It’s pretty clear how I’m handling winter this year: lots of big, bold, spicy food. Chili, saffron, ginger, and paprika are on heavy rotation these days, and I’m surviving cold days with hot meals infused with far-away flavours.
The inspiration for this dish came from harira, a spicy Moroccan and Algerian soup that is traditionally eaten during Ramadan. I made it a lot when I first went vegetarian, about 16 years ago, but after adding several more recipes to my repertoire, kind of forgot about it. In the interest of internally thawing out my bod, I thought I would dust off this old favourite and give it a couple updates.
You’ll often see a lot of harira recipes calling for rice or pasta, but I wanted to go the grain-free route on this one, so I pulled out my trusty spiralizer and make noodles out of sweet potatoes! As much as I love “raw noodles” like spiralized zucchini and beet and carrot, let’s face it: beyond their appearance, they aren’t fooling anyone into believing they are pasta. But something really amazing happens when you cook vegetable noodles just a little bit – they actually become rather tender, yielding, and able to absorb other flavours. Sweet potato noodles are definitely a favourite of mine, especially in cooked dishes like this one. They add great texture, and of course, noodle-free oodles of nutrients (try saying that five times).
You don’t have to soak the lentils for this dish, but it will cook faster it you do, plus the lentils themselves will be far more digestible. And of course you can use canned chickpeas instead of cooking them from dried, but because you won’t be blending them up (into hummus, for instance) I promise it’s worth the effort for not-totally-mushy results. If you’ve never tried cooking your own chickpeas from scratch, maybe now is the time to take the plunge! You’ll never go back, I promise.
1 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee
2 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. hot smoked paprika
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 pinch saffron (about 40 threads) soaked in 2 Tbsp. hot water
3 medium onions
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
14 oz / 400ml canned whole tomatoes
6oz / 170g tomato paste (1 small can)
1 ½ cup dried chickpeas OR 3 cups / 500g cooked chickpeas (about 2 cans)
1 cup dried lentils, soaked overnight if possible
1 medium sweet potato
3 slices lemon
5 cups water
½ cup / 20g cilantro, leaves and tender stems only, plus more for garnish
½ cup / 20g flat-leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems only, plus more for garnish
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
cold-pressed olive oil and lemon wedges for serving
1. If using dried chickpeas, soak them in pure water overnight with an acidic medium, such as apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The next morning, drain and rinse. Place in a large stockpot, cover with fresh water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. About 30 minutes into cooking, add about a tablespoon of salt. Drain and rinse.
2. Place saffron threads in a small cup with about 2 tablespoons of recently-boiled water. Let steep for 10-15 minutes.
3. Peel and dice onions. Heat coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the turmeric, ginger, caraway, paprika, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to blend, and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Lower the heat to medium, add onions and salt, stir to coat. Cook until translucent and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes (add a little water to the pot if it becomes dry). Add the steeped saffron liquid, the canned tomatoes (break up any large pieces), tomato paste, chickpeas, lentils, lemon slices and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook covered until the lentils are tender, 15-25 minutes depending on whether or not you soaked them.
4. While the soup is cooking, make the sweet potato noodles. Scrub the sweet potato well under running water if it is organic, and peel it if it is not. Spiralize the potato if you have a spiralizer, or use a julienne peeler to create long, thin noodle-like strips. Wash the herbs well, spin dry and roughly chop, removing any tough stems.
5. Add the sweet potato noodles and herbs to the pot, stir to incorporate and let simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste.
6. Ladle out desired amount of hot soup into bowls. Drizzle each serving generously with olive oil and top with more herbs. Serve with a wedge of lemon, and enjoy.
In other news, I’ve added two new recipes to the My New Roots App! If you’re craving a little more in the way of raw, juicy sunshine, here are two brand-new and exclusive smoothie bowls for your pleasure: the Zippy Zucchini Smoothie Bowl and the Plum Dandy Smoothie Bowl. If you have the app already simply update it, and if you don’t, you can download it here.
And this week I’m in Sri Lanka, all thanks to Cinnamon Hotels for kidnapping me from the icy cold and transporting to me to a tropical paradise full of exotic fruits, cerulean 29° ocean water, and annoyingly perfect palm-tree-sunset-white-sand-beach situations. If you don’t want to be jealous, you should probably avoid my Instagram, okay?
