Category Archives: Soups and Salads

Curried Lentil Soup

Last night my friend Janelle requested a soup recipe so that she could have something hearty to eat during her long hospital shiftwork this week. I’m not envious of nurses for many reasons, particularly because they have to handle needles, catheters and are exposed to dangerously high levels of Jello. My poor stomach couldn’t handle the ever-changing meal schedule, week to week, of rotating shift workers. Even with the time change of one hour a few weeks ago, my stomach was left gurgling in confused exasperation for much too long.

During my cleanse a few weeks ago I made this delicious lentil soup twice within a matter of days. Lentil soup is one of my favourites – I love its consistency, colour and wonderful earthy flavours. I also feel very self-righteous when eating something as nutritionally rich as lentils. This is a spicier version of a basic lentil recipe, which gives a slight tingle to the esophagus on the way down. Not in a reach-for-the-pepto-bismal kind of way, but rather like the sensation of eating chicken tandoori; the subtle heat has an addictive quality and the curry powder nicely complements the lentils. You may want to double the batch to be safe, as it will go quickly.

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Curried Barley Salad with Apples and Pecans

Today I had an intervention with myself. Lately I’ve been feeling lethargic, unmotivated and frankly a little flabby, so I decided that tomorrow I will wipe clean the slate of my eating habits and detox with a 7-day cleanse. No more muffins during coffee break and no more sneaking handfuls of Hershey’s Kisses in the afternoon when I’m in need of a pick-me-up. I’ve given myself at least a day to prepare mentally for the challenge and to also finish off any remaining bacon, Fig Newtons or dark chocolate in my house so that my rumbling belly won’t be tempted in the days to come.

Tomorrow I will fill my fridge with green leafy things and stock up on essentials like yams, beets, quinoa and even the black wild rice that tastes like twigs. I will wash the grime from my unused water bottle and make an effort to actually drink from it throughout the day, instead of only using it to fill my iron or to water hard-to-reach houseplants.  I’ll freeze any leftover bread, as it will be forbidden fruit to me over the next 7 days, as will be my Monday morning emotional crutch and companion – coffee. I pity my poor coworkers on Monday.

The cleanse I bought is the ReCleanse Herbal Cleanse and Detox. It is probably very mild compared to others on the market and it’s suitable for someone like me who needs to consume enough calories in order not to throw a tantrum from low blood sugar whenever Microsoft Outlook acts up. It requires taking mild herbal pills, drinking enough water to substantially lower one’s productivity at work, and refraining from eating certain foods such as bread products, dairy (except natural plain yogourt), alcohol, coffee and refined sugars. I do this cleanse a few times a year, usually when the seasons change, and after seven days I feel stronger, happier and healthier. It usually also sets my eating patterns on the right course for another few months and saves me money from not splurging at the coffee shop across the street from work.

The secret to making it through till the seventh day is to always have healthy snacks at the ready. I’ve got such little food willpower that this is integral for me. To help get me through the first few days, tonight I made a delicious batch of curried barley salad with apples, cranberries and pecans.  It tastes fine warm, but even better as a cold lunch the next day. Enjoy!

Pearl Barley

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Cranberry Tabouli with Pumpkin Seeds

I used to be very pretentious when it came to Lebanese food. If I went to a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant and came across a dish that didn’t look the way my grandmother used to make it, I’d put on airs and make faces with every bite, like a fussy child. At a work potluck recently, someone brought in stuffed grape vine leaves filled with pork, instead of lamb, and I gave them the cold shoulder for nearly a week.

Tabouli has always been one of the greatest offenders, as there are countless variations on its preparation (and spelling), many of which sadly involve being too stingy on parsley. Grocery store tabouli is one culprit: it consists mainly of bulghur wheat and offers the same satisfaction as munching on kitty litter (I’m guessing). My preference is to throw in heaps of parsley, cucumber and tomato, and making a complete meal out of it. The trouble is that I’m sometimes too lazy to undertake the lengthy task of finely chopping 2 bunches of parsley. I own a food processor, but with tabouli is just feels like cheating.

This easy-to-make recipe is a far cry from my Sito’s tabouli, but requires much less preparation and chopping. Although taking liberties with the classic Middle Eastern salad – and hopefully not offending the omnipotent Tabouli Gods by doing so – I know you won’t be disappointed with this version. I’ve reduced the parsley amounts and replaced the other ingredients with roasted pumpkin seeds and cranberries for a pleasant tartness. I’ve still used bulghur wheat here, but it would taste equally good with couscous or quinoa instead. If my grandmother ever asks, this will be our little secret. Shh. Continue reading


Valentine’s Day Butternut Squash Soup with Cumin and Thyme

I picked up butternut squash last week with the intention of making homemade squash ravioli, but recovering from a busy work week and a rainy Saturday, I opted for something a little less ambitious to prepare – Butternut Squash Soup. This tasty soup with its hint of cumin warms up the insides on a winter’s day and also makes for a quick, healthy lunch during the week ahead. No roast beef sandwiches for at least three days!

