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Guys I have to apologize for not posting in a while. I had a ton of family over this weekend, and cooking for them was a real challenge. There are some Indians, like some members of my family who visited, who don’t eat onion or garlic. I’m a little unsure of the reason, but I think it has something to do with being grown underground. Anyway, on top of cooking vegetarian food for them, I had to concoct a recipe that also didn’t use any onion or garlic, either fresh or in powdered form. The one exception was vegetable broth  – still not sure why.

So the following is a modified butternut squash soup recipe. My first experience with butternut squash was a few weeks before I started this blog – it was actually a risotto! And it inspired my mushroom risotto recipe because it was such a success. As my fellow East Coasters know, this past weekend was the Polar Vortex, with temperatures reaching incredible lows all over the region. What better way to stay indoors and warm yourself up than with a hearty, healthy vegetable soup? I’m pretty proud of this recipe, not only because it’s incredibly simple, but because it’s got to be one of the healthiest things I’ve made (omitting, of course, the optional heavy cream).

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Ingredients (makes 8 servings):

adapted from Sweet and Savory by Shinee

1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and diced into large cubes)

4 tbsps butter

30-40 baby carrots, cut in half

4-5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp dried parsley

Salt to taste

Heat a large soup pot and melt down 4 tbsps butter. Add baby carrots and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add butternut squash and toss with melted butter before adding vegetable broth. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Once cooked down, add 1 c. water and spices. Stir and take off the heat to cool. Once slightly cooled, puree in food process or use an immersion blender. Once entirely pureed, add 4 tbsps. heavy cream (this is optional) and stir before serving hot.

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Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

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This seems like as good a time as any to point out that I don’t believe in diets. I’ve tried so many – I’ve cut out carbs, I’ve cut out dairy (yeah, I know). Last summer I even tried a juice cleanse and only lasted 3 days before passing out. Deprivation just doesn’t cut it for me. Everything I read and hear tells me that the only way to lose weight is lifestyle maintenance. You can’t cut out a food group and expect to be able to eat it in a few months or a year. Instead you have to retrain yourself to make healthier decisions. Why, then, am I trying vegetarianism for a year? Well for me it’s not a diet, it is actually a lifestyle. And if I find it sustainable, I’ll try to maintain it for longer than one year!

That being said, this is one of my favorite healthier-but-not-diet-food recipes. I’m a risotto junkie. I order it at restaurants whenever I can, I spent a few months living on pre-packaged, reheatable varieties from Waitrose when I lived in London, and now I’ve finally taught myself how to make it from scratch. Obviously risotto, a rice-based dish, is not suitable for a low-carb diet. Luckily that’s not how I roll. I instead choose to focus on the fact that this dish involved a box full of delicious shiitake mushrooms, low-sodium vegetable broth, a minimal amount of cheese, and no heavy cream (as some varieties of risotto often have). That sounds healthy to me!

For those who have never made risotto at home, I highly recommend the experience. It’s simple to make, but it requires patience and gets easier with practice. It’s really therapeutic to stand in front of a stove on a winter day and stir steamy, brothy rice for half an hour, and my absolutely favorite part is the addition of white wine – the smell is amazing. 🙂

Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

1 1/2 c. arborio rice (the kind traditionally used in risotto)

1 shallot

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 c. white cooking wine

32 oz. low-sodium vegetable broth

5 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced

Black pepper and shredded parmesan cheese to taste

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Heat a deep non-stick pan on medium and melt butter into olive oil. Finely dice shallot and add to butter/oil mixture until pieces are transparent. Add rice and toast lightly. Reduce heat to low. Add white wine, stir until it cooks off – rice should be ever so slightly cooked by now. Add 2-3 oz. of vegetable broth to rice in increments. Stir after each addition until broth is absorbed, then add the next increment. All 32 oz. are not needed, but depending on the variety of rice, strength of the stove, etc., it may take a while. Routinely taste the rice to check for doneness. Once rice tastes cooked, add shiitake mushrooms and stir. The mushrooms don’t need to be cooked, but they taste amazing when you let the rice steam them a bit. Add black pepper to taste and top with shredded parmesan cheese. Serve in shallow bowls with plenty of extra parmesan and a glass of antioxidant-full red wine! I wish I could’ve done the last part, but my eating buddy for the night doesn’t drink. Next time!

Recipe: Mushroom Risotto

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Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings):

2 cans black beans

1 medium red onion

1 small handful cilantro (not chopped)

2 Thai green chiles

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Tortillas, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce, etc.

Rinse and drain both cans of black beans. Make sure they are properly drained before mixing with other ingredients or the salad will be quite wet. Dice red onion, finely chop cilantro, and thinly slice Thai chiles before adding to black beans. Squeeze juice of 1/2 lemon and mix together. This salad tastes best when it’s able to sit in the fridge overnight – the cilantro and lemon really temper the sharpness of the red onion. Thinly sliced green onion is also a great addition. This particular recipe is one of my favorites for several reasons: it’s cheap, it’s healthy, it’s easy, and it is absolutely delicious. This is a staple of Mexican night at my house and has become such a favorite that it traveled with me to college. Black beans are cheap and easy to stock and the other ingredients are ridiculously easy to come by. I’ve experimented with lime juice instead of lemon and my boyfriend even added bacon once. Obviously that’s off-limits for me this year. This dish is also an excellent vegetarian source of protein. It substitutes so well for ground beef on Taco Night that my carnivorous roommates request it.

Recipe: Black Bean Salad

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