Leek and Asparagus Risotto

My husband will tell you I am the most anxious when faced with an empty fridge.  Let me go grocery shopping, fill it up, and make a meal plan, and I suddenly feel like I can do life.  So the week before classes started, I changed my meal plan from a weekly meal plan based off the groceries I bought to a running categorical list based off the ingredients I already had on hand: 1. Meals I could throw together in about 10 minutes; 2. Meals I could make within 10-20 minutes; 3. Ready to go frozen meals; 4. Meals I could cook if I had some extra time and fresh ingredients.  I filled up a whole white board with my color-coded meal list, and suddenly felt like I could take on grad school.

Risotto is one of those meals that is homey and filling and warm and doesn’t take too long to pull together on one of those “extra time” days.  Add some fresh veggies, and your meal is set.


LEEK AND ASPARAGUS RISOTTO

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Difficulty: medium, for time
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced, or grated with a medium ribbon grater
  • 1 asparagus bundle, trimmed and cut in thirds
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted sesame seeds, as garnish
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese (or nutritional yeast flakes)
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil, and saute the leeks with salt and pepper to taste on medium heat.  When the leeks are translucent, add the garlic and rice and saute 5-10 more minutes and lower the heat to low.
  2. Add 2-3 cups of vegetable stock, until the rice is just covered, and 1/4 cup of the parsley.  Allow to come to a boil, and let cook and reduce until nearly all the stock has reduced.  Add another 1-2 cups of stock and let cook and reduce.  Continue adding stock, one cup at a time, and reducing, until the rice has transformed into a creamy soft mixture, about 30-40 minutes.  When you add the final cup of stock, add the asparagus to gently cook.  Let the stock reduce just enough to be a thin, pudding-like mixture.
  3. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese or nutritional yeast flakes.  To serve, garnish with the rest of the parsley and the sesame seeds.

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Saving up Tokens and Potstickers

Another change I instituted when starting grad school was tokens for chores.  We’ve had a chore chart for a while, and initially paid quarters and nickels and dimes for chores.  My boys’ interest in the money jar lasted just a month or so, and the chore chart subsequently lost its value.  When my boys got into Star Wars {and my husband introduced them to Star Wars video games}–and I started grad school and needed help around the house–I knew the chore chart was about to get dusted off.  For each chore they check off on their chart, they get one 5 minute token.  They add up tokens and turn them in for screen time–video games, shows, games on a phone, etc.

We’re going on four months now, and the novelty hasn’t worn off yet!  My boys get up, {mostly} check off their morning chores without me asking, ask if they can check off the afternoon chores, and always check off the evening and count out their tokens for the day before going to bed.  Ok, well, there are some mornings with lingering dishes on the breakfast table, and some nights with toys on the floor, but it’s a vast improvement from before.  It’s been great to watch them count the tokens at the end of the day and put them in their jar, and then count by 5’s to turn them in for a 20 minute show or game time, share the price of a show by joining tokens together, or tell me they want to save up their tokens for an hour of game time.  And let’s not forget the power of the token in terms of punishment or reward–or how cool you become when you say they can have some free time on you.

Tokens for me?  Freezer meals.  Dinner prep was seriously crunched during the semester, and it helped so much to have freezer meals to pull out and all I’d have to do was heat up the oven.  You have to devote a chunk of prep time–when you have time–but you’ll thank your cool self later when the only prep you have to do for dinner is heat up the oven or a skillet.

A couple hours one afternoon made a few lentil potsticker meals down the line.  Lentils only take about 20 minutes to make, mash them into a paste, add a finely chopped vegetable medley, herbs and asian seasonings, and your wrappers are ready to be wrapped.

Just about 1-2 teaspoons is enough for the small circle wrappers, then you just seal with water and crimp the edge by folding the wrapper over on itself.  And repeat.

You can cook some right away {because who can resist a good potsticker} and flash freeze the rest to pull out on a busy day.


