Spring Green Soup

Spring is the most glorious season of the year in DC.  There are flowers, literally, everywhere.  For a few weeks, it seems like there isn’t a tree in the mid-Atlantic region that’s not in bloom.  Dogwood, cherry trees, and my favorite redbuds are on every street corner.  And then there are the fields of daffodils, the flowers blooming up and down every street in the city, and you should see my neighborhood – gardens in bloom everywhere.  It’s gorgeous.  I love it.

Unfortunately for me, spring in DC also brings epic amounts of pollen – obviously – and every year my body completely revolts.  I usually spend several weeks of the spring holed up indoors and even that isn’t enough to keep me from coming down with a miserable case of spring allergies.  In the worst years, I’m virtually unintelligable.  This year I thought I was getting off easy and I got cocky and went out for a run on Sunday morning.  I waited until the worst pollen time (5:00-10:00 a.m.) was over, but I was out the door at about 10:05 and apparently I didn’t wait long enough, because I am a mess now.  Yesterday I spent the entire day sneezing and rubbing my eyes.  Fortunately, my office is well acquainted with my allergy woes and they know I’m not contagious!  Still, by the end of the day I was a pretty unhappy girl and desperately in need of something soothing and nourishing.  I knew exactly what I wanted – green soup.  Between the leeks, potatoes and spinach, I enjoyed each and every nutrient.  Now, I’m not delusional – I know that green soup isn’t going to cure my allergies.  But it’s a nice way to celebrate the season while I stare wistfully at the gardens outside my window.  Here’s to a few days of low pollen counts…

Spring Green Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned
3 potatoes, large-diced
kosher salt
5 cups water
1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon vegetable base
4 large handfuls baby spinach
freshly ground pepper to taste

  • In a large cast iron pot, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Chop leeks and add to oil.  Season with a pinch of kosher salt and stir to coat with oil.  Allow leeks to cook down for about 5 minutes.
  • Add potatoes and season with another good pinch of kosher salt.  Stir potatoes and leeks together.
  • Add water and Better Than Bouillon and bring to a boil.  Cook for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.
  • Add spinach and stir into soup until spinach is wilted down.  Blend soup in a high speed blender or in the pot with an immersion blender until it reaches the consistency desired.  Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.  Garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

Source: Covered In Flour

Quinoa Spinach Bake

Here’s a misconception that I’ve been harboring: I thought that quinoa was a grain.  It turns out, quinoa is a seed!  Who knew?  Here’s one thing I’m sure I’m not mistaken about, though… quinoa is healthy and delicious.  An ancient American “pseudo-cereal,” it packs all the nutritional benefits of whole grains – lots and lots of fiber – but also is high in protein.  If you’re trying to work more whole grains into your diet and you’re sick of brown rice, give quinoa a try.  It cooks up light and fluffy, with a pleasant nutty taste that matches well with many other flavors.

This dish, quinoa spinach bake, is a great way to get more quinoa on your table.  It was billed as a side dish, but I think that it also makes a fantastic vegetarian entree, given the many nutritional benefits that quinoa and spinach offer.  It’s easy to throw together after work – just cook up the quinoa, mix in the other ingredients, plop them in a baking dish, and poof!  Instant (well, after 30 minutes) wholesomeness!

Quinoa Spinach Bake

2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 yellow onion, medium-diced
extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 package spinach
2 eggs
1/4 cup lowfat cottage cheese
cracked pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Coat an 8-by-8 glass or ceramic baking dish with an olive oil cooking spray and set aside.
  • Cook the quinoa according to the package directions (1 cup of dried quinoa should yield about 2 cups of cooked quinoa), flavoring with a bit of salt.
  • While the quinoa cooks, warm a drizzle of olive oil in a non-stick saute pan.  Cook the onion, seasoning with salt, until translucent.  Add the red pepper flakes and stir for a few seconds, until fragrant.  Add the spinach and wilt, tossing to coat with the onions.  Transfer onions and spinach to a bowl.  Add eggs, cottage cheese, cracked pepper and herbs.
  • When the quinoa finishes cooking, add it to the spinach mixture and stir thoroughly to combine.  Transfer quinoa-spinach mixture to the prepared baking dish and smooth out the top.
  • Bake 30-35 minutes, until top is golden.  Slice and serve with a green salad!

