Not Your Mother’s Pea Soup

I know there isn’t much out there healthier than split peas.  What else has 16 grams of fiber and 16 grams of protein per serving as well as a gorgeous glycemic load of 13?  The only problem is that I am not terribly fond of the old fashioned, thick, dull green soup that tends to show up in restaurants and grandma’s kitchen.  There’s a reason for the saying ‘as thick as pea soup’ when discussing heavy fog.  I add them to other soups and stews in bits but I seldom try to make the good ol’e pea soup.  I realize that this may be pure sacrilege to those pea soup lovers.

I used to make a soup for my kids called Green Soup which consisted of ham hocks, potatoes and as many green vegetables as I could manage from spinach to brocolli, peas, green beans and so on.  I decided to see if I could somehow combine the tastiness of Green Soup and the benefits of split peas.  The following recipe is the result.  It makes about 4 pint jars which for me is great for lunches during the week.

Green Pea Soup

  • 1/2 Cup barley
  • 1/2 Cup split peas
  • 1/2 Cup diced ham or bacon
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup chopped, frozen spinach
  • 1 Cup green beans, cut bite size (or frozen)

You’ll notice a few tablespoons of yellow split peas mixed in with my green.  I had that little bit left in a bag that just needed to be used.

Soak barley while preparing everything else.  I do this with all grains to make sure there aren’t any little buggies hitching a ride.  If there are, they will immediately float and you can then dispose of the grain without wasting a whole pot of soup.

Saute the ham or bacon, carrot, celery, onions and garlic until softened.  Add barley and peas and bay leaf and saute 2 or 3 more minutes.  Add the stock, paprika and 1 cup of water to the pot.  Simmer about 45 minutes or until the barley and peas are tender.  You can also cook this in your crockpot but it will take longer.  Add the chopped spinach, green beans and any other green vegetables you happen to have on hand (brussel sprouts, broccoli, etc.) and season to taste with salt and pepper.

This is particularly lovely with a piece of jalapeno and cheese cornbread.

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Black Beans 3 Ways

Beans are very friendly on the wallet as a source of protein and fortunately I absolutely love them.  Black beans have a meaty yet creamy texture that can easily replace meat in a number of your recipes.  They have a whopping 15 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein in a single cup.  They have a tiny glycemic load of 14 while high in Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s.  They also contain measurable B vitamins, iron and calcium.  But, best of all they taste so good!  You can obtain some important nutrition facts about beans at

For the following recipes, I cooked 1 Cup of dry black beans according to package directions with the addition of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cumin and chili powder to taste.  I cooked them in my 2 quart crock pot on low for the day.  I like things hot and spicy but use your favorite chili seasonings to flavor the beans.

The beans and their broth can be frozen in individual portions or refrigerated for up to a week if you don’t want to eat them for 3 days straight like me.

You can replace them with canned black bean chili or even seasoned pinto beans.

  • Day One:  Bowl of Chili
  • Day Two:  Black Bean Pasta
  • Day Three:  Black Bean Tamale Pie

Black Bean Chili (you can add meat of your choice but I find that black beans just don’t need it.)

  • 1 cup dry black beans, washed and soaked
  • water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 – 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1/2 chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 tsp Cumin, 1 Tbsp chipotle chili powder, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp oregano and cayenne to taste. (I tend to get a bit heavy handed with these but since I add jalapenos to the individual recipes, I don’t add any other heat at this point)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Serve yourself a nice big bowl with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheddar and a chopped green onion.  Help yourself to some good crackers or try the cornbread recipe that follows for Day 3.

Day Two:

Black Bean Pasta

  • 2 oz high fiber macaroni (I like Barilla plus)
  • ½ cup of drained black beans
  • ½ cup of bean broth (it’s easier to blend the sour cream in liquid versus the beans and liquid together)
  • 1/4 Cup sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 Tbsp diced onion
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 1 oz low fat cheddar, shredded
  • 1 oz pepper jack, shredded
  • cilantro for top

Saute onions, garlic and jalapeno just until softened and translucent.  Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Blend bean broth and yogurt or sour cream.

