Welcome Autumn Whole Grain and Bean Soup

Today is the first official day of autumn, and I’m so ready for it this year. Six months ago, it seemed as if time was standing still, as the pandemic threw us into uncharted territory and isolation with very little warning. The world became so weird, and it felt like the days dragged on. Now, we are in the opposite place—or back to normal, you might say—in that the days are moving very quickly once again. I think it’s because we’ve had little choice but to normalize what is happening around our world, and with the new precautions for safety and distancing becoming second nature, time is getting back on track—at least as much as possible.

My favorite part of fall and “cooler weather” is that I’ll soon unpack all my sweaters and leggings and boots, and I can finally put my kitchen focus on my favorite foods, like this autumn soup. Oh, yum!

It’s everything I love about fall, all in one beautiful bowl.

Though I’ve paid a lot of attention so far this month to breakfast (it being “better breakfast month” and all), it bears repeating that September is also designated as “whole grains” month and “mushroom” month. I don’t know who decides these things, but I’m happy to play along by offering up one of my own favorite recipes that incorporates both whole grains and mushrooms, and plenty more hearty satisfaction as well.

The main ingredient for this soup is a dried whole grain and beans soup mix from Bob’s Red Mill, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to see it back on their website. I first discovered this product while browsing through Big Lots discount store, and I felt pangs of sadness when it disappeared from store shelves and Bob’s website a year or so ago. But it’s back online, and I just hit the “buy it” button for two more packages. I love this wholesome blend because it has so much going on in terms of flavor and nutrition. Check out the ingredients list: small red beans, pinto beans, lentils, whole oat groats, brown rice, triticale berries, rye berries, hard red wheat, pearl barley, Kamut Khorasan wheat, buckwheat groats and sesame seeds. That’s a whole lot of hearty going on! It’s simple to cook, with a quick rinse and then bring to a boil and simmer with broth or water. It would be delicious and satisfying on its own, but for my “welcome autumn” soup, I’ve added browned ground turkey, onions, garlic, roasted butternut squash, mushrooms and vegetable broth. It all cooks up into the heartiest autumn weather dinner in a bowl.

It would be so, so easy to make this dish vegan, too. Simply omit the turkey and use vegetable broth and bouillon. You’d never miss the meat.

The comforting nature of this soup is exactly the right way to usher in my very favorite season. You might even say it’s a Sunday Supper kind of meal, given that it builds flavor over a few hours and has a good many ingredients (though all are simple). I make this soup on the stove top, but the recipe is perfectly adaptable to a slow cooker. Begin with cooking the grains and beans on low setting for a few hours, then add the other cooked ingredients and simmer on low another hour or two. However you make it , the leftovers will leave you as satisfied as the original bowlful, and if you happen to have some crusty dinner rolls or baguette slices on the side—well, even better. This recipe will make approximately 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill “whole grain and beans” soup mix

2 cartons (8 cups) vegetable or chicken broth*

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. ground turkey (omit for vegan)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, strings removed and chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sun dried tomato, cut into small pieces

1 tsp. poultry seasoning (or 1/4 tsp. each ground sage, thyme, onion powder, celery seed)

1 small butternut squash, cubed into 1” pieces

8 oz. package cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced*

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp. low-sodium vegetable or chicken bouillon base*

*Notes

Broths are not all created equal, and my recommendation is to be attentive to the sodium content in the broth you choose. Some brands labeled “low-sodium” contain around 570 mg per serving, and others are only around 120 mg. As a rule, I select the lowest sodium broths, as it gives me more control over the final outcome of a recipe. You can always add salt, but you cannot take it away. For this soup, I used vegetable broth, and added richness with the chicken bouillon base.

Cremini mushrooms are my go-to for most recipes, but white or shiitake mushrooms would also be terrific in this recipe.

The bouillon is optional, but I love the extra richness it adds to this soup. I use the Better than Bouillon brand, but it isn’t always easy to find in “reduced sodium” version. I’m thankful that Costco carries it, but you can also buy it online or use another bouillon base. Again, noting the sodium content will help you achieve good results.

A spoonful of this adds incredible depth to my soup.

