How to Thicken Soup

December 30, 2010

It’s soup season! The cool weather screams for some warm, liquid nourishment. But sometimes you make a soup and it ends up thinner than you’d like, and you want to fix that. How to make soup thicker? Here are some soup thickening agents you can use.

Add or subtract
You have the choice of either adding a thickening agent to the soup, or subtracting some the whole ingredients already in the soup to make it thicker.

Some ingredients make creamy, thick broths as they cook down. These include lentils, split peas, and mung beans. As long as you don’t add too much water, you’ll end up with a thick, hearty soup. So you can start with those to ensure a thicker finished product.

Blend or mash some of the soup
To “subtract” ingredients, take some of them out and blend or mash them, to create a thicker texture. No need to remove them from the pot.

You can use a potato masher and smash some of them. Leave some of them whole, to get nice texture. I do this with a Portuguese Bean Soup recipe I make. Without mashing, I get a watery broth with chunks of potato, carrot, and beans. After I mash part of the soup, I get a thick, creamy mixture loaded with beans, carrots and potatoes. Delicious!

You can also use a blender to blend part or all of your soup. This works especially well if you have a starchy ingredient in your soup, such as potatoes or pumpkin. The starch creates a velvety texture.

When you add hot foods to a blender, NEVER put the lid on completely, without leaving room for the air to escape. This can cause your blender to explode, spurting hot soup everywhere.

ALWAYS take the lid, or at least that center section out, and cover it with a cloth or towel. Or leave the lid ajar. I do this and also cover it with a towel, just to be safe.

Use a starch slurry
A slurry is a mixture of starch and water. You can use any number of starches, including cornstarch, flour, potato starch, rice flour, arrowroot, or tapioca starch. But the properties of each differ. For example, a flour slurry will end up with a cloudy or opaque soup. Cornstarch slurries end up clear or translucent.

To use a slurry, blend the starch with a small amount of COLD water until it is dissolved. Then add to your soup and stir constantly until the soup boils and the mixture thickens. Often it will thicken even more as it cools.

You can try something like 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water. Or about 4 Tablespoons flour in 1/2 cup water. See if that is enough. If not, repeat until it is thick enough.

Since you just diluted the soup, taste it and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. And I recommend taking notes every time you make a new recipe. Nothing is more frustrating than cooking something, and not taking notes, since you figure you’ll never make it again, and having it turn out so delicious, you WANT to make it again, but you didn’t write anything down or measure as you go! (It’s happened too many times!)

Use a cooked roux
Roux is the classic thickening method used in Cajun and Creole cooking in Louisiana. Gumbo gets its thickness and flavor in large part from the roux.

Basically, equal parts of fat and flour are used. Fat can be lard, bacon fat, shortening, oil, or butter. The mixture is cooked and stirred for up to several hours. It must be watched carefully so it doesn’t burn. The starches in the flour brown and produce a rich flavor and dark color.

Each cook will have a special mixture and procedure to make their dishes shine in their own fabulous way. Some people make the roux in the oven, but however you make it, patience is required.

Those are the basic soup thickening agents you can use. Now that you know how to thicken soup, you’ll be able to fix your too-watery concoction the next time it happens.

Vegan Curried Lentil Soup

December 22, 2010

vegan curried lentil soup

Mild but hearty Vegan Curried Lentil Soup

Vegan or vegetarian soups can be quite bland if you are just adding water, and not a stock. I never have stock on hand, so I prefer to use water and basic vegetables to impart depth of flavor. However, in this recipe, all the ingredients–lentils, spices, and vegetables–combine to make flavorful, hearty soup. Here’s the recipe for vegan Curried Lentil Soup.

Lentils are members of the legume family and are an excellent source of fiber. That means it helps to fill you up and will provide bulk in the digestive tract, for better digestion and elimination.

Lentils are also very low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, making them a healthy option for people with diabetes or heart disease. They are inexpensive sources of protein and cook up quite quickly.

