No Croutons Required - The Winner of the Hearty Soup Challenge

As usual, there was some tough competition, but the votes are in and Ashley of Method is the winner of the Hearty Vegetarian Soup challenge with her inspired Pumpkin Chili. This thick veggie and bean soup is a perfect autumn creation. Congratulations Ashley!

Holler will be hosting November's Edition of No Croutons Required. This month we are asking for hearty soups or salads containing pasta.

Savory Cheddar Cheese Crackers

Savory Cheddar Cheese Crackers

Somehow or other, I've had more kitchen disasters in the last few weeks than I have had in the past two years. First, there was a cornmeal shortbread that tempted me, and although the dough was delicious, it didn't hold together and into the trash can it went. After that, there were the little discs of goat cheese that I tried to fry up to serve with sautéed portabello mushrooms. It was all good until it was time to flip them over. I ended up with a glob of cheese, but I spread it over some toast and topped it with the mushrooms, and so managed to salvage dinner. Finally, we come to this recipe for savory cheese crackers.

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Indian Rice Flour Pancakes


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Indian Rice Flour Pancakes

A shortage of munitions in the kitchen with a corresponding failure to consider the solution the night before, combined with a desire to produce something for dinner without resorting to pizza delivery or dining out, resulted in a focus on staples.

Pancakes were an obvious choice, especially when you can salvage the last few peppers from the vine along with some vibrant green parsley. A comforting treat any time of day, I adapted this dosa recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian to suit my preferences. Delightfully soft and surprisingly flavorful, these are satisfying for breakfast, lunch or dinner, served with some chutney such as this fresh tomato chutney, or as a flat bread alongside an Indian meal as a substitute for naan.

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Vegetarian Jamaican Patties

Vegetarian Jamaican Patties

Inspired by a recipe I found in Vegetarian Times for Jamaican tempeh patties, I reworked the filling and came up with this bean and veggie version that I served to my Dad this past weekend. I never can resist trying out new creations for my esteemed dinner guests.

The result was a spicy mixture of plump kidney beans filled out with shredded carrot and mashed sweet potato enclosed in a spicy pastry. I meant to add peas to the filling and forgot, but I am including them in the recipe because I think they would provide a pleasing contrast and accompaniment to the mixture.

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Fresh Tomato Chutney


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Fresh Tomato Chutney

This uncooked tomato chutney adapted from Lord Krishna's Cuisine by Yamuna Devi is a refreshing choice to serve alongside fried or baked savories calling out for some extra zip. Much like salsa in texture and flavor, I served this incredibly easy to prepare chutney with Madhur Jaffrey's Indian rice flour pancakes.

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Split Pea Cilantro Dumplings in a Coconut Curry

Split Pea Cilantro Dumplings in a Coconut Curry

World Vegetarian Classics by Celia Brooks Brown has become a favorite cookbook of mine. There are over 250 straightforward vegetarian recipes from around the globe, and each one is adapted to the modern kitchen. The instructions are easy to follow, the pictures divine and each chapter begins with a bit of history on each region's vegetarian traditions. This book has served me well when I wanted a quick but flavorful dinner idea, and also when I wanted something to serve to esteemed dinner guests. Each recipe has a certain elegance, even the most basic dishes, and you simply can't fail to be inspired as you flip through the colorful pages.

Wanting to make a special meal for a dear friend on his birthday, I decided upon these split pea dumplings with a coconut curry sauce. This dish is from Mauritius and the Indian influence on this African island's culinary traditions is very much apparent here. There are a few steps to this recipe, but it is truly a delight to make and well worth the effort when you sit down with your plate to savor the little curry-coated pea cakes on a bed of hot rice.

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Apple-Oatmeal Breakfast Streusel Cake

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
~ Martin Luther
And knowing that dark and bitter days are soon to follow the autumn season, I would still gather apples and make delicious treats from them … like this warm and fragrant breakfast cake. Neither too light nor too heavy, neither too sweet nor too bland, but just that ideal fall flavor combination of apples, cinnamon and oats.

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No Croutons Required - Hearty Soups

There is a chill in the air and a nostalgia for summer threatens an indulgence in ennui until I remember the comforts that go along with the colder months. Little is more cheering and curing than a bowl of hearty soup. Cuddle up and nourish yourself with October's edition of No Croutons Required. The choice is not easy, but help us crown the October champion by expressing your preference in comments or via email. Please note the host's soups are not eligible for voting.

Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe is the early bird this month with this colorful Chinese Soup that she cooked up instead of a stir-fry. In addition to baked tofu and noodles, this slightly spicy, sour soup has a healthy dose of veggies such as chard, mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, peppers and peas. This is a nourishing and filling soup anytime of year and can easy be adapted to the seasons. (Melbourne, Australia)

Our next entry is this unique Pumpkin Chili from Ashley who clearly has mastered the method. Consisting of pumpkin, black beans, kidney beans, peppers, tomatoes, and seasoned with some beer, paprika and poppy seeds, this stunning meal in a bowl is sure to warm even the chilliest autumn soul. Serve with some crusty bread for a real feast. (Binghamton, New York, USA)

From Alexa of Artsy-Foodie we have this substantial Miso soup designed to cure all that might ail you. This comforting soup is made up of white miso, broccoli, carrots, green onions, tofu, rice pasta and further flavored with cilantro, ginger, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. (Washington, USA)

Holler, my co-host of No Croutons Required, submits this gorgeous Carrot, Spinach and Lentil Soup. This thick and creamy soup made up of shredded carrots, spinach, lentils, onions, garlic and a hint of lime and cayenne, is an elegant autumn meal solution served along with some crusty bread. (Scotland, United Kingdom)

Arundathi submits a hearty and nourishing Mulligatawny Soup consisting of Moong Dal, apple, coconut, carrot and spiced with garam masala, peppercorns, turmeric, and curry leaves. Mulligatawny, literally meaning pepper water, is an anglicized version of Indian Rasam and is enjoyable and satisfying anytime of year. (India)

Shira of Petit Pois offers up an earthy Eastern European Mushroom and Barley Soup that she describes as a rib liner. The goodness of fresh and dried mushrooms are combined with barley, carrot, celery, onion, rosemary and beer. Serve with bread and cheese for a very satisfying cold weather meal. (France)

Val of More Than Burnt Toast gets creative with a Jamie Oliver recipe and comes up with a spicy Pumpkin Wild Rice Soup that she serves in the pumpkin shell! Perhaps even better than pumpkin pie, this delightful blend of pumpkin puree, hot chillies, garlic, ginger, spices, lime, rice and coconut milk is sure to impress dinner guests. (British Columbia, Canada)

No roundup of hearty soups would be complete without a borscht recipe. Sweatha of Tasty Curry Leaf comes up with a Vegetarian Beet Borscht that includes pasta, along with more traditional ingredients such as beets and potatoes. This wholesome soup is seasoned with dill, cashews, spices and lime. (New Jersey, USA)

Pumpkin is a popular choice for warming soups and our next entry is a Creamy Pumpkin Soup from Lubna of Yummy Food. Worthy of being a staple on any Fall menu, this simple but elegant puree of pumpkin chunks, onion, cream, vegetable stock and pepper is a refreshing and warming choice for a cool autumn day. (Bangalore, India)

Priyasuresh of Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes is up next with this Creamy Cabbage and Barley Soup. A lovely accompaniment to any meal, this blend of cabbage, barley, tomatoes, onion, carrot, and dried basil is not only good for you, but a real tummy warmer. (Paris, France)

From Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons we have another pureed Cabbage Soup. Roasted onions, garlic and cabbage are done in a pressure cooker, grinded together and seasoned with salt and pepper. Srivalli tells us this tasty soup is filling on its own, but suggests serving it with some brown bread which sounds like a fine idea to me. (India)

Mansi of Food and Fun comes up with a rich and creamy Carrot Soup that she was inspired to make after enjoying a bowl at a restaurant. The goodness of carrots are combined with garlic, coconut milk, cloves, lemon juice and whipping cream. A winter warmer indeed! I'll take two bowls please. (California, USA)

Allie of Yum in Tum takes advantage of seasonal produce and comes up with this delightful Pumpkin Ginger Soup. A simple puree of pumpkin, ginger and simple seasonings, this soup is easy and fast to make, meaning you won't have to wait long to linger over a warming bowl. (Houston, Texas, USA)

Tracy of Vanilla Bean Cafe comes up with a curing Spicy Butternut Squash and Apple Soup. Fresh garden squash is here combined with onion, jalapeno pepper, granny smith apples, carrots, whipping cream and temptingly spiced with cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne and garnished with fresh parsley. (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