Stir the bean broth, beans and 1/2 the cheese into the warm vegetables. Using a slotted spoon, add the pasta.

Pour everything into the casserole and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese if completely melted.

Top with some cilantro leaves and enjoy!

Day Three:

Black Bean Tamale Pie

  • ½ Cup drained black beans
  • 1 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded, divided
  • 2 Tbsp chopped red bell pepper
  • ¼ Cup or more frozen corn
  • ¼ Cup good salsa of choice

Mix all the ingredients together, reserving ½ of the cheese, and place in the bottom of the baking dish.

Make the topping. (see following recipe) Spread 1/3 on top of pie filling and top with the remaining cheese.  Put the rest of the cornbread mixture in a muffin tin or paper for use later.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the muffin comes out clean.

Top with chopped tomato and green onion.  Optional toppings might be more salsa or sour cream.

Topping:  (You can use slices of polenta or masa harina but I have a farmer’s daughter’s love of cornbread):

Note: These photos are from just making plain cornbread.  For a photo of the bread with the jalapenos and cheese, see the Tamale Pie.

(Makes 2 lovely servings)

  • ½ Cup cornmeal
  • ½ Cup buttermilk, plus 1 Tbsp
  • ½ Tbsp honey or molasses
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour (use whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose if you want lighter cornbread)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • minced jalapeno and/or cheddar to taste (or olives or chipotle or nothing in particular if you just want some cornbread.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease 1 large muffin cup or use a large muffin paper.  Mix the cornmeal and ½ Cup of buttermilk together and leave to soak for about 20 minutes.  As these little breads don’t cook as long as a whole cornbread, the cornmeal needs a little time to soften.  Add the remaining ingredients plus 1 Tbsp buttermilk and mix together until just wet.  Batter will be thick.

Place half the batter in the muffin cup.  Spread the other half over the bean mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake.  Place the casserole and the muffin container if using, on a baking sheet.  Depending on your oven, bake about 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Whimsy:  Downsizing something like cornbread, which calls for an egg, becomes difficult (1/4 of an egg?) so this recipe was developed with the help of some depression era recipes from The Grassroots Survival Company’s  ‘A Cookbook from the Great Depression’.  The original recipe also calls for the addition of leftover gravy J.

I invested in these single little cake pans (see picture).  These are 2” deep and 3” wide.  I also have some that are 1” deep and 4” wide for little cakes.  Find them on Amazon .

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Crispy Cauliflower and Spicy Shrimp

Something I’m sure many of you can relate to, sometimes the frig decides what I’m having for dinner or any other meal for that matter.  With that in mind,  I had a head of cauliflower languishing in the frig and crying out to be eaten before it succumbed to brown spots.  I trimmed it up, washed it, and set out to find a way to prepare it that might be something more than the usual.  Most times I eat it raw long before cooking even becomes a thought.  Simply steamed or roasted seemed boring to me at that particular moment.  With a little time on the search engines, I found a recipe for Crispy Cauliflower that sounded pretty tasty.  I decided to up the spices (did I mention that I like bold and spicy hot dishes?) and keep it as healthy as such a lovely vegetable deserves.

Crispy Cauliflower

  • 1 small head of cauliflower, broken or sliced into bite size pieces
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp Madras curry powder
  • 1 and 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat your oven to 425 degrees and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Mix the oil, spices and cornstarch together to make a paste.  Toss the cauliflower in the paste to get all the pieces as coated as possible.

Spread the cauliflower on the prepared pan, separating the pieces as much as you can.

Roast for 25-30 minutes, turning once during the roasting time, or until crispy.

I decided to make a meal of the this by adding some Indian spices to a few shrimp to compliment the cauliflower.

Toss 4 oz  of shrimp with:

  • 1/4 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek leaves, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste

If you don’t have the fenugreek, substitute a 1/4 tsp of dried mustard.  Let the shrimp rest  for at least 15 minutes.

Make a sauce of 1 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 Tbsp lemon juice and 1/4 tsp of ginger paste

Toss the shrimp in a hot pan with a tsp or so of olive oil just until pink.  Be careful not to overcook.  Shrimp can become pretty rubbery.

