Kabocha Squash Coconut Soup

kabocha squash coconut soup with pepitasThis smooth rich soup is made with nutty kabocha squash, leeks and carrots and seasoned with a hint of ginger. It is rich and creamy from coconut milk. Brandy Giggey, my student in the Episcopal Community Services CHEFS program, http://www.ecs-sf.org/programs/chefs.html, helped me develop this recipe, and critiqued each batch. After a particularly gingery batch, she suggested that I saute the ginger to mellow out the flavor.

I’ve tried this recipe with both regular and light coconut milk. The regular milk gives a more pronounced coconut flavor, but the light is lower in calories. I’ll let you choose what’s right for you.

You can roast the squash and vegetables and/or make the vegetable broth ahead of time. You can cook the vegetables in the broth ahead of time, and then blend and heat before serving.

makes 3 1/2 quarts (15 cups)



6 cups vegetable broth (recipe below) or chicken broth

1 small kabocha squash

14 oz can coconut milk

2 cups 1% milk (To make this vegan, use milk substitute)

3 large carrots, peeled

3 large leeks, split lengthwise and rinsed well.

1 tsp minced ginger

1/2 tsp coconut oil

1 Tb olive oil

1 tsp sea salt (to taste)

a few grinds pepper

¼ cup pepitas

Preheat oven to 350◦ Stab whole kabocha several times and roast for 30 minutes. Toss white part of  leeks and peeled carrots with olive oil on a foil-lined heavy pan. Leave squash in the oven and roast all the vegetables for another 30 minutes.???????????????????????????????While vegetables are roasting and cooling, prepare vegetable broth: Heat about 5 cups of water to boiling. Soak green parts of leeks in salad spinner and rinse at least 3 times, making sure to remove all the dirt. Roughly chop them and 4 celery sticks, and put in boiling water. Season with 1 tsp celery seeds, 1 tsp dried thyme, 2 bay leaves and 1 tsp salt, simmering 1 hour. Pull out green leeks and celery with a slotted spoon and discard. Strain broth into a large bowl, then pour back into pot to boil. (If you prefer, you can use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth.)

Cut top off roasted squash then let cool. Scoop out and discard stringy seed pod. Cut flesh from peel and into 1 inch chunks and slice carrots.  Saute the minced ginger in coconut oil for a few minutes, but don’t let it brown.

Heat broth and coconut milk and then add roasted squash, carrots, white part of leeks, and ginger. Simmer vegetables for about 30 minutes, and then  cool enough to blend.

Pour soup and milk into a large bowl. Fill blender half-way with liquid and then add vegetables. Liquefy and return to the pot. It took me about 3 batches to blend.  If you have an immersion blender, use that instead.

Add a few grinds of pepper, Stir in about 1 tsp sea salt, to taste, then simmer for another 15 minutes and serve.

Toast pepitas (green shelled pumpkin seeds) on a comal or heavy skillet at medium heat and toss on top of soup to garnish

Kale Kalamata Salad

curly kale

Curly kale fresh from the farmer’s market pairs wonderfully with Kalamata olives. Massage the raw kale with vinaigrette to break down the cell walls and toss in some carrots and Parmesan for sweetness. Sprinkle with pine nuts and cherry tomatoes and you have a pretty, Mediterranean-themed salad. (Vegans can omit the Parmesan and still enjoy!)

kale salad

1 head of curly kale

Dressing: 2 Tb olive oil
1 ½ tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tb brine from olives
¼ tsp dried oregano
a few grinds black pepper

10 pitted Kalamata olives
2 Tb freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
4 tsp pine nuts
12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Tear kale off of stems and into bite size pieces. Rinse several times, and spin dry in salad spinner. Whisk dressing together and massage kale with dressing and olives until it turns dark and is roughly 1/3 the original size. Add Parmesan and massage into kale. You can let it sit a few hours to let the flavor develop.
Just before serving, mix in grated carrot. Place on plates. Sprinkle with pine nuts and cherry tomatoes halves.

Summer and Autumn Fruit Tarts

It’s so fun to decorate a tart with seasonal fruit. Fill lemon-rosemary tart pastry with pastry cream, decorate with fruit, and then glaze it with apricot preserves.

