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Meatless Monday: Black Bean Soup

It’s officially fall.  I think we’re going to have Black Bean Soup tonight.

This is a delicious and easy soup, and like so many soups it can be a very nice template for all kinds of things you’d like to get out of the fridge. But the basic recipe is here:


Basic Black Bean Soup

In a saucepan, saute 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in a little oil till soft.  If desired, add chopped bell or other peppers and saute. (If it weren’t meatless Monday, a little bit of ham is nice to add here too…but it’s Monday.)

Add 1-2 cups vegetable stock

Add 2 cups cooked black beans, drained or not, as you wish. You can use canned or some you made earlier in quantity.

Season with 1-2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp oregano, up to 2 tsp of your favorite chili powder blend, and/or a few drops hot sauce.

If you wish, attack just a little with an immersion blender, or remove a cup or two of soup into a blender or food processor, to thicken. Alternatively, if you use canned beans, use half and half whole beans and “fat free refried” beans (essentially just mashed up). Or completely mashed ones.  It’s your dinner.

Serve with a dollop of plain creamy yogurt and a sprinkle of grated cheese.


Yummers.  If you like, you can decrease the broth by a lot and serve this over rice; it’s just as good.


(UPDATE: and after all that, I got home from work to realize I’d used up all my black beans when I made chili last week…so we had pasta instead.  Sigh…)


Meatless Mondays: the Pizza Bar

This is an especially kid-friendly installment of the Meatless Monday series. (Equally kid-friendly on a meaty non-Monday, too.) Inspired by a conversation I had Saturday with a college student who’d read the sleepover party post, who alerted me that some of the kid-friendly stuff I post is young-single-person-college-student-friendly as well–and it occurred to me after that conversation that if I’d known about this 20 years ago, I would have eaten a lot less bad pizza and had more money in my pocket at the end of the month.

Bottom line, to summarize all that follows: flat grain product + sauce + cheese + whatever else you’ve got=pizza.

If the “whatever else you’ve got” involves a large number of fresh or leftover veggies, so much the better. If you can restrain yourself and just give it enough cheese to hold it together, rather than a quarter inch of goo, better still. Total control over your ingredients, you can make as much as you want or need and don’t have to worry about preservatives or other added weirdness–it’s all good here.

We rely on this pretty much weekly at our house–we either buy naan (Indian flatbread) or pita breads–you can use french bread, english muffins, bagels, even ordinary bread if you toast it first–and spread them with sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and add whatever toppings you want.  For my kids, that’s pretty much nothing.  My husband and I put all kinds of stuff on there–shrooms (They’re better cooked first, so they don’t give too much liquid off, but if you don’t use too many it’s not necessary), onions, peppers, zucchini, caponata, hey, whatever you want. We usually sprinkle a little garlic powder and oregano on top before baking; gives it just a little extra zing. And kids can help make these–they can sprinkle cheese or spread pepperoni (er…not on Meatless Monday, though) with the best of ’em. And they love it.

Best of all, everyone can have it Exactly The Way They Like It, even spouses where one knows that the toppings are supposed to go on top of the cheese, and the other comes from some bizarre universe where they go under the cheese. (How the heck do you know what’s on your pizza if it’s all under the cheese? It’s a Chicago thing, isn’t it? I bet it’s a Chicago thing.) Everyone is happy.

If you have a pizza stone, that’s perfect, preheat the oven with the stone in there and you end up with nice crispy “crust”–if not, foil on a baking sheet is fine, or if your “crust” is solid enough and you’re sure no cheese will fall onto the oven floor, they can go directly onto the rack. You can use a regular oven at maybe 400 degrees, or a toaster oven at slightly lower heat than “toast.” I can’t give exact directions for how to bake it, because it depends on what you like–if you don’t have many cold veggies on there and you like the cheese a little browned, just put it under the broiler for a few minutes.  If you like softer crust and meltier cheese, just bake normally at 400 or so. Futz with it, and see what works for you.

Happy November!

Meatless Monday–Supernachos!

Okay, I know grownups probably aren’t even supposed to admit to eating nachos, except at superbowl parties.  (Although, any of y’all who see “nachos” and go “FAT FAT FAT I’m not even going to READ!” might dare to take a look; these are very calmed down on the fat-and-calories front.)

