03 September 2013

Cook, freeze, and pack it for later: soups and salads

Some soups end up grainy when you freeze them (I'm sorry to say that potato soups fall into this category), and salads seem impossible to freeze, but both choices are a great way to stay healthy and maintain a well-balanced diet when things get too hectic to cook.  These are some of my favorite freezable recipes because they taste just as good thawed as they do fresh.  If you freeze individual portions for bring to work, you don't even have to thaw them ahead; just grab a frozen container, throw it in a plastic bag (to catch the condensation), and it should be ready to microwave by noon.

In addition to full-on meals to make and freeze, I always find making extra of certain things and freezing helps speed up my cooking later: any kid of rice, lentils, mung beans, split peas, barley, wheat berries, couscous, and bulgar wheat all reheat perfectly (and quickly) from their frozen state. Finally, if you're going to the trouble of making something like spaghetti sauce in a big pot, make sure to keep enough to freeze--SO much better than opening a jar in a pinch!

FREEZABLE SOUPS AND SALADS with no compromise to texture or flavor:
Butternut Squash Soup with Barley and Kale

Serves 6

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup pearled barley
4 cups water or vegetable stock
½ cup dried shitake mushrooms, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen kale
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash Tabasco
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss the butternut squash and onion with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the smoked paprika.  Spread onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 425°F for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender and starting to turn brown.

Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large stock pot.  When it melts, add the barley, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining teaspoon of the cumin.  Sautee until the barley starts to toast and become fragrant.  Add the water or stock and the dried mushrooms, cover, and increase to medium high heat.  When the soup begins to boil, lower to a simmer and cook until barley is tender, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the kale, lemon juice, and Tabasco and continue to cook until kale wilts, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in the roasted vegetables, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Freeze up to 4 months.

Chicken Vatapa

Serves 6

1 teaspoon canola oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (remove seeds for milder flavoring)
1 cup water
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 (12 oz.) can light beer
¼ cup dry-roasted peanuts
3 cups cooked chicken
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and sauté 2 minutes or until onion is soft.  Stir in water, tomatoes in their juice, and beer.  Bring to boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Place peanuts in a spice or coffee grinder (or a good old-fashioned nut grinder) and process until finely ground.  Add ground peanuts, chicken, and coconut milk to Dutch oven, stirring to combine.  Increase heat to medium.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in parsley, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  Freeze up to 2 months.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

Serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. salt
2 cups dried red lentils
6 cups water
1 can (14.5 oz.) coconut milk
3 Tbsp. lime juice
2-3 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce (use 2 Tbsp. tomato paste for a mild soup)
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat and add onion, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, and salt when ready (oil should shimmer when hot).  Stir constantly until seeds start to sputter, about 4 minutes.
Add lentils and water, cover, and bring to a boil.  Then lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered, 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft and start to break apart.

Stir in coconut milk, Sriracha sauce or tomato paste, and lime juice and turn off heat.  Season with more salt and black pepper to taste. Freeze two months.

Mild Winter Squash Soup

Serves 4

4 black peppercorns, plus ½ teaspoon black pepper
4 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups water
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups peeled and diced winter squash
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the whole peppercorns with the cilantro sprigs.

In a soup pot over medium-high heat, bring the stock and water to a boil, then add the pepper mixture, garlic, and squash.  Return the mixture to a boil and add the soy sauce.  Cover and let cook until squash is fork-tender, about 7 minutes.

Turn of heat, stir in vinegar, and hand mash the soup a bit with a potato masher, leaving some chunks for texture.  Garnish with extra cilantro leaves and pepper if desired.  Freeze two months.

Rustic Chicken Stew 2 Ways

Serves 4, plus 4 more with leftover stew

A 2-for-1 meal, this “stew” can either be served in a bowl with some crusty bread on the side or left thick and pour over mashed potatoes for a heavier meal.

2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 boneless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 carrot, peeled and diced
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
½ red or orange bell pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
½ yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
Bay leaf
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter, cold
2 tablespoons capers
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot of generously salted water, boil the potatoes.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the water, and mash in a bowl with salt and olive oil to taste.

Meanwhile,  heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan or frying pan over medium high heat.  When it smokes, place the chicken breasts in the pan and brown about 4 minutes on each side or until just cooked inside.  Remove from pan and keep covered on a plate for later use.

Add a dash of the red wine to the pan to deglaze, scraping down all the brown bits, and then cook the onion 3-4 minutes or until it begins to soften.  Add the mushrooms, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic, season with 1 teaspoon salt and the herbes de Provence, cover and cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When a fair amount of water has been released from the vegetable mixture and all veggies are soft, stir in the tablespoon of flour to thicken.  Add the tomato paste,  ¼ cup red wine, bay leaf, and remaining teaspoon salt, stir well, reduce heat to medium low, and cover.  Allow to simmer 5 -7 minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and return to the pan with vegetables; stir in the capers, cover and heat thoroughly, about 5 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir in the tablespoon of cold butter until it melts and remove from heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spread mashed potatoes on each plate and top with chicken and vegetable sauce.

Stir the reserved cup of potato water into leftover sauce and serve later in bowls.  Can be frozen up to one month.

Spiced Lentil Stew

Serves 4

2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 ½  cups water
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons salt, divided
Bay leaf
I large carrot, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
2 scallions, sliced (white and green parts)
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils, water curry powder, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and bay leaf.  Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.  While the lentils are cooking, you can steam the carrot in a basket over the water, or else steam the carrot in another vessel.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet,  heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onion until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and scallions and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir n the tomato paste, red wine,  cumin, coriander, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and paprika.  Add enough water to turn into a medium-thick sauce (about ½ cup, adding a little at a time).  Add the cooked lentils and carrot and lower heat to low.

Allow to simmer 5-10 minutes, season with pepper and coriander.  Freeze two months. Can be served over rice, mashed potatoes, or cauliflower puree, all of which can also be made and frozen ahead of time (in a separate container).

Thai Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 4

1 butternut squash
2 granny smith apples
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon red curry paste (like Thai Kitchen)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Spray the flesh side with cooking spray, then place flesh side down onto a baking sheet.  Do the same with the two apples; place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes or until they are soft enough to squeeze.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pan over medium heat.  Saute chopped onion until translucent, lower heat to medium low and cover until squash and apples are done.

When soft, remove squash and apples from oven and separate the flesh from the skin.  Place the flesh of the apples and squash, roughly chopped, into the blender with one cup of the vegetable stock, taking care to keep the cover on the blender despite the hot contents.  When you achieve a smooth consistency, pour the contents of the blender into the Dutch oven with the onions.  Whisk in the remaining vegetable stock, coconut milk, and curry paste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and allow to simmer 15 minutes.  Turn off heat, stir in lemon juice, and serve in bowls. Freeze two months.

Mediterranean Lentil Salad

Serves 4-6

1 cup brown lentils, cooked
1 cup wheat berries, cooked
1 cup quinoa, cooked
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ red onion, finely diced
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium tomato, cored and chopped
1 ear of fresh corn, scraped off the cob
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Large handful chopped fresh herbs--basil, parsley, oregano, dill, in any combination

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and minced garlic.  Place all other ingredients in a large serving bowl, pour dressing on top, and stir to coat.  Can be served cold or at room temperature.  Leftovers kept in the refrigerator are delicious--the flavors have more of a chance to bloom. Freeze up to one month.

Milanese Rice and Farro Salad

Serves 4

½ cup farro
1 cup white long grain rice
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
¼ cup frozen corn, thawed
¼ cup mixed olives, roughly chopped
Small handful fresh basil or parsley, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish

Cook the farro: soak farro overnight (if you forget to do this, just keep an eye on it as you cook--it will take a little longer and perhaps need the addition of some water over time, but it will turn out fine).  In a medium saucepan, add the farro, 1 ¼ cup water, and about a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook covered until tender, 20-30 minutes.  Drain if there is any leftover water and cool.  (This step can be done a day in advance, or you can cook a big batch and store in batches in the freezer for quick use in recipes).

Cook the rice: Bring the rice and 1 ½ cups salted water to boil.  Reduce to heat to a simmer and cook covered until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain if necessary and cool.  This can also be done ahead and refrigerated or frozen like the farro.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, place rice, farro, and all other ingredients in a bowl and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on top, and serve cold or at room temperature.  The entire salad can be mixed together and frozen up to one month; toss in a fresh chopped tomato after you thaw, if possible.

Moroccan Couscous

Serves 4-6 

1 ½ cups couscous
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons butter

Cook couscous and fresh ginger in a saucepan according to directions.  Meanwhile, in a dry skillet over medium heat, toast all spices until fragrant; remove from heat and add butter, stirring until it melts.

When couscous is done, fluff and stir in spiced butter and cilantro.  Freeze up to one month.

Warm Coconut Barley Salad

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 heaping tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced (remove seeds for less spice)
2 cups barley
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
1-15 oz. can light coconut milk
1 small red bell pepper, diced
½ cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen, shelled edamame
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or mint
2 scallions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium and sauté onion.  When it’s starting to soften up, add the ginger, jalapeno, and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the dry barley and about a teaspoon of salt and toast cook another minute, stirring constantly.  Add the coconut milk and vegetable broth, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook until liquid is mostly absorbed and barley is mostly cooked, but still a little bit too chewy.  This should take about 45 minutes.  Toss in the chopped red bell pepper, corn, and edamame, stir and cover, and continue to cook another 10 minutes.  When everything seems cooked, remove from heat and stir in the cilantro and scallions.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Freeze up to two months

Zippy Corn Salad

Serves 6 

8 ears of corn (or 4 cups corn)
2 cups cooked beans (black, pinto, garbanzo), or 1 can beans
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 garlic clove, mashed and diced
1 teaspoon dried cumin
½ tsp. salt
½  tsp. hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot or Tapatío (or more to taste)
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup olive oil

Bring water to a boil in a Dutch oven  and drop the husked, cleaned ears of corn into it.  After 1 minute, remove corn and allow to cool.  Cut corn off the cobs and combine with other vegetables and beans in a large bowl.

Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over corn mixture, stirring to coat thoroughly.  Freeze up to four weeks.