Back in the summer, I was asked to be the guest chef at a restaurant here in Copenhagen for the upcoming fall season. But not just any restaurant: a hyper-local organic restaurant sourcing 95% of their ingredients from within 200 kilometers of their front door, and one that holds classes to educate and inspire city dwellers to eat sustainably all year round. Oh, just kind of up my alley. And it is run by a woman who I clicked with instantaneously, our first conversation touching on everything from mushroom foraging to manifesting one’s own reality through the power of positive thinking. I said yes because I was so moved by her ultimate mission, what the restaurant stood for, and not really taking into account that I hadn’t cooked in a professional kitchen in many years. But after giving me permission to call the event “The Grand Pumpkin Orgy”, how could I possibly say no?
Fast forward a few months to a couple weeks ago. I am standing at the cutting board preparing vegetables for soup. The soup to be served at the restaurant, which will be full of guests, all there to eat my food. I feel confident and excited, using all of my pumpkin comprehension to develop a menu of stellar proportions, and not letting the true weightiness of the event bog me down. Once cooked, everything goes into the blender. I puree it. I taste it. And it’s delicious. Without any major adjustments at all, it is exactly what I wanted it to be: clean and pure and tasting of the ingredients it is made with, only better.
Then the doubt creeps in. Wait a second. That was easy. Is this really good enough? How can I serve such a simple dish to all these people with undoubtedly high expectations of what this dinner is supposed to be? Why did I ever think I could do this in the first place?! BAH!
I brought my recipes in for the chef to review, sheepishly handing them over as if there was something wrong with them; not impressive enough, flashy or complex – just what I believed to be delicious. After a raised eyebrow, he said that he wasn’t sure apple and butternut squash would go together. I gulped, but told him as confidently as I could that I believe in the intelligence of the season, and trust that whatever grows together, goes together. Right?
The soup was a hit. Clean and pure and tasting of the ingredients it was made with, only better. Not only was the chef impressed (and later excused himself for judging my soup before making it himself), but the guests as well. As I went around to the tables asking everyone how it was, they all reaffirmed my belief that my instincts are not completely out of whack, and that, quite simply, good ingredients make great food. After several years eating locally-grown, seasonal produce I’ve learned that you can pretty much step back and let the ingredients do the work for you, since true deliciousness needs little intervention. Cooking like a pro, to me, means respecting the ingredients and doing as little as possible to bring out their tastiness.
So, this soup is that soup. The one I served at the restaurant to all of those people that scared me, but also reminded me that simple is best. It is a deep and delicious love song to autumn. The ingredients are inexpensive, widely available and the process is foolproof. It’s an oven soup! That’s right: everything cooked together right on a baking sheet so there isn’t even a pot to wash. Me likey.
Butternut Squsah: the Nutrient Storage Facility
Winter squash rocks because it is a virtual storehouse of nutrients. Unlike summer squash (re: zucchini, crooknecks, pattypans), winter squash has had a lot more time to develop and pump itself full of vitamins and minerals throughout its lengthy life on the stem. We’re talking oodles more vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin C, manganese, potassium, and even some extra dietary fiber thrown in. This combination of nutrients spells good news for asthma sufferers, those with heart disease, elevated cholesterol, or inflammatory conditions such a rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
Nature designed summer squash to be rather delicate, with a high water content for those hot summer days when we need a cool down. Naturally, their shelf life is rather short during our abundant harvest season when produce is plentiful. On the flip side, winter squash has a tough outer skin and lower water content, which allows it to be stored for a very long time – some varieties up to six months. This means that we can keep these vitamin bombs around for a long time after the first frost to provide our bodies with the nutrition we need to see us through the long months of winter when there is nothing fresh in sight.
Put that in your oven and roast it!
The Garlicky Rye Bread Croutons, although an additional element to create, are the crowning glory of the dish, and really make it special. If you’re not into bread, try toasting some pumpkin seeds for the top, or something else crunchy to add contrast to the silky smooth soup.