LENTIL POTSTICKERS

  • Servings: makes one full package of small circle wrappers
  • Time: about 2 hours from start to finish
  • Difficulty: medium, just for the time
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown lentils, cooked and mashed
  • 1/2 cup each finely chopped carrots, snow peas, red pepper, fresh cilantro, green onion
  • 3 teaspoons Szechwan seasoning
  • 1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek with garlic

DIRECTIONS

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Prepare an area to fill the wrappers (I like using a cutting board for easy clean up), and a bowl with water to seal the wrappers.
  3. Using a teaspoon, scoop the filling onto one wrapper at a time.  brush water along the wrapper edges and fold in half, sealing closed by pressing with your fingers.  To create the crimped edges, fold the edges over itself and seal by using water as needed.
  4. To cook, place two tablespoons oil and 1/4 cup water in a skillet.  Place the potstickers in the skillet, base-down, cover, and heat to medium-high.  Let cook for 7-8 minutes, then remove the lid and let the liquid evaporate or until the bottoms of the potstickers are golden brown and crispy.  Serve with your favorite dipping sauce (mine is a little soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, sambal oelek, and green onions).

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Life Shifts and BBQ Sauce

My life is about to shift.  We used this past summer as our last-ditch effort to get pregnant, undergoing 3 rounds of fertility stuff.  And then {to put it in a very abbreviated and a hovering-above-the-emotions manner} it comes to a point where you have to simply close the door…for your emotional and mental well-being.  And so I spent the first few months of fall updating my CV and composing a personal statement to apply for a Masters program.

I’ve worked since I was 14, and when I had my first baby at 30, decided it was time to stay home full-time.  I have loved every minute of being a full-time mama, but I have to say, it was a little daunting pulling everything together for professional purposes.  I hope I’m not the first one to let you know how hard a stay at home mama works, but let’s be honest–how many daily to-do’s are seriously resume builders?  I got a little creative with filling in the past 6 years, and after hunting down a former professor and former Nurse Practitioner boss lady to write letters of recommendation for me…voilá–I’m starting a Masters of Health Science program in January.

I know life is going to shift a little.  Until I can figure out how to be one of those people that magically transforms their food blog into a paycheck, these posts will be fewer and farther between.  I may not make bread on a weekly basis, and I know dinners may be more of the pull-together-in-the-pan variety.

Here’s a great recipe that comes together fast.  Forget the store bought BBQ Sauces with tons of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and preservatives.  It’s sweet, tangy, smoky, and has just a little hint of heat at the end.  Feel free to add more heat if you’d like–a jalapeño, poblano, etc.  Lentils cook up quickly without having to pre-soak, so your whole meal can come together with minimal prep time, and quick cook time.  Or you could let your BBQ sauce hang out in the slow cooker all day, and just cook up the lentils in about 20 minutes and you’re done!

bbq-sauce-2  The first meal I made with the BBQ Sauce was lentil sloppy joe’s.  Then I topped my bean burgers with the sauce and caramelized onions.  Oh man.  Talk about a life changer.  It’s just the right amount of messy and deliciously BBQ-y.

bbq-sauce-1


BBQ SAUCE

  • Servings: Yields about 3 cups
  • Time: 15 minutes prep, roughly 30 minutes cook time
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Gourmet Grilling 2011

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 5 teaspoons black pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a large pot with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add onion and garlic and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, lower heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
  3. Purée the sauce in batches in a blender until smooth.

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LENTIL SLOPPY JOE'S WITH APPLE SLAW

  • Servings: 4 sandwiches
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 cups BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 apple, thinly sliced (your choice, although sharp apples work best–granny smith, fuji, or even an asian pear would work!)
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 sandwich buns

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a large pot.  Add the lentils, salt and pepper to taste, and cover.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer until lentils are cooked through and stock is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the apple slaw.  Add the sliced apple, sliced red onion, cilantro, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a bowl and stir together.  Set aside.
  3. When the lentils are done, add BBQ sauce and stir until it comes together as one big saucy mess.  Add 2-3 cups of sauce, depending on your sauce-ness preference.
  4. Toast the sandwich buns, scoop BBQ lentils and top with apple slaw.

