another, and we were able to recycle the containers, but it was not ideal.

Anyway, the food was quite good, but we were left with our standard Ethiopian meal dilemma — leftover injera.  While the various Ethiopian stews reheat quite nicely, I can’t say the same for injera, the sourdough “pancake” that is both a bed for the stews and the means of scooping up the food.

A couple of searches for uses for leftover injera didn’t turn up much, so I decided to wing it.  I should add here that Matthew was very skeptical of my approach to this dish, which in turn made me a bit nervous, especially since I was cooking for his sister and her boyfriend as well.  However, I continued with my impromptu plan and heard no complaints as we devoured most of the stew in one sitting.

Injera stew

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6

5-6 c. vegetable broth, or water plus vegetable boullian
3/4 c. orange lentils (small and quick cooking)
2-3 c. prepared tomato sauce or tomato puree
4-6 c. veggies, including onions, carrot, garlic, kale or other greens
4-5 cups chopped leftover injera
1 t. cumin

Place lentils in large pot (we’ll be adding other ingredients to the pot later).  Cover lentils with water and cook until tender.  While the lentils cook, chop and saute the veggies in a mix of butter and olive oil.  The veggies should be tender-crisp, just enough of a saute to pick up some fat and flavor — they’ll cook more in the stew.

Add sauteed veggies, broth, tomato sauce, injera pieces, and cumin to the pan with the cooked lentils.  Stir to combine, cover, and simmer to 20 minutes, or until vegetables reach desired tenderness.  Stir every once and awhile, and add more broth or water if it gets too thick.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot in large bowls.

Cucumber soup

Until we have a garden in our backyard, growing our food is mostly Matthew’s domain, and these days, I rarely venture out to our commuter garden.  However, before we left for our trip a couple of weeks ago, I headed out for one final picking.

I harvested a boatload of cucumbers and hatched a half-baked plan to take the cukes to Iowa with us and make refrigerator dills for my family.  We nixed that plan, and the cukes sat in our dying fridge for a week.

We returned to a fridge full of still okay cukes.  After staring them down for a few days, I decided the best way to use a large number of cucumbers was some kind of chilled soup.

Some searching yielded a variety of recipes, many that only used one cucumber (that would never do!).  The most promising involved cucumbers and avocado, but, while I want to give that a try someday, I was determined to work with ingredients I had on hand, so avocado was out.

I needed something in place of the avocado to make the soup thick and rich, since cucumbers are mostly water.  The secret ingredients?  Rice and tahini.

Chilled cucumber soup

Recipe by Melissa
Serves 4-6

3-4 pounds cucumbers
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1-2 T. tahini
2 t. Greek spice mix (or blend of other fresh and/or dried herbs)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 c. chopped onion
1 c. corn (optional)

Trim and discard the ends of the cucumbers.  If using larger cukes with a lot of seeds, cut in half longways and scoop out and discard the seeds.  Dice the cucumbers.  Set aside 2 cups of diced cucumbers.

In batches, puree all ingredients, except for the reserved diced cukes and the corn, in a blender or food processor.

Try a sample, and add more salt, pepper, or herbs to taste.  Mix in the diced cucumbers and garnish with corn.  Serve chilled.