Mike has a different schedule every semester. During his breaks, I enjoy that he’s around so much more. He takes on all sorts of roles, including that of chef de cuisine. I get to enjoy surprise dinners. Once school starts up again, I swing into gear and take over more of the cooking, especially weeknight dinners. This semester will be particularly busy as he is teaching at 3 different schools.
So much is going on every week that we have to make a calendar, so we know who will be where, when. Last Sunday over breakfast we browsed through some cookbooks that had been languishing on the shelf for awhile. We thought, if we cook a few things on Sunday, it would surely make the rest of the week go by more smoothly. I think this is probably what most people call meal planning. I’ve never fully understood how this works, but I think I’ve hit upon a method that might work for us. We’ll see if this new system lasts more than a week or two. Last week it was a success.
Even though we didn’t have dinner before 10pm every night (quite seriously), we were able to enjoy satisfying and healthy meals with little effort. Several nights we got home well after 9, so getting dinner on the table within 15 minutes was key. This soup was one of the stars of the week. Looking through new cookbooks, old favorites, or long forgotten ones can bring new excitement and flavors to your meals. This dish was a complete surprise for me – it introduced me to some new seasonings and flavor combinations that I never would have come to on my own. It was also so much easier to follow a recipe than to always be thinking about the next step when you’re cooking. I do enjoy the creativity of inventing my own recipes, but sometimes I just want to enjoy a mental break while going through the steps of cooking.
Which do you prefer – following a recipe or making your own? Do you use a meal plan or have any resources that might help someone who’s new to planning? Thanks for any insights!
Marrakesh Minestrone with Herb Puree
Adapted from The Healthy Hedonist Cookbook
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced (or pressed in a garlic press)
1 generous pinch saffron threads
1 tsp. fennel seed
1/2 tsp. coriander seed
scant 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (adjust according to desired amount of heat)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 c. stock (I used turkey stock, but chicken or vegetable would also work)
5 c. water
2 small sweet potatoes or 1 large one (about 1-1.5 c), diced
1 small white or gold potato, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 tsp. salt
2-3 c. shredded greens such as Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, spinach, dandelion greens
1/4 c. couscous
one 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1. In medium-large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Grind fennel seed and coriander seed with mortar and pestle, spice grinder, coffee grinder, or other grinding mechanism of choice.
3. Add garlic, saffron, fennel/coriander blend, chili powder, ginger and cinnamon to onions. Saute a few more minutes until the smell engulfs you.
4. Add tomato paste and stock. Bring to a simmer.
5. Add water, potatoes and carrots. Cover and bring to a boil.
6. Add salt. Reduce heat to a simmer and leave partially covered until the vegetables are soft, about 10-15 minutes.
7. Add chopped greens, couscous and chickpeas.
8. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Add generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and the lemon juice. Add more salt if needed.
Fresh Herb Puree
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 c. chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley or cilantro)
1/4 tsp. salt
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1. Add all ingredients to blender or food processor. Blend/process until smooth.
This can be kept for several days in the refrigerator. It is also delicious as a salad dressing.