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Farm Stand Harvest

My oldest started kindergarten a couple weeks ago.  He’s done fantastically well, no tears at all, and comes home every day with a grin on his face.  After his first week, though, he did ask if he was done.  So we had the conversation about what the school year means vs. summer break, and “first kid school” {elementary school}, “second kid school” {middle school}, and third kid school {high school}, and then there’s even more school–“adult school” {college}, and then more adult school, for more specialty {graduate school}!  Yesterday my son said to me, “Mommy, when you grow up you’re going to be a cooker, right?  You love to cook.  Are you going to cooker school when you grow up?”

I just smiled and said, “Yup.”

You don’t need cooker school for this recipe–just a Farmer’s Stand–Run and get some corn, zucchini, and tomatoes, and you’re halfway there to making a fresh summer succotash!  The rest:  leftover rice, a can of cannellini beans, breadcrumbs…and you have a crispy rice cake to have with the succotash.

summer succotash with rice cakes 1

Chop up all your succotash ingredients about the same size and start sautéing,

summer succotash with rice cakes 2

summer succotash with rice cakes 3Add chopped tomatoes and parsley for a little freshness,

summer succotash with rice cakes 4Pan-fry your rice cakes, and voilá!

summer succotash with rice cakes 6 summersuccotashwithricecakes


RICE CAKES WITH SUMMER SUCCOTASH

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy, but there are two different components you have to keep and eye on
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INGREDIENTS FOR THE SUCCOTASH

  • 4 ears fresh corn, shucked and kernels cut off into a bowl
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2-3 small tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons butter

INGREDIENTS FOR THE RICE CAKES

  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS

  1. Start with forming the rice cakes.  Prepare two shallow bowls, one with  2 eggs, beaten, and the other bowl with the breadcrumbs.  Place a sheet of parchment paper on your work counter to place the rice cakes on to rest.
  2. Mix the rice, 1 cup of corn, the other beaten egg, and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl.  Divide the rice mixture into 4 or 6 equal balls, and press each ball firmly together.  Gently flatten to form a patty.  First cover the rice cake with egg, and then pass to the breadcrumb bowl and cover both sides.  Lay on the parchment paper to rest.
  3. Prepare the succotash:  Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium high heat.  Add the remaining corn, zucchini, onion, and beans, and salt and pepper to taste.  Sauce until the onion is translucent, and the other vegetables are crisp tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  4. Add the water, tomatoes, and parsley and let simmer until the broth has reduced by half.  Reduce heat to low, add butter and stir until a thin sauce develops.  Let the succotash stay warm on low heat while pan frying the rice cakes.
  5. To pan-fry the rice cakes, coat another sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium.  Add the rice cakes, 2-3 at a time, and fry on each side until golden brown.  To serve, place a rice cake on the plate and top with a few spoonfuls of the succotash.

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Fava Bean Succotash and Camping with Dinosaurs

We just ended a weeklong vacation camping trip.  In a tent.  Without a fridge.  We camped through dinosaur country, checking out dinosaur fossils, dinosaur tracks, 10,000 year-old petroglyphs, and rockhounding.  My husband and boys love this stuff.  I’ll be honest, my happy place is not in a tent, un-showered for five straight days.  {My happy place is more along the lines of a beach, crystal blue waters stretching to the horizon, something all-inclusive would be great–because then I don’t have to do the dishes…and it’ll have a shower…}  I will tell you from personal experience that squeeze cheese + crackers, raisins + cream of wheat, and non-perishable fruit containers in heavy syrup do not satisfy a fresh food craving.  I am high-tailing it to a Farmer’s Market tomorrow, and drooling while writing today’s post.

One of our camping nights was pretty chilly and rainy, and other than hot chocolate, I kept thinking of a dish I’d made a few weeks ago:  A warm bowl of creamy polenta topped with succotash.  Succotash is traditionally a Southern dish cooked with corn and lima beans.  I substituted fresh fava beans in place of the lima beans {lima beans never were my favorite growing up}, and asparagus tips I had on hand.  I am going to have to figure out how to turn this meal into one of those “Just Add Water” camping meals and pack it along next time!!

