Holy Shiitake Stew!

My mom is serious about whole foods (the concept, not the store), and she doesn’t waste her time with single-serve portions. Ever. Even when she cooks just for herself, she prepares weeks of meals in advance. Bushels of gorgeous garlic bulbs fill every nook and cranny of her kitchen, and her fridge is always packed to overflowing with juicing carrots and leafy greens. (In fact, the first time Marty ever witnessed the splendour of her kitchen– with bags of organic grains peeking out from random cupboards and jars of decadent ingredients dotting every shelf (even local bay leaves!) — I suddenly made a lot more sense to him. The apple did not fall very far from the tree in this particular case, and it probably reassured Marty to realize that I am not the only person in the world who caresses bunches of kale in hushed reverence and admiration. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

Garlic worthy of adoration

I had requested specific items in advance of my mom’s visit: lemons, ginger root, turmeric root, a bit of garlic, and rolled oats. (We drink the best tea every morning, with fresh lemon juice, ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pepper in it, so we go through those ingredients like nobody’s business.) My mom did not disappoint. She brought us LEMONS! and GINGER! and TURMERIC! and 25 POUNDS OF ROLLED OATS!, along with enough garlic to keep the whole cast of Twilight far, far away forever and ever amen. Alleluia!

Gee, I hope you didn’t say ‘A’ lemon, because I brought LEMONS!!

What I wasn’t expecting was the mushrooms. Specifically, my mom showed up with what she termed a “dealer’s weight” of shiitakes. She wasn’t kidding. As I watched– breath held with cautious expectation– my mom unveiled a hefty-sized paper bag stuffed to the brim with mushrooms. Upon seeing these elaborate flowers of the forest ground, both of us emitted our signature, clan-patented squeals of delight! (Thankfully, Marty was on a bike ride at the time and didn’t have to deal with two nut cases culinary aficionados. We were free to be as enamoured with the fungi as we liked.)

Soft-core shiitake porn

Shiitake close-up. You’re welcome.

Not wanting to let even one of these beauties go to waste, Marty and I have enjoyed mushroom soup and shiitake-studded omelets for the past week. This evening, I also made us a variation of our regular mushroom soup and dubbed it Holy Shiitake Stew. Have some mushrooms lying around, shiitake or not? Here’s a beautiful, soul-warming, and vegan way to enjoy them. (Non-vegan boot-wearing is optional.) Bon appetit! 🙂

Holy Shiitake Stew

You Will Need:

– 1 Tbsp coconut or other cooking oil

– 1 large onion, coarsely chopped

– 3-4 carrots, sliced

– 3-4 celery stalks, sliced

– Fresh garlic to taste (I used 2 large cloves), thinly sliced

– 2 pounds of shiitake mushrooms, or mixed mushrooms to taste. Take 1.5 lbs of mushrooms and wash and coarsely chop them. The other half pound should be washed and cut into bite-sized chunks.

– 6-8 cups of water or vegetable broth

– Salt and pepper to taste

– 1 tsp each of thyme and curry powder

– dash of caraway seeds, if you’re feeling adventurous

How To Make It:

1. In a stock pot, saute onions in coconut oil over low heat. Cover pot and check on onions occasionally, stirring until they are soft and translucent (approx 5-7 minutes).

2. Add carrots and garlic to the pot, along with 1/2 cup of water or stock. Cover and let cook on low to medium heat for around 5 minutes, until carrots start to soften.

3. Add celery and another 1/2 cup of water or stock to pot. Cover and let cook on medium heat for around 5 minutes.

Just in case you need to see what the soup looks like at this point

4. Add 1.5 lbs of chopped mushrooms to pot, along with 4 cups of water or stock. Water will not cover the mushrooms at this point, but they will soften and reduce in size very quickly. Cover pot.


5. Cook mushrooms with the rest of the vegetables until everything is tender, stirring as needed. Add rest of water or stock, salt, pepper, curry powder, and thyme. Bring to a boil, cover, and then simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

Soup after 30 minutes of simmering, pre-blending

6. Meanwhile, saute remaining 1/2 pound of mushrooms in a pan with a small amount of water (and caraway seeds if you so desire) until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

7. After soup has simmered for 30 minutes, remove from heat and blend in the stock pot until smooth using a hand blender.