From Saroja of Kitchen-Kollections we have an immunity boosting Celery Soup. This vegetable soup includes celery, carrots, onion, garlic, corn and tomato. Though it is not required, some croutons were added to this nourishing and warming bowl of goodness. (Farmington, Michigan, USA)

Srimathi of Few Minute Wonders whipped up a batch of Spicy Corn Bell Pepper Soup that was gone in 30 minutes. This comforting and nourishing soup brings together the goodness of corn, red pepper, red onion, tomato, green chilies, cilantro, veggie broth and cream. Serve with bread or lavish roll ups for a very satisfying meal. (San Diego , California, USA)

Mahimaa cooks up a Creamy Vegetable Soup in her Indian Vegetarian Kitchen. Cabbage, onion, garlic, corn and carrots are complimented with some beans and milk. Mahimaa served this healthy, pressure cooked soup with some whole grain garlic bread. You can't go wrong with classic veggie soups like this. (Los Angeles, California, USA)

This Sweet Potato Squash Soup with Pinto Beans and Chard is my contribution this month. A good choice for a mid-week meal, delicata squash adds a pleasant sweetness to this hearty bowl of pinto beans, carrots, garlic, onion, tomato and chard. Good for you and tasty too. (London, Ontario, Canada)

Lysy of Munchkin Mail takes advantage of the autumn harvest and comes up with this delightfully thick Roasted and Toasted Squash and Corn Soup. Roasted squash and toasted corn add an extra burst of flavour, which is complimented by some red pepper and leeks, garlic and onion. A very satisfying choice for a chilly evening meal. (Warwickshire, UK)

Ruth of Once Upon a Feast submits a stunning Hodge Podge Bean Soup that she based on an Adzuki Bean Stew she made previously. Starting with a roasted vegetable broth, Ruth added some chickpeas, navy beans, tomato paste and some chipotle in adobo. Some more broth was added to tone down the heat, and finally some adzuki beans. A spice lovers delight, this will warm you on even the coldest of days. (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)

Hanne who posts at Freshly Made comes up with a Spicy Pumpkin Soup for our event. The goodness of pumpkin comes together nicely with red lentils, garlic, hot chilies and coconut milk. This pretty pureed soup is a perfect autumn treat. (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Chow of Chow Vegan makes a Vegetable Chowder that she serves in mini sourdough bread bowls! Not only do you get to enjoy this blend of onion, leek, carrot, red potatoes, soy milk, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms, you get to eat the bowl too. This inspired creation is a good choice if you want to impress dinner guests. (San Francisco Bay Area, USA)

Nina of Miss.Adventure @ Home makes Pasta E Fagioli. This cold weather vegetarian favorite is made using homemade vegetable stock, pasta, black-eyed peas, carrots, celery, zucchini, tomatoes, dried herbs, green beans, swiss chard, lima beans and a bit of Parmesan cheese. This is clearly a feast in a bowl! (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)

Rita from Pink Bites offers up an exquisite French Onion Soup that is sure to appeal to even the most staunch carnivores. Layered with flavor, Rita's version is made with yellow onions, fresh thyme, garlic, white wine, veggie broth, day old bread and Gruyere cheese. This is sure to warm even the coldest tummy. (Seattle, Washington, USA)

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen makes a vegetarian version of a popular Portuguese creation named Sopa de Feijao Branca e Legumes (Black Eyed Bean and Vegetable Soup). The veggie power of potatoes, onion, carrots and cabbage meets tomato paste, black eye beans, chili powder and marinara sauce. Serve with dinner rolls for a truly comforting dining experience. (Goa, India)

Divya of Dil Se takes advantage of the abundance of pumpkins and enters the fray with this lovely Pumpkin-Zucchini Spaghetti Soup. Pumpkin, zucchini, spaghetti, and carrot are seasoned with garlic, ginger, chili powder, cumin, dried herbs, red wine vinegar and some fresh parsley. This creamy, elegant soup was served with some breadsticks. (Los Angeles, California, USA)

Rachel of The Crispy Cook comes up with an economically satisfying Autumnal Peasant Soup. This hearty vegetarian pottage brings lentils, celery, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and tomatoes together with onion, garlic and dried herbs. A tasty choice for a frosty autumn evening. (Saratoga County, New York, USA)