Yield: Serves 4 as a vegetarian entree, 8 as a side dish.

Source: Adapted from WholeLiving.com.

Cranberry Bean and Spinach Risotto


Risotto is one of my all-time favorite fall and winter dishes, and I’ve experimented with so many different recipes over the few years that I’ve been cooking.  Sausage, tomato and spinach risotto, mushroom and pea risotto, champagne risotto with lobster… these have all made repeat appearances on my table, some on special occasions and some on chilly weeknights.  Risotto is simple to make, yet it never fails to impress.  It has become a staple in my kitchen… so I can’t believe it took me this long to try risotto with beans.  I mean, I love risotto, and I love beans.  Put them together and it’s how-come-I-didn’t-think-of-this-sooner good.

This recipe calls for cranberry beans, which are an heirloom bean varietal that I order online from Rancho Gordo.  I’d strongly encourage you to seek out heirloom cranberry beans for this recipe, whether it is through Rancho Gordo, your local farmers market or co-op, or another source.  However, if you are really at a loss for cranberry beans in your neighborhood, and you don’t want to order online, you can substitute dried pinto beans from the supermarket.  Under no circumstances, however, can you use canned beans!  Please trust me on this one.  The key to this risotto’s unbelievable deliciousness is the rice absorbing all of the beans’ pot liquor, which is what bean people call the magical substance that the bean water turns into after the beans have been cooking for a couple of hours.  The pot liquor absolutely makes this dish, and you won’t get it from canned beans.  I’m not saying that canned beans don’t have their role to play – believe me, if that was the case I wouldn’t have to dodge falling cans of cannellini beans every time I open up my crammed pantry.  But canned beans just don’t belong in this dish.  It’s as simple as that.

Cranberry Bean and Spinach Risotto

1/2 cup dried cranberry beans (or pinto, in a pinch)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, medium-diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups (approx.) low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups baby spinach
1/3 cup Parmeggiano Reggiano

  • Start soaking the beans 12-24 hours in advance.  Place the beans in the pot in which you plan to cook them, cover with about an inch of water, put the lid on the pot and allow the beans to soak.  (The longer you soak the beans, the less time you will have to spend cooking them.)


  • After the beans have been soaking for a ridiculous length of time, start cooking them: just crank up the heat, bring the beans to a boil, then reduce down to a simmer for an hour or two hours or more.  How long you will cook the beans depends on how fresh they are (yes, there are variations in freshness, even amongst dried beans) and how creamy you like them.  You can tell the beans are done when the entire kitchen smells magical.  Test a bean for doneness periodically, if you think they might be getting close.  Once the beans are cooked through, season them with salt; don’t rush this step.  Seasoning the beans before they are done cooking will make them tough.  So really, wait until the beans are done before you go tossing in a handful of salt.
  • When the beans are cooked through and the pot liquor is aromatic, pour in four cups of chicken stock and allow the mixture to come to a simmer.
  • Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened.  Add the arborio rice and toast until shimmering.
  • Pour in the wine and stir the rice until it absorbs the wine.  Working a ladleful or two at a time, continue adding liquid from the broth and bean mixture, adding more when the previous addition has absorbed.  (Nota Baker: It is an urban legend that you have to stir risotto constantly.  You don’t.  I have never made a risotto that I stirred constantly.  You do, however, have to keep an eye on it and stir it often enough that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  I like to stick around and clean the kitchen while I make risotto; that way I am on the premises to stir it plenty, but I am not obsessing.  The bottom line is, you do need to stir and stir often, but you don’t have to spend 30 minutes hunched over the stove stirring obsessively.)
  • When you have ladled the majority of the liquid in and it’s mostly beans left in the bean pot, begin ladling the beans in at a bit of a faster clip.  Allow any liquid that came over with the beans in each ladle to absorb before the next ladle.
  • Once all the beans have moved over to the risotto – it will have taken on a beautiful burnished golden color; that’s from the pot liquor – add the spinach and stir until wilted.  Finish the risotto off with some grated Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese, or any other cheese/cream/butter routine that you typically do for risotto.  Serve with a little extra cheese grated on top, if desired.