Autumn fruit tart

Autumn fruit tart with blackberries, fuyu persimmons, kiwi fruit and strawberries

peach and berry tart

peach and berry tart

peach tart with thyme

peach tart with thyme

I substituted fresh lemon thyme leaves for the rosemary when I made the peach tarts. I garnished the peaches on one tart with small sprigs of thyme.

Pastry cream:

1/4 cup plus 1 tsp sugar

2 Tb all-purpose flour

2 Tb cornstarch

4 large egg yolks

1 1/2 cup milk (I used 1% )

2 tsp vanilla

Separate eggs and remove the thick white chalazae from the yolks. Whip egg yolks on high speed. Add sugar and sift in flour and cornstarch, then whip again until light colored.

Heat milk in a medium saucepan until it just begins to simmer. With mixer on medium-low, slowly pour 1/2 cup  milk into the egg mixture until it is well combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl and whisk in well. Then pour it slowly back into the pot with rest of the milk, whisking constantly. Cook over low-medium heat and continue whisking while the mixture thickens, then whisk for another minute. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla extract.

Strain the pastry cream into a clean container,

Place plastic wrap or parchment paper directly on the hot pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool on the counter. Pour the pastry cream into the cooled lemon-rosemary tart pastry  and spread it evenly.

Wash fruit, then dry on paper towels. Cut the green tops off the small strawberries and slice the larger fruit lengthwise.

Arrange fruit on top of the pastry cream. Have fun and let your artistic side come out!

Heat about 1/4 cup apricot preserves and 1 Tb water in a bowl for about 30 seconds in a microwave and stir well. Strain into another bowl. Gently brush jam over the fruit for a shiny glaze. You can glaze the strawberries, then layer them to stick them together, then glaze again.

peach berry tart

peach berry tart

Doogh – Refreshing Afghani Yogurt Drink

doogh drinkCucumber and mint make a refreshing combination, and when added to yogurt with a little salt, it’s the perfect drink for a hot day. This is popular to drink in Afghanistan alongside kabobs. Iranian doogh is made with seltzer and mint.  Most recipes I’ve seen call for full-fat yogurt, but I prefer nonfat. I made mine in a blender with ice water with a few small ice cubes. I used Europeans-style yogurt (Strauss brand) which has a loose consistency. If you use a thick yogurt, you may want to add more water. Serve ice cold. I like to crunch on salty pita chips on the side.

ingredients for doogh


2 cups plain nonfat yogurt

1 1/2 cup ice water

6 leaves fresh mint

1 inch slice of cucumber, peeled and chopped

1/4 tsp sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Run on highest setting for a minute. Garnish with mint leaves if desired.

Eggplant Crockpot Pasta Sauce

served with Parmesan and basil


The last 10 minutes of San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers Market are filled with vendors shouting “$1 a bag!” which is how I ended up lugging home 2 bags of eggplant and a huge bag of tomatoes home on the Bart train!

We’re in the middle of one of those rare but scorching Bay Area heat spells, so I decided to use my Crockpot to cook the eggplant and veggies instead of roasting them in the oven. Although not as toothsome as roasting, they came out tasty and ready to mix with penne or rigatoni pasta.

chopped vegetables

A very large bag of tomatoes. It’s fine if they’re a little soft, and that’s what you’re going to get with bargain bag tomatoes anyway.
5 long Italian eggplants and 4 small globe eggplants
1 ½ small onions, (or one large onion)
2 bell peppers (or a bag of frozen sliced bell peppers).
5 large mushrooms
6 spicy chicken Italian sausages (you can use sweet if that’s too spicy for you)
8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Parmesan rind
4 bay leaves,
Sprig of rosemary
1 Tb oregano
1 ½ tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
1 Tb of olive oil
1 Tb red wine
1 Tb of sugar

Add after cooking sauce:
1 can artichoke hearts
1 fresh bunch of basil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 pound of penne or rigatoni pasta

Chop the vegetables and sausage and add the other ingredients in the first list to the Crockpot. I went to the trouble of dipping the tomatoes in boiling water and peeling them, but it’s not really necessary to do that.

in the crock pot

Cooked sauce in the Crockpot

I started the sauce after work and let it cook all night. (You can also start yours in the morning and cook it all day.) I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be enough liquid to cook it properly, but in the morning I realized that the vegetables had released plenty of liquid. I removed the Parmesan rind, which had given up its flavor to the sauce.