8. Add sauteed mushrooms to smooth soup mixture to give it some texture. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve hot over a whole grain or with fresh garlic toast. Holy shiitake, it’s delicious! 🙂

Try This Soup. Believe Me.

Y’all know that I am a giant fan of soup. (And apparently I’m a cowgirl as well, y’all. Calgary represent! YEEHAW!) I worship at the altar of the stock pot and I find comfort like no else in a steaming bowl of homemade stew. So rich, so satisfying, so nourishing on all levels.

By now, you should also know that I am practically a vegan (and when it comes to soup, I am most certainly a vegan, because honestly– who puts eggs in soup?) I love to experiment with making vegan soups, and I feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when an old classic (non-vegan) soup recipe gets a successful, delicious vegan makeover at the hands of yours truly. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, my dinner guests exclaim when they bring a spoonful of one of my delicious soups to their lips. (Well, not really, because my real-life friends generally don’t quote pop culture references that have anything to do with Fabio, but you get the idea: a successful soup is a successful soup, vegan or non-vegan.)

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes

Anyway. This Veganized “Cream” of Tomato Soup will make you believe again– in something at the very least, or perhaps in many new and wonderful things. Seriously. Even if you’re not a big tomato fan (like me), this soup will convince you of the divinity of the Vine-Ripened Tomato. Even if you think Dairy reigns Queen and you can’t imagine your life without the satisfying slick of heavy cream coating your digestive tract, this soup will make you believe in Veganism. Are you sure this isn’t butter? I swear: even if you’re turned off by the colours red, orange, or reddish-orange, this soup will make you rethink your prejudiced stance. You’ll probably end up starting your own Reddish Orange Worship Group, for all I know. Finally, even non-soup lovers will dig this soup: it is that amazing.

So tantalizing...

This particular recipe is an amalgamation of many tomato soup recipes– some were originally from the internet, some were seen in Vegetarian magazines, and still others were read in the vegan cookbooks which line my bookshelves (The Coup restaurant and Green Cuisine restaurant cookbooks deserve particular shouts out for steering me in the right direction). Finally- through the decidedly unscientific process of Random Trial and Error, the perfect ingredients balance was achieved, and now I’m convinced that this soup has the power to transform you. Try it for yourself– I dare you to cross over to the dark, aka Vegan, side. 😉

Are you curious? Read on for the recipe!

Vegan Tomato Ecstasy* Soup (*no street drugs required)

You Will Need:

– 10-12 medium/large ripe tomatoes (any varieties, but make sure they are big and juicy)

– 1 large red onion

– 1 medium onion (red, white, or yellow– it’s up to you)

– 4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

– Red hot chili pepper flakes to taste (I am a heat wimp and usually use about 1/2 a teaspoon of these flakes for a giant pot of soup. Feel free to increase the quantity up to a full teaspoon or teaspoon and a half if you like it hot.)

– 1/3 cup dry white cooking wine

– 1 small can (156 mL) tomato paste

– 1L container vegetable broth (or 4 cups water)

2 cups extra water if needed for consistency

– 1 400mL can of coconut milk

– 1 Tbsp coconut oil or other cooking oil, plus 1/2 Tbsp for sauteing

– salt and pepper to taste

– fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional

How To Make It:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Meanwhile, wash the tomatoes and chop into bite-sized chunks.

3. Peel and chop the red onion into bite-sized chunks as well, and combine with chopped tomatoes in a large mixing bowl.

4. Mix tomatoes and onions with coconut oil plus salt and pepper to taste. (You could also add some dried basil flakes here to pump up the flavour that much more.) Spread evenly on a rectangular cookie sheet and roast veggies for 45 minutes once oven has preheated.

Roasted to perfection!

5. While the vegetables are roasting, peel and chop the small onion as well as the garlic cloves. (The size of the pieces doesn’t matter, because the soup will be blended at the end.)

6. When approximately 20 minutes are left on the oven timer, melt remaining 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil in a stock pot and saute onion over low heat for 5 minutes, until they begin to turn translucent.