You can cook lentils to a firm state in about 30 minutes. I prefer to cook them longer, so they break down into a mash, much like split peas do when cooked into split pea soup. This will take from 45 to 60 minutes.

The greens in the soup add even more fiber and nutrition and make it a complete meal. And the sweet potato adds lovely surprise little pops of sweetness for a nice counterpart to the rest of the velvety soup.

Otherwise, the flavor is quite mild. You can make it as spicy as you like by altering how much chile pepper you add, if any. And the curry flavor is very mild also.

Vegan Curried Lentil Soup

3 Tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
1 jalapeno or other mild to medium chile pepper, chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

8 cups water
2 cups lentils, rinsed
1 large sweet potato, chopped

4 cups chopped spinach leaves*
1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot in oil until onions are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, chile, spices, and salt. Saute two minutes, stirring often. Do not burn the garlic.

Add water, lentils and sweet potato. Cover. Bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are done, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Add spinach and parsley. Cook another 5 minutes, or enough to wilt the spinach. Taste and add more salt if needed.

*Note: You can substitute other greens for the spinach leaves, such as French sorrel, kale, or cabbage. You might need to cook it an extra five minutes or so.

Serve this with big chunks of bread to sop up all that lip-smacking goodness. You can make this vegan Curried Lentil Soup recipe, and it will fill your house and your belly with satisfying warmth.

For Ginger Lovers: A Ginger Menu

December 18, 2010

A good friend fell off a cliff, broke his neck in two places, but is fine (thank you, gods!) and recovering. Recently, however, he’s been having some nausea as he tries to wean himself off the narcotic pain pills.

Because I know ginger is good to relieve nausea, plus it helps digestion, I whipped up a dinner for him with ginger in every dish, took it over to him, and had a great meal.

If you love ginger, you might get some ideas from the menu. Everything had ginger in it, but it was never overpowering. It’s one of those ingredients that can be aptly used to give depth of flavor, spiciness, or warmth. It can blend quietly into the background, or sing loudly as a star flavor.

Here’s what we had:
Asian Black Bean Dip, served with tortilla chips and sugar snap peas

Asian Slaw with Ginger-Wasabi Dressing (a very simple salad with won bok, Asian pear and green onions)

Rice (a mix of brown rice, white rice, and barley)

Tofu, Broccoli, and Sweet Potato
seasoned with ginger and soy sauce

Pineapple Sorbet with Mint, Basil, and Ginger

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with pecans and candied ginger
Next time I will serve them without the pumpkin, since you couldn’t really taste it. I’ll use it instead to make Pumpkin Smoothies!

Ginger-Mint-Lemongrass Iced Tea

Ginger Ale the old style, fermented (my first attempt at this)

Asian Black Bean Dip (A Vegan Recipe)

December 16, 2010

vegan asian black bean dip

Vegan Asian Black Bean Dip: spicy, sweet, pungent, and addictive

Here is an easy dip that you can whip together when you need something to serve guests in a hurry. You are likely to have almost everything needed in your fridge and pantry. The one exception might be hoisin sauce, although I keep a bottle of the stuff in my fridge all the time.

This got devoured tonight with some friends. We had tortilla chips (organic, of course!) and sugar snap peas with it.

The garlic, ginger and cayenne give it a little bit of a nip, and it has an addictive quality to it. Or, as my Brit friends would say, a “more-ish” quality.

Here is the recipe:

Asian Black Bean Dip (Vegan)

1 can (15 ounces, 425 grams) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon roasted sesame oil (see note below)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend, stirring down often, until you get a smooth paste. It will still have bits of the green onion in it.

*Note: The sesame oil is the dark type, with full-bodied flavor and aroma, not the light and mild oil. It is often found in the Asian foods section of the store.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds or chopped green onion for a prettier presentation.

Serve it with tortilla chips or crudite.

Vegan Roasted Vegetable Soup

December 10, 2010

I’ve made roasted vegetable soups before, and none of them came out very good, and I’ve made several pumpkin soups before, too. While they have been pretty good, none has knocked my socks off. So I didn’t have very high hopes for this soup.

