Reflections on April Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2023

This is the second time that Pepper Route has joined the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Last time around, we had featured 26 signature dishes from 26 regions of the world; this time around it was 26 commonly used kitchen ingredients and a soup focusing on that ingredient.

It was not too much of a struggle to put together the list. And having done that, easy to cook the stuff and take pictures and keep them ready for the writing and posting during the challenge. Alas, it was not to be. When my phone got lost in March, that too while traveling abroad, I learned the hard lesson that timely backups of your phone is one of the first requirements of participating in a challenge as big as this! 

Anyways, managed to complete the challenge with only one change to the original list of topics selected. Veal was my initially chosen ingredient for the letter V, but when I started writing about that, quickly realized there is nothing good to say about veal! And vermicelli was right there for the rescue! Here is the complete list…

The only regret I have is that I could not visit other bloggers and post comments. Believe me, it was it was not intentional. Actually I managed to visit in the early days of the challenge but later doing two posts a day got a bit overwhelming. And I fell back on the visits. 

And a toast to my visitors who took the time to read the posts and left wonderful comments. My heartfelt thanks to: Molly of Molly’s Canopy, Kristin, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Anne E.G. Nydam, Mrs Fever, Misky, Timothy S. Brannan, Archana, Dave Roller, Deborah Weber, Dime, Darrel, Anita Jagath, and Jeanne Friedrichs and many others. 

So… April Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2023 was an all consuming affair, where life was put on hold while the whole focus was on writing captivating posts for 26 days! And guess what… I thoroughly enjoyed it! Here’s looking forward to next time. 

Z for Zucchini

What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? A fruit develops from the flower of a plant and a vegetable is any other part of the plant that is edible such as stems, roots and leaves. Thus, most of the common vegetables we eat today are technically fruits. 

Zucchinis are summer squashes that are harvested when immature, while the rind is still soft and edible. And as the name indicates, they are naturally available during the hot months of the summer. 

Zucchinis are part of the gourd family, and they are native to Central America and Mexico. It is one of the many varieties of squashes that used to be grown by Native Americans, along with acorn squashes, pumpkins and gourds, for about 4,500 years.

Like most summer squashes, zucchini grows as a bush, unlike the vines of many winter squashes. Gourds have been cultivated. since more than 7,000 years ago. Zucchinis are dioecious plants, having distinctive male and female flowers.

Native to Central America, they were introduced to Europe by the explorers who came to the America’s following Columbus’s voyage in 1492. Other produce that came from Central America include corn, beans, squash, cocoa, vanilla, potatoes, tomatoes, and bell and chili peppers.

Zucchini appeared in the North America in the 1920s, most likely brought back by Italian immigrants. Today, zucchinis are grown throughout the United States during the warm season.

Zucchini, the Italian name for the squash that was adopted in the US, has zucca meaning gourd (marrow, pumpkin or squash) as its root, with the added ‘ini’ meaning ‘little’. There are several variations to the name in Italy, like zucchino (masculine singular) zucchina (feminine singular), zucchini (masculine plural) and zucchine (feminine plural). In the UK, they are called courgettes, which name is borrowed from the French. 

Zucchinis can be any shade of green, while the golden zucchini is a deep yellow or orange.

Low in calorie count, it provides folates, Vitamin A and potassium. 

Zucchinis are very well traveled, being present in all parts of the world. And well known dishes zucchini fritte and ratatouille come from different cuisines.

Extremely versatile, zucchini lends itself to many interpretations. Not having a strong flavor by itself, it can be made part of any dish, adding to the nutrition without adding calories.

Zucchinis can be eaten raw in salads or cooked (sautéed, steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed, baked, fried), for breakfast or dinner, and savory or sweet. Zucchini bread is a popular way to use it up while spiralized zucchini has been quite trending for a while now.

Zucchini flowers are edible and considered a delicacy, and can be stuffed, battered and deep fried.

The recipe featured here is for a soup that is simple to make and nutritious, and also very tasty.