Remember in college and young-adult-hood, when every time you went to the local dive bar with your friends and no one had enough money (or what you had you were determined to spend on as much beer as possible) to buy real food, so you got a giant plate of those fairly horrific nachos, with tortilla chips and loads of cheese that would soak through the chips, and salsa and guacamole and sour cream, and maybe you’d dare someone to eat 8 slices of jalapeno peppers and say you’d buy her another beer if she could do it and not reach for her water glass for a whole minute afterwards, and she did it and didn’t show her agony even though her mouth was on fire, not as much for the free beer as to show she was a real bad-ass?

Er…me neither.

The thing is, that icky plate of soggy fat-laden nachos can be healthed up quite a bit with a little effort and can even become a really good vegetarian-type dinner. In a hurry.


Bean and Cheese Supernachos

Cover a plate–a non-huge one, preferably–with a single layer of tortilla chips. These can be your regular ordinary chips or choice, baked (less fat) if you choose, or even homemade (baked or fried), though I’ve never tried this. (The single layer part is key for any hope at making this a healthy dinner as opposed to a dressed up snackfest. You can make a really filling dinner of supernachos with maybe 8 or 9 total chips.)

Wait, could we please digress for a moment? My favorite of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercials: Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor:

And…we’re back. We were talking about remembering that we want this to be, at least to some extent, a healthy and body-feeding whole-food dinner kind of thing.

Okay, you have your single layer of chips on the plate.

Over the chips, layer 1/2 cup (or more, it’s your dinner, your appetite, and your calorie count–but these are non-fat, high protein, and really good for you) of black or other cooked dried beans. Again, these can be out of the can (drain first) or something you’ve cooked previously and store as a regular kitchen staple.  (Black beans, by the way, seem to cause less of a problem with…let’s just say, noxious methane emissions, FWIW…)

Sprinkle beans with a little cumin and garlic powder; you can add some red pepper or chili powder to this if you’d like.  Sprinkle with chopped or sliced jalapenos if you’d like…you can actually add any veggies you want here, but I tend to prefer my nacho veggies cold in the pico de gallo instead of heated over the chips, where they risk making them soggy. (Er…if it’s not Monday, and you’re not avoiding meat, this would also be where you’d spread some of last night’s chili or Saturday night’s shredded rotisserie chicken remains around too.)

Over this, sprinkle a reasonable amount of (organic and hormone-free) grated cheese, of whatever kind you like that melts well.  Again, the more cheese, the more saturated fat, so watch that commercial again and make your choice.  (Or just because it’s funny.) And the beans with their seasoning honestly make the extra cheese not as needed for texture and flavor.

Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, check to see if the cheese is melted, and then heat additionally at 15 second increments until it looks right. (Don’t just stick it in there for a minute on high, or you’ll have burny bubbly cheese on one side and cold unmelted on the other–trust me on this!)

Serve with lots of really good veggie-laden pico de gallo–i.e. fresh salsa you can either make yourself or buy for way too much money at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or probably any grocery store, or just cut up some tomatoes and peppers and onions into small chunks and toss them with just enough jarred salsa to hold them together and some chopped cilantro–guacamole, and if you must have something creamy and sour, try a little nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.


Now, obviously, if you want to really make this a healthy lovely meal with nothing for anyone to complain about–you’d leave out the two worst offenders, which are of course the tortilla chips and cheese, without which this obviously wouldn’t be nachos at all.  But if you wanted, you could skip the chips and put rice on that plate instead, and have a really good black-beans-and-rice kind of thing, and it’s almost as fast as the nacho version if you have some already-cooked rice around.  Or you could compromise and put the rice-and-beans, or just the beans, into small corn tortillas for bean tacos, or larger wheat tortillas for burritos.

But there’s something about those nachos…

Pass the jalapenos, please. 😉

Meatless Mondays: Veggie Fried Rice

Okay, I have absolutely no idea why fried rice is something that’s intimidated me for so long, but now that I’ve tried it I will definitely be making it again. It depends a lot on having leftover rice (which I tend to make in quantity anyway) and veggies and stuff in the fridge. Also on having in one’s fridge that one key ingredient that at least for me sort of makes the difference between “I am pretending I’m cooking something sort of Asian” and cooking something that actually tastes sort of Asian. That ingredient is toasted sesame oil–a must-have. Fortunately, it keeps just about forever.

