Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook


New Year's lentil soup with sausage meatballs

Holiday, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This savory Italian-inspired soup is filled with earthy lentils, infused with aromatic herbs and peppered with tender meatballs. Lentils are a New Year's tradition, but this soup is great anytime.


I'll reflect later, give me the recipe now!

Happy New Year! What are your New Year's resolutions?

I have mixed feelings on New Year's Eve and New Years. On the one hand, I think it's a little overblown. Reasons: I already stay up past midnight most days, I'd rather drink hot chocolate by the fire than go out and I already set expectations for myself I can't possibly meet without a holiday to mark the occasion.

On the other hand, I do think it's nice to have a symbolic check-in where you can create a blank slate along with all the other people trying to do the same. It's a good time for people who go 100 mph to stop in the quiet days after earlier holidays and reflect on what's working and what's not. 

Keeping things real with New Years Resolutions is a tough balance to strike, and it can get ugly fast.


I know I said I don't need a holiday to tell me to set my expectations, but that's only half-right if I'm being honest. As a strategic communicator in my day-jobs, I'm always setting deadlines and benchmarks to measure against—otherwise how do you even measure whether you were successful or refine your strategy? How do you stay intentional? 

As a human, I should do that more in my own life. 

I'm thinking about that a lot right now, especially after this particular holiday season. I typically go all out baking and making food as gifts, but this year I just couldn't do it. I had too much on my plate, and didn't finish up my work from the fall in time before we set out on our holiday travels. 

Some of my favorites to make are salted, nutella-stuffed, browned butter chocolate chip cookies; peppermint hot chocolate mix; peppermint marshmallows; salted bourbon caramels and my favorite: povitica. Povitica (po-va-teet-sa) is a magical Croatian swirled bread stuffed with walnuts, chocolate and cinnamon. I started making it about four years ago as a way to connect with my roots, and it's become a tradition. An incredibly labor-intensive tradition where I spend two days making five delicate, twirly loaves. 


Had to skip it too. It was the bread, or my sanity. Considering Christmastime is when I finally see all my family and friends, I needed the sanity. I'll send the bread later. 

I don't think we should be too tough on ourselves or beat ourselves up, but it's always good to consider what's actually realistic and give ourselves time to make it work. So, as much as I don't want to make it too big a deal, a year is a pretty good checkpoint. You have the symbolism of the cycling seasons, the restful few days to think (if you're lucky) and other people doing the same thing to help you get excited and keep you accountable.

Ready to set goals you'll actually reach? Start here.  

One year, five steps.

It might sound odd, but all of that ties perfectly into this recipe for lentil soup with sausage meatballs. Symbolism, tradition, realism, slowing down and hey, getting excited! Because this soup is really, really good. 

Eating lentils after midnight on New Year's is considered good luck in Italy, and the legumes have similar symbolic meanings around the world. The coin-shaped pulses represent good luck and prosperity to Italians, and are often served with pork sausage, stuffed trotters and other pig-based products because pigs root forward. Other cultures focus on the circular shape of the lentils as well, but they associate it more with the circle of life itself rather than fortune. 

Beyond that, lentils are incredibly nutritious and accessible, as hearty crops with plenty of vegetable protein. They've been a staple of multiple cultures' diets for thousands of years for a reason. 


Prosperity, luck, forward-motion, health, life cycles. What's more New Year's than that? 

Well, if you're like me, a strong dose of realism. In life, that means trying to set goals I can actually achieve and reasonable time-frames. In this recipe, it means that I'm not making stuffed pig trotters with my lentil soup. Not that I have anything against it, and I'm not saying I would never make it or try it. Maybe I will one day, but it's just not going to become a tradition in the Cavalier house. 

More realistic? Sausage meatballs. Yes, please. Accessible. Simple. Still symbolic. 


It's also so, so delicious. The earthy, peppery French puy lentils go beautifully with the mirepoix, tomatoes, herbs and spinach to finish. The meatballs add a kick to keep things interesting. Plus, for those of you who care, it's a pretty healthy start for the year. No, it's not plain leek soup, but it's balanced. Nutritious and filling and tasty. It's a great meal to ease you into good habits, as going cold-turkey is a change that's unlikely to stick or make you very happy in the meantime. 

And hey, if you don't eat lentil soup with sausage meatballs at midnight, don't see it as a missed opportunity, because this recipe is fantastic anytime for any reason. Tomorrow is just as good for a fresh start as any. 


I actually intended to post this recipe last year, but didn't because the photos weren't what I wanted, which set up a whole string of posts I meant to put up at a certain time, and failed to do so. I also had hoped to get it up a little earlier this year. Another dose of that realism for me. I didn't give myself enough time or understanding, and things... spiraled.

