A to Z Challenge

G for Greens

This time of year, Farmers’ Markets have plenty of ramps, dandelions, nettles and other wild greens. Wouldn’t it be fun to look for them on your walks and pick some? Only to be attempted if you definitely know what to pick.

Spring has definitely arrived, and green things are sprouting up everywhere. Along the path by the river, by the side of the lake, in the park. Even by the sidewalks. Have you ever wondered whether any of that is edible? Fact is, most of them are. But only if one knows which to pick. 

Foraging for wild food is how humankind survived in its early days. However, as settled and started cultivating food, the foraging skills were no longer needed for survival. In recent times individuals and small communities have recognized that it is something that can be beneficial to people as well as the environment. 

Collecting any greens that grow in wild unattended places for food is actually foraging. These could be in our own areas or where we travel to for the purpose. 

One of the advantages of eating wild greens is that they contain phytonutrients not found in cultivated foods.

However, one has to be extremely careful to identify plants correctly before consuming them as some of the plants could be poisonous, even causing death. In addition to plant identification, there are factors you should be mindful of, like pick them from areas where dust from the traffic or other pollutants haven’t settled. Also where dogs haven’t peed on them. 🙂

And be careful not to harm the plant and only take just what you need, so that it can come back and provide goodies for a long time to come. Once you become familiar with the greens available in your local area, you can count on them coming up year after year. I know three wonderful mulberry trees in my neighborhood who have provided many a basketful of lovely ripe fruit year after year.

Living in an urban area, personally I do not have access to too many species of edible wild greens. Dandelion, nettles and purslane are things that I have confidently collected. And I normally cook them along with other store bought greens. 

All these leaves should be picked when they are still tender and only the delicate shoots should be picked. Dandelion buds are supposed to be good for brewing tea but never tried it.

Wild Greens Soup


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 6 cups chopped greens (leaves only), such as Swiss chard, dandelion greens, beet and carrot greens
  • 2 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Slices of toasted bread, to serve
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)


  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat, and add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. 
  • Add the garlic and cook stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  • Add the greens, and stir until they begin to wilt. 
  • Add 6 cups and salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the greens are very tender. 
  • Add pepper to taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl. Making sure that the soup is not boiling, whisk a ladle of it into the beaten eggs. Take the soup off the heat, and stir in the tempered eggs. 
  • Place one or two slices of bread in each bowl. Ladle in the soup, sprinkle some Parmesan if desired and serve.

F for Fennel

Can you name a vegetable that promotes longevity and vigor, inspires courage, that maintains heart skin health, eradicates poisons, strengthen the eyesight, staves off hunger, and in addition to all that keeps away evil spirits? According to legends that is what fennel can do! 🙂

Fennel is a herb with a history of medicinal and culinary uses, stretching back to pre-historic times. 

It is a beautiful plant with feathery leaves and clusters of golden yellow flowers arranged like fingers on a hand. The plants bloom in late summer, the green seeds forming in the fall. The seeds ripen to a yellowish brown color and can be harvested before winter sets in. Fennel plants can grow up to six feet tall.

All parts of the fennel plant are edible. Fennel seeds are aromatic and sweet, with a flavor similar to anise. 

Fennel was used by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians as a food and medicine and as a snake bite remedy in ancient China. 

In ancient times, the herb was thought to promote longevity and vigor, as well as courage, and was used for these purposes by both soldiers and Olympians. Pliny (AD 23-79), the Roman author ofThe Naturalis Historie, believed fennel to be so powerful that he used the aromatic herb to treat 22 different ailments.

There is evidence that fennel was a staple in the household of King Edward I of England. His account books from 1281 listed a purchase of 8 1/2 pounds of fennel seed – a month’s supply. 

The word Marathon in Greek means ‘place with fennel’. Legend has it that a battle was fought between the Athenians and invading Persians there in 490 BC. And an Athenian runner carried a fennel stalk on his run to carry the news of the victory to Athens, later inspiring the marathon race. 

Fennel seeds were chewed by Roman soldiers and Christian monks to stave off hunger. It was used as an appetite suppressant and a weight-loss aid by the common people too, being eaten during Lent and fasts to stave off hunger. On Church mandated ‘Fasting days’, the faithful used fennel to get through the day, a tradition supposedly brought to the United States by the Puritans. They would bring handkerchiefs with fennel seed to nibble on during long services to stave off hunger; which led to fennel seeds often being referred to as ‘meetin’ seeds’.

