The more time I spend as an aspiring home cook, the more I’m able to recognize other people relying too heavily on what I now consider “cooking cop-outs”. At the top of this list is bacon, followed very closely by butter. In the realm of vegetarian cooking, I’m always looking for recipes that do not rely on cheese to make a dish flavorful. Knowing how to create a flavorful dish using natural ingredients like fresh produce, nuts, beans and grains complimented by herbs and spices is the true sign of a creative and seasoned chef.
I’m so done with Americans and their unprecedented obsession with bacon. People love bacon because it comprises both a salty and savory taste. Not only that, it’s exceedingly high fat content provides that full feeling many of us crave. Fat rises in the stomach, and that’s why fattening foods give us that overly full feeling – often times unappetizingly so. With vegetarian cooking, I find that after a meal my taste buds are pleased, and I am satiated without feeling overly full or lethargic.
If there’s one thing that’s surprised me since I started exploring home cooking almost two years ago, it’s that buttery flavors can be achieved without using butter.
This is a particularly special achievement on the part of Lauren Ulm and her recipe for Cannellini Bean Soup with Pan-fried Croutons from the amazing vegan cookbook, Vegan Yum Yum. In the last two years I’ve discovered several ways to make delicious croutons, and this recipe introduced yet another method.
Because the beans and kale lend a heartiness to this soup, I tend to prepare it in the winter. I look forward to having the opportunity to prepare this dish in the summer with farmers market fresh tomatoes. Make sure you use real lemon juice on this dish (none of that bottled crap), and do not leave out any ingredients; all of the ingredients play together in a harmonious blend for a balanced and flavorful soup.
Cannellini Bean Soup with Pan-fried Croutons
Makes two large or four small servings
2 Tbsp Earth Balance margarine (this is a vegan product)
3 Slices whole wheat bread, sliced into ¼-inch cubes
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 Shallots, peeled and sliced
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 to 3 Kale leaves, torn (center vein removed)
1 14-Ounce can cannelinni beans, drained
1/2 to 1 Tsp salt
16 Grape or cherry tomatoes, halved and seeds removed
- Fresh lemon juice, for seasoning
1) First prepare the pan-fried croutons: In a skillet melt the margarine then add the bread cubes. Let the bread fry in the pan, allowing the bread to absorb the margarine, until bread is golden brown. Toss as needed to brown all sides. Remove bread cubes from the pan when they are rich brown and crispy. Set aside.
2) In a soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the shallot and sauté until tender (about 3 minutes). Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Add the kale, beans, and salt then cook, covered, until the kale is tender but still dark green.
3) When the soup is read, turn the heat off and add the tomato halves. Let the tomato halves sit in the soup for 1 to 3 minutes to cook slightly. Before serving, check the seasoning and adjust if desired. Serve soup in individual bowls topped with pan-fried croutons (add the croutons just before serving) and a small squeeze of fresh lemon juice.