Something I'm working on this year ;). For now, I'm mulling it over while the soup simmers.

I've been making lentil soup with meatballs for New Year's for several years, and just like me, it's evolved quite a bit. I've used different type of lentils, herbs, ground meats, proportions—I'll spare you all the nitty-gritty details for now. 

I'm sure it will continue to evolve, whether it's me making more changes, or you putting your own spin on this dish in your kitchen. 


I hope you set realistic but ambitious goals for yourself this year, and I hope you reach them with a healthy dose of hard work and patience. I hope you're intentional both in your strides and staying present in the moment. Finally, I hope you have the year you want, with plenty of joy among the ups and downs. 

If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear from you and see it! Leave a comment below, or take a picture and tag me on social media—mine are in the links below if you want to connect!

P.S. Feel free to leave your resolutions in the comments to put it in writing ;)

So let's get simmering!

THE poblano green chicken chili

Mexican, Dinner, Recipe, Slow Food, Soup, WinterLeannda CavalierComment

This comforting chili is packed with layer after layer of flavor. Smoky roasted peppers and garlic mingle with rich tomatillos, silky beans and tender chicken for a complex but familiar flavor. Poblano peppers, known best for chiles rellenos, lead the way with soft, savory heat. 


Listen. To my stomach audibly growl. Give. Me. THE. Recipe. 

This recipe is not just chili. This is THE Chili.

This is The Chili people will ask after year-round, and long after that. 

The reason this chili is soooooo-so-so-so-so-so good is because it has so many layers of flavor. We’re not just throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and hoping they turn into something good. We’re using techniques to make sure we get extra flavor packed in at every step.

This is a fairly complex recipe in terms of flavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult! It just means it takes some time and patience. It’s not fancy, it’s made with love.

And it's unbelievably good.

Chili, as you likely know, is a Mexican dish. But, in terms of technique, it can technically be considered a ragout. Makes sense since both are known as slow-simmering, legendary, magnum opuses in countless households. Ritualized and handed down. These dishes aren't just dinner; they're events in and of themselves.  

Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Truly painful to watch. TEARS.

Both chili and ragout originated as a way to turn tough cuts of meat and other abundant ingredients into something people would actually want to eat, or more accurately, something people beg for. It's evolved quite a bit over time and space, and there's so much variation. I personally use four separate recipes for different moods, occasions and time constraints. 


Good chili comes down to a feeling for me. 

When I take a bite—no matter where I actually am—I want to feel like I'm sitting by a fire, under a blanket, surrounded by my favorite people. I want it to be warming and smoky. Thick and rich. Complex and comforting. I want tangy pieces of vegetables, savory-smooth bites of beans and soft, tender bits of meat.

We've smelled this labor of love cooking for hours, mouths watering, and we've earned it. With our patience if nothing else. 


So what makes this chili embody that feeling? 

  • Tomatillos and chili peppers are both rich in pectin (the thing that makes jams jiggle), so they make for a thick, gravy-like sauce. That’s one of the things that makes this chili so rich and comforting.
  • We take advantage of the maillard browning reaction that happens when you sear things, both on the chicken itself and in the bottom of the pan. The chicken also cooks in the simmering pot, so the inside stays tender and falls apart further after we chop it. 
  • ROASTED PEPPERS. As I've said in my tutorial on roasting peppers, roasting adds a smoky touch from the charred skin, enhances sweetness, both the flavor and the texture get richer, and while the flavor intensifies, the piquancy softens. Oh, and this goes double for green peppers, which aren't ripe. 
  • Roasted GARLIC. Ditto. Ditto
  • White and light red kidney beans are like turning silk pillows in a bite of chili. You're still warm and cozy, but you need smooth, cool respite. 
  • India Pale Ale adds a pleasantly hoppy punch that balances out the savory-sweet flavors and heat we've built. It's bitter in a fruity way, like grapefruit. Trust me, you want it there. 

Get ready. I'm about to walk into a fire much hotter than roasted poblanos. 


As with most beloved things, people have some opinions on chili.

Some keywords here: authenticity, purist, genuine, classic, never, always, must... you get the idea.

Depending on who you ask, chili with tomatoes isn't chili. Chili should NEVER have beans. Chili isn't made with ground beef. I'm honestly not sure where they stand on chicken chili or chili verde (which is what this is, for the record).  

Personally, I don't care as long as it tastes good. 


Don't get me wrong. I appreciate authenticity for what it is. It's fun to try foods as they originated, and to compare them to what they've evolved into, or how it's translated into a different region/culture/family/etc. I admire people who resist the temptation to complicate things or change to please a broader audience. I'll travel for that experience (or at the very least, turn on the Food Network). 