Zucchini Soup 


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Cut off some paper thin slices of zucchini, season with salt and a few drops of lemon juice and set aside. Dice the rest of the zucchini into half inch pieces.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a largish soup pot and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it is tender, about 5 minutes. 
  • Add a generous pinch of salt, the garlic and the zucchini and stir for about a minute, until the garlic smells fragrant. 
  • Add the curry powder, stir together, and add the stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt if required.
  • Using an immersion blender, purée the soup 
  • Return to the pot and heat through.
  • Add pepper and cayenne to taste and stir in the lemon juice. 
  • Serve, garnishing each bowl with the reserved slices of zucchini.

Y for Yogurt

It is believed that milk products were incorporated into the human diet around 10 000 to 5000 BC, with the domestication of milk-producing animals like cows, sheep, and goats, as well as yaks, horses, buffalo, and camels.

Yogurt has been a part of the human diet for several millennia and goes by many names throughout the world. 

References to the health-promoting properties of yogurt date back to 6000 BC in Indian Ayurvedic scripts and yogurt was well known in the Greek and Roman empires. Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, is reputed to have fed his army yogurt, a staple of the Mongolian diet, based on the belief that it instilled bravery in his warriors. In 1542, King Francoise I of France introduced it to Western Europe after being offered yogurt as a treatment by the country’s Turkish allies digestive problems.

However, it was not until the 20th century that the benefits were attributed to lactic acid bacteria.

Yogurt has its origins in Turkey and the word ‘yogurt’ is believed to have come from the Turkish word ‘yoğurmak’ meaning to thicken, coagulate, or curdle. As milk spoils easily, it was difficult to preserve it for use. It is believed that herdsmen who carried milk in bags made of intestinal gut, discovered that contact with intestinal juices caused the milk to curdle and sour, thickening and preserving it. Today, most yogurt is fermented milk that is acidified with bacteria.

Yogurt is an excellent source of highly bioavailable protein and an excellent source of calcium as well as a source of probiotics in addition to several essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins B2 and B12. And many people with lactose intolerance are able to consume yogurt without any side effects as the bacteria in yogurt help with digesting lactose.

Yogurt was commercialized in 1919, when jam was added to it.Yogurt was later mixed with a variety of ingredients, such as cinnamon, honey, fruits, and sweets, and was used as a dessert to make it attractive to the public. Initially yogurt was sold at pharmacies. 

Yogurt gained fame when Elie Metchnikoff gave a lecture in 1904 at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, suggesting that longevity among Bulgarians could be attributed to the beneficial lactobacilli bacteria in yogurt. The popularity of yogurt spread to North America. 

Patterns of yogurt consumption vary greatly from country to country. In the United States only 6% of the population consume yogurt on a daily basis. 

Today, we have a great variety of yogurt flavors available in the grocery stores. 

Today we are featuring a chilled yogurt soup, which is easy to make but is a filling and nutritious meal. And an added advantage is that as it is chilled, it can be prepared ahead of serving and stored in the refrigerator.

Yogurt Soup, Chilled


  • 1 bunch spinach, stemmed and washed, or 12 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely ground
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Steam the spinach until just wilted, about two minutes. Rinse with cold water, squeeze out excess water and chop. Set aside.
  • Crush the garlic with salt and mash to a paste. Stir into the yogurt, along with 1 cup of cold water. Mix well.
  • Add the cumin seeds, spinach and chickpeas. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  • Add the lemon juice and chill for several hours.
  • Serve with the red chili flakes, if using, sprinkled on top.

X for ‘Xception

Pepper Route has focused on ingredients we use in day to day cooking, during the 2023 A to Z Blogging challenge. This post is an exception… the exception that proves the rule. There is no ingredient in focus (unless you want to call ‘stone’ an ingredient!) but just some interesting facts and stories. Enjoy the ‘Xception!

The Stone Soup

Most of us know the story of the Stone Soup. Two weary travelers reach a village, exhausted  at the end of the day. Hoping for a meal, they look around but soon realize that the villagers are poor farmers who might be hard up themselves and no home was in a position to host two strangers. So they decide to do what they can.

They go to the river bank and pick up some stones… you know the pretty stones, smoothened by flowing water for centuries. Then they approach one of the houses and ask to borrow a cauldron to make some stone soup. The villager lends them a large pot. They take the pot, fills it up with water and take it to the village square, of course followed by the curious villager. There they set the pot on three stones and light a fire under it. When the water starts boiling, they drop the stones in it. And start stirring, frequently tasting the contents and passing comments. 