From Rupa of A Virtual Vegetarian we have this flavored filled Mexican Pozole Rojo de Jalisco. Made with hominy, a white corn kernel that has been slaked in a lime solution, along with tomatoes, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, tortillas, ancho chilies, garlic, and cilantro, this colourful soup is garnished with red onion, radish, cabbage, sour cream, tortilla chips and lime. A multiplicity of textures and tastes come together in this most satisfying one bowl meal. (Northern California, USA)

And last, but not least, Kim of Live :: Love :: Laugh :: Eat! submits this tempting Split Pea Soup that is a twist on an old classic. Dried split peas, a chipotle chile in adobo sauce, carrots, broth and miso paste are tossed into a slow cooker. The finished result is garnished with bits of green onion. Easy, tasty and satisfying! (Portsmouth, Virginia, USA)

Holler will be hosting the November Edition of No Croutons Required. Check back at the end of the month for the theme and the winner of this month's hearty soup challenge.

"Almost Instant" Oat Porridge

Almost Instant Oat Porridge

After an evening meal of rich and greasy foods like the fried Indian pastries I had for takeouts the other night, a wholesome homemade oat porridge with fruit for breakfast feels cleansing and invigorating to the body the next day. If you're still groggy from all the oils and carbohydrates, there's nothing faster or simpler. And with a basket on hand of the plumpest, juiciest apricots I've seen for almost a year, an oat porridge cooked in apple-cranberry juice with diced fresh apricots became irresistible.

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By now everyone is familiar with the advice to eat whole grains as part of their daily diet, but many people still don't know how to go about getting them properly. Whole grains are widely marketed these days in all kinds of breads, granolas, cereals and snacks, but unless you're familiar with the actual process used in their productions, you're better off without them. Most commercial whole grain products are baked at too high temperatures — it's quick and efficient for the producers, but these temperatures destroy most of the nutritional content of the foods. Another common problem in modern production processes is the use of rancid grains — the outer layer of the whole grains are especially susceptible to becoming rancid quickly without freezing.

Most importantly, however, the grains used in most commercial processes have not been soaked before being cooked. All grains contain phytic acid in their outer layer, or bran, that when left untreated combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. Soaking grains in warm water or yogurt overnight allows enzymes and lactobacilli to break down the phytic acid so that the mineral benefits of grains are realized. Soaking and fermenting is also crucial for breaking down complex proteins like the gluten found in oats into simpler components that are much more easily digested by the body.

And oats are just about the perfect grain for starting the day with energy, naturally sweet and soothing, and a terrific source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, fiber and B vitamins. Samuel Johnson once noted that oats are "a grain used in England to feed horses and in Scotland to feed the populace," which might be why there were so many splendid specimens of English horses and Scots. Oatmeal porridge was a staple breakfast food of older Canadians, and it's so quick and easy to make there's no reason why it shouldn't become a staple for a new generation as well.

On the subject of processed foods, I've never understood the need for "quick" or "instant" oats when ordinary rolled or steel-cut oat flakes cook about as fast as it takes to pour a bowl of corn flakes when the oats have been soaked the night before. Like other marketed whole grain products, instant oats are pre-cooked at nutrient-destroying temperatures before they even get to your cupboard, and contain unnecessary preservatives and artificial sweeteners besides. On the other hand, old-fashioned rolled or steel-cut oats are almost as good as using the whole oat groats, because they've only been lightly processed with light steaming and rolling or cutting.

Almost Instant Oat Porridge

For my porridges I employ a variation of the old muesli technique in which I soak the oats in an equal amount of plain whole-fat yogurt and whey overnight at room temperature, and sometimes with a small piece of cinnamon stick tossed in for flavor. One-third cup of dried oats usually makes a good-sized serving for most people. If you find the idea of leaving yogurt overnight at room temperature unappealing, don't worry — it is perfectly safe since the broken-down lactic acid in yogurt prevents harmful bacterial culturation, and brings out the natural tangy flavor of yogurt as an added bonus. Whole grains should always be eaten with good fatty dairy products to provide the catalyst for mineral absorption in any case, and soaking the oats in yogurt is the easiest way to do this.

The next morning, bring an amount of water and/or fruit juice equal to the amount of oats to a light boil. Stir in the soaked oats, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for just a few minutes until thick, stirring constantly to avoid sticking. Just before taking the oats off the stove, add fresh or frozen berries, fruit or raisins, seeds or nuts, and stir in for thirty seconds. Swirl in a bit of maple syrup, raw honey or molasses if you crave a little extra sweetness.