Instructions

  1. Use a fine mesh strainer to rinse both cups of grain and bean mix.
  2. Add soup mix and 2 cartons of broth to a large stock pot. Bring to boil momentarily, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender (approximately 2 hours).
  3. Heat oven to 400° F. Drizzle olive oil on butternut squash cubes, season with salt and pepper, and roast about 30 minutes, or until just fork tender.
  4. In a skillet over medium heat, swirl in olive oil and cook ground turkey until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic, celery and sun-dried tomato bits and cook 3 more minutes. Season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning.
  5. Add browned turkey mixture to the bean soup and stir to combine.
  6. In the same skillet used to brown turkey, add another tablespoon of olive oil and saute mushrooms until just lightly browned. Avoid crowding the pan, or mushrooms will steam rather than brown. You may need to do them in two batches.
  7. When mushrooms are browned, add them to the soup.
  8. Add roasted squash to the soup and stir to combine.
  9. For an extra boost of flavor and richness, stir in a tablespoon of bouillon base, straight from the jar. Alternatively, add two bouillon cubes, and perhaps dissolve them in a very small amount of boiling water to keep the flavor concentrated.
  10. Allow the soup to simmer for a few hours. Enjoy on its own, or with a crusty dinner roll or baguette slices.

Nourishment, flavor, comfort–it’s all in there!

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Healthy Breakfast Fruit Smoothies

We all need options when it comes to breakfast, and so I’m sharing my tips for making a quick and healthy smoothie, regardless of the fruit and other fixings you have on hand.

What makes these smoothies “better” for better breakfast month?

  • They work two servings of fruit into the most important meal of the day.
  • They bend and flex to accommodate your favorite fruit, fresh or frozen.
  • You can easily swap out dairy for plant-based milk.
  • Your favorite protein powder will feel right at home in them.
  • They are quick, easy and portable for rushed-out-the-door mornings.
  • They satisfy your morning hunger and are friendly to a weight-loss diet.
  • They are super kid-friendly.

My magic formula for delicious and healthy fruit smoothies goes like this—something creamy, something packed with protein, some kind of fruit, maybe a juice, and optional special touches, such as coconut or spices. See what I mean? Flexible! I’ll give the full rundown of how I mix and match ingredients (and in what quantity), then I’ll share specifics of my favorites. Here we go!


Something Creamy

about 3/4 cup

I usually choose plain Greek yogurt or kefir, a cultured dairy drink that is similar to buttermilk but tastes more like a drinkable yogurt. Regular yogurt is also an option, but I avoid the flavored ones and their crazy-high sugar content. Skyr is another good option—a yogurt-like product from Scandinavia. Two popular brands are Siggi’s and Icelandic Provisions. For a plant-based option, choose your favorite non-dairy yogurt substitute, but lean into the low-sugar or plain options. The fruit you add will bring plenty of sweetness to the party.


Something Protein-y

about 1/2 “scoop,” or approximately 1 heaping tablespoon

Choose your favorite powdered form—I like soy protein, but whey works very well in smoothies, and so does hemp or pea protein. Almost every protein powder I’ve purchased comes with a small scoop that is roughly 2 tablespoons, and I fill it halfway for a smoothie. I recommend a plain or unsweetened vanilla option. My husband, Les, likes the chocolate protein powder, but we have found it can be less versatile for matching with fruit. Chocolate and raspberry is great, but chocolate and peaches?—not so much. Vanilla helps us keep our options open.


Something Fruity

total of about 1 cup

Yay—my favorite part! I like my smoothies to be icy cold and shake-like, so I almost always use frozen fruit, and especially bananas because of the creamy texture they provide. The greatest benefit to using frozen is that I don’t have to wait until the fruit is in season. It also saves multiple trips to the market for fresh fruit, or throwing away fruit that has gone bad. The fruits that work best for my homemade smoothies are peaches, bananas, pineapple, mango, cherries and any kind of berry (as long as you don’t mind their seeds). Fresh fruit works fine, of course. I don’t recommend citrus fruits, apples, melons or grapes, as their texture and water content would prevent them from blending well.


Juice or other liquid

1/4 to 1/2 cup, depending on other ingredients

This is helpful for blending the smoothie, but it may not be necessary if you use kefir, which is pourable. Greek yogurt is much thicker and would benefit from addition of juice, especially if you are using mostly frozen fruit in the smoothie. Other suitable liquids include milk, almond milk, coconut water or coconut milk.


Special mix-ins

small amounts of each

The mix-ins can be anything you like, but my favorites are unsweetened coconut (for texture and fiber), chia seed (for fiber and additional protein) and ginger (good for digestion) or another powdered spice, such as cinnamon. Sweeteners are not necessary, but if you must, may I recommend a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup? Anything but sugar, if you are aiming to keep them in the healthy column.