Fava beans are like lima beans in size, but where limas are kind of starchy, dry, and flavorless, favas have a sweet flavor and juicy texture.  They are also packed with a nutritional punch:  Per 1 cup of favas, you get 10 grams of Protein (20% of your daily nutritional need), 418 mg of Potassium (11% daily need), 9 grams of fiber (36% daily need), and throw in some Vitamins A and C, Iron, and Magnesium for good measure.  And, when mixing a legume with corn, you are also getting all the protein essential amino acids in one bite.

There are only a few beans per pod, so count on purchasing at least one pound of fava pods per person/serving.  You open the bean pod by pulling the “seam” of the bean from the top down, like opening a zipper on a jacket.  The beans are encased in a white, waxy shell.  That shell is removed by boiling for about 5-7 minutes, then running under cold water to stop the cooking process.  I cook mine in a colander for the easy pull-out-and-run-under-cold-water method.

fava bean succotash 1 fava bean succotash 2

The succotash is super easy to make–just get the fresh corn shucked, the fava beans shelled, and the asparagus tips cut up, and sauté everyone together, adding water halfway through the cook time, and then some butter at the very end to make a buttery succotash sauce.  I served this meal on top of creamy white polenta–it was filling, sweet, savory, and Farmer-Stand-Fresh.

fava bean succotash 3 fava bean succotash 4 favabeansuccotash


FAVA BEAN SUCCOTASH WITH WHITE POLENTA

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Difficulty: pretty easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup white cornmeal
  • 1 cup milk (optional)
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast flakes to keep vegan)
  • 4 pounds fresh fava bean pods, shelled from the main pod
  • 4 ears fresh corn, shucked and cut from the cob, reserving 1 fresh cob
  • 1 small bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut in thirds
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons butter (or vegan butter option)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Prepare the polenta.  Stir 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup milk (or water), and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and set aside.  Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a large pot.  Once boiling, add the cornmeal mixture and stir vigorously to keep the mixture smooth and lump-free.  Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently.  You may need to add another 1/2 cup-1 cup of water, 1/4 cup at a time, while cooking, depending on the consistency you like.  Adding more water while cooking will give the polenta a looser consistency, less water will make a thicker polenta.  Once done, add the parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast flakes and put a lid on the pot to keep warm while preparing the succotash.
  2. Place the fava beans with the waxy, white exterior shell in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and let cook for 5-7 minutes.  Drain and run under cold water for 2-3 minutes.  The beans will pop right out of this waxy exterior with a little pinch.  Completely shell the beans into a bowl.
  3. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat to medium-high.  Add the fava beans, corn, asparagus, and onion, and salt and pepper to taste.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and the beans are just tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add 1 cup water and the cob, and allow to come to a gentle boil.  Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.  Remove the cob and add the butter, stirring until a smooth, velvety sauce has brought all the vegetables together.
  5. To serve, divide the polenta evenly among the bowls or plates, and top with the succotash.  If desired, sprinkle with more parmesan cheese.

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Dreamy Polenta

Growing up I called my mom’s friends by their first names, with the addition of the Southern conventional title of respect, Mr. or Miss.  To this day, in my mid-30’s, I still think of my mom’s friends as “Miss Irene and Mr. Joe”; “Miss Trina and Mr. Stuart.”  My brothers and I called our stepdad “Mr. Bob”, simply because that’s how my mom introduced us to him, and the name stuck, even during their marriage.

Mr. Bob loved grits for breakfast.  Cooked smooth and creamy with a dollop of butter on top.  I didn’t realize until I was older that polenta is just a fancy name for grits.  It’s all stone-ground cornmeal, whether white cornmeal or yellow.  Although I remember Mr. Bob’s grits were always white, while all polenta meals I’ve made and eaten have been made with yellow cornmeal.