That said, I think it sucks when people turn their nose up at other versions of food just because it's not the original. If we stuck to the original on everything, every time, food would get real boring, real fast. If an iteration strays too far, we'll just name it accordingly.

This chili is not authentic. It has beans. White ones. The base is made of roasted tomatillos. I didn't travel to Mexico and get a recipe from somebody's great-grandmother (and if I did I would credit it to her!). This was just me deciding one day I was going to try making green chicken chili instead of red, picking ingredients I thought would be good, and coaxing them into giving me all the qualities I want in my bowl. 

Feel free to decide this isn't chili if that's your thing. But you should probably try it anyway. Let me know if you have suggestions for what to call my not chili. I won't use them, but you're welcome to.



If you’re sitting in the grocery store parking lot looking for something for dinner tonight—so hungry you could eat a moose—this is not the recipe for today. Seriously! Bookmark it for a day when you have plenty of time, and move on to something simpler for tonight. How about some nice chicken paillard instead?

One more time for the people in the back! Don't rush this one. Set aside an afternoon.

It’s so worth it. I promise. 

Another important note: this calls for roasted peppers and roasted garlic. I linked to the methods for those in both here and ingredient list. Please be certain to check that out for two reasons:

1. So you don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend making this.

2. So you don’t spend half an hour in the grocery store looking for pre-roasted peppers and garlic. For the record, you can buy roasted red peppers, but they are usually in brine or oil, which changes the texture and taste, and that doesn’t really work in this recipe. 

Remember, patience is a virtue.

What's your favorite chili ever? Is it a family recipe? From a chili-fest? Comment and let me know! I'm open to chili of all kinds (I think...).

As always, I want to hear from you! Got a question or something you're struggling with in the kitchen? I'd love to help you out if I can, but I won't know until you ask.

If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!

Let's get this chili simmering already!


If this recipe seems like it has too many moving parts to pull off, I get it. But if it sounds good to you, I'd really love to see you try it! I may be able to help you out with that. 

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. I think every beginning cook should start out on the right foot, and I show you how to do exactly that here. 

Just click below for a free download, and let me know how you like it. 

Tuscan-inspired white bean tomato soup

Fall, Italian, Recipe, Soup, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

A simple, delicious, rustic soup inspired by the flavors of Tuscany. This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd, but it's incredible after the flavors mingle in the refrigerator overnight, so leftovers make this great for smaller families and individuals as well.


Need... food.... Jump to the recipe, please.

Cannellini beans are one of my favorite foods. That's probably kind of weird, but it's true. Beyond being creamy and delicious, they're so versatile. If you stock them in your cabinet—canned or dried—with just a few other staples, you'll have vast number of meals at your fingertips any time. This is one of them.

This soup is inspired by one I had at a farm in Tuscany. Fattoria il Poggio sits atop a hill in Montecarlo, Lucca, in the outskirts of San Gimignano. Everything we had there was perfect, but the standout item to me was the soup. It wasn’t the prettiest course. It wasn’t the most complicated. It was simple, rustic, resourceful and delicious.

The funny thing is... somehow we finished the dinner without actually figuring out what the soup was! We didn't have any menus, as everything was family-style and the dishes were all pre-planned regional specialties. 

Except the steak fries. Fairly certain those were to placate potentially picky Americans. I mean... I still partook.

It's pretty unlike me not to ask, but there was SO much food going around that my intentions were lost when—OH, TAGLIATELLE! Roast pork? Wait, ribs too? Hold up, sausage now? 

Anyway, I'm still not entirely certain what the soup was... so let's put on our detective hats!

What we know about "The Tuscan Soup": 

  • It was bean and tomato based
  • The beans were pureed, creamy and demure
  • Sage might be the main seasoning 
  • It had some kind of grain
  • Olive oil for daaaayys
  • That I was too excited to eat and only got terrible photos of it
Exhibit A: terrible photo.

Exhibit A: terrible photo.

Soup suspects:

So much of the food that comes to mind when we think of Italy is functional, and origin stories of Tuscan soups are downright utilitarian. They were designed to make the most of what was around to feed as many mouths as possible, but what they’ve evolved into is deliciouuuuus.

Possibility 1 — Ribollita

Of all our contenders, this is the most well known. Ribollita means “reboiled,” which cuts right to the chase. Originally it was last night’s soup reheated, plus stale bread to add bulk and avoid waste. It started out as way to cheaply feed lots of people, but it’s evolved into an intentional staple that generally features white beans, kale and cabbage, tomatoes whatever vegetables are fresh or on hand. It’s like the ultimate kitchen-sweep meal. You can follow a recipe, or just throw in whatever you’ve got following deliciously loose guidelines. A lot of variations puree most of the soup so it's crazy-thick.