It begs mentioning that the apple cider vinegar in this recipe is not optional. Why? Because it adds acidity. Acidity is the one thing missing in almost every home cook’s food because, well, we are never really taught about its importance. If you read the introduction in my cookbook, I have a section called “The Holy Trinity of Flavour” explaining that salt, sugar and acid are the three foundation flavours of any successful dish. Adding just a touch of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to almost anything you make (no kidding!) heightens and brightens the other flavours and creates a surprising balance of tastes. Try it and see for yourself.
Butternut Squash, Leek and Apple Soup with Garlicky Rye Bread Croutons Makes at least 2 quarts / 2 liters, Serves 4-6
2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil (or ghee)
1 medium onion
5 cloves garlic
1 large butternut squash (mine was about 2 lbs. / 1 kg)
1 large, tart apple
4 – 6 cups / 1-1½ liters vegetable broth, as needed
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground star anise
apple cider vinegar to taste (start with ½ tsp. up to 1 Tbsp.)
1 batch Garlicky Rye Bread Crouton (recipe to follow)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C.
2. Prepare all vegetables: chop leeks and onions, peel garlic (but leave it whole), peel butternut and cut into cubes, chop apple.
3. Place all vegetables on a baking sheet with the coconut oil, toss to coat, and set in the oven to roast for 25-35 minutes until tender.
4. Transfer roasted vegetables to a blender and add the spices and hot vegetable stock (you may need to work in batches). Blend on high until completely smooth. Taste, then add salt and apple cider vinegar, blend and taste again. Adjust seasoning to your taste, and add stock until the desired consistency is reached: I like mine quite thin so I use the full 6 cups / 1½ liters of stock.
5. Transfer soup to a large cooking pot over medium heat to warm, if necessary. Divide soup equally among bowls and serve with the Garlicky Rye Bread Croutons and freshly cracked black pepper.
Garlicky Rye Bread Croutons Serves 4
2 cups / 200g stale dark sourdough, cut into generous cubes (any bread here would work, but make a healthy choice)
1 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee (ghee is definitely the tastiest)
2 fat cloves garlic, finely minced or grated on a microplane
a couple pinches flaky sea salt
1. Melt oil in a small saucepan over low heat. When it is melted, add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook just until the garlic starts to simmer, immediately remove from heat and let cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.
2. Cut bread into generous cubes and place in a medium sized bowl. Pour the garlic oil over the top and toss to coat, using your hands to squish the oil into the bread. Spread out bread cubes on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt and place in the oven. Toast for 15-20 minutes, tossing a couple times during cooking. Croutons are ready when they are crisp and golden around the edges. Once cool, store leftovers in an airtight container for up to three days.
I’m making app! It’s almost ready! I can’t wait!
The My New Roots iOS app will include your favourites from the blog, plus 5 exclusive app-only holiday recipes, perfect for the upcoming season. Click the link below to go to the App site where you can sign up to be notified when the app is out (soon, I promise!) and receive my brand-new recipe for Crispy Sweet Potato Shoe String Fries with Miso Tahini Gravy, like right now.
Thank you for all for encouraging me to do this, and your ongoing support. I like you very much.
My parents made my lunch every day that I was in school from the time I was barely old enough to hold a brown paper bag, right up until my last days of high school. It was always exactly the same format, with slight variations: sandwich, juice box, granola bar, piece of fruit. Pretty standard fare for most of my peer group if I remember correctly, and I never complained about it. That is until the day I peered over my bologna-on-a-bun to see Alexis at the popular kids’ table in the junior high cafeteria slurping over what looked like a rather foreign and intriguing styrofoam cup of something hot and tasty.
“Oh, that’s Mr. Noodles”, my best friend Julie said, and went on to explain that all you had to do was pour boiling water into the cup and wait a few minutes before eating the noodle soup-like meal. I looked down at my cold, relatively flavourless, pedestrian food and felt left out. Not only was I totally un-cool, but suddenly my lunch was too. Could life get any worse?!
I ran home and told my mom about the cup noodles and begged her to buy some at the store, promising her that this could not only save her time, but most importantly, my lunchroom reputation. “Don’t you want me to be popular?!”, I wailed. Convinced this was my ticket to the promised land of spin-the-bottle and weekend shopping mall hang-outs, I persuaded her to invest the fifty cents on a couple trials and see what all the fuss was about. When she came home I had the kettle boiled and ready to get down to business.