After all, I was trying to use up some odds and ends after the refrigerator broke down, before the vegetables went bad.

My father had made a roasted red pepper soup in the past that was delicious, but when I tried to make a veganized version, it was clear that the cream he used had been a major part of the taste, so my version was flat.

This time I hoped the addition of carrots, celery and lots of garlic would add depth of flavor. Roasting the garlic, or most of it, mellowed the taste and allowed it to be more of a background note, as opposed to singing lead.

I didn’t bother writing this down as I concocted, although I usually do. So after it was done and I tasted it, I rushed to record the ingredients, while it was fresh in my mind.

The result is a velvety, deep orange soup with sweetness from the caramelized vegetables coming through. Nice cold weather comfort food, and I took some right over to a friend who is grieving the loss of her husband.

I will definitely be making this soup again!

Vegan Roasted Vegetable Soup

1/2 kabocha
2 carrots
1 onion
10 cloves garlic
2 red peppers or equivalent (I used 8-10 smaller ones)
olive oil

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5-6 cups water
salt to taste
2 yukon gold potatoes, diced
1-2 TBS lemon juice

Remove the seeds from the kabocha and cut off the skin. Cut it into smallish chunks. Place it into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Stir to mix.

Cut the carrots into smallish chunks. Remove the skin from the onion and cut it into wedges. Place the carrots, onion, peppers (leave whole) and garlic (keep the skins on) into another 9 x 13 inch pan. Drizzle with olive oil (don’t skimp on this, or your garlic will end up like little rocks.) Stir to mix.

Place both pans in an oven and bake at 375 degrees F for about 50-60 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

I put the pan with the peppers on the top shelf, so they would get more heat, because I wanted them to get caramelized, adding to the flavor.

Bake until the peppers and maybe some of the onions have a dark brownish color on the surface.

Don’t burn them, although you definitely want some of that dark caramelized or charred-ness, to impart smoky, rich flavor.

When the vegetables are done, in a large pot on the stove, sauté celery and another 2 cloves of garlic in the 2 TBS olive oil.

While those are cooking, remove the stems from the roasted peppers, and slip the skins off the roasted garlic cloves. You don’t need to take the skin off the peppers.

Dump all the roasted vegetables into the pot, along with the potatoes, water and salt. Cover and boil until the potatoes are done, about 15 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Be sure to leave the blender cover ajar and cover it with a dishtowel as you blend. Otherwise, if you cover the blender completely, the steam from the hot food inside will cause an explosion when you turn it on.

Alternately, you could let the mixture cool somewhat before blending, but again, be careful when blending hot liquids. I prefer to leave the lid ajar anyway, just to be sure.

Add the lemon juice. Adjust the soup, adding more water to thin it, if necessary, or more salt or lemon juice, to suit your taste.

Serve it with a nice green salad and some crusty, whole grain bread.

Healthy Halloween Treat: Bloody Popcorn

October 19, 2010
healthy halloween treat bloody popcorn

Healthy Halloween treat: Bloody Popcorn

Maybe you are sick of the candies everywhere at Halloween. Or you are just one of those people who prefers savory, salty treats. You are in luck!

Okay, I admit, this isn’t exactly red, so the name Bloody Popcorn doesn’t quite do it justice. Besides, it’s not runny, like blood. You could always say it’s flavored with dried blood.

The color will be more red if your paprika and chili powder are really fresh. At any rate, trust me, nobody will complain about the flavor, even if they do scrunch their noses at the name.

This has cayenne in it, which gives it a bit of heat. If you are serving this to kids who aren’t used to spicy foods, leave the cayenne out.

The mixture of spices makes for a sweet, salty, slighty fiery mixture. It’s quite addictive.

And popcorn is a whole grain. That’s right! You can eat it without guilt. In fact, know that you are getting fiber and nutrients from it.

Popcorn Nutritional Information

It is full of complex carbohydrates and 1.2 grams of fiber per cup of popped. That means it keeps you fuller longer and your blood sugar from spiking, unlike simple sugars and refined foods without fiber.