Now the villager is getting curioser by the moment and asks for a taste too. However the travelers inform him that the soup is extremely good but will taste good to a person only if they have contributed something to it. Eager to taste this fantastic soup, the villager goes and gets a few potatoes from home, which are promptly dropped into the pot. 

Soon many of the villagers going home from their fields stop by and all are eager to taste the soup when they see the stone soup being cooked. The travelers tell the same story, and soon there are more contributions coming… carrots, onions, cabbage, herbs… (maybe a chicken too) whatever the villagers could spare. And you guessed it… soon a delicious soup was simmering in the cauldron, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. 

This is a European folk tale with many regional variations where the stones are replaced by axe, nails, pebbles etc. What is the moral of the story? That ‘sharing works best for all’ or that ‘apt communication can produce desired results’ or that ‘when everything else fails, trust your brains’? 

The Mouse King and His Queen

Then there is the story of the ‘Soup from a Sausage Skewer’ by Hans Christian Andersen, that master story teller. The mouse king hosts a party where everything is eaten up except for the skewers from the sausages. And someone mentions a soup with the skewers. The king is interested and declares that whichever girl mouse comes up with a recipe for a soup with skewers will be his queen. Four girls step forward and all present are invited to come back in a year and a day, to taste the soup that the contestants will prepare that day.

Soon the day arrives and three of the mouse girls tell stories of how they travelled far and wide through fantastic lands, had all kinds of wonderful experiences, and consulted with great chefs and philosophers only to come to the conclusion that alas, there is no such soup! And the fourth girl provides the recipe which she says she came up on her own. All that it takes is to boil the water, throw in the skewer and the mouse king to dip his tail into the boiling water and stir it round with the tail! Of course, the king was not stupid to try that recipe and he declared her the winner and his queen!

We can analyze this story many ways but I can only see one message… brains beat all else, all the time!

Read the full story here:  Soup from a sausage skewer

Caldo de Piedra

And now for the recipe… yes, there is such a soup and there is a recipe for that. The Caldo de Piedra, a regional dish, originating in Оахаа, Mexico. A traditional dish dating back to the pre-Spanish times, National Geographic published an article about it:  Stone Soup Rocks in Remote Oaxaca.

(You will need to login/ register for an account at National Geographic to read the article.)

In the documentary ‘The Path of Stone Soup’, filmmaker Sarah Borealis documents the dish’s unique origins and preparation. You can view a trailer here:  The Path of Stone Soup.

The ingredients are easily available… fish, tomatoes, onions, chilies, herbs and cilantro. It is the ‘how to’ that gets the soup the name, which is really quite appropriate.

W for Watercress

Full of vitamins and minerals… believed to be an aphrodisiac… a supposed cure for hangover… Sounds like a magic ingredient? That is what is said about Watercress!

Watercress is a semi-aquatic perennial plant that is a member of the Brassica family along with cabbage, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, turnips, and radishes. It has a spicy scent and a peppery, and tangy flavor when fresh. When cooked, the peppery flavor will slightly diminish. In addition to the leaves, the small clusters of fragrant white flowers and small pods with seeds are also edible.

Watercress has a long and storied history, with evidence of its use dating back 3000 years to the Persians, Greeks and Romans. 

Served to the Roman and Persian army, many believed watercress would help increase stamina, freshen breath, and prevent scurvy. The Persians had observed that soldiers were healthier when watercress was part of their daily diet. Roman emperors ate watercress to help them make ‘bold decisions’.

The Greeks were aware of the health benefits of watercress. When Hippocrates founded the first hospital on the Island of Kos around 400 BC, he grew wild watercress in the natural springs and used it to treat blood disorders.

The herbalist John Gerard celebrated watercress as a remedy for scurvy as early as 1636. And, according to the book James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy 1, Captain James Cook was able to circumnavigate the globe three times, due in part to his use of watercress in the diet of his sailors.

It is an integral part of Mediterranean diets.

The U.S. Army planted watercress in the gardens of forts along the western trails, as food for their soldiers. It has been used as a breath freshener and palate cleanser, as well as for medicinal purposes. 

Watercress is one of the oldest known consumed leaf vegetables and is still one of the most widely used greens in the world today. It is available year-round, with a peak season in the spring through early summer.