I added a can of chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped half the bunch of fresh basil I had bought at the farmers market and stirred it in with the freshly grated Parmesan. I let it sit in the fridge until dinner time so the flavors would develop.

At dinnertime, I boiled 2/3 of a pound box rigatoni pasta  and mixed it together with the sauce. I chopped up the rest of the fresh basil and sprinkled it on top with more Parmesan. This made 9 meals. Yay for leftovers!

layered with Parmesan

layered sauce with Parmesan

Ginger Mint Strawberry Lemonade

strawberry ginger mint lemonade

This summer drink gets a healthy kick from fresh ginger and ginger tea. Fresh mint brings the flavor up a notch! If it’s a hot and sweaty day, I like to add a bit of salt to replenish my electrolytes, much as a sports drink would.

I picked up some very sweet and ripe strawberries, fresh mint and  ginger root from the farmers market. Some of the strawberries were so soft they had to be picked over, and these sweet things went into the lemonade.



2 teabags ginger tea (I use Yogi Tea, which contains ginger root, lemongrass, licorice root, peppermint, and black pepper.)

about 2 inches ginger root

1/2 pint very ripe strawberries

a few sprigs fresh mint leaves

1/2 lemon

1 Tb honey (to taste)

1/4 tsp salt for a hot and sweaty day (optional)

Heat a kettle of water to boiling.

While it’s heating, peel the outer skin of the ginger root and discard. Peel the inner parts of the ginger root into a large teapot. Add the mint sprigs and the teabags. Pour boiling water over everything and let it steep for at least 10 minutes.

in blender

Remove green tops from strawberries and any parts that went bad. Cut them into quarters and put in blender. Remove the teabags from the tea, and pour remaining ingredients with the tea into the blender.

tea in blender

Peel a few pieces of lemon zest (just the yellow parts) and squeeze 1/2 the lemon into the blender. Stir in honey and the salt if you like. Add some ice to the blender, then run it on the highest setting until all ingredients are liquefied. Add more ice and water until you get a few quarts to the strength you like. One Tb honey is all I need, but sweeten with more if you like.

Strawberry-Bacon Salad for a Cheating Vegetarian

salad with dressing

“I am a vegetarian. But I also love bacon. And the only thing more satisfying than being a vegetarian is being a cheating vegetarian!” Sonia Mena, 2011.

Strawberries and bacon are the perfect complement to each other, sweet and salty, juicy and crunchy. I throw in some raw pecans and sprinkle everything over a bowlful of salad greens. Then I toss them with a strawberry-balsamic dressing flavored with black pepper and rosemary. A cheating vegetarian couldn’t ask for more!

For healthiest results, use organic or non-pesticide strawberries and greens and nitrate-free bacon (I found some at Trader Joe’s)

This makes 2 dinner salads or one large salad for lunch.

strawberries, bacon and pecans


1 slice bacon
3 ripe strawberries
¼ cup (or one handful) whole raw pecans
2 heaping cups of salad greens

Salad dressing:
2 small soft very ripe strawberries
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp water

a few few grinds of black pepper

a few needles rosemary, minced
1 Tb extra virgin olive oil

salad without dressing

Salad:Fry bacon over medium heat until well done. Drain on paper towels. Crumble when cool enough to handle.
Rinse greens and strawberries. Put greens in bowls; either one large or two smaller bowls. Sprinkle pecans and crumbled bacon over greens. Slice strawberries over salad.

Dressing: Slice over-ripe strawberries into a blender bowl and add rosemary, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar and water. Run on liquefy until strawberries are mostly liquefied. Add olive oil and run on liquefy until oil emulsifies. Pour over salad and toss so that it coats the greens.