Ordering the layers:

It may seem inconsequential, given that the ingredients will be whirred into one mixture in the blender, but your smoothies will come together faster and more evenly if you layer the ingredients in a way that your blender can best mix them. You want the liquids and powders closest to the blender blade, so they can get a head start on mixing before the frozen stuff enters the game. The heavier ingredients, such as frozen fruit or ice, should be at the top, providing weight to keep the mixture moving downward for thorough blending. For a standard base blender, it might look like this:

My smoothie appliance is a bullet blender, which of course goes upside-down for mixing. So I layer my ingredients in reverse order, beginning with frozen fruit. When I flip the sealed blender cup onto the machine, I give it a minute to allow the liquids to run back to the blade area for more even mixing, leaving the frozen fruit at the top, where it should be.

Enough talk—let’s make a smoothie! Below are some of my favorite blends, and a list of ingredients I use for each of them. I’ve given the ingredients in order for a conventional blender. If you use a bullet-style blender, reverse the list order. Each combination yields a 12 oz. (340 g) smoothie.


Kefir, pineapple and spinach

I think of this smoothie as a power breakfast for all the nutritional benefit I get from it. Plus, the flavor is so delicious, it is a treat at the same time.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup kefir, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop soy protein powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1 medium handful baby spinach leaves, 1/2 cup banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits.


Yogurt and banana-berry blend

This one feels very protective, with lots of antioxidant benefit in the red and blue berries.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup yogurt (I used coconut flavor skyr for this one), 1/4 cup blueberry juice (any juice or milk will do), 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen berry blend (with blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and blackberry).


Plant-based yogurt and mango

There are many great flavors of plant-based yogurt available, and this one was mango, so I played up the tropical flavors throughout the smoothie.

Ingredients: 1 serving cup plant-based yogurt, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut, 1/2 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen mango chunks.


Peach cobbler smoothie

For this one, I soaked 1/4 cup rolled oats in 1/2 cup kefir overnight (in the fridge) and then built the smoothie in the morning. It’s an easy way to work some whole grains into your breakfast drink (because September is also “whole grains month”). From that point, the process was the same for layering and blending. You get the idea, right?

Ingredients: 1/2 cup almond milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon chia seed, kefir-soaked oats, 1 tablespoon almond flour, 1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup frozen banana chunks, 1/2 cup frozen peaches.


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Healthy Wheat Berry Salad

This probably should have been one of the first recipes I shared on Comfort du Jour. It’s been in my rotation of favorite simple sides for years, ever since I first discovered wheat berries in the bulk section at Whole Foods. If you’ve never had wheat berries (or maybe never even heard of them), let me introduce you to these versatile little gems.

What are wheat berries?

First of all, they aren’t really berries—at least not the way you’d think of fruit. Wheat berries are the individual dried grains of whole wheat. In their dried state, each grain is about the size of a fat grain of rice. When cooked, they plump up to triple in size.

Clockwise, from top right: hard red winter wheat, spelt, rye and farro.

Where can you buy wheat berries?

Most natural foods stores and larger supermarkets with a bulk section are likely to stock varieties of whole grains, including wheat berries, oat groats, barley, and sometimes even rye, spelt or farro. You can also generally find them online from Bob’s Red Mill, though they’ve been in short supply during the pandemic. For this recipe, I’ve used Kamut, which is considered an ancient variety of wheat grain. I prefer it because it’s organically grown and hasn’t been hybridized and modified as conventional wheat has; it’s pretty much the same as it was thousands of years ago. Kamut is technically a brand name for the wheat variety Khorasan, native to Egypt and grown in abundance today in Montana and western parts of Canada. My aunt lives in Montana, and she sent the Kamut berries to me from her favorite natural foods market.

Kamut is a longer grain because it has not been hybridized for quicker harvest.

How do you cook wheat berries?

It’s a similar process to cooking beans from dried. Wheat berries are a natural product, so they need to be sorted and rinsed before cooking, in case of random small stones or other debris. After rinsing, combine them with water (at least 2:1 ratio) in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the wheat berries are tender (about an hour), then drain and proceed with your favorite recipe. To use them in a cold dish, cool and refrigerate first.

What can you do with wheat berries?