Naturalized in pools and streams, watercress is easily found growing in the wild and is also commercially grown hydroponically. 

Watercress is an excellent source of vitamin K and contains vitamins A, C, and E, iron, magnesium, nitrate, phosphorus, riboflavin, potassium, and calcium.

Valued for its peppery flavor, Watercress is very versatile and is eaten both fresh and cooked. The leaves and stems can be used fresh as a garnish, mixed into salads, tossed into pasta, cooked into omelets, ground into pesto, or blended into juices and smoothies. They can also be used in wraps and sandwiches or sprinkled on top of pizza, casseroles, and mixed into sauces. 

Watercress soup has been popular in Britain sine the 17th century.

Watercress Soup


  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts sliced
  • 1½ quarts vegetable stock
  • Herb bouquet of two or three herbs like parsley, sage, thyme etc
  • 2 bunches watercress
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • Juice of ½ lemon (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Separate the leaves and tender stems of the watercress from any hardy stems and discard the hardy stems. Set aside some of the leaves for garnish.
  • In a largish pot, add the vegetable stock, along with the potatoes, leeks and herb bouquet. Cook till the potatoes are tender, for about 30 minutes.
  • Add the watercress to the soup and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for five minutes.
  • Remove and discard the herb bouquet. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture to the desired consistency.
  • Add the yogurt and lemon juice to taste and mix well. Adjust the seasoning.
  • Serve the soup sprinkled with watercress leaves and lemon slices on the sides.

V for Vermicelli

October 25th is World Pasta Day! World Pasta Day was brought into existence as part of the World Pasta Congress on the 25th of October in 1995. The World Pasta Congress uses World Pasta Day to promote the eating of pasta, along with its cultural and culinary importance.

Vermicelli, a long very thin pasta, is one of the oldest forms of pasta and originated in the Campania region of south western Italy, sometime in the 13th century. In olden time, Neapolitan pasta makers were called ‘vermicellari’. (Naples is the regional capital of Campania.). Initially, like all pastas, this pasta was made by hand and was shorter and not so straight. Hence the name ‘Vermicelli’, which Italian word translates to ‘little worms’ in English.

The first mention of a vermicelli recipe is in De arte Coquinaria per vermicelli e maccaroni siciliani (The Art of Cooking Sicilian Macaroni and Vermicelli), compiled by Maestro Martino da Como, in the 15th century. In the book there are several recipes for vermicelli, which is supposed to last two or three years when dried in the sun.

Vermicelli in Italy is thicker than spaghetti, while in USA they are thinner. In the United States, the National Pasta Association defines lists vermicelli as a thinner type of spaghetti. The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America defines vermicelli as of diameter less than 0.06 inches and spaghetti of diameter between 0.06 and 0.11 inches.

Collectively, the U.S. consumes 5.95 billion pounds of pasta per year, the average American consumes approximately 20 lbs. of pasta annually. This makes it the 6th highest food per capita in the country.

There are two main types of vermicelli: Italian type which is made with durum wheat flour and the Asian type made with rice flour. The Italian vermicelli can be used like any other thin pasta like spaghetti, spaghettini, or angel hair as the only difference is the degree of thinness. The Asian vermicelli are called by varying names depending on the country and cuisine. Well known dishes like pad thai, pho, chow mein, and stir fries use rice vermicelli.

The extra-thin vermicelli is quick-cooking and good with so many flavors, and they are used all around the world in meals from breakfast to dessert. Today we are featuring a dessert soup with vermicelli which can be made as much or as little sweet as you want.

Sweet Vermicelli Soup


  • 2 tablespoon butter 
  • 1 cup pieces of vermicelli, broken into roughly 2 inch pieces
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 1 tablespoon nuts like cashews, pecans and hazel nuts


  • Heat a flat pan on medium heat and add 1 tbsp of butter.
  • Toast the vermicelli till it starts to change color, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Add 4 cups of water to the milk and boil on medium heat.
  • Add the vermicelli to the milk and cook on low heat till the vermicelli is fully cooked, about 10 minutes.
  • Taste for sweetness and add as much of the condensed milk as you desire. Mix well and take off the heat.
  • Toast the raisins and nuts in the remaining butter and add to the soup. Serve warm or chilled.