During the Middle Ages it was hung over doorways to drive away evil spirits. Fennel seeds inserted into keyholes were thought to protect a dwelling from ghosts on any night but particularly Midsummer’s Eve.

Fennel seeds are baked into breads, biscuits, stuffing, and Italian sausages, and added to sweet pickles and sauerkraut. The large leafstalk bases are eaten as a vegetable, raw or cooked. When steeped into a tea it was believed that fennel was also a useful for losing weight.

The essential oil from the seeds is added to perfumes, soaps, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Fennel oil, seeds or extracts are also used to flavor prepared foods including meats, ice cream, candy, baked goods and condiments as well as liqueurs like sambuca, non-alcoholic beverages and toothpaste. 

Both Eastern and Western herbal traditions recognize its medicinal qualities.

As the swallowtail butterflies love fennel, it can be grown in butterfly gardens. Swallowtail caterpillars will feed on the leaves without overtaking and destroying the plant. 

Fennel Soup


  • 1 onion, peeled, minced
  • 2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 large bulb fennel, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat a largish pot over low heat. Add the onion, leeks, thyme, salt, pepper and ¼ cup of the broth, cover the pan and cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. 
  • Add the fennel, cover, and continue to cook until the fennel is tender, about 15 minutes. 
  • Add the remaining chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Cover, lower the heat and simmer gently for 25 minutes.
  • Puree the soup using an immersion blender or in a blender until smooth. Strain it through a fine-mesh strainer. Return any of the puree that does not pass through the sieve to the blender, puree again and re-strain, repeating until all the soup has been used.
  • Just before serving, slowly bring the soup to a simmer, remove from the heat and whisk in the milk. 
  • Ladle into bowls and serve garnished with a spoon of red pepper sauce.

E for Eggs

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.” – anonymous

More at https://www.getcracking.ca/article/egg-quotes-and-proverbs

Humans have consumed eggs since the beginning of human time. First as hunters and foragers, and then domesticating birds. 

There is historical evidence that wild fowl were domesticated in India by 3200 B.C. And in China and Egypt chickens were domesticated and laying eggs for human consumption around 1400 B.C. 

According to food historians, eggs were used for making bread and cakes in ancient China, Egypt and Roman cities. 

All birds and reptiles lay eggs. But not all eggs are consumed by humans. Cultural factors and economic conditions impact each society’s choices. Also, what is locally available plays a role in such choices.

Eggs from chicken, duck, emu, goose, guinea fowl, gull, ostrich, pelican, pheasant, pigeon, quail, turkey etc are commonly consumed by people all over the world, the most commonly eaten eggs being those of the domestic chicken. 

Are eggs (fertilized or non-fertilized) vegetarian food? The answer is whatever you want it to be, based entirely on your perspective. If you are a vegetarian who would like to eat eggs, sure, it is vegetarian as it does not contain animal flesh. Definitely not vegan though.

Eggs are cooked in many many ways… boiled, half boiled, fried, half fried, baked, poached by themselves, and a ton of ways with other ingredients, some of them rather complex and involved. Quiches, custards, macaroons, meringue… the list goes on. Each culture and society have their own popular egg dishes; shakshuka and scotch eggs come to mind enticingly; balut is something I would like to forget even having seen.

The U.S. produces about 75 billion eggs a year, about 10 percent of the world supply. 

Egg consumption in the US grew exponentially when commercial egg farms took over egg production from small farms, in the early 1960s. Today commercial farms have flocks of 100,000 laying hens and some over 1 million. However, the tide is turning again with a growing preference among consumers for free-range hens raised on antibiotic free natural diets. 

The question has always been raised… are eggs healthy to eat? While they are faulted for their high cholesterol content by some, others point out that there is no direct link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol and there are other benefits to consuming eggs. We have seen scientific research moving from one end to the other over the years.

Eggs have been the object of much socio-religious symbolism and tradition. They are associated with magical beliefs, symbolizing rebirth and new life, and are believed to ensure fertility.