Pretty much anything you can do with rice, you can do with wheat berries. They have a pleasant chewy texture, like al dente pasta, so they work really well in a main dish such as chili, soup or salad. If you’re into making homemade bread, knead about 1/2 cup of cooked wheat berries into the final dough to add more whole grain goodness. Of course, because they are wheat in whole grain state, you can also mill dried wheat berries into flour, if you happen to have the right equipment to do so. I’ve read recently that Kamut flour makes exceptional pasta, so I’m putting that on my culinary bucket list.

What do wheat berries taste like?

Wheat berries have a mild, almost nutty flavor that is similar to brown rice. Because they are neither sweet nor savory, you can take them in either direction, depending on what you add to them. Besides the chilies, soups and salads I’ve already mentioned, you could also easily toss them on top of Greek yogurt with fresh berries and cinnamon and just call it breakfast.

Now that you’re well acquainted with wheat berries, let’s talk about this salad!

How can something so good be so simple?

We’ve been eating entirely too many rich, heavy foods at our house lately. It’s interesting to me that most of the foods we think of as “comfort foods” are completely on the wrong side of healthy. Foods with simple starches, sugars and fats in abundance are usually what we reach for when we are under stress or facing uncertainty, so it’s not surprising, and maybe you’ve experienced the same.

Allow this salad to bring you back to a healthy place of comfort, with crunch, chew and fresh flavors, dressed in a light, Greek-inspired vinaigrette that’s easy to make from stuff you probably already have in the spice rack and the door of the fridge. Seriously, learn to make your own dressings and you’ll never buy it in the stores again.

We served this on a bed of baby spinach as a fresh, cool side to the meatless moussaka we had for a recent family dinner. If you can’t get your hands on wheat berries right away, any small size whole grain pasta would make an excellent stand in.

Ingredients

2 to 3 cups cooked wheat berries (or other whole grain)

1 can garbanzo beans (drained)

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

1 Persian cucumber*, trimmed and sliced

About 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, rough chopped

1/4 cup pepperoncini, chopped (optional)

chopped fresh parsley or dill for serving (optional)

Dressing

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. Sicilian lemon white balsamic vinegar*

1 tsp. garlic pepper seasoning* (see notes)

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*

1 Tbsp. cold water

*Notes

Any kind of cucumber works here; I like the Persians for their compact size and minimal seeds. You want about 1 cup of cucumber slices or chunks. I’ve used my handy garnishing tool to strip part of the peel away, leaving a little bit for texture and the little bit of bitterness it adds to the salad. You could do the same with a small, sharp paring knife—or just peel the whole thing.

The lemon balsamic vinegar is a specialty item, purchased from one of the gourmet oil and vinegar shops that seem to have popped up everywhere. If you can’t find it, no problem—substitute a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sugar.

Check your garlic pepper ingredients (or taste it) to see how much salt is in it. If you have a salt-free version such as Mrs. Dash, you’ll also want to add a couple pinches of salt to the dressing. We have McCormick brand, and the salt level is just about right. Lemon pepper seasoning would also be terrific.

There are so many choices for olive oil at most markets. This is a good recipe to bring out the “good stuff.” I generally use a more neutral flavor of olive oil (but still extra virgin) for everyday cooking and sautéing, but for a fresh dressing, I reach for the more pungent “grassy” varieties. If it has a little bit of bite or bitterness on the back end, it means it’s high in polyphenols—the stuff that makes it so good for you!

There’s no substitute for a good quality, REAL extra virgin olive oil.

The salad will come together on its own—you don’t need my help combining these simple, fresh ingredients. But if you’ve never made your own vinaigrette, it’s time you learn this simple and valuable trick. It takes less than a minute, and you don’t need any special tools or bottles. I usually make a vinaigrette in my glass measuring cup, just before I assemble my salad. For this one, work ahead a little bit so the dried oregano has time to soften and rehydrate.

Combine the vinegar and lemon white balsamic (or lemon juice and sugar), garlic pepper and dried oregano. Then drizzle the olive oil into the mixture in a slow, steady stream, while whisking constantly. This will help the oil and vinegar come together without separation. If you prefer, combine all the ingredients together in a covered jar and shake the dickens out of it. Allow the dressing to rest in the refrigerator for about an hour, then whisk or shake again and pour over the salad mixture and toss gently to combine.

The salad can be made ahead and it keeps in the fridge for several days. Fold it gently to redistribute the dressing just before serving, and sprinkle with fresh parsley or dill for an extra pop of color and flavor.

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