U for Udon

Udon dough can be difficult to knead, and there are people who swear by stomping on the dough to relax and smoothen it. If you are intent on doing it, put the dough in a large zip lock bag without fully sealing it, place the bag between two kitchen towels on the floor and stomp away!

Udon is one of the typical noodle dishes in Japan. It is made with flour and some salt. The dough is then kneaded and shaped into noodles, thicker than the average regular noodles.

The exact origin of udon is unknown but it is believed that udon came from China in the 700s. It became widely popular to the public during the Edo era in the 1600s.

The Japanese eat udon with chopsticks. And it is okay to slurp the noodles, unlike in the west where it is considered rude to do so.

There are udon restaurants all over Japan, which specialize on udon noodles. 

Kagawa Prefecture in the north of Japan is famed for their best-in-the-world udon noodles. So much so that Kagawa locals eat seven times more udon on average than other people in Japan!

The origins of udon can be traced back to 1,200 years ago. According to legend, Kukai, a monk from Kagawa, went to China as a research scholar to study and bring back the latest knowledge and technology in Buddhism, architecture, and engineering. He also brought back udon noodles enjoyed by the local people in China.

Takinomiya shrine is associated as the birthplace of udon, a stone relic in the shrine called the Ryutoin-ato marking where the first udon was made. What Kukai learned about making udon in China, he taught other family members, and it is said the family ate udon at this spot.

Originally Udon was not made as strands but as pieces of flat dough. In some parts of Japan, Udon is still cut into squares rather than the long strands that became standard by the early fourteenth century. They can can be either flat or rounded.

Udon noodles are typically served as a noodle soup in a hot broth, either in the Kanto style with Bonito dashi and strong soy sauce or in the Kansai style with Kombu dashi and mild soy sauce. They can also be served cold, with a dipping sauce. 

Meat, vegetables, fish, fish paste, and tempura can be added to the Udon soup, with ginger, green onions, shiso, and spicy radish as common toppings.

Udon Soup with Spinach and Eggs


  • 28 ounces precooked, vacuum-sealed udon or 12 ounces dried udon
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach, washed and trimmed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin or sake
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the noodles and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Place a colander in the sink and using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the noodles to the colander and run under cold water to stop the noodles from cooking further. Drain again.
  • In the same pot of water, add the spinach. Cook for about 60 seconds, until the leaves are wilted but still bright green. Drain, emptying the water from pot, and run the spinach under cold water. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then scrunch the spinach into a ball and slice.
  • In the same pot, add enough water to submerge the eggs. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Add the eggs, reduce heat to medium to keep it on a gentle rolling simmer, and cook for 8 minutes. (This will give you a just-set yolk; for a runnier yolk, remove after 7 minutes.) Remove eggs from the water immediately and run under cold water until the egg is cold to the touch. Place the eggs in a bowl of cold water.
  • Set out four large bowls. Divide the udon noodles among the bowls.
  • Make the broth: Heat a large pot over medium. Add the sesame oil, garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the remaining broth ingredients, along with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and gently simmer for 4 to 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
  • Slice each egg in half lengthwise. Ladle the hot broth over the noodles. Top each bowl with a mound of spinach, 2 egg halves, scallions and sesame seeds.

T for Tomato

Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, a plant family with known toxic compounds. Due to their history and association with more deadly member of the nightshade family tomatoes were slow to gain acceptance as a food crop. While tomatoes themselves are fine to eat, the leaves and stems of the plant are considered toxic.

Whatever cuisine, wherever in the world today, tomatoes are a part of that. It is amazing to consider that it was not used in the northeastern states of the US until about 1835, though it was used as food in Louisiana as early as 1812.

The wild species originated in the Andes Mountains of South America, most likely in Peru and Ecuador, and is thought to have been domesticated in pre-Columbian Mexico. Wild tomato plants still grow in the Andes and support a large genetic diversity.

The tomato was introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the early 16th century, and the Spanish and Italians seem to have been the first Europeans to adopt it as a food. In France and northern Europe the tomato was initially grown as an ornamental plant and was regarded with suspicion as a food because botanists recognized it as a relative of the poisonous belladonna and deadly nightshade. Indeed, the roots and leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous and contain the neurotoxin solanine.