Source: Adapted from Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando

Bean and Barley Salad


I belong to salad.  It’s year round for me.  What salad and I have together… well, it’s special.  It’s not a summer fling.  I do love salads in the summer… grilled tuna and avocado salad, for instance.  And there’s nothing like roasted fall vegetables over greens in late fall, or a tart and crisp fennel and grapefruit salad in the winter.  But one of my all-time favorite salad categories is the warm grain salad.  It’s a perfect salad for a fall dinner – hearty enough to make a meal out of it, but extremely wholesome and nourishing all the same.  And I’m not just talking about rice – although a wild rice salad with grapes is very nice.  Any whole grain can bulk up a salad, whether as an accent or as one of the basic building blocks – and you’re supposed to eat whole grains, anyway.  Bonus!  Take barley for instance – I’ve always got some in my pantry and sometimes it can be hard to know what to do with it.  But I’m telling you… give this salad a try, and you’ll never wonder what to do with that barley you bought in a fit of crunchiness.  This salad is what barley is made for.

A note on the beans, before I give you the recipe: while this salad would work with your run-of-the-mill dried pinto beans from the grocery store, it’s just better if you use heirloom beans.  The recipe was written to be made with the Yellow Indian Woman beans from Rancho Gordo… and no, I’m not being racist.  That’s really what they’re called.



Anyway, these beans are wonderful in this salad.  They hold their shape beautifully and bring a fantastic, rich flavor that goes extremely well with the barley and other ingredients – chopped preserved lemon and wilted spinach.  They really do make a difference, I promise!

Bean and Barley Salad with Spinach and Preserved Lemon

1/2 cup Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman beans
1/2 cup organic pearl barley
1/2 package spinach (or equivalent amount of another leafy green)
1/4 preserved lemon, minced fine (use more if you like)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Put dried heirloom beans in a heavy stockpot, cover with water – about an inch – and cover the pot.  Allow to soak at room temperature for at least two and up to eight hours.  (I know this is annoying, but it’s crucial.  This recipe is really better on a weekend, I realize… but canned beans would not be the same.  Trust me on this one.)
  • Bring beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1-2 hours, until extremely fragrant.  Test a bean occasionally to gauge doneness.  The Yellow Indian Woman beans should keep their shape but still be soft enough to eat without crunching.
  • Meanwhile, cook the barley according to the package directions.
  • When the beans are about done cooking, stir in the spinach (or other dark green – chard would be lovely here and was actually my original intention, but my grocery store was out, darn them).  Allow the greens to wilt, then drain the beans as necessary – but don’t get too precious about it.  A little pot liquor (what bean folks call the cooking liquid) is a very, very nice addition.  Stir in the minced preserved lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Finally, add the barley and stir everything together.  Serve the salad while it’s still warm and congratulate yourself for eating such a healthy dinner!


Yield: Serves 4.

Source: Adapted from Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando

Spinach Salad with Smoked Salmon, Avocado and Pepitas


My husband and I met at a conference.  We sat together at dinner and both ordered the same thing – salmon Caesar salad – and discussed our mutual love of salmon.  The night he proposed, we went back to that same restaurant and he insisted on our sharing the salmon Caesar salad.  An auspicious start for a foodie romance, wouldn’t you say?  It has been eight years since our first conversation about salmon, and it’s still a popular topic of conversation and a frequent choice for dinner.  We love it all different ways – broiled, roasted, poached, pan-sauteed, grilled, smoked, raw in sushi… you name it.  So when I saw this dish on the Food Network, I knew it would be well received.  I was right – more than right, in fact, since this has become Our All-Time Favorite Salad.  Smoked salmon, avocado, pepitas, crisp greens, lime dressing… what more could you ask for?


Spinach Salad with Smoked Salmon, Avocado, and Pepitas

1/2 package washed baby spinach leaves (or other salad greens – which is what I had on hand)
2 Hass avocados
4 tablespoons raw pepitas (approx.)
juice of 1/2 lime
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 package wild-caught smoked salmon

  • Toss spinach leaves with lime juice, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt (like Maldon) and pepper until nicely coated.  Add half the pepitas and scoop out the flesh of one avocado.  Toss together.
  • Drape smoked salmon slices over the side of a large serving bowl.  Pour salad into serving bowl.
  • Top salad with remaining pepitas, and scoop the flesh from the other avocado to scatter over the top.


Source: Adapted from Nigella Lawson