Folding back the paper lid, I spotted a magical little package of flavoured powder inside, which I read was meant to be emptied into the cup before adding the water. A couple shriveled, token peas fell out amongst the dust and my mom looked pleased to see green. The boiling water was added, I closed the lid again and waited – the longest four minutes of my life thus far. But oh, what ceremony! What rapture! The timer on my ironman wristwatch beeped, I stirred the cup, and dug in.
It was salty. Very salty. That’s about all I can recall. The noodles, semi-cooked and crispy in parts were underwhelming and bland, while the broth, if I can all it that, was shockingly saline. But none of that mattered. I would have eaten cow dung if it meant sitting next to Alexis. I finally had the answer to the question of cafeteria coolness.
Needless to say, eating ramen did not initiate me into the popular crowd, nor did it inspire a great love of this ubiquitous, cheap eat canonized by hung-over college kids everywhere. Until very recently this had been my only experience with ramen. But when yet another ramen recipe request landed in my inbox, I knew it was time to revisit this famous dish.
It needs to be said that instant ramen is a far cry from its traditional roots of noodles in broth, which when prepared properly with care and intention, can be utterly delicious. I suppose it’s like most things that go from revered, regional dish to the freezer section of the gas station’s grocery aisle, or worse. Shouldn’t these things receive a different name or label in respect to the original recipe? It’s somewhat maddening, but I surrender to the fact that there is only so much I can change in this world.
The backbone of all ramen is the broth, or dashi. Dashi is a clear stock that is traditionally made using kombu, Japanese sea kelp, and katsoubushi or bonito, dried fish. Other dashi bases can include shiitake mushrooms, and because my recipes are plant based, I’ll be showing you how to make this variety and the kombu one today. Once you have this base, you can spike your dashi with shallots, garlic, ginger, miso, etc. but today we’re keeping things simple and I leave the fun and improvisation to your ramen-hungry minds.
Toppings vary widely, but vegetarian ingredients can include noodles (obviously), mushrooms, strips of nori or other tasty sea veggies, greens, spring onions, shredded cabbage, kimchi, garlic, and the ever-so-popular soft-boiled egg. If you are vegan, simply leave this ingredient out – it’s the only animal product in the recipe and still delicious without it. The one thing I love about ramen is its versatility and infinitely customizable combinations to suit every season, taste, and budget.
On Salt, Sodium and Finding a Balance The big bad deal with packaged ramen and its accompanying powdered broth or “flavour packet” is the incredibly high sodium content, some brands containing an entire day’s worth in just one serving! On the flip side, making your own dashi allows you to control the sodium level and provide you with balanced saltiness for overall wellbeing.
Sodium is not only important to us, our survival depends on it. Its role in the human body is to work in conjunction with potassium to maintain cellular fluid levels, acid/alkaline balance, and keep the nerves and muscles functioning properly. Sodium plays a role in hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, and is used during the transport of amino acids from the gut to the blood.
Because sodium is needed to maintain blood fluid volume, excessive sodium can result in increased blood volume and elevated blood pressure, especially if the kidneys are compromised in any way and unable to clear it efficiently. Hypertension and premenstrual problems are more frequent in people who have a high salt intake, especially when there is a relatively low level of potassium in the diet to counteract it. Virtually all whole unprocessed plant foods contain more potassium than sodium. Grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, offer ten to several hundred times more potassium, and yet the average American is said to be deficient in potassium. Although there is no standard ratio of sodium to potassium to recommend, eating a balanced, whole foods diet (surprise!) is the best way to achieve equilibrium.
So how much sodium should be eating in a day? First it needs to be established that sodium and salt are two different things. The salt we consume is in fact a combination of two ions, sodium and chloride, in percentages of roughly 40% and 60%. Most nutrition experts agree that sodium intake on a daily basis should not exceed 2 grams per day. This amount is equal to 5 grams of salt, or 1 teaspoon. Yup. That’s it. Put into those terms, it’s easy to see how one could overdo it…by lunch hour.
