Lessons from Cooking through 31 Cookbooks

At the end of 2014, I set off on a journey to cook at least 5 recipes from every cookbook in my collection. To keep the mission even more focused, I tried to avoid buying new cookbooks until the task was complete. Although I wasn’t 100% strict about the shopping part, I have been diligently cooking through my collection for the past 2+ years, and am finally pleased to report a mission accomplished.

One thing I learned is that I am not a huge fan of baking. Ever the cliché dietitian, I am constantly tempted to forgo most of the butter and sugar, and then I get frustrated when nothing turns out right.

However, I also learned that I am a huge fan of plant-based recipes, as the ingredients are refreshingly affordable (no expensive meat or cheese!), and yet completely full of flavor. In fact, my favorite, most-cooked-from cookbook was Food52 Vegan, by Gena Hemshaw. This cookbook is from the folks behind the popular recipe and food website, Food52, so it’s no surprise that nearly every recipe from this book was a hit. However, it is surprising that a vegan cookbook stole the heart of this grilled chicken and Greek yogurt loving girl.

Food52 Vegan gets top billing, not only because I made more recipes from this book than any other (9 and counting), but because nearly every dish was so crave-worthy that I kept scooping them up into my regular rotation. Below are some of my favorites:

  • French Lentil and Arugula Salad with Herbed Cashew Cheese, from Food52 Vegan
  • Orecchiette with Creamy Leeks and Broccoli Rabe, from Food52 Vegan
  • Roasted Cauliflower and Freekeh Salad, from Food52 Vegan
  • Roasted Ratatouille, from Food 52 Vegan (I like to toss this with whole wheat pasta)
  • Zucchini Quinoa Cakes, from Food52 Vegan (I served mine atop kale tossed with avocado)

Honorable Mentions (cookbooks that I had lots of success with and highly recommend)

If you purchase or borrow any of the books above, the recipes listed below are a great place to start. All the following recipes are ones I have tested and would highly recommend! 

  • Avocado, Citrus, and Radicchio Salad, Kitchen Express
  • Basic Hummus, Good and Cheap
  • Black Bean Soup, Kitchen Express
  • Broiled Eggplant Salad, Good and Cheap
  • Chicken Curry with Raisins, Kitchen Express
  • Chicken and Vegetable Biryani, Everyday Whole Grains
  • Creamy Bulgur with Honey and Tahini, Simply Ancient Grains (this also tastes dreamy with millet instead of bulgur)
  • Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich, Kitchen Express
  • Minted Summer Couscous with Watermelon and Feta, Simply Ancient Grains (I use often bulgur instead of couscous)
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies, Everyday Whole Grains
  • Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Hazelnut Buckwheat Stuffing, Simply Ancient Grains
  • Super-Fudgy Teff Brownies, Everyday Whole Grains

Other Favorites

Part of the reason this journey took more than two years is that I was often tempted to revisit recipes, rather than constantly trying something new. Below are a few other recipes I fell in love with while working through my collection.

Breakfast

  • Family Favorite Granola, from You Have it Made, by Ellie Krieger

Mains – Fish

  • Garlic Basil Shrimp, from So Easy, by Ellie Krieger
  • Mussels Provencal, from So Easy, by Ellie Krieger
  • Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Caper Yogurt Sauce, from Weeknights with Giada, by Giada de Laurentiis

Mains – Chicken

  • Black Rice Chicken Congee, from The Grain Bowl, by Nik Williamson
  • Chicken-Farro Salad, from True Food, by Andrew Weil

Mains – Vegetarian

  • Curried Red Quinoa and Peach Salad, from The Oldways 4-Week Vegetarian and Vegan Menu Plan
  • Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten
  • Thick Crusted Greens, Onion, and Feta Pie, by Aglaia Kremezi, from The Oldways Table (I sub whole wheat flour for the AP flour)

Soups & Sides

  • Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten
  • Honey Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt, from Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi
  • Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes, from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten
  • Swedish Pea Soup, from Plant-Powered for Life, by Sharon Palmer

Dips & Dressings

  • Tofu Green Goddess Dressing, The I Hate Tofu Cookbook, by Tucker Shaw
  • Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip, from The Food You Crave, by Ellie Krieger (I replace the sour cream & mayo with nonfat plain Greek yogurt)

Dessert

  • Baked Fruit with Ricotta, from Giada’s Feel Good Food, by Giada de Laurentiis
  • Cardamom Currant Snickerdoodles, from Food52 Baking
  • Summer Fruit Crostata, from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten (I sub whole wheat flour for the AP flour, and cut the sugar from the fruit filling)

What next?

Now that I have given my existing cookbooks sufficient attention, I’m allowing myself to browse the food section of Brookline Booksmith and Amazon to add to my collection. Here are some cookbooks that are at the top of my shopping list:

For another sneak peek into my cookbook & coffee table book wishlist, check out my related Pinterest board.

– Kelly

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Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Vegan Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

One-pot meals (like soups or stews) have long been favored recipes in my kitchen, but lately I’ve been experimenting with a global twist on this genre: peanut soups. This West African culinary tradition has yet to reach mainstream food culture in the US, but it’s only a matter of time. After all, Americans are always looking for a new delivery vehicle for jelly’s better half.

Hearty butternut squash soup serves as the perfect base for the classic, nutty spread, while the pureed chickpeas add a velvety texture, and a familiar, satisfying flavor (think hummus – another snack dip obsession). If you enjoyed my white bean soup, then you’ll love this creamy, earthy creation, inspired by a recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too cookbook.

 Vegan Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Spicy Peanut-Squash Soup

Serves 8 (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup dried chickpeas (or one 15 oz can)
  • 1 ½ pounds chopped butternut squash, fresh or frozen (I used frozen)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (double if you prefer a spicier soup)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water (add more if you prefer a thinner texture)
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter (no added oils or sugars)
  • Optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, green onions, roasted peanuts, lime wedges

Method:

  1. If using dried chickpeas, put them in a large bowl, cover with water, and let them soak overnight. Then, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add the chickpeas to a pot of fresh water and bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours. When chickpeas are tender, remove from heat, drain, and rinse. If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse the chickpeas.
  2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally for one minute. Then add the butternut squash, salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, water, and drained chickpeas and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and stir in the peanut butter. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion or handheld blender, blend the soup into a pureed texture. If the soup seems too thick, feel free to add more water.
  6. Ladle about 1 1/3 cups of soup into serving bowls, and add garnishes (like peanuts, cilantro, lime wedges, and/or green onions), if using.

Vegan Butternut Squash and Peanut Soup with Chickpeas

Nutrition per serving: 320 calories, 19g fat (2g saturated fat), 31g carbohydrates (8g fiber, 6g sugar), 13g protein, 345mg sodium, 195% Vitamin A, 34% Vitamin C, 9% Calcium, 15% Iron

Nutrition analysis does not include optional garnishes

– Kelly