Egg Drop Soup


  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn kernels
  • 1 cup thinly sliced Napa cabbage
  • 5 medium sized mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch piece ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp dried shrimp, crushed (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Scallions for garnishing

Note: This will produce a dark soup. If you would like a lighter colored soup, replace the soy sauce with dry white wine or sherry.


  • Add chicken stock, ginger, garlic, sweet corn kernels, and dried shrimp (if using) to a large pot along with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to let the pot simmer for 20 minutes, adding a little water to keep the quantity the same.
  • Add the sliced cabbage and mushrooms and continue to cook for two minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tsp of the cornstarch with soy sauce. 
  • Whisk eggs with the remaining teaspoon of cornstarch.
  • Whisk soy sauce-cornstarch mixture into soup until well combined. 
  • With the soup on a low simmer, pour in the egg-cornstarch mixture in a thin stream, slowly stirring the pot to keep the soup moving.
  • Let the soup cook for 10 seconds more to let the egg fully set.
  • Serve garnished with scallions.


Crocodile eggs have a high lecithin content. Consuming these eggs may help lower blood cholesterol, prevent Alzheimer’s, and improve memory. It can also reduce your risk of hypertension and heart disease, along with treating fatty liver and diabetes.
Printed somewhere on the internet, that unquestionably reliable source of dependable information!

D for Dumplings

Is a dumpling an ingredient? How exactly do you define ingredients? In my book, anything that you use in the preparation of a food item is an ingredient. Ladyfingers? An ingredient when used for making tiramisu. Meat sauce? Ingredient when used for making lasagna. When dumplings are used to make a soup, they are ingredient too. Precisely. Anyways, I was looking to use up some leftover frozen chicken jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) and what better way than a soup? And yay, I got something nice for my ‘D’ as well! All around win! 🙂

Dumplings are believed to have originated as a luxury food item for the rich in northern China around 500 BC. But as wheat and wheat flour production improved they became available to everyone. From northern China, dumplings spread to the rest of China and the world. 

Dumplings can be steamed, pan-fried, boiled, or even deep fried. The method of cooking will depend on how you are going to use them. 

Steamed most often in a bamboo basket, they are eaten dipped in a sauce.

For pan frying, the dumpling is placed in an oiled skillet and fried until golden brown on the bottom. Then a bit of water is splashed over them and the pan is covered till the steam fully cooks the dumpling.

Boiled dumplings are not eaten on their own but as a soup, along with the broth they were cooked in. The broth can thin or thick, flavored in a variety of ways. Additions like vegetables, seafood etc builds up the soup to be a rich and delicious meal.

Much more recently, the Japanese created a version of their own called gyoza, with thinner skins and finer chopped fillings, which are often pan-fried. 

Dumpling skins are made of wheat flour and water, with or without salt. You can either make them yourself (a time consuming task) or buy ready to fill ones from a Chinese grocery store.

Chicken, pork, beef, fish and shrimp, and vegetables like cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and celery are the most common fillings in dumplings. Though you can use any flavorings of your choice, ginger, garlic, scallions, and soy sauce are used traditionally to flavor them.

BTW, Dumpling soup and soup dumplings are entirely different. A dumpling soup is a delicious broth with all kinds of goodies in it, main among them small dumplings. Whereas a soup dumpling is a tiny bundle of fillings and soup which you eat whole and bursts in your mouth. We are talking about the first kind here… dumplings, mushrooms, tofu and baby corn floating in a gingery broth. 

Hot and Sour Dumpling Soup


  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces shiitake or portabella mushrooms, thinly sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 green or red hot chili, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 cups broth of your choice 
  • 6 ounces firm tofu, cut into small strips
  • ⅓ cup soy sauce
  • 2 ounces canned baby corn, drained
  • 20 frozen pork dumplings
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium.
  • Add mushrooms, ginger and chili and season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. 
  • Add broth, tofu, soy sauce and baby corn, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Add dumplings and simmer over medium heat until cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup water to form a slurry. Add slurry and vinegar to saucepan and simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and more pepper, if desired.
  • Serve hot, garnished with minced scallions.


Central and south eastern Europe has its own version of dumplings variously called pierogi and varenyky. Several other regions have their own version of dumplings like the suet dumplings of UK.

