While cleaning out my pantry after the crazy holiday season, I discovered a mason jar of pearl barley buried deep on the shelf, and right away I began to look for new recipes that call for it. I love barley, chewy and nutty and substantial. Barley shines in soups and stews, where it absorbs any flavors from the broth that surrounds it, as in this barley stew with beans and herbs, from Turmeric and Saffron. A fiber-rich whole grain with many nutritional benefits, barley is an economical addition that thickens soups and stews.
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Whenever I hear the word earthy in relation to food, I think of lentils. It's not just the color; it's the meaty texture, the aroma, the "mouth feel" of lentils as they collapse into a heady broth. One of the world's healthiest foods, lentils make the best base for soup, whether seasoned with curry spices, paired with spicy sausage, or brightened with salty cheese and lemon, as in this Greek lentil soup with red pepper and feta, from The Perfect Pantry. In addition to being a nutritional powerhouse food, brown lentils are budget-friendly and available in every supermarket. I buy red lentils in large packages in Indian grocery stores, and I use the two types interchangeably in most soup recipes.
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Beans, beans, good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you... want to lick the bowl clean! Whether you start with dried beans or canned, you can build a healthy, hearty, economical soup around any variety of beans. Add little bits of vegetables, leftover meats, a rich broth or even plain water, and you have the makings of a satisfying soup pot. Cook bean soups until the beans fall apart on their own, or coax them into submission with an immersion blender. Or leave them whole, like they are in this sopa de frijoles, a Peruvian bean soup from Provecho Peru. Although nothing makes your kitchen smell and sound more welcoming than a pot of soup burbling away on the stove, don't forget your slow cooker, which makes wonderful bean soups with no stove-tending required.
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