Tomatoes were introduced to North America from Europe. Thomas Jefferson is known to have raised them at Monticello in 1781. It did not attain widespread popularity in the United States until the early 20th century. The plant is now grown commercially throughout the world.

Tomato plants are droopy by nature, especially when loaded with the weight of their fruit. So they are grown staked, tied, or caged or on trellises. They grow many branches and need to be pruned to keep them in order.

The five-petaled flowers are yellow and clustered. Tomatoes come in all sizes, varying from half an inch to over 3-4 inches in diameter. Also, they come in many colors like red, scarlet, orange, or yellow, most commonly. Green and purple varieties also exist, but are not that common.

And they vary in shape from almost spherical to oval and elongate to pear-shaped. Each fruit contains at least two cells of small seeds surrounded by jellylike pulp.

Tomato plants require relatively warm weather and sunlight. In cooler climates, it is grown mainly in hothouses.

According to some scholars, the tomato was at first taken to be a kind of eggplant, of which it is a close relative, belonging to the same nightshade family. 

Tomatoes are commonly eaten raw in salads, served as a cooked vegetable, used as an ingredient of various prepared dishes, and pickled. Additionally, a large percentage of the world’s tomato crop is processed and sold in the form of canned tomatoes, tomato juice, ketchup, puree, paste, and sun-dried tomatoes or as dehydrated pulp.

In addition to being a good source of vitamin C, they are also rich in antioxidants like the phytochemical lycopene. 

The soup of the day today is a tomato bisque, rich and flavored with goat cheese. 

Tomato Bisque with Goat Cheese


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 springs of fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes, more to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat the olive oil in a largish pot over medium-high heat. 
  • Add the onion and celery, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant.
  • Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Pour in the broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil while whisking constantly.
  • Add the sugar, salt, chili flakes, and cayenne, if using.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or until flavors have melded. 
  • Using an immersion blender, purée soup to the desired consistency.
  • Ladle into bowls and top with goat cheese, swirling the cheese gently into the soup. Serve warm.

S for Spinach

Anyone who has ever met with spinach know they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and good flavor! It is the favorite garden vegetable of all health food aficionados which grows quickly and easily in cool weather. 

Spinach originally came from Persia (now Iran) where it was known as aspanakh. The green, leafy vegetable made its way to China in the 7th century, when story has it that the king of Nepal sent it as a gift. The Chinese called it the ‘Herb of Persia’. Spinach was eventually brought to Europe in the 11th century, when it was introduced to Spain by the Moors. In fact, spinach was known as ‘the Spanish vegetable’ in England. 

In the 16th century, spinach became the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici of the famous Medici family of the Italian Renaissance. When she left her home in Florence, Italy, to marry King Henry II of France, she brought along her own cooks who could prepare spinach in the many different ways that she liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as à la Florentine.

Spinach is a hardy annual related to beets and Swiss chard that has been used by humans for a long time.

There are two basic types of spinach with either smooth leaves or crinkly (savoy) leaves. The smooth types are normally grown for freezing and canning because they grow faster, yield more and are easier to clean.

Leaves of spinach may be flat or curly, depending on the variety. The leaves can be eaten either fresh or cooked.

Spinach was the first frozen vegetable to be sold for commercial use. Spinach seeds are so tiny there are 40,000 seeds in one pound. It takes about 600,000 seeds to grow one acre of spinach plants.

Spinach began being cultivated in North America by the early 19th century. Most of us associate spinach with Popeye, who attributes his amazing strength to a daily diet spinach. In fact, when Popeye made his debut on January 17, 1929, spinach became the third most popular vegetable in the country.

Grown and enjoyed in many parts of the world, fresh spinach is available all year. Major supplies come from Texas and California where it grows as a cool winter crop. 

Spinach is high in vitamin A (beta-carotene) and a good source of vitamin C, and riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Today we are making a very simple spinach and blue cheese soup. If you are not really fond of blue cheese, any other melty cheese can be used as well.

