This hearty, healthy vegetable soup will get you through until the farmers’ markets are cranking out peak of the season produce again. A dollop of pesto will brighten the flavors and get you jonesin’ for sweet summer corn and tomatoes.
It probably seems like it’s way past soup season but bear with me. It’s about time that we take a second to think again about food waste and making a difference in the way we take advantage of the bounty of the season. If you have been following me for a while, you know that I am a big fan of taking any produce that you overbought and saving it in the freezer until you can use it. Ziplock it fresh, oven-dry it or sauté it and cover in broth before freezing…all to add to sauces, salads, pastas and soups through out the year. Now that we are looking down the barrel of summer, it’s time to clean the freezer and put all last season’s produce to good use. Healthy vegetable soup to the rescue!
Unfortunately we are still wasting 40% of the products that our hardworking farmers produce every year. Some are deemed too ugly to make it onto our supermarket shelves. Some are past their use by date. I love this campaign by the Ad Council. Best if used. Period. Look closely. $1500. That’s how much a family of four spends on food that goes into the trash every year. How great would that extra cash be?
And landfills filled with rotting food result in higher greenhouse gas emissions than US beef production. All that wasted food AND it is bad for the environment? No bueno!! So think about ways to re-purpose this produce and extend its life.
How to Save Vegetables
Fresh corn: cut it off the cob and ziplock it to freeze
Tomatoes:oven-dry and once cooled, ziplock and freeze
Zucchini, peppers: sauté and cover with broth, then freeze to add to soups and stews
Leafy greens: steam and squeeze out the excess liquid, then ziplock and freeze
Peas: shell and ziplock raw and freeze
Winter squashes: peel, seed and cube, then ziplock and freeze
Here are some of the things coming your way soon, so start thinking about it now. Of course, try to buy the right amount, but don’t throw out your excess. Respect the food and preserve it. Or if you are like me and know the corn will never be better, do buy extra and save it for the long, cold winter.
Sweet corn and sweet peas.
Heirloom cherry tomatoes definitely worthy of oven-drying to preserve for winter.
If you think this Kale is Krazy, wait until you see the farmer.
Best Ever Healthy Vegetable Soup
This soup takes advantage of many things I had in my freezer. I just made a big batch this weekend. I will put a few quarts away in the freezer for upcoming long days, but much I will eat this week. Saturday I start eating like a Syrian refugee as part of the Ration Challenge. More on that in the next post, but suffice it to say I am in a full-on panic about no fresh veggies for a week. Whole lotta rice and beans, with a sardine here and there.
You can customize this yummy, healthy vegetable soup to your own palate, but I found corn, butternut squash, edamame, and spinach all in the freezer. The canned cannellini and diced tomatoes I had in the pantry. And the remaining ingredients consisted of only a few fresh vegetables – leeks, zucchini, summer squash, and potatoes. In fact, this soup started as a leek and potato soup and then became a runaway vegetable extravaganza! You could even go so far as to add some chicken – either leftover roasted, poached or a rotiserrie chicken – to add a little lean protein.
Photo credit: Heather Gill for Unsplash
How to Clean a Leek
Sidebar note on cooking with leeks: LOVE THEM!!! They always seem to be available because they scare people and they get left behind. They add all the depth of flavor of an onion, with none of the bite. And they are really easy to use. However, they retain a lot of dirt, so they need a thorough wash first. Trim off the woody dark green leaves at the top (and save them for a stock pot), but leave the hairy root end intact for now. Once the top is trimmed, slice lengthwise down toward the root (without cutting through), first in half, then in quarters, using two long cuts. Now holding onto the root end, run it under cold water, fanning it out to remove all the grit. It’s a bit like a brush with long bristles. Shake, shake, shake. Once thoroughly cleaned, towel off excess water and cut crosswise in desired slices. Discard the root end when you get there. Some prefer to slice and then clean and here is a quick video on that.
I finish it off with a dollop of pesto – homemade or store-bought. That is how I finished it off on our spring vegetable soup with pistou on the very first menu at New World Grill. The vegetables were very precisely and finely minced. That’s a far cry from the hearty chunky way I cook today. Gone are the tedious and tiny tidbits. Welcome, chunky and hearty veg.
What Vegetables are best?
While I am tempted to say you can’t go wrong, I can actually think of a couple that I might pass on. I love all vegetables that keep their shape and color. With this being a relatively quick cooking time, that would include most. Eggplant probably deserves a pass. It can get bitter and breaks down to a seedy, gummy mess. And I would avoid certain mushrooms that will absorb too much liquid and get squeaky. Know what I mean? Like a portabello. Tiny enoki might be nice in here though. In general, I prefer mushrooms in a more dry sauté dish or when pureed. Lastly, beets are going to bleed and will overly flavor the broth. But you do you, I’ll do me. Give it a whirl and see how you like it.
