I know spring has arrived because I am not tempted to wake up on the weekends, reposition myself on the living room couch, and spend 3 hours watching Storage Wars wishing I had a warm locker in CA to hibernate in. Also, I switch from ice cream to sorbet as my snack of choice. That's a sure sign that spring is officially here.
DC this time of year is stunning. Every tree has blossoms on it, streets are popping with flowers, the sky is extra blue- it really feels like walking through a movie set at times. Instead of holing up in the apartment I've been up early, venturing out to explore the city that will be my home for only two more months.
Cooking healthy and on a budget in the winter months is an arduous endeavor when you live in an area where the cold prevents most vegetables and greens from growing. Springtime feels like a literal weight off the shoulders in this regard. Greens and veggies are bountiful and frequently on sale. Just last week at my local Safeway raspberries were a dollar a carton, bunches of spinach were $2, and I picked up 2lb. of white button mushrooms for only $5.
The common button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) is often passed over on other cooking blogs and even scoffed at for being too simple and boring. Time and again I stop myself from preparing these recipes because they call for scouring health food stores for expensive, hard to find varieties that need soaking and massaging. If I'm going to spend money soaking or massaging anything these days, 9 times out of 10, it's going to be me.
These "ordinary" mushrooms are not only affordable and remarkably flavorful when cooked, they are also super healthy. In fact, "...health experts and nutritionists refer to Agaricus bisporus mushrooms as nature’s nutritional supplement. That’s because mushrooms are loaded with the nutrients our bodies need to generate energy and repair cells — including digestive enzymes, a spectrum of B vitamins, protein, and vitamin D2." There is no need to purchase fancy and expensive mushrooms in order to make recipes calling for risottos, sides, pies, etc. White button mushrooms will do as they soak up tons of flavor and are incredibly hearty.
With the weather so lovely and warm, my cravings for lunch have changed quite a bit as well. Instead of heavy sandwiches, slices of pizza, and wraps I'm craving light, easy, and nutritious foods. Over the weekend I made this filling yet light mushroom, spinach, and chickpea soup. The only groceries I needed were $5 worth of button mushrooms, 2 cans of chickpeas, and a handful of spinach. All the main ingredients were on sale and prep and cooking time took only 1 hour. I store all my soups in glass jars because they take up less space and are remarkably easy to transport without spilling. For lunch this week I've been keeping the soup in the fridge at work and packing up some cornbread (made using Mark Bittman's healthy, yogurt based recipe) as a side. In total, this lunch cost me less than $10 and has been a healthy and flavorful mid-day meal all week long. Give it a try!
Spring Mushroom, Spinach, + Chickpea Soup
- 1-2 lbs. white button mushrooms, rinsed well, stems removed, rough chop
- 1 lb spinach, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1-3 medium carrots, chopped
- 2 cans chickpeas, drained +rinsed
- 1 yellow onion, small dice
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp. paprika
- 1/2 tbsp. cumin
- 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- In a heavy pot over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add chickpeas, onion, s+p, and sauteé, until light brown and fragrant.
- Add mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic, paprika, and cumin and cook stirring often until the mushrooms begin to lose their liquid and start turning golden.
- Add spinach and continue stirring and cooking until the greens begin to wilt and turn a darker color.
- Add balsamic and give everything a good stir, picking up any bits that stick to the bottom.
- Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down to simmer, and cook for 15-20min.
- Adjust the seasonings to your taste. Add more s+p, paprika, cumin. Red chile flakes for spice, if you like.
- Season with a hearty cheese like Parmesan or Asiago and serve with a side of warm cornbread.