C for Chicken

A chicken soup with an exotic origin, born at the intersection of two entirely different cultures. Though its popularity has somewhat diminished in recent years, you can still find it on enough menus. I’m talking about the Mulligatawny soup, a creamy chicken soup, with lentils and vegetables that can be spiced up as little or as much as you want. 

Chicken is the most popular meat in our country, supposedly fit for heroes and winners… as in Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!  🙂 But I find it so mundane, so quotidian, (dare I use the word ‘boring’?) that there is nothing interesting to write about it. Instead I want to write about a chicken soup with an exotic origin, born at the intersection of two entirely different cultures. Though its popularity has somewhat diminished in recent years, you can still find it on enough menus. I’m talking about the Mulligatawny soup, a creamy chicken soup, with lentils and vegetables that can be spiced up as little or as much as you want. 

The story begins in the days of the empire in India, specifically in the Madras cantonment in south India. Apparently tired of the daily offerings of the local cooks in the military mess hall, the British officers ask them to prepare a soup. In the local cuisine the only thing approximating to a soup was a fiery concoction of chillies and tamarind boiled together with some spices, called ‘mulaga thanni’, which literally means pepper water. 

Of course, the cooks knew that it was not an option to serve this to the officers. So they set about to modify the recipe to suit the taste of the British. 

Red lentils, vegetables and cream added to tone it down. And chicken… maybe because everyone loves chicken. Still too hot. Okay, add some sweet ripe mango. The result was the ultimate fusion dish which was presented to the officers to great acclaim. 

Quote from ‘Curry, A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors’ (excellently written by Lizzie Collingham)…

“Mulligatawny soup was one of the earliest dishes to emerge from the new hybrid cuisine that the British developed in India, combining British concepts of how food should be presented (as soups or stews, etc.) and Indian recipes.”

From Madras (today’s Chennai) mulligatawny spread to other British settlements in India and the rest of the east. Quickly it became one of the most popular Anglo-Indian dishes. 

There is one more twist to this story. Inevitably talk of this excellent dish and the recipe got back to England. Unfortunately there were no mangoes to be had! What to do? Easy… replace the mangoes with apples! 

Richard Terry, the chef at the Oriental Club in London added not only apples but ham and turnips in the recipe in his book ‘Indian Cookery’ published in 1861. Here is a copy of that recipe; hilarious! 

Mulligatawny Soup


  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 large apple, preferably Granny Smith, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 cup masoor dal (split red lentils)
  • 6 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 1½ tablespoons)


  • Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. 
  • Add the mustard seeds to the oil and fry till they pop. I would recommend using a splatter as the mustard seeds will likely to jump around.
  • When the mustard stops popping, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. 
  • Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant and softened.
  • Add turmeric, curry powder, cayenne and cumin seeds and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute.
  • Add the carrot, celery and apple and continue cooking until just starting to soften, about 2 minutes. 
  • Stir in the tomato paste, then the flour and stir to coat all the ingredients uniformly.
  • Add the chicken, masoor dal and chicken broth. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pot. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
  • Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes, then uncover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the chicken and carrots are tender, the soup is creamy, and the flavors have blended.
  • Stir in the coconut milk and squeeze in the lime juice. Serve in bowls with cooked rice on the side.


The origin story of the ever popular IPA (India Pale Ale) is equally interesting. The Brits, sweating and sweltering in the tropics, wanted nothing more than to get around a chilled beer at the end of the day. Alas, by the time the shipped beer got to India it was invariably spoilt. Up comes a new formula for beer, highly hopped up to prevent spoliation during the long shipping, and voila, we have the IPA!

B for Beans

Beans… they come in all colors, shapes and sizes. They have been a staple for centuries and probably are humans’ earliest cultivated food, even before grains.

Domesticated more than 7000 years in southern Mexico and Peru, they spread to other regions of America through native trade routes. Early explorers from Europe took these beans back home with them and cultivated them, spreading them all over the world. In many instances they were renamed and returned to the Americas, adding to the plenty.

Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima, cannellini, garbanzo… the varieties of beans could be interchanged in many recipes, especially in the case of soups and stews, though there will be differences in the flavor.

