Sunday, February 18, 2018

An Elf Between Two Thorns

Well, those well intentioned plans to write daily got side-tracked, so we are playin’ catch-up. Nevertheless, we have some good stuffs to share with you from this week. We prepared a terrific soup from Cook's Illustrated and some analog Bratwursts, courtesy of The Gentle Chef’s Seitan and Beyond cookbook. So, as my friend and world famous Sweet Potato Queen Jill Conner Browne would say, “Let’s git all up in it!”
Your Elf has subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated Magazine for years, long before becoming plant-based/vegan. So, the other day, Big Solid was browsing this month’s edition and asked why we still subscribed, since “there’s nothing really we can cook or eat” from it. Truth be told, plant-based recipes are few and far between. Yet, we enjoy the resources and ideas that are always fun as well as the recommendations. HOWEVER, this month’s CI actually did have a recipe that we ‘cottoned’ onto pretty quickly and found extremely easy to make totally plant-based. PLUS it’s one of our favorite cuisines. An added bonus was the fact that we had nearly evert ingredient on hand, including the spices and herbs. So, the recipe was Moroccan Lentil and Chickpea Soup, known as Harira in Morocco.  We did not see any instructions on reproducing content but did not want to chance it, so you are only seeing the partial recipe.
The ONLY thing we modified to make it a totally plant-based soup was to use our ‘chicken’ Bouillon instead of chicken stock or broth. Easy peasy. First we sautéed our onion in EVOO until translucent and beginning to brown a bit,
then we added our garlic and freshly grated ginger which we cooked for about a minute. You NEVER EVER want to burn garlic.
We were already getting that wonderful aroma of onion, garlic, and ginger. The next step was to add the plethora of wonderful spices—ground coriander, cinnamon, and cumin, smoked paprika (our favorite is the bittersweet), and red pepper flakes (as usual, we added a wee bit more than the recipe called for).
These awesome flavors were stirred into the onion/garlic/ginger mixture and sautéed for a little bit. Talk about AROMA!! My goodness.
A healthy portion of chopped fresh cilantro and parsley was then thrown in to complete the flavor bonanza.
Now, this was the ONLY part of the preparation of this soup that Your Elf did not enjoy...we DETEST chopping cilantro, though it’s one of our favorite herbs. If anyone can share an easy way to finely chop cilantro, please share with us. It seems to get stuck all over our hands and takes about twice the amount to chop than the recipe actually calls for. And, cilantro is not everyone’s cuppa. In fact, you either love it or cannot tolerate it. Did you know that there is actually a gene that determines that? People with the anti-cilantro gene unanimously say it tastes like soap! So, if you are one of the AC folks (Anti-Cilantro), don’t let this deter you from making this soup. Just use the parsley, which is a lot easier to chop and double the amount OR use Italian (flat leaf) parsley, which is the recommended cilantro substitute. So you’d be using two types of parsley...curly and flat leaf instead of curley parsley and cilantro. OK. Whew! We continue to sauté all the flavors for about a minute, stirring occasionally to keep things evenly coated.
We added the next ingredients in reverse order from the instructions. We added the lentils and chickpeas BEFORE the bouillon and let them get a quick stirring to coat them with the flavors.
We used the brown lentils called for in the recipe but next time we are going to try it with either the green or black lentils. Both the green and black are smaller lentils but a lot heartier and stand up to lengthy cooking better. The bouillon was added next. This was brought to a simmer and allowed to cook, partially covered for about 20 minutes. We went on to add a pasta called orzo (a small pasta that looks like a really big long grain rice) and a large can of crushed tomatoes. Sorry we forgot a picture of that BUT the next ingredient was the beautiful chopped Swiss chard.
This cooks fairly quickly but we let it cook down a bit more as sometimes Swiss chard has a tendency to be tough. Since we were sharing this soup with some friends, we didn’t want them put off by tough greens! When all wilted down and incorporated, it looked like this.
A final portion of the chopped herbs (cilantro and parsley) was added along with freshly squeezed lemon juice to spark the intensity of the flavors. 
The final serving looked like this.
, this is quite possibly one of the most flavorful and lovely soups Your Elf has made in a while. Another tweak we will try when we make this recipe again is to use puréed Preserved Lemons in place of the lemon juice. This recipe makes a fair amount of soup but since we were sharing, we did not have a chance to see how well it freezes. Next time, which will be soon, we will save a portion to freeze.
You’ve heard us talk a LOT about the meat analogs from The Gentle Chef.
We have prepared his recipes for Andouille and Italian Sausages over the past few weeks. We used the Andouille in our chicken and sausage gumbo
and the Italian in the lovely Italian Sausage and Grapes dish.
Well, since we bought some of Sweet and Sauer’s awesome sauerkraut at the local Farmer’s Market, we got a hankerin’ for some Bratwursts. We once worked for the University of Wisconsin/Madison and developed quite a taste for Brats. So, no reason to let our plant-based eating disrupt an enjoyment of Brats. We made the dough and rolled them in foil for steaming.

Like all of the meat analogs, they typically need a night in the ‘frig (once cooled, of course) to allow the texture to fully develop. Here’s what they look like getting ready to use for supper.
We just happened to have some nice dark beer to cook them in (I think it was Abita TurboDog).
We boiled them in the beer for a bit
and then sautéed them. It’s really better to grill them, but that wasn’t in the cards.
The final plating (sorry, Susan M.) included the brats, the sauerkraut, some of Sweet and Sauers FANTASTIC coarse mustard, half of a baked potato, and a piece of Ezekiel Flax toast.
MY GOODNESS, it was delicious. We’ll have to make these again really soon!! And, finally, we sliced the leftover Brats to add to a final bowl of the Moroccan soup. Talk about flavor overload! Quite tasty!
On Valentine’s Day, Your Elf returned to the Ornish Alumni gathering for a special showing of the documentary movie “What the Health?” It’s a provocative film about the importance of a plant-based eating regimen to both prevent and reverse illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and morbid obesity. It’s available on Netflix, so if you would like to view it, we highly recommend doing so. The Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation program (conducted locally at St. Dominic Hospital) adopts a plant-based eating regimen along with additional components of wellness such as breathing exercises, meditation to alleviate stress, exercise, yoga and recipes. We encourage the viewing of this movie to enhance understanding of the benefits of plant-based eating. We are always reluctant to call it a diet as it is not a diet, it is a way of healthy living.
So, we come to the end of yet another week in the Kitchen of the Elf. We cannot leave without our Elfism for this week. How many of y’all wear wrists sweat bands when you wash your face to prevent water from running down your arm and getting your sleeves all wet.
As we barrel toward spring, remember to always LOOK for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.

Your Elf

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