Stir in your sauce to coat and remove from the heat immediately.  EAT!  I am really sorry that I didn’t get a picture of the plate on this one, but the smells of all those spices caused a complete loss of control and I ate it before I even thought about it.
I chopped a tomato to give me something to counter balance the spices and balance out the meal.

Just an after thought, the cauliflower was still very tasty the next day even though it has lost its crispiness.

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Grits and Eggs, Oh My

I confess.  Sometimes I want breakfast for dinner.  Today I wanted something a bit different.  Judith Jones has a recipe in her book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, for baked eggs that sounded interesting.  Her recipe calls for shredding and salting and squeezing zucchini and the eggs are baked with the vegies.  I decided to try something on my own that might be a bit more filling.  Polenta (grits) cooks up very quickly in single serving amounts.  I may have mentioned that I freeze bacon in folded strips so I can actually shave off the amount I want and not have a bacon frenzy as I am quite capable of doing.  So let me just say that this dish would be just as delicious with ham or no meat at all.  However, these little bits of added bacon help me get my fix without going overboard.

Eggs Baked with Polenta and Spinach

  • 1/4 Cup Polenta
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Cup frozen,chopped, spinach (if you use fresh, wilt in the bacon fat first.)
  • 1 oz sharp cheddar, grated, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 slice bacon
  • 2 T half and half or cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • baking dish, oiled






Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare the polenta by stirring into boiling water.  When thickened , add the spinach and stir until moisture is absorbed.






Meanwhile, saute the bacon until crisp.  Add to the polenta along with 1/2 the cheese.






Spoon the mixture into your chosen baking dish.  I used a 500 ml ramekin which holds slightly over 2 cups.  Make a small well in the polenta.






Break 2 eggs into the well.  Don’t worry if the whites go over the well a bit.






Top with the remaining cheese and half and half or cream.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until eggs are set and yolks are still liquid.  It will be slightly jiggly in the middle.






I usually place my dish inside a round cake pan to make it easier to move to and from the oven.






This is a decadent dish and tastes very rich.  I placed a folded napkin on a plate and set the ramekin in the middle.  The napkin prevents the dish from sliding around and also keeps me from torching my fingers on a hot dish.






I’ll be making this one again with lots of variations.

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Tuscan Pinto Bean Soup

When the weather is all drippy and cold and the days are shorter and dimmer like now, I tend to make hearty soups that I can have for lunches during the week.  I am particularly fond of bean soups.  Searching for soup recipes that call for pinto beans results in lots of Tex-Mex style soups like chili, tortilla soup, taco soup or soups with ham.  I wanted something a little different this time.  I decided to try Tuscan style flavorings with the creamy pinto beans and see how it works out.  The result was pretty darn satisfying.  First some notes.

While I seldom add it to the recipes for beans, I nearly always toss in a Tbsp of Summer Savory in all my bean dishes.  It’s a digestive aid for flatulence and colic per Wikipedia.  It’s sort of like adding Beano to your bean dishes.  The flavor is slightly sweet and delicate so it’s a great match for beans.

I buy chicken Italian sausage in 16 oz tubes when it is on sale, cut it into 3rds (2 servings per the package) and freeze.  I also buy vegetables that store longer like kale and cauliflower and use parts of it here and there throughout the week.  I also purchase bulk barley, oat groats, lentils, wheat berries, etc. and keep them in quart jars.   These practices make it easy for me to add an assortment of legumes and grains to soups and other dishes.  You can substitute all the grains and legumes (except the pintos obviously) with brown rice but remember you will be changing the result from very low glycemic to a more medium glycemic meal.  The beans can, of course, be switched for another type of bean.

Tuscan Pinto Bean Soup

1 Cup Dry Pinto Beans, soaked and drained

1/2 Cup Pearled Barley

1/4 Cup Oat Groats

1/4 Cup Lentil

5 oz Chicken Italian Sausage (approx)

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

2 or 3 leaves of kale, stemmed and chopped

1 each 15 oz can chopped tomatoes, low sodium

1/2 tsp each of fennel seed, oregano, basil and minced dried rosemary

2 Cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 quart of water, plus as needed

red chili flakes to taste

salt and pepper to taste.