This polenta meal I dreamed about.  Literally.  It was the middle of winter, and I guess my subconscious wanted summertime because I dreamed of creamy polenta topped with grilled vegetables.  Here’s what my summertime grill prep looks like:

summer grilled vegetables and creamy polenta 1

Super easy: chop the veggies in large chunks, skewer the onions so they don’t get all wiley on you and fall through the grill grates, olive oil, s+p, and lemon zest.  While the veggies are grilling, cook up the polenta, and then serve family style.

summer vegetables and creamy polenta 3

My husband doesn’t mind sharing a plate with me…and I love eating family style mainly because it means less dishes.  Doing dishes is not so dreamy.

summer vegetables and creamy polenta 4

summer grilled vegetables and creamy polenta


SUMMER GRILLED VEGETABLES WITH CREAMY POLENTA

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: polenta takes 30 minutes on the stove, grilling the veggies takes 10-15 minutes of actual cook time
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup polenta
  • 2-3 medium zucchini, cut into thirds
  • 1 large yellow or sweet onion, cut into large chunks
  • 8-10 mini sweet peppers
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • fresh chopped basil for garnish

DIRECTIONS

  1. Make the polenta according to package directions.  The key to creamy polenta is to really follow the directions and let it cook for a full 30 minutes while stirring!
  2. Prep your grill and allow appropriate time to get sizzling hot.
  3. Prep the veggies:  Place in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, s+p, and lemon zest.
  4. Grill the veggies, turning occasionally, until yummily charred and cooked.
  5. To serve, divide the polenta evenly among plates, top with an assortment of grilled veggies, sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and basil.  Alternately, serve family style, piling the polenta and grilled veggies on one large plate.

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Mushrooms and Fungal Growths

Although I do not think of myself as a picky eater, the husband thinks I am.  There are things I’d prefer not to eat, but still do if served to me…and then there is that One Thing I try to avoid and definitely not eat if I can help it:  Mushrooms.  The husband loves all things earthy, so mushrooms are right up his alley.  I, however, can’t stomach the thought {literally and figuratively} of eating something defined as a “fungal growth”.  Check it out.  That’s what your dictionary calls those little things growing on the underside of decaying woodland logs and germinating in the dark, damp rural outback.

From a nutrition standpoint, I understand why those following a plant-based lifestyle would seek mushrooms out as “little gems” to add to their diet–they have B Vitamins and is the only item you’ll find along the produce aisle with its own store of Vitamin D.  Thepowerofmushrooms has a pretty great write-up, if you are interested in learning more nutritional facts and benefits about these little beasts.

Despite the nutrition, and fully due to being a fungus, I have no qualms passing up the little white buttons in the grocery store.  I will make an ingredient exception, however, when I come across a “gourmet fungus” I know the hubs would enjoy for dinner.  {Usually when I want to get something out of him…Oh man, now he knows my secret…}

So when I found a small box of golden Chantrelles, known for their beautiful hue and fruity and peppery flavor, I knew risotto was on the menu.  Mushrooms don’t require much in the way of cleaning–just get a damp paper towel and brush off the extra dirt.  Coming from its own habitat, any dirt left on there is clean dirt, right?  Give them a rough chop, sauté with onions, add the rice, and gently cook to make a silky and earthy mushroom risotto.  I even got the hubs to eat a side of broccolini with this dish.

{And what did I get out of it, you ask?  A Clearance Williams-Sonoma shopping spree}

mushroom risotto 1

mushroom risotto 2


MUSHROOM RISOTTO

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Difficulty: fairly easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup chantrelles, gently cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese {or nutritional yeast, to keep it vegan}
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a medium-sized pot with olive oil and heat over medium.  Add the mushrooms and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are soft-tender, about another 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add the rice, stirring to coat, and add enough stock to just cover the rice.  Let come to a soft boil then reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, and add more stock to just cover the rice.  Continue this adding-stock-and-simmering process until the rice is soft and comes together as a thickened mixture.
  3. Off heat, stir in the parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast and divide evenly among the serving bowls.  Garnish with toasted, chopped walnuts and parsley.

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