Spinach and Blue Cheese Soup


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons cornmeal (or flour) 
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups milk
  • ¼ pound blue cheese, crumbled
  • ½ pound fresh spinach
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat the butter in a largish pot. When hot, add the onions. Cook, stirring, till the onion is wilted and the edges start to brown.
  • Add the chopped garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Sprinkle the cornmeal and stir well to combine. Cook for a minute without the cornmeal getting browned.
  • Add the chicken broth and bring to the boil. 
  • Add the milk and cook for about five minutes.
  • Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until melted.
  • Coarsely chop the spinach and add it to the soup. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, about five minutes. 
  • Add the cream, and heat without allowing it to boil.
  • Adjust seasoning and ladle into bowls to serve, with more cream, if desired.

R for Rice

In Sumatra, Indonesia, rice is often sown by women with long hair hanging loosely down their backs as it is thought to help the rice grow more abundantly and with long stalks! 

Rice is, without doubt, one of the earliest foods that humans started cultivating. Though it is impossible to pin-point exactly when humans first began its cultivation, many historians believe that rice was grown as far back as 5000 years BC.

Archaeologists excavating in India discovered rice which could be dated to 4530BC. However, the first recorded mention of rice as food originates from China in 2800 BC. 

Although a particular country cannot be identified as being the home of the rice plant, considering it might have been native to all, it certainly originated in Asia. And the travelers took with them the seeds to their home lands and beyond, spreading the crop to Europe and Americas.

However, cultivating rice also depended on the climate. The rice plant requires immense quantities of water in its early days, followed by a long and uninterrupted season of hot dry weather. The colder climate of the northern Europe and UK is not conducive to growing rice, while certain regions in Europe, such as Italy and Spain have successfully done so.

Legend has it that President Thomas Jefferson once broke an Italian law by smuggling rice seed out of Italy during a diplomatic mission in the late 18th Century. True or not, US has a thriving rice industry now, with Arkansas being the largest rice producing state in the country.

Rice has been given much importance in many cultures. It is often directly associated with prosperity. In Japan rice enjoys the patronage of its own god, Inari, and in Indonesia its own goddess, the Dewie Srie.

Rice is also linked to fertility and for this reason the custom of throwing rice at newly wedded couples exists. In India, rice is always the first food offered by a new bride to her husband, to ensure fertility in the marriage, and children are given rice as their first solid food. And, according to Louisiana folklore, the test of a true Cajun is whether they can calculate the precise quantity of gravy needed to accompany a crop of rice growing in a field!

The two main sub-species of rice are Indica varieties which are long grain and Japonica which are generally short or medium grain. Rice comes in red, black, brown and yellow colors, in addition to the common white. Wild rice, though, is not really a rice; it is the seed of an aquatic grass.

Every country and culture has its own favorite rice dishes. Arroz con pollo, jambalaya, biryani, Chinese congee, paella, kedgeree, risotto, fried rice, assortment of rice puddings… the list goes on. And there are several varieties of rice to suit every need. Arborio, Bomba, Basmati, Jasmine, Jeera, Masuri… the list goes on.

Rice is gluten free and is suitable for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Vinegars, Japanese Sake and wine are made from rice.

Rice is a very versatile food. It can be eaten hot or cold; sweet or savoury; and for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even as a snack. Today we are making a warm, creamy rice and winter squash soup that is sweet and savory.

Rice and Winter Squash Soup


  • 1 small butternut squash (1½ to 2 pounds) peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch chunks
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • ¾ cup jasmine rice (or other long-grain rice), rinsed
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 
  • Season the squash pieces with salt and pepper. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and the sugar, if using and toss well together. (Adding the sugar will create better caramelization but if you would not like the sweetness, sugar can be omitted.)
  • Line a sheet pan with parchment. Spread the squash on the pan in a single layer and roast in the preheated oven, for about 30 minutes, tossing once half way through. When done, set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a largish pot over medium-high heat. Add the diced bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel plate and allow to cool. When cool, crumble the bacon pieces and set aside.
  • Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat, and add onion and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring frequently, until the edges start to brown.
  • Add the thyme sprigs and keep stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
  • Add rice and stir to coat in the fat.
  • Add the broth and bring to a boil on high heat. Lower heat to a simmer. 
  • Cook until rice is done, slightly al dente. 
  • Discard the thyme sprigs and add the heavy cream.
  • Adjust the seasoning and take off the heat.
  • Ladle into bowls, garnish with thyme leaves and serve with the roasted squash and crumbled bacon piled on top.

Here is a link for information on all things rice: