Thursday, December 9, 2010

Veggie Might: Getting in the Mood with Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Soup

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Happy last day of Hanukkah, friends! Hope you had a super week plus one.

Gentle Readers, though I live on Holiday Island, USA (not to be confused with Christmas Town, USA—just down the road from my folks’ place), and I was sick for most of Hanukkah, I’m just not feeling it—it being the holiday juju that’s supposed to filling my heart with magic.

Thanksgiving was so delicious and festive; and I want Christmas to be the same. But if I start getting into the holiday mood too soon, I’ll be over it by the time Christmas actually gets here. To avoid holiday burn out, I refuse to decorate, shop, or cook anything holiday related until December 12. Even that is pushing it, but I don’t want to be anywhere near a retail outlet on Christmas Eve either.

In the meantime, I’ve been on the lookout for recipes that use seasonal vegetables but don’t have cinnamon, clove, or pumpkin pie spice. A few clicks around the Internet machine and tada! Yellow Split Pea Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale at one of my favorite recipe blogs, Fat-free Vegan Kitchen.

This is the recipe I’ve been dreaming about—clearly, since I didn’t have to buy a single ingredient to make it. I swapped out the kale for a gorgeous, emerald bunch of Swiss chard chilling in my crisper and made the easy substitution of toor dal (split pigeon peas) for yellow split peas.

For a minute, I thought this recipe was going to be too easy and it would only take me the 30 minutes of prep and 60 minutes of relatively inactive cooking (occasional stirring) time to make. But I had to take it a step further.

The recipe calls for curry powder which, after a few introductory lessons in Indian cooking, gives me pause. I’ve stopped keeping it around, opting to use whole spices instead. However, my imaginary friend and mentor Madhur Jaffrey shares a recipe in World Vegetarian for her own every day curry powder (called My Curry Powder). So I whipped up a batch.

Within minutes, my apartment was filled with the aromas of cumin and coriander as I roasted the whole spices and then ground them fine in the coffee grinder. (I have one dedicated for that purpose.) Having freshly ground spice blends is worth the minimal amount of effort it takes to grind them yourself.

Otherwise following the recipe, the soup was everything I wanted it to be: hearty, flavorful but not overpowering, and fragrant. The Indian spices perfectly complemented the sweet potato and the hint of bitterness in the Swiss chard gaves it a nice balance. Toor dal added a creamy texture to the soup without being mushy.

Plus the recipe made enough for this army of one-singular-sensation to have lunch and dinner for a several days. If CB and the Roommate are sweet, maybe I’ll share.

So let’s fortify ourselves, Gentle Readers, for the coming holidays with this delicious, satisfying, Indian-inspired soup. Cinnamon and peppermint will be scenting our dreams soon enough.


If you fancied this recipe, you may take delight in:


Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard, and Toor Dal Soup
Serves 8

2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp canola oil
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
8 cups water
3 cups dried toor dal or yellow split peas, picked over and rinsed
1 tbsp mild curry powder (to taste)*
Salt to taste (optional)
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, trimmed, and chopped

Note: Swiss chard stems are edible. They have a crunchy texture, like Romaine lettuce, and add a nice color contrast to the dish, whether you choose red, yellow, or white. When trimming Swiss chard, snip off any ends that are tough or dried out, but it’s not necessary de-stem like you would with kale or collard greens.

1) In a large saucepan or stock pot, heat 1 teaspoon canola oil and cook onions 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. Move onions aside in pot and add second teaspoon of oil and whole cumin and mustard seeds. Stir seeds with spatula for about 30 seconds.

2) When mustard seeds begin to pop, stir together spices with onions. Then add ginger and garlic and cook for about 1 minute.

3) Add water, sweet potato, toor dal, and curry powder and stir. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour or until the dal is tender.

4) In the meantime, wash and chop Swiss chard and set aside. Stir dal occassionally to prevent sticking and burning.

5) When the dal is tender, turn off heat, remove lid, and stir in Swiss chard. Replace lid and allow chard to wilt for 5–10 minutes.

6) Serve piping hot with crusty bread or naan and put off shopping for another day.

*Bonus Recipe:
Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Powder
from World Vegetarian
Makes 5–6 tablespoons

2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp whole brown mustard
1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
5 to 6 whole cloves
3 dried chilies, crushed
1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1) Heat a small cast iron skillet over medium heat. Combine all whole spices in skillet and roast for 1–2 minutes until aromas begin to emerge, stirring or shaking the pan intermittently. Some spices will brown and change color.

2) Add ground turmeric and heat for another 10 seconds. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a plate or bowl to cool.

3) Grind in spice or coffee grinder until mixture is as fine as possible. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Take a deep breath and smile.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
306 calories, 2.4g fat, 13g fiber, 18g protein, $.39

2 medium onions: 80 calories, 0.4g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.88
1 1/2 tsp whole cumin: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1 tsp black mustard seeds: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
2 tsp canola oil: 79 calories, 9g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.05
1 tbsp fresh ginger: 6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.06
3 cloves garlic: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
2 medium sweet potatoes: 112 calories, 0g fat, 4g fiber, 2g protein, $0.34
3 cups dried toor dal: 2109 calories, 9g fat, 92g fiber, 133.5g protein, $0.18
1 tbsp curry powder: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
Salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
1 bunch Swiss chard: 56 calories, 0g fat, 8g fiber, 8g protein, $1.50
TOTALS: 2454 calories, 19g fat, 104g fiber, 143.5g protein, $3.13
PER SERVING (TOTALS/8): 306 calories, 2.4g fat, 13g fiber, 18g protein, $.39

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