Well-stocked pantry

As an on-the-go breakfast or after-school snack, portable, kid-friendly granola bars are a boon to busy families. When it comes to nutrition, though, all bars are not created equal. They can be reasonably virtuous or downright decadent.  My whole-grain, high-protein recipe is a little of both — hearty and satisfying, dense and chewy, and just sweet enough.

Chewy sunflower seed granola bars

Yield:  16, 2-inch squares

2 c. rolled oats

1 c. raw sunflower seeds

1 c. raisins

1/2 c. toasted wheat germ or unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. canola or safflower oil

1/3 c. sunflower seed butter

1/3 c. honey or maple syrup

1 tbsp. hot water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Measure oats into the work bowl of a food processor.  Pulse about a dozen times — some of the oats should be ground to a flour-like consistency, some oats should be whole, and the rest should be somewhere in between.  Pour processed oats into a large  mixing bowl.  Stir in sunflower seeds, raisins, wheat germ or coconut, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, sunflower seed butter, honey or syrup, hot water, and vanilla.  Fold into oat mixture with a rubber spatula, stirring until evenly moistened.

Lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and extend up and over two of the sides (this will help you get the baked granola bars out of the pan).  Press paper into pan, smoothing out bottom and up sides.  Lightly oil paper.  Spoon granola mixture into pan and press down very firmly with an oiled spatula to form a compact, even layer.

Bake 35-40 minutes, until edges are nicely browned.  Let cool completely (summon all your will power — if you try to cut them when warm, they will crumble).  Use parchment paper overhang to lift granola from pan.  Place on a cutting board and, using a long, serrated knife and firm downward pressure, slice into 16 squares (if you don’t have a good knife, you may want to chill them a bit in the refrigerator before cutting).  Wrap each square in a small piece of wax paper, and store in a tightly sealed container.


Canned beans are convenient, but for soup I prefer dried ones.  Not because the dried beans taste better — canned varieties, especially organic ones, are just as good — but because of the rich, earthy liquid left behind after they cook.  Flavorful and full-bodied, this cooking liquid makes an outstanding soup base — all you need add are some vegetables, maybe some grains, and a little stock or water.

Chickpea and swiss chard soup

Makes about 4 quarts

1/2 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

1/2 c. wheat berries

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Measure wheat berries into a small saucepan and cover with cold water by about three inches.  Season lightly with salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until wheat berries are chewy but no longer tough, about 1 hour.  Drain and set aside.  (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

In a large saucepan, cover drained chickpeas with three inches of cold water.  Bring to a hard boil and skim the froth off the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer until nearly tender, at least one hour.  Season generously with salt and cook until done.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid. (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

Warm a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion, celery, and carrot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add can of tomatoes and cook, stirring, until juices are thickened, about 4 minutes.

Add swiss chard to pot and cook, stirring, until wilted.  Stir in chickpeas, wheat berries, stock, and about 4 cups of reserved bean cooking liquid.  Bring to a simmer and cook briefly to meld flavors.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Don’t have wheat berries? Cooked barley, kasha (buckwheat groats), farro, rice, and short pasta shapes are all good in soup.

Or chickpeas? I like white beans — from tiny navy beans to fat cannellinis — in brothy vegetable soups.

Or chard? Greens are good in bean soups because their natural bitterness complements the beans’ starchy creaminess.  Tougher greens, like kale, need to simmer for at least 15 minutes to soften.  Tender spinach is done when it wilts — you can stir it into the finished soup.

Or tomatoes? Bean and vegetable soups need acid for balance — if you don’t have tomatoes, try adding a splash of lemon juice or vinegar at the end of cooking.

Best-quality canned tomatoes are key to this simple, well-rounded soup.  Roasting the tomatoes in a hot oven with a little sugar before adding them to the pot concentrates their flavor and caramelizes their juices.  If you chop and saute the other vegetables while the tomatoes are in the oven, the soup comes together in under and hour.  With a thick wedge of toasted cornbread and an apple, it makes a lovely lunch.

Roasted tomato soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups

2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes

1/4 c. olive oil, divided

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 Spanish onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 c. chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed

2 tbsp. butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Drain tomatoes, reserving about 3 c. juice in a large liquid measure.  Halve and seed the tomatoes (hold the halves cut side down and squeeze gently to remove seeds and pulp).  Arrange seeded tomatoes in a single layer on lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar.  Roast until juices are evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes.

Warm a soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in remaining 3 tbsp. olive oil, then add onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and thyme to pot and season with salt and pepper.  Cook 2 minutes more.  Using a wide spatula, remove roasted tomatoes from foil and add to pot.  Pour in stock and reserved tomato juice.  Raise heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until all vegetables are very tender and soup is slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or blender.  Return to pot.  Stir in butter, if using.  Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and thin to desired consistency with additional stock.

If you’re feeding a family of four or more and don’t have at least one recipe in your arsenal that begins, “Open a can of…” let’s face it:  you’re sunk.  This particularly can-tastic soup is one of my favorites.  It’s quickly and easily made with ingredients that are already in my pantry, and I actually prefer its simple flavors and creamy texture to other, more complicated black bean soups I’ve cooked in the past.  We like it with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt (for a dairy- and soy-free option, try the coconut “nogurt”  recipe, below) and sweet potato quesadillas on the side.

Easy black bean soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups, serving 6

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

3 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock (boxed or canned broth is fine)

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

Salt, to taste

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic, thyme, and cumin and cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes with their juice, beans, stock, and Tabasco*.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer soup until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Ladle about 1/3 of soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Stir puree back into pot.  Season with salt as needed.

* Our kids are not big on spicy food, so I don’t add the Tabasco to the whole pot.  Instead, I add a dash or two to the grown-ups’ bowls just before serving.

Coconut “nogurt”

Creamy and tangy, a little like sour cream and a little like yogurt, I use it as a dairy- and soy-free substitute for yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk in cooking.

Yield:  2 cups

1 15-oz can lite coconut milk

1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice (from about 1/2 lemon or 1 lime)

5 tsp. cornstarch

4 tsp. granulated sugar

Whisk ingredients together in a small saucepan until well-blended.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to prevent lumps.  Let cook about 1 minute, until thick and glossy.  Transfer to a pint container and press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the surface of the nogurt (to prevent a skin from forming).  Let cool at room temperature until lukewarm, then refrigerate until cold.  Nogurt will thicken as it cools.  Stir well before serving.

Fast, because you have all the ingredients on hand already.  Economical, because canned goods and frozen veg are cheap.  Able to feed small children without a single complaint (because who doesn’t love novelty pasta shapes?).  Look!  In the pot!  It’s easy!  It’s a full meal!  It’s Supersoup!

Pantry pasta and bean soup

Yield:  About 4 qts., serving at least 8

1/2 lb. small pasta shapes

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

A small handful fresh sage leaves (or thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, or just parsley), finely chopped

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

2 1/2 qts. hot chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of stock and bean-cooking liquid, if you have it)

1 15-oz can beans (or about 1 1/2 c. cooked, dried beans), rinsed and drained

1/2 c. frozen peas

Cook pasta in generously salted, boiling water until just tender.  Drain, rinse under cold running water until cool, drain again, and set aside.

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and sage, cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes and raise heat to medium-high.  Cook, stirring, until tomato juices are almost evaporated.  Add stock and beans.  Bring to a simmer, add peas and pasta.  Serve as soon as peas and pasta are hot.

A tip for making pasta soups in advance: This soup will keep, refrigerated, for about 5 days.  To prevent the pasta from getting mushy, cool the soup to lukewarm before adding peas and cooked pasta (hot soup will continue to cook the pasta).  Then ladle into storage containers and chill in the fridge.  Or freeze the soup without the peas and pasta (add them both to the thawed and heated soup just before serving).

Make it gluten-free: If you have kids (or if you are a kid at heart), try Tinkyada’s brown rice pasta, which comes in all manner of adorable shapes.

Crunchy, tangy, and shockingly pink, pickled red onions are as easy to make as they are addictive.  Serve them with just about anything, from salads and sandwiches to charcuterie and cheese.

Quick pickled red onions

Adapted from Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen

Yield: About 3 1/2 c.

2 red onions (about 1 lb.)

1/2 c. cider vinegar

1/2 c. water

3 tbsp. honey or granulated sugar

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. black peppercorns

1/2 tsp. whole cloves

Bring about a quart of water to a boil (a tea kettle will do this quickly).  While water heats, trim stem ends off onions and peel them, keeping root end entact.  Slice onions into very thin rounds and place in a mixing bowl.

Pour boiling water over onions and let sit 5 minutes.  Drain thoroughly in a colander.

While onions drain, whisk together cider vinegar, 1/2 c. water, honey or sugar, salt, peppercorns, and cloves.  Add drained onions and let marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Transfer onions and liquid to a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate.

Pickled onions will keep, tightly sealed and in the fridge, for weeks (though they will lose their crunch over time).

Barbecue sauce is serious business in some parts of the country.  Texans like it thin and hot, while in Kansas City they prefer theirs thick and sweet.  Mustard and vinegar are key to South Carolina’s more piquant version.  And North Carolina boasts no fewer than three regional variations, with militant barbecue enthusiasts drawing battle lines over the inclusion (or exclusion) of ketchup in the recipe.

To my knowledge, Massachusetts takes no official stance on barbecue, so I feel free to vary my recipe according to my mood and the contents of my pantry.  The kids, of course, like a sweet and tangy, ketchup-based sauce with a modest amount of heat, so that’s what I made this weekend to celebrate the last of the snow melting off the grill and the weather being warm enough to cook outdoors.

The ketchup you use will make or break this recipe, so choose wisely.  Trader Joe’s ketchup, which is organic, corn syrup-free, tangy, and fruity, is my favorite.  I use a combination of smoked Spanish paprika and ancho chili powder for a lightly smoky flavor and gentle heat, but feel free to substitute regular paprika and whatever chili powder you like best.

Want some ideas for what to do with barbecue sauce?  See here.

Barbecue sauce

Yield:  Makes about 1 1/2 c.

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 c. ketchup

1/4 c. cider vinegar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. brown sugar

1 tbsp. paprika (preferably the smoky, Spanish variety)

2 tsp. chili powder (I use ancho), or to taste

Warm a saucepan over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute or two.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer sauce to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.  Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the sauce will keep at least a week.

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