It contains a small amount of protein, as well as other minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It’s a good source of manganese as well, a micro-nutrient.

Vegans, no worries. This is a completely vegan recipe.

Recipe: Vegan Bloody Popcorn

“Dried blood” spice mixture:
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar (organic if possible)

2 Tablespoons popcorn (organic if possible)
2 Tablespoons canola oil


Combine spices in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside while you pop the corn.

In a saucepan with a tightly fitting lid, place oil and ONE kernel of popcorn. Cover and place on high heat.

When the one kernel pops, dump in the rest of the kernels.

Cover and begin shaking the pan back and forth over the stove, to keep everything moving and to prevent burning.

Keep one hand on the lid while you continue to move the pot. The popcorn will start popping and continue for about 30 seconds or so.

The moment you hear the popping stop, remove it from heat and dump it into a large bowl.

Immediately add the spice mixture and toss well, to get as much to stick to the kernels as possible. There will be some that collects at the bottom, but you’ll get enough to stick to make it delicious.

My guess is that this will become one of your favorite healthy Halloween treats. And I think you’ll end up snacking on it the rest of the year, too!

Find more ideas for healthy Halloween treats, party food and Halloween party stuff.

Homemade Croutons

October 19, 2010

homemade croutons

Homemade croutons are easy and delicious

If the only croutons you’ve ever had have been from a box, or on an iceberg salad from a fast food place, you have no idea what you are missing. The taste, texture, and value of homemade croutons are fabulous.

They are easy and delicious to make. So why aren’t you making your own?

Maybe you just don’t know how. Here’s how to make croutons at home, with delicious results.

Basically, croutons are just toasted bread. The difference is that they are toasted longer, so that the interior of the bread dries out, giving a satisfying crunch throughout, not just on the surface.

However, if you like that crunch just on the outside, the good news is, you have full control when you make your own. You can leave them in the oven for less time, to get a softer, chewier finished product. Or keep them there longer, to get almost a tooth-shattering morsel. The choice is yours.

Simply use some leftover bread. I don’t like bread heels, the slices you cut off at either end of a loaf. So I tend to use those, or just the odd slice or two that collects after a while.

I also use the pieces that are broken up and can’t be used for a sandwich. If you make your bread with a bread machine, you know about those pieces. They are ones in the middle, where the paddle has been, and cut a big hole.

Any bread is fine. You can use fresh bread or stale, whole grain or white, sweet or savory.

Recipe: Homemade Croutons
2 slices bread, cubed (or a similar amount of rolls or buns,) about 3 cups
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
salt to taste (optional)

I use a serrated knife to cut the bread into cubes. Place the bread cubes into a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. I prefer this to a cookie sheet, because the cubes stay inside when you mix them, but you can use a cookie sheet as well.

Add the olive oil. Mix well. Sprinkle on the garlic and onion powders. Mix well. Spread out evenly in the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned and hard. Stir halfway through.

Homemade Crouton Tips

–Stick around while they are baking, because they can overcook very quickly.

–Be sure to cool them completely before storing in an airtight container.

–Try to make them on a day that’s not raining, because the moisture in the air from rain (and snow too?–I live in Hawaii–we don’t have snow–someone with experience will have to answer this for me!) will make them get soggy soon after you remove them from the oven.

–You don’t even have to use bread slices. Any shape or size will work. Have some leftover rolls or buns? Use those.

–In fact, for variation, try using sweet bread sometimes. It makes for a nice complement to a carrot soup, for example.

–You can add salt if you like, but I leave it out because salad dressing has a lot of flavor, and I like my croutons to add to the flavor, not compete with it.

–These are excellent on leafy green salads or soup. Try some with this vegan chocolate vegetable soup, for example.

–They can be quite addictive, so don’t be surprised to find yourself munching on them right out of the oven!

Now you know how to make croutons at home. It’s very straightforward and simple, and if you try it for yourself, you’ll see how delicious they are. You will likely never buy pre-made again.

I know, I know. You’re becoming a food snob, like me! ha ha.