Beans belong to the Fabaceae family, the fruits of which are called legumes. They are one of the main sources of protein for most vegetarians and vegans.

Among the beans, my favorite is black beans with their creamy texture and fragrant broth. They are also called turtle beans, caviar criollo and frijoles negro. They are mainly grown in South America, the country of Brazil producing most of the harvest. A black bean and beef stew named ‘feijoada’ is the national dish of Brazil. 

For cooking, you can either select canned (cooked) or dried black beans. If using dried, you have to rinse and soak them for 8 to 10 hours, preferably overnight. In case you are short of time, you can bring a pot of water to boil, add the beans and boil for a minute or two. Set aside covered for an hour and you are ready to go.

A trick to enhance the flavor of beans is to soak them in stock and use the same stock to cook them. No, the salt in the stock will not make them tough; it is acidity that makes beans tough. So if you are adding anything acidic to a bean recipe like vinegar, tomatoes or lime juice do make sure that it is added after the beans are cooked.

If you are cooking with an older batch of beans which tend to be tougher, you may want to add a bit of baking soda to the mixture to tenderize the beans.

Dried black beans can be stored indefinitely, if you keep them in a sealed, airtight container in a cool, dry place. However they will start to lose their moisture and get harder after a while, taking longer to cook. 

One cup of dried black beans yield about three cups of cooked beans.

Beans in general, have a bad reputation for causing flatulence. What happens is, gas is produced in the process of gut bacteria breaking down and digesting some of the carbohydrates in the beans. This depends on a person’s intestinal health and the specific bacteria in the gut. Some people can eat all the beans they want without any bad effect while some others have to be real careful. Know thyself, is the best solution here. 

Because of their ability to bind nitrogen to the soil, they are sometimes used for soil amendment as they make the ground in which they’re grown richer.

Black Bean Soup


  • ½ pound smoked bacon
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onions
  • 1½ cups finely chopped celery
  • 1½ cups finely diced carrots
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1¼ teaspoons dried thyme
  • 4 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 16 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pound black beans, about 3 cups
  • 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste


  • 12 hours ahead of cooking, wash rinse, and soak the black beans in salted water.
  • When ready to start cooking, cut the bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. 
  • Smear the bottom of a largish cooking pot with oil and heat on medium. Add the bacon pieces and cook, stirring often, till the bacon is browned. 
  • Add the chopped onions, celery, and carrots. Mix well and continue cooking. 
  • When they start to wilt, add the bay leaf, thyme, half of the cumin, black pepper, oregano, and garlic. Stir to combine and continue to cook for five minutes, making sure the herbs do not burn.
  • Add the tomato paste. Mix well. Add the chicken broth, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.
  • Drain the soaked beans and add them to the broth. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally to make sure the soup has enough liquid. If you feel there is not enough liquid, add more broth or just warm water. 
  • Continue cooking till the beans are soft, about 1 hour. Mash some of the beans into the soup for added thickness.
  • Stir in the lime juice, cayenne pepper, salt, cilantro and remaining cumin. 
  • Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls and serve with garnishes of your choice.

Asparagus… the harbinger of spring

The tender delicate shoots of asparagus start appearing at the beginning of spring. It is one of the earliest of spring vegetables that show up on store shelves. 

Only the fresh shoots of the asparagus plant are eaten by humans. In fact, the small red fruits of the plant are toxic to humans and pet animals. 

The asparagus plant is very pretty with feathery leaves (which are actually not leaves but tiny stems) and small off-white flowers. They are sometimes grown as garden plants and used in flower bouquets for their looks. The root of certain species of asparagus (shatavari) is used as medicine. 

Asparagus has completely separate male and female plants (being dioecious) and male plants are considered better for cultivation as they produce bigger shoots and more of them.

Asparagus has been cultivated since Roman times and was included in spring festivals as a symbol of fertility. Native to Eurasia, today they are cultivated all over the world. 

Being a perennial plant, the same plant will produce shoots for many many years. Usually shoots are harvested starting in the third year of the plant’s life as it needs time to establish a spread-out root system from which the shoots are pushed up. During fall season, the plant starts to wilt and die and roots go into dormant stage for the winter. Come spring, the cycle starts again with the new shoots.

The older well established plants produce fatter shoots which are tastier and better for cooking.

Asparagus shoots come in green, purple and white colors. While the purple variety is a species different from the green, white asparagus is the same plant as the green. The shoots are entirely protected from the sun and grow underground in sandy soil till they are ready to be harvested. If allowed come up above ground, they will turn green as a result of photosynthesis.

Asparagus, especially the white variety, is so popular in Germany that many small villages in the Bavarian region of Germany hold ‘Spargelfests’ (Spargel = asparagus in German) where guests enjoy various asparagus dishes, lots of beer and a big formal evening dance to crown the ‘Spargel Königin’, the Queen of Asparagus for the village. Asparagus from Schrobenhausen in Bavaria is officially recognized by the EU as a protected designation of geographical origin.

Statistically, only half of the world’s asparagus production is used as food. A research team from Munich University of Applied Sciences was able to extract fiber material from the asparagus and make rough paper that can be used for fruit boxes or egg cartons.

Interesting trivia

It is a scientific fact that some sulfurous compounds in asparagus lends a peculiar odor to the pee, commonly known as asparagus pee. Though everyone produces asparagus pee after eating asparagus, not everyone can smell it.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus Soup

An easy to make soup that brings out the full flavor of the main ingredient.


  • 1½ pounds asparagus
  • 1 large leak
  • 1 medium yellow potato
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 10 fresh tarragon leaves
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Pinch of cumin seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Break off the top 1 inch of the asparagus stalks and set aside. Break off the woody bottom part of the asparagus and discard. Chop the remaining middle part of the asparagus into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Peel and cut the potato into small pieces.
  • Thinly slice the white part of the leek crosswise.
  • Heat the oil in a deep skillet and add the sliced leeks. Cook them , stirring occasionally, till they are soft and starts to brown along the edges.
  • Add the chopped asparagus and tarragon. (If you do not have fresh tarragon, you can use 1/2 a teaspoon of dried.) Raise the heat to high, and cook till the asparagus gets partially browned. 
  • Add the broth and potato pieces. Bring to a boil.
  • Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat and cook on simmer till the asparagus and potato pieces are very soft, about 20 minutes.
  • When done, take the pot off the heat and using an immersion blender, blend thoroughly. 
  • Return the pot to the stove. Add the reserved asparagus tips and cook over medium low heat for 10 more minutes. Adjust seasoning.
  • Meanwhile crush the pinch of cumin and mix with the sour cream. 
  • When ready, pour the soup into serving bowls and garnish with a dollop of cumin sour cream. Serve right away.

Theme Reveal – Ingredients Always Win!

It is almost spring, almost April, and time for another A to Z Blogging Challenge! This is the second year that Pepper Route will be participating in the challenge. As a food blog, Pepper Route’s focus this year will be on the ingredients.

It’s a basic fact that the quality of any food depends on the quality of its ingredients. Perfect and fresh ingredients naturally enhance the flavor of any dish cooked. In this A to Z series, I plan to focus on the common ingredients that are part of our day to day cooking. 

Each A to Z ingredient will have its day, along with a recipe showcasing it. And I’ve selected soups as the common thread running through the recipes, for the simple reason that they are extremely versatile and forgiving. 

Soups have been around for a long time. Probably they are one of the earliest meals cooked by humanity. Place whatever stuff you have in a pot, fill up with water, and boil and tada… you got soup! What could be easier!  🙂

Soups come in all kinds of variations… hot or cold, thick or thin, spicy or sweet, simple or complex. All kinds of sauces and condiments can be added while cooking or post-production. Barely, lentil, nettles, oxtail soups are all popular since ancient times. So are bread soup and beer soup from the middle ages. Soups made with exotic ingredients like birds’ nest, shark fin or snakes are much sought after in certain parts of the world. Anyone care for a bowl of Soup No. 5?  🙂

As mentioned earlier, the ingredients selected for this series are the most commonly used – from asparagus to zucchini. How each one works with other components to make a fulfilling dish. Sooo looking forward to the challenge. 

Reflections on A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2022

This is my first experience with the A to Z Blogging Challenge. And just as I had expected, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But oh my, it was a lot of work too! 