7. Add the garlic pieces as well as the chili flakes to taste. Cover pot and saute over low heat for another 5 minutes.

8. When onion and garlic pieces are tender, add white wine to the pot. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

9. Add tomato paste, vegetable broth (or water), and bring to a gentle boil.

10. Once vegetables have roasted, add them to the pot and continue to cook on medium/high heat for 8-10 minutes.

Heavenly soup, pre-blending

11. Remove pot from heat and blend until a smooth consistency has been achieved. Add more water if soup seems too thick. (A hand or immersion blender works wonders here.)

12. Add can of coconut milk, stir well, and put pot back onto low heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

13. Adjust salt and pepper if needed before serving. Serve with fresh basil leaves on top.

14. Eat and proceed to Vegan Heaven. Trust me– you’ll never guess that this soup contains coconut milk and not actual cow’s cream. 🙂


I’m curious to know your thoughts on this recipe. Is it just me, or is this the most delicious soup on the planet? (In my mind, any soup that can convince me to buy a boatload of raw tomatoes is magical– I just don’t do that sort of thing on a regular basis… or at all.) Please give me a shout in the comments or by e-mail if you end up making this soup (e-mail link is in the Contact page above). I need to know how many of you convert to Veganism because of it, at least for one dinnertime! 🙂

Welcome to Chez Under The Weather

Marty and I faced a Perfect Storm for Illness during our recent trip to Alberta. Seriously– every single factor that normally contributes to Pestilence, Sickness, and/or Pain and Suffering was right there with us from the moment we left our ghetto apartment in Victoria.

Marty's Cowboy Snowman: Before

Marty's Cowboy Snowman: After. (This is a snowman's impression of Marty and I in Calgary.)

First, there was stress. Marty’s body usually shuts down as soon as it knows we are heading out east to the land of our youth. He experiences dread like no other human, and in the days leading up to our departure, he had a hard time eating, digesting, and concentrating. My stress, on the other hand, normally manifests itself as exaggerated mental clutter. I worry more than usual, I imagine the most awkward of possible encounters ahead of time, and then I strategize multiple ways to escape said awkward encounters while saving the maximum amount of face. What if somebody cooks dairy for us? What if somebody wears hella perfume around our delicate nostrils? How do I react if the blanket in the guest room reeks of Bounce sheets? I am like the Nostradamus of Calgary, Alberta, only I’m less bearded and way more obscure.

A glimpse of my mom at her place in Vancouver. Visiting her before and after our stop in Calgary gave us some much needed respite (and organic, wholesome food)!

This time around, Marty started eating less before we left (like clockwork), but I started preparing obscene amounts of food. Obscene. Amounts. This was all a pre-emptive strike against the potential awkwardness of eating at somebody else’s house, and just so you know, cooking all that food ahead of time was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. Yes, I had to lug 40lbs of food around with me on my back, BUT I got to avoid yogurt for breakfast, Kraft salad dressings for lunch, and breaded cauliflower with soy cheese for dinner! I WIN ALLERGY COOKING! Anyway, back to the point– there was a lot of stress before our trip. Packing stress, transit stress, Greyhound stress– all sorts of stress.

A peek inside my dad's place in Calgary, which is a virtual treasure trove of mismatched pop culture references. He went to art college, natch.

Then there was the brutally uncomfortable travel, coupled with a decided lack of sleep. Nothing says “Hey there, viruses– my immunity is suppressed!” quite like 15 1/2 hours on a bus with dozens of coughing and wheezing people. And Russians keeping you awake all night. We were an accident waiting to happen, I tell you.

Oh, sorry Greyhound officer-- I didn't know I wasn't allowed back here. I didn't see any signs or anything...

Once we arrived in Calgary, the ultra-dry Alberta air made everything even worse. It always amazes me how severely the arid climate hits me when I go back to Alberta. I was born there and come from a modestly long line of Albertans, so shouldn’t my body be equipped with special Dri-B-Gone genetics? Shouldn’t I come back to Calgary thanking sweet Jesus that I’m finally back in the dry air of my childhood and adolescence? Well, I don’t. I swear, as soon as I see the “Welcome to Alberta” sign on the highway, my lips chap, my throat closes up, my eyes and nose dry out, and my hair is suddenly electrified with static cling. I suffer from nose bleeds, incredibly scaly hands and skin, my face starts peeling off, and my body begs for hydration. I wake up in the mornings nearly suffocating from dryness, and my first instinct is to rub the insides of my nostrils, my mouth, my tongue, my eyeballs, and my entire throat with coconut oil. It’s so dry in Calgary!