Take the oats off the stove and let cool for just a few minutes before serving.

Lime-Flavored Rice with Roasted Yellow Split Peas


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Lime-Flavored Rice with Roasted Yellow Split Peas

Rice is a staple in my kitchen, usually served a few times a week to go along with dinner. I enjoy it plain, sometimes with a little butter and a bit of salt, especially if I'm in a rush or preparing a more elaborate entrée to go along with it, but I never tire of finding new ways to dress up the blank canvas that is rice.

It just so happens that my new copy of 660 Curries has plenty of tasty alternatives to plain rice to serve alongside you favorite curry dishes. I decided to try this easy recipe for lime-flavored rice with roasted yellow split peas as the flavors seemed particularly complementary to the chickpeas with a coconut sauce I planned to make. My dinner guests were not disappointed.

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Sweet Potato Squash Soup with Pinto Beans and Chard

Sweet Potato Squash Soup with Pinto Beans and Chard

"Mid-week meals" are what I like to call those quick and easy recipes I use to cope with weekday hustle and bustle at a minimum of bother but with an abundance of taste and nutrition at the same time. This colorful soup is packed with the comfort, goodness and flavors of fall harvest vegetables and takes hardly any time or effort to prepare and cook, especially if you boil the beans ahead of time. Served with a grain or fresh bread on the side, it's a complete wholesome and satisfying meal that will look lovely on the table besides … which makes it a natural choice for my contribution to this month's No Crouton Required challenge of hearty vegetarian soups.

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Parmesan Rice Crackers

Parmesan Rice Crackers

When I first saw Usha's recipe for rice crackers earlier in the week, I immediately bookmarked it. I much prefer savory snacks over sweet, and so biscuits, crackers and scones are a favored treat. This recipe didn't stay bookmarked for long, as it was relatively easy to do and a good way to heat up the cold kitchen.

I made a few minor changes to the recipe including the addition of some Parmesan cheese. If you want a vegan snack, simply replace the cheese with some whole wheat flour. These crispy crackers were every bit as delightful as I imagined. The sesame seeds add a nice crunch and the Parmesan and spice complement the earthy grainy flavor of the cracker. I might also suggest doubling up on the recipe and making a few batches if entertaining, as these will disappear far faster than you would guess!

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Chickpeas with Coconut Sauce (Shundal)


Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Chickpeas with Coconut Sauce (Shundal)

This past week, a friend came to visit me. Of course, I never can resist treating my visitors to some creations from my kitchen, especially when this guest was interested in some basic cooking instructions in addition to a meal. What a learning experience that turned out to be. I was rather surprised at how much I take for granted in the kitchen — experienced cook that I am, I rarely give much thought to the process of soaking beans, cooking temperatures, chopping methods, cooking times and other essentials.

In addition to serving some old favorites, like mung beans with paneer cheese, some new dishes appeared on the menu. My friend really likes beans and Indian flavors, so I turned to my new copy of 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer for some inspiration. The biggest challenge with this book is deciding on a recipe, packed as it is with straightforward and simple ideas. I finally decided upon a chickpea shundal. Shundals are moist curries that are usually made with whole legumes — often black chickpeas — and traditionally served during India's Festival of Lights and presented as an offering to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning and knowledge. An appropriate choice, as this past week was all about sharing.

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Black and Green Bean Corn Hash

Black and Green Bean Corn Hash

Fresh green beans and sweet corn are two of the great early fall picks at southwestern Ontario markets, so naturally I decided to go Mexican when I found them in my basket. This simple recipe started off with a weekend breakfast in mind, but after getting up late and deciding to tinker around with the ingredients again, it became a tasty, colorful and nourishing dinner instead. Proof that the most enjoyable meals can be had by simply putting a pan together with some oil, vegetables and spices.

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Green Tea & Curry Rice


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Green Tea & Curry Rice

By itself, or with a little butter or fried mustard seeds stirred in, rice is of course a delicious side to almost any meal, but I have to admit that it's often an afterthought after planning a main course. Fortunately, its versatility in combining with so many flavors makes it a snap to dress up rice to make it look like you spent just as much time planning it as anything else on the table.

For just one example, cooking rice in green tea and mixing in a little curry powder and raisins will take you no more than 5 minutes longer in preparation and cooking than making a pot of plain rice, and it makes a beautiful and tasty accompaniment to any lightly spiced meal. Adjust the curry powder to suit your taste in heat.

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