What made it harder was the lack of planning on my part. Don’t get me wrong, I knew this was coming and was doing all the mental planning, but the actual work not so much. When the start date rolled around, I just had the first two dishes photographed! Thus, this turned out to be a real challenge. And it feels so good to have finished the schedule without dropping a single day. So yeah, a lot of work but a lot of fun too!

As part of the challenge, I presented 26 dishes from 26 different regions. A majority of them I had cooked many times previously; a few were newly cooked for the blog posting. The research looking for the perfect dish from the representative region, starting with the specific letter of the alphabet I wanted, was a fun experience. And once the rhythm of activities – cook the dish, take and process pictures, do the write-up, and post – was established, things moved a bit more smoothly.

Of course, I could not have done this without the friends who cheered me on. Molly of Molly’s Canopy (my guide and inspiration), Anita, Jeanne, Jeri, Michelle, Dee, Min, Dime, Pash, Lekshmi… I owe you all. You can pick a dish from the A to Z list, and I shall cook it for you the next time you visit me. And last but not the least, a big ‘thank you’ to Cux, my technical consultant and proofreader.

My only regret? That I could not be supportive of my fellow bloggers as much as I wished to be. I have immense gratitude to all those who visited my blog during the challenge and left comments. My sincere apologies to you all, and a promise. In the coming days, I promise to return your visits, in spades, absolutely!

The next year’s challenge? Yeah, I’ll be there with bells on. Already looking forward and doing some mental planning. Hoping I would do some actual planning as well, next time around. See you all next year! 

Z is for Zha Jiang Mian 

Noodles have a history that go back to 4000 years, archeological evidence shows. It had its origin in north west China. Probably, there is no food item that travelled so far around the world, with noodles in some form or other being enjoyed in every part of the world.

Zha Jian Mian, literally translated to ‘fried sauce needles’ is one of the most popular noodle dishes, most prevalent in the city of Beijing. It originated from the Shandong province of Northern China and is common to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and many other countries in the east as well, of course with minor variations.

This is one dish that must be familiar to anyone who has attempted any noodle dish. All the ingredients can be found in a Chinese grocery store. Regular wheat noodles of any shape will work very well. And extra firm tofu holds up much better without crumbling.

And you can safely make some ingredient swaps without affecting the flavor of the dish. You can use hoisin sauce in place of sweet bean sauce; only, in that case reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe as hoisin is sweeter. Japanese miso, especially if you mix the light and dark varieties (1:1) can easily replace the ground bean paste if you find it hard to get. And the chilis… you can use any of the hot chili varieties that you might have, or even a sweet chili. I used habanero because I had it in the fridge already.

And if you want to add more vegetables to the dish, you have so many options: sweet peas, snap peas, Napa cabbage, red and green peppers… any of them can be sliced this and added to the pan along with the carrots.

The meat sauce is served on top of the boiled noodles, with garnishes like sliced cucumber, radish, carrots etc and extra bean sprouts.

Z is for Zha Jiang Mian 

Difficulty:BeginnerServings:6 servings



  1. Marinate the ground pork with 1 tsp corn starch, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, and salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Set a large pot of water to boil.
  3. Heat the cooking oil in a largish pan over high heat. When hot, add the scallions, hot chili, and shallot. Fry, constantly stirring, till the shallots are softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add the marinated ground pork and stir together breaking up any lumps. Reduce the heat to medium and cover and cook till the pork is fully cooked, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle some water on the pork if the mixture is drying up too fast.
  5. When the pork is cooked, bring the heat back up to high. Add the tofu to the pan and mix well. Continue frying for another 2 minutes.
  6. Add the two bean sauces, soy sauce, carrots, mushrooms bean sprouts, and sugar to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of water and stir well to combine all ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Mix the remaining corn starch in a tablespoon of water. Add to the pan and mix well and continue cooking till the sauce has thickened, for about 2 more minutes. Check for seasoning. Turn off the heat and keep the pan warm.
  8. Check that the water set to boil in the pot is on full boil. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions.
  9. When the noodles are done, drain them in a colander and toss with the 1 teaspoon of remaining sesame oil.
  10. Serve the noodles in bowls and top with the meat sauce mixture, with garnishes like strips of carrots and cucumbers, and bean sprouts.
Keywords:Chinese fried noodles, Noodles with meat sauce, Stir fry