Chop you vegetables and herbs.  In a 3 quart or bigger sauce pan, saute the sausage and vegetables except the kale, breaking up the sausage as you ‘sweat’ the vegetables until no longer pink.  Add the seasonings and the grains.  Continue to cook for a couple of minutes.  Then add the tomatoes, beans and water.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer until the beans and grains are soft, about 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.  Add the kale and cook for about 20 minutes or so until the flavors have melded.  If the soup is too thick, add water and adjust the seasonings.  The result is a delicious pot of soup.  I package it up in 1 pint containers for lunches this week.  Grab a toasty piece of whole grain bread or corn muffin and enjoy!

You can top with a little cheese if you like but I found it to be pretty rich by itself.

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Lemon Chicken with Spinach and Cranberries

As I get older and my nest gets emptier I find that buying chicken breasts in the bag are a good purchase as I can take one out, reseal the bag and put it back in the freezer – no waste.  Be conscious of portion size though.  The average chicken breast is 7-8 ounces versus the suggested serving size of 4 ounces.  I trim the breast while it is still partially frozen and use the other portion for a casserole, stir fry or pot pie the next day.  This recipe easily doubles and triples for company.  I usually squeeze the ‘other half’ of the lemon called for in the recipe over the finished dish for a little extra zing.  I use prewashed baby spinach from the bag for this dish.  It’s really gorgeous with the chicken served on top of the spinach and cranberries.

Lemon Chicken

  • 1 skinless chicken breast, about 4 oz
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (I used a garlic pepper blend from The Spice Hunter line)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp chopped parsley (I always have the dried on hand)
  • 2 cups baby spinach (I used about 1/2 bag of baby spinach – it looks like a lot but it cooks down a lot)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries, pre-soaked in water for 30 minutes


Heat a skillet with olive oil over medium heat.

Mix lemon zest cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and parsley in a bowl. Rub onto each side of the chicken breast.

Place chicken in skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes on one side, then flip it over and cook for another 2 minutes.

Squeeze the lemon over chicken and into skillet and let chicken cook in juices until the inside of the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove and keep warm.

Toss pre-soaked cranberries in skillet and actively saute for about 3 minutes.  Be careful, it will probably spatter a bit.

Toss in spinach and saute until wilted (this can be tricky. Toss constantly with tongs.  It should only take you 4-5 minutes for it to get wilted, not mushy).

Saute for 1 more minute. Remove from heat and serve with chicken.  If you like, squeeze the other half of the lemon over the whole dish.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, pull up a chair and enjoy.

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Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas

I’m a sucker for crunchy, salty snacks.  Give me potato chips, peanuts, or better still, French fries and I’m a goner.  One of my favorite snacks that can still qualify as healthy is roasted chickpeas, especially spicy and crunchy roasted chickpeas.  They are easy to make, full of fiber and protein and perfect for satisfying the munchies.

I prefer to cook my own chickpeas so I can control the amount of salt but you can use canned peas in this recipe.  Rinse thoroughly and drain well before continuing with the remaining steps.

By the way, I seldom buy spice blends, preferring the challenge of making my own.  I make an exception for Dulcet’s Moroccan Cooking Spice & Rub, .  I’ve been a fan since it first entered the market and have found dozens of ways to incorporate it into my meals.  It’s a great addition to beans and chicken and especially good in macaroni and cheese.  But that will be for another day.  Today we are doing chickpeas.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Whether you cook them yourself or rinse some canned peas, you will need about 2 cups of cooked chickpeas, drained.  Blot dry with paper towels and put them in a bowl.

Add 1 and 1/2 Tbsp good quality olive oil and 1 Tbsp Dulcet Moroccan Spice & Rub.  Toss well to coat. There is a bit of sugar and salt in the spice rub so you don’t need other seasonings.

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the beans in a single layer loosely .

Roast for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 15 or 20 minutes, until nice and crunchy.

Let them cool a bit in the pan and then pour yourself a beverage and enjoy!

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