There are a lot of squash soup recipes available online, but I find the taste of most of these sometimes too bland for my liking. In the past I’ve added apple sauce to my soup, though here I’ve chosen to go with apple cider vinegar and carrots instead, for that same subtle sweetness. I also roasted the squash beforehand with oil, cumin, cayenne and fresh thyme, for extra flavour. If you’re like my mom and don’t like cumin you can substitute this with rosemary or sage.

My dad and younger brother picking pumpkins and squash last fall

Freshly-picked butternut squash

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Homemade Tomato Soup with Pesto Grilled Cheese

There is something to be said for having comfort food to help get through the dreary and cold winter months. I’m not talking about Rocky Road ice cream or Oreos and a glass of milk, although that would probably work too. For me, what comes to mind is Campbell’s Tomato Soup and grilled cheese for dipping. Maybe it’s the rain or the lack of Vitamin D from Victoria’s cloudy climes, but I’ve been feeling particularly lazy and uninspired this past week and in desperate need of comfort food. I’m ashamed to admit that I had peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner three days last week and then bacon and eggs another time, which is very unlike me. So I’ve decided that something homey, healthy and relatively easy would be on the menu tonight to propel me through this next week on the right note.

Although tasty and inexpensive, Campbell’s soup was a little too easy tonight, so I tried to pull together something homemade that tasted close enough. I also love grilled cheese and have recently started putting a dab of pesto in the middle for some extra kick and have been experimenting with different cheeses to venture out of my Cheddar comfort zone. I didn’t have any regular pesto on hand, but at the back of the fridge was a jar of homemade pesto made from nettle plants that a friend from Saltspring Island had given me as a gift. For serving, call me crazy, but I get real enjoyment out of dipping my grilled cheese into the soup and then taking a bite of it when it’s warm and soggy. The perfect Sunday meal for eating while curled up on the couch in front of the TV. Continue reading


Fattoosh – Lebanese Herb and Toasted Pita Bread Salad

Ten days into 2011 and my resolve to eat healthier has not yet abandoned me completely, except for the short-lived Ferrero Rocher that I found in my jacket pocket this afternoon. In addition to starting a 21-day yoga challenge today to whip myself into shape, tonight I also decided to delve into my ancestry for a healthy and creative salad  – Fattoosh. I don’t normally get much satisfaction from eating salads; they are too light and unfilling, too limp and without personality, and they always leave me with dressing down my shirt – though this Levantine dish which sounds liked a sneeze makes other salads wilt in shame. The ingredient list for this salad reads very much like that for its close relative, tabouli (also recommended), except Fattoosh uses romaine lettuce, ground sumac for tartness and hardened pieces of pita bread crumbled in, originally conceived as a practical use for stale bread besides using it as a middle eastern frisbee.

Sumac is an ingredient that is hard to come by here in Victoria – at least I haven’t found it – though you may be in luck if you live near a middle eastern grocer. Sumac always makes me think about an ill-planned entrepreneurial endeavour from my high school days, when my best friend Jon and I ground up the fuzzy red berries from the sumac tree in my backyard, rolled them up in cigarette paper, and sold them to our grade 8 friends under the brand name “Smacs”. They tasted pleasantly sour and fruity when inhaled, though the trend never caught on with our peers. I wouldn’t advise trying this at home, but I do highly recommend that you add this spice to your kitchen collection for the purpose of cooking. If you can’t find it, I’ve added a variation to the recipe using lemon zest, which tastes close enough. Continue reading


Easy Tabouli Salad

Tabouli was one of the first salads I ever ate when I was young. My grandmother, or Sito in Lebanese, always had a heaping bowl of it ready-in-waiting whenever we dropped by, like her tin of Peek Frean cookies that never seemed to deplete in stock. At every holiday dinner or event at the house of a relative, tabouli was also featured on the menu. To a child, the salad represented a colourful and visually appealing ensemble of greens and reds; as an adult, it is a healthy and tasty alternative to other side dishes.

Every weekend I now make a bowl-ful of tabouli that lasts me for several lunches and dinners during the week; and although it’s probably getting old and tiresome, I typically bring tabouli to every potluck I’m invited to. It’s different that the usual potato salad or nanaimo bars that I used to bring, and is just so easy to make – 15 minutes…and voila!

Note that there are many different ways to make this salad – each time is usually different for me depending on what I have in the fridge. Continue reading