A Note on Prep Time Listed
In spite of 3 decades of foodstyling for television, where every ingredient is in its ramekin for a dump and stir demo, and despite 15 years as a chef/restaurateur, where all mise en place (prepped ingredients) are ready in the reach-in for cooking during service, I do not cook that way at home, nor should you. It takes a lot more time to get everything ready for dump and stir. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pull all your ingredients together in advance. However, if an onion is going to cook until golden for 12 minutes, I don’t chop the next ingredients until I get that on the burner cooking. I prep as I go. Multi-task anyone? The prep time I give in a recipe is just the minimal prep time required in order to start cooking. Once cooking commences, I start the count-up clock to track how long it takes to finish the recipe. There will be some prep during the cooking time. You may note that the ingredient list calls for the items to be already prepped (e.g., 1 cup diced zucchini). I have detailed it this way simply to space-save on a recipe printout. Don’t think you need to get it all done before you start. The more you know 🙂
This hearty, healthy vegetable soup will get you through until the farmers’ markets are cranking out peak of the season produce again. A dollop of pesto will brighten the flavors and get you jonesin’ for sweet summer corn and tomatoes.
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided per below
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
3/4 pounds mini potatoes, such as Boomer Gold, cut in half or quarters depending on size
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 pounded winter squash, such as butternut or acorn, peeled and diced
2 32-ounce chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and diced
1 medium yellow squash, trimmed and diced
1 15.5-ounce can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 pound shelled edamame, lima beans, or peas
1 pound frozen, chopped spinach
1 pound sweet corn
1 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Optional Garnish: Dollop with pesto
In an 8-quart stock pot, heat two Tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Add the leeks and cook until wilted and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Push to the side and add the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil. Add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Stir potatoes and leeks to combine.
Add the carrots and winter squash. Stir to combine.
Add about one cup of the stock, to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits. Add the zucchini and yellow squash and remaining stock. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. Check the doneness, especially for potatoes and squash.
Add the cannellini beans, tomatoes, edamame (or lima or peas), spinach and corn. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Top with a dollop of pesto (recipes linked below).
Optional: add 1 pound cooked chopped chicken, about 2 cups. Yield will be higher, if chicken is added.
If any of the vegetables you are using are commercially frozen, check to see if they are par-cooked. If so, you may want to add them toward the end with the quick cooking ingredients like corn and spinach.
If freezing, I like to wait to add seasoning until later when I serve it. I also find I may need to add a bit more stock if it’s been frozen.
Prep time in the recipe includes only the time needed to get cooking. You can continue prepping while the first step is cooking. While total time accurately reflects the total time required, the prep time is the shortest time til you fire up the stove, not the time required to prep all ingredients to their ready-to-use state.
Well, hello!! Fancy meeting you here in a whole new season! I know it has been a minute, but coming in strong with some tempting taste treats to make up for lost time. Think spring woodland treasures matched up with creamy, cheesy risotto! Yup – a fiddlehead fern, ramps and wild mushroom risotto! I had a hankering for morels, the crown jewel of springtime mushrooms, but couldn’t find any while foraging at Fresh Direct grocery delivery. However, they did not disappoint with an organic Asian blend, including Shiitake, Brown Beech and Oyster mushrooms. The Shiitakes add a nice depth of flavor – umami for the win – and the Brown Beech and Oyster provide their unique textures. Use whatever you can find, but look for a range in flavor, texture and shape.
By now you should be familiar with Shiitakes, because I reach for them maybe a bit too often. My workhorse! But the Brown Beech might be a new find. They grow in clumps – often at the base of beech trees, hence the name – and have long slender stems. Just trim the clump end off and leave them whole. So pretty and their bitter taste turns nutty when cooked.
Spring pastas and risottos will beg for their seasonal rock stars – ramps and fiddlehead ferns. Ramps are commonly known as wild leeks, wild garlic or spring onion. The look a bit like a tender tiny bunch of scallions, perhaps a bit leafier at the top. They have both an onion-y and garlic-y flavor, though both flavors come through rather sweet compared to their pungent older sisters. If you can’t find them, substitute with a small amount of minced garlic, and a handful of chopped scallions or chives.
Fiddlehead ferns are the furled frond of a tender, young Ostrich fern. Left to their own devices they would unfurl and become another frond on their host. They are a great source of iron, Omega 3s and fiber. But let’s get to it – texture and taste. It’s best to boil or steam them first to eliminate tannins and possible toxins. Then add them to your sauté toward the end so they stay crunchy and show off their delightful citrus-y taste. Together these ingredients bring both a bright springtime flavor (and color) and an unctuous woody flavor from the ‘shrooms.
If you live in a wooded area – and KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING – look around. One friend just reported yesterday that she had ramps, fiddleheads and Shiitakes popping everywhere right out her window. How’s this for a Shiitake crop?
I’m all for a stroll in the woods to see what has “popped up”, but if you haven’t done it before, be careful. Wildman Steve Brill offers an amazing course in NYC, where he forages in Central Park, among other Tri-State locales. He just did a private tour for the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance to rave reviews. I let Fresh Direct do the foraging for me, and by next week I will be haunting some outdoor farmers’ markets as they start to pop up.
The Right Rice
Now to the most important ingredient – the rice. For years, I thought Arborio was the go-to rice and used it with good results. (I used it here, too. Old dogs/new tricks????) But my friends Elisabetta and Kris, both of whom run wonderful culinary tours in Italy, assure me Carnaroli is the queen of risotto rice for most of Italy. I suppose I have been cooking so long that it’s possible it wasn’t yet a major import in the US market. But I’m abundantly clear now that it is the preferred variety. All rice used in risotto has short, rather stout grains, and is rich in a particular starch – amylopectin – that is a tad sticky and gives risotto its creaminess. