I am entering a new phase in my life. It is the there-is-no-where-else-left-in-my-budget-to-cut-we-have-to-get-our-grocery-bill-under-control phase of life. It is an awesome phase spurned on by 3 kids + kids’ activities + occasionally wanting to get out of L.A. and see the world + student loans ate my life. I am trying to navigate this phase without compromising on stuff that is important to us, to wit lots of organic fruits and veggies and organic, free-range meat from chickens and cows that have left-of-center political views.
Anyone who has ever tried to get their grocery bill under control will tell you, the key for budgeting is meal-planning. For us it also means making sure the leftovers make it through lunches and snacks the next day or else Riaz will find himself at Carl’s Jr. without knowing how he got there. Cooking during the week with screaming kids underfoot is never easy so I’ve been dabbling in the cook for a day, eat for a week program. Over the weekend, I prepare a bunch of main courses that can be frozen and during the week Riaz de-thaws and supplements with a some vegetables and carbs.
Because I don’t want to be in the kitchen 100% of the time that I’m not at work, I do a few easy to assemble dishes and a few more labor intensive ones. You should be coming to the realization by now that I am going to attempt a recurring series entitled Kristina’s Favorite Frozen Foods (given my blogging history you will probably get one recipe every 3.5 years – yippee!)
First up, a beloved soup that is good in the summer or the winter and we’re happy to eat it breakfast, lunch or dinner! I started with this super amazing vegan recipe over at Oh She Glows. That site is bomb for lots of healthy, beautifully photographed options, go there, check it out, see you in an hour. The recipe, as written, is great, but I’ve changed it up a bit to suit our omnivorous family and to bulk it up some more since we usually eat this as a meal in itself. The recipe takes some time due to the large amount of chopping, but it is so very worth it.
You Will Need:
For the Soup
3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked
6 cups chicken broth*, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet or yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3-4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped (carrots, pepper and celery should all be similarly sized)
2 cups peeled and chopped potatoes, 1/2 – 1 inch dice (Oh She Glows suggests sweet potato or butternut squash, I haven’t tried it, but I bet either would be delicious)
1 (28-ounce/796-mL) can diced tomatoes, with their juices**
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas well rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons Homemade Spice Blend (see below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 cups spinach
2 cups cooked chopped chicken, I like to use left over roasted chicken or cheap(er) chicken thighs which I salt and pepper then cook in a bit of oil
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
You Will Do:
1. Place cashews in a bowl with enough water to completely cover. Soak for at least two hours.
2. Drain cashews and place them in a blender with 1 cup chicken stock. Blend until smooth. If there are any grainy bits keep blending! This is the cashew “cream” and it should really be creamy. If you don’t want to be a dirty hippie, you could make your soup creamy the old-fashioned way with a touch of heavy cream and that would probably be delicious, but this is the healthier option. If you use heavy cream, just add it in at the end a tablespoon at a time until desired creaminess is achieved!
3. In a large pot heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute or two.
4. Add carrots, pepper, celery and potatoes and sauté until starting to soften, 5 minutes or so.
5. Add diced tomatoes with their juices, cashew cream, remaining 5 cups of broth, chickpeas, 1 1/2 tablespoons spice blend and bay leaves.
5. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes.
6. Add spinach and chicken and let cook for another five minutes or so until spinach is wilted and chicken is warmed through.
Eat this soup as is or do what Riaz did the other night and totally trick it out. He put some leftover brown rice at the bottom of the bowl, then a little layer of grated cheddar cheese, then soup, then some whole wheat croutons made from this homemade bread I made last weekend. It was seriously off the charts and the kids went bonkers for it.
So that’s it. Everyone loves this soup so much I’m going to start doubling the recipe. It is a perfect thing to have in the fridge/freezer for a quick meal.
* Here is where I make my pitch for homemade chicken broth. Guys — it is just SO. MUCH. BETTER! We eat a lot of whole chickens in my house. When I’m breaking the chicken down I throw the back, wing tips and gizzard stuff into a freezer bag and save for when I have a gallon-sized freezer bag full of bits and pieces accumulated and an afternoon where I’m going to be in the house. On stock day I just throw the bag full of chicken bits into a pot and then use Barefoot Contessa’s perfect recipe for stock (though I halve it and I never have parsnips so I leave those out). It’s about 5 minutes of active time and so completely worth it.
** I find that canned diced tomatoes are diced too large for my taste. I don’t like big hunks of tomato in my soups. Usually I throw the tomatoes in a blender and pulse a few times to break them up. This is an unnecessary step, but something I always do because I’m a weirdo.
*** This makes more than you need but you will make this soup again, I promise!