Our soup was much lighter—so appropriate for the blanket of humidity under the July sun, not to mention all the courses to come. 

Possibility 2 — Zuppa alla frantoinana, a.k.a. Tuscan bean and vegetable soup

It’s also possible that the soup of the day was zuppa all frantoiana, another resourceful Tuscan soup utilizing "this and that" based on what’s abundant from local harvests—summery beans, vegetables and olive oil, finished with crusty bread. It's fairly similar to ribollita, if not a variation. The difference as far as I can tell is a heavier focus on vegetables and olive oil vs. bread. 

This one's generally pretty hearty with big chunks of vegetables, sometimes including potatoes, squash, and fennel depending on what's growing nearby. Wah-waaaah, not our soup. 

Possibility 3 —  Zuppa di farro (alla lucchese), a.k.a. farro and bean soup

This one is the most structured of the three, following what I’ll call a soup formula. It starts out with an Italian soffritto (dice of onion, carrot and celery), and the body is built with farro cooked in a stew of pancetta, tomatoes and borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans for their pink speckles. It's finished off with a big drizzle of olive oil, because it would be a crime if it wasn't. 

Winner winner chicken dinner! Maybe? Here's a delicious-looking recipe for zuppa di farro with photos... I'll let you decide for yourself, I'll be over here making some. For comparison.

Who knows though? It may have been something else. I love Italian food, but I'm hardly the world's foremost expert. If you have other ideas, what are you waiting for, tell me about them! I have serious food FOMO. 

If you've been there and I'm completely wrong... be gentle, please ;)

My take

Ultimately, I decided to create a recipe for a soup that I thought captured the spirit of our meal, though it's not exactly a recreation. I used ingredients that were easy to find in my local grocery store, tasted as I went, and let the spirit move me. The spirit of hunger and food lust.

I think that goes with the whole Tuscan vibe though, right? Using what's around? Making something delicious out of simplicity? Know what's delicious to me?

Cannellini beans. Tomatoes. Sage. Oregano. Cheeeese. Finish it off with olive oil and bread crumbs.

You know, for authenticity.

So I started with extra virgin olive oil, a soffritto of onion, carrots and celery (yes, same as a mirepoix in French, but with a little more leeway) and some garlic. 


This goes back to the "formula" I mentioned. There's no one formula. Soup is really more like a choose your own adventure food. A suggested order of common ingredient combinations. 

Next came the stars of the show, tomatoes and cannellini beans. Lots of them.  

Sigh. A beauteous bean.

Sigh. A beauteous bean.

I used some vegetable broth to spread it out, and seasoned it with the actual Tuscan soup in mind. Plenty of fresh sage and some dried oregano. Next I grated the cheese directly into the soup, which pretty much eliminated the need for salt.

But listen, I need you to use the real cheese here. Not the kind in the can.


If you grate cheese directly from the wedge, it's going to melt into your soup and make it nutty, earthy and well-seasoned. If you pour the canned kind in, it's going to clump into a ball and taste like salty pencil shavings stuck in your teeth, then you'll have to add a bunch of salt to make up for it. If you do use a pre-grated cheese, make sure it's a good one, and remember that even the best will dry out if it sits in your fridge too long. A wedge will last longer, as will its flavor and texture. 

One thing I like to do with a lot of soups is to throw in a few handfuls of spinach or whatever soft baby greens I have on hand. I just like to find ways to get more greens into my system. I mean, why not? 

I made the executive decision to purée  some of the soup with an immersion blender to make it creamier. You can get the same effect by putting a portion of the soup in a regular blender or food processor, but using an immersion blender is so much easier. You don't have to lug your blender out of the cupboard or worry about transferring hot soup. I've been using a slightly older version of the Cuisinart Smart Stick 2 Speed Hand Blender for about three years, and I highly recommend it (affiliate link, see disclaimer).

It was definitely the right call for texture. Like I said, it didn't need to replicate the actual Tuscan soup, but I wanted it to at least pay homage. I wasn't about to let celery and onion bits crash every spoonful and kill my vibe.

Bits don't kill my... Nope. Sorry. Okay, going home for the day. 

Please enjoy responsibly.

Nutrition facts are based on 1-cup servings, not accounting for breadcrumbs or extra cheese.

Nutrition facts are based on 1-cup servings, not accounting for breadcrumbs or extra cheese.


As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen.

Question for you: What's the most memorable food you've had while traveling? I want to hear allll about it in the comments :)