The rice has to be cold, and the pan has to be very hot, and you have to pretty much pay real attention for the entire 5-7 minutes or so it’s cooking.

Veggie Fried Rice (quick!)

  • Chop up a little onion, celery, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, whatever.
  • Saute on very high heat in as little olive oil as you can manage, in a fairly big pan, till just beginning to brown.  The food needs room to move around, or it gets juicy and steamy.
  • Sprinkle with a little garlic powder and/or ginger powder. Or, much better, add a little real minced or grated fresh garlic or ginger. (I would have just said that, except I promised you “quick.”)
  • Remove veggies from pan. (It should be pretty dry at this point–not much, or any, juice floating around in there.)
  • Into very hot pan, put a little toasted sesame oil
  • Add about a cup of cooked cold brown rice. Stir around and saute until lightly browned.  Put in a tbs. or so of soy sauce. Add veggies to pan, stir around a little more. (This would be the place to add any veggies you don’t want browned, like baby peas or something…
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Optional–somewhere in the rice-stirring part, add just a little dollop of peanut butter and smoosh around till it’s melted and evenly distributed…or if you want to do it right, mix with the soy sauce and heat a bit so it mixes better.  But the smooshing method works just fine.  Serve with a little fresh lime juice squeezed on it–this gives it that sort of pad thai vibe.

This is SERIOUSLY yummy and ridiculously quick. If you want a little more protein, you could scramble an egg in there somewhere between the veggie step and the rice step, and then put it all together at the end.  And for those of us trying to cut calories without feeling deprived–remember that the higher the veggie-to-rice ratio, the more you can eat for the same number of calories!

Meatless Mondays: Easy Pasta Fazool

Why not?  About time I got on the Meatless Mondays bandwagon, and after doing the Curried Lentils and Rice last week, I might as well make it an actual trend.

Pasta Fazool is my favorite “garbage soup” recipe–I go through the crisper drawer to see what’s starting to turn, and chop it up and throw it into the soup. It’s also one of the easiest variations on my staple “can of diced tomatoes plus can of broth plus whatever else equals soup” recipe. (The one I call “ur-soup.” Honk if you know what “ur” means.)

It doesn’t have to be meatless–from time to time I’ll throw a handful of chicken or a chopped up sausage in there, but usually only when there’s leftovers that need eating–it’s just as good from a purely veggie standpoint.  And you could use any other grain in lieu of pasta, or just leave it out; my kids are constantly not finishing their pasta for dinner, so we periodically have little containers of not-enough-pasta-to-do-anything-with, so I toss them into the soup.

Of course, if you leave out the pasta, I guess it’s not pasta fazool any more…

Easy Pasta Fazool

  • In a saucepan, saute a chopped onion in a little olive oil till soft; add a clove or two minced or crushed garlic and saute till golden and fragrant. (I love it when recipes, in the context of garlic, talk about doing something to it “till fragrant.” Is garlic ever not fragrant?)
  • Add other veggies as desired–cut up bell pepper, squash, eggplant, carrots, celery, whatever. (NOT spinach!) Saute till just softening.
  • Pour in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of broth; whatever broth you like is fine. Heat to simmer
  • Add a can of white beans, drained.
  • Season with a pinch or two each oregano, thyme, and/or basil. (NOTE: If you like the taste of Italian sausage but want to go veggie, take about a half-teaspoon fennel seed, crush or chop lightly with a knife, and add. This gives the soup that “sausagy” flavor!)
  • Let simmer 10-30 minutes, depending on when you feel like eating.
  • 5-10 minutes before serving, add a cup or so cooked pasta. Also a good time, if you wish, to dump in 1/4 cup or so prepared pasta sauce; this thickens and corrects the seasonings nicely, but is not essential.
  • 3 minutes before serving, if desired, add a handful frozen spinach and/or a tablespoon prepared basil pesto sauce.
  • Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Good stuff–like I said, it’s one of our essential “staple” meals through autumn and winter.  This is our first time since last spring eating it, since summer doesn’t feel like soup weather–but it was nice to get back to an old friend.