To avoid excess sodium intake, limit processed foods. As I mentioned above, a little recon revealed that some instant ramen brands cover the daily sodium base in just one serving. Yikes! Sodium lurks in some very unexpected places, so be savvy and read labels. To be extra cautious avoid high-salt foods such as commercially-prepared pickles, olives, and saurkraut, canned and instant soups, processed cheese, condiments like ketchup, barbeque sauce, gravy, alfredo sauce, salad dressings, mayonnaise, soy sauce, snacks foods like chips, salted peanuts and pretzels, crackers, and boxed breakfast cereal. Remember, cooking for yourself is the only way to know exactly what you are getting in your food.
There are a few things that need to be mentioned about this recipe.
First, you need to start the process the night before (or the morning of) by simply soaking the dashi ingredients in water and set in the fridge. This is how you make the broth. You can hurry the process by cooking the ingredients in hot water if you’re in a rush, but the results are better if you follow this slower method (plus, your fridge does all the work). I will also say that traditional dashi is delicate and mild-flavoured, unlike the instant dashi that is saltier and stronger due to the addition of artificial, chemical flavour enhancers. When you try the dashi for the first time, try not to compare it to the ramen broth you’ve had in the past – this is the real deal. Appreciate its clean, pure taste and it subtlety, and add tamari or miso only as needed to enhance the natural flavour.
Second, you can make and enjoy the dashi bases separately if you like, or combine the two for a more complex flavour. I really like the combination of the kombu and shiitake dashi together. They both contain good amounts of umami, so united they deliver a deep, multifaceted taste experience without the meat.
Third, get organic ingredients if you can. Sea vegetables and mushrooms are both like little sponges in their respective environments so finding the cleanest and highest quality you can is a good idea.
Finally, purchase the most high-vibe ramen noodles you can find. The other reason I was inspired to write this recipe and post was because of all the incredibly awesome ramen I’ve seen at the health food store. Made with whole grains, some of them even gluten-free, I couldn’t say no! Now, you could make your own noodles if you like (this is an art I greatly admire) but in the interest of saving a smidgen of time, buy yourself some noodles and get to the ramen even faster.
Ramen Revisited + How to make Dashi Serves 4 (each dashi recipe below serves 2)
4 cups / 1 liter water : 60g dried shiitake mushrooms (do not use fresh)
4 cups / 1 liter water : 20g kombu
For the kombu dashi, place .7oz / 20g of kombu in 4 cups / 1 liter of water overnight in the fridge. In the morning, discard the kombu, strain the remaining liquid and warm it in a pot on the stove until just barely simmering. Serve.
For the shiitake dashi, remove any dirt or debris from the dried mushrooms and place in 4 cups / 1 liter of water. It is important to submerge the mushrooms, so place something on top of them, such as a smaller glass lid, and set them in the fridge overnight. In the morning, remove the mushrooms, squeezing out as much liquid from them as you can. Set the mushrooms aside, strain the remaining liquid and warm it in a pot on the stove until just barely simmering. Serve.
3-4 bunches baby bok choy, quickly stir-fried in a little shallot and garlic
2 carrots, julienned
2 spring onions, sliced
2 soft-boiled or medium eggs (to suit your taste) (optional)
1 pack whole grain ramen noodles (gluten-free, if desired)
dried or fresh chilies
tamari or miso, to taste (use discretion!)
1. Prepare all the ingredients: stir-fry the bok choy or other greens, julienne the carrots, slice the spring onions, slice the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, soft boil the eggs.
2. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add the noodles and cook according to the package instructions.
3. While the noodles are cooking, ladle the broth into the bowls. Add the hot noodles and all other ingredients. Take a moment to arrange the food in a pleasing way, sit, and enjoy.
* * * * * *
Hey everyone! Mybook comes out today!!! I am so ridiculously excited to see this day arrive and the book arrive in your homes and kitchens. The reviews have been so positive so far and for that, I thank you. Please note that although most stores in North America that are carrying the book should have it in stock today, some may take a few days to longer. If you want to purchase the book online, there are many retailers listed here.
I would like to take this time to acknowledge the couple of misprints in the book. During the editing process the following mistakes were made: on page 21, the ghee recipe is labeled vegan. On page 241-242 buckwheat and spelt switched places so that buckwheat is in the gluten-containing section of the grains chapter, while spelt is in the gluten-free section.
In other news, my Vancouver tour datesand events have been confirmed! Here is where and when you can find me in Van city (this will be my first time there, can you believe it?!). Click the links for more details and ticket information.