The Three Sisters, captured fuzzily on film together for the first time since 2008! From left to right: The Pretty One, The Nerdy One, and The Creative One. (My face is flushed with allergic reactions to everything.)

Lily and Auntie Dana! Note flushing on face and forehead peeling off with a vengeance. (Mine, not hers.)

There we were in Calgary, Alberta– stressed, anxious, tired, square-assed, and choking on dryness. We were totally down, so to speak, so do you think our bodies were primed to be kicked whilst we were there? Completely. We received a pretty brutal ass-kicking from bronchitis.

Me 'n' my dad. He's nearly a foot taller than I am and tries to compensate for this by crouching down uncomfortably. I am also wearing modest heeled boots in this shot.

Marty has been much harder hit with congestion, inflamed lungs, and coughing than I have. I’m still under the weather, though– enough to have missed my beloved Zumba and Turbo Kick classes at the Y. (The sadness of it all is crippling, I know.) We have been drinking copious amounts of tea and eating mostly soups and stews since we got back to Victoria. So in the spirit of Getting Well, I’m offering you all my recipe for Greens ‘n’ Garlic Soup. It’s the perfect blended soup for when you’re sick (crank up the garlic and cayenne pepper- yum!), or you can mute the flavours when you’re healthy. Either way, it’s nutritious and delicious. Enjoy!

The only photo I have of this soup in progress.

Green Garlic Soup

You Will Need:

– 1 Tbsp coconut oil or other cooking oil

– 1 medium to large onion, coarsely chopped (the size of the pieces does not matter, as this soup will be blended before serving)

– 4-5 small yellow potatoes, unpeeled, washed and sliced into coins approximately 1/3″ thick (for speed of cooking)

– 2-5 cloves of garlic, or to taste, peeled and chopped coarsely

– 2 Tbsp tomato paste

– 3-4 stalks of celery, washed and chopped

– 1 head curly green kale, washed and chopped coarsely. Discard thick stems.

– 1 head collard greens (or other greens like mustard, swiss chard, etc.), washed and chopped coarsely. Discard thick stems.

– 6-8 cups of broth or water

– sea salt and black pepper to taste (I like a lot of both)

– cayenne pepper to taste

How To Make It:

– In a large stock pot, melt coconut oil over low heat and saute onions (covered) for 5-10 minutes, or until just translucent.

– Add potato medallions to the pot along with 1 cup of broth or liquid. Cover the pot and increase heat to medium.

– Stir potatoes and onions occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the pot.

– Add garlic, tomato paste, and more broth/liquid if needed. Continue cooking, covered, over medium heat until potatoes are just tender. (Test with a fork.)

– Add celery and 1 more cup of broth as needed. Cover and cook for 5 minutes (or until celery begins to get tender.)

– Add chopped kale and collard greens. Add seasonings to taste and increase heat to high. Leave pot uncovered.

– Add remaining broth to stock pot. Liquid should come close (within 1 or 2″) to the top of the pot– add extra water if needed. Keep in mind that the soup will be blended before serving, and the final consistency should not be too thick (like mashed potatoes) or too runny (like water!). If in doubt, err on the side of Too Thick so you can add water later. Making a soup too thin is more difficult to recover from.

– When liquid has been brought to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cover pot and leave soup on low heat for 30 minutes.

– After 30 minutes have elapsed, take cover off of pot and blend soup before serving. (I use my trusty Braun Hand Blender, which is the greatest invention known to man. It blends my soup up right in the pot, so I don’t need to pour it out into a regular blender like a chump. A Hand Mixer is one of my most recommended kitchen appliances– I use mine ALL THE TIME.)

– Blend soup until smooth and silky. Adjust seasonings to taste if needed before serving– if you are sick, pump up the garlic and cayenne pepper. If not, do whatever you like with the spices! 🙂

Makes a giant pot of soup. Marty and I have been eating our soup for days now. As with most soups, this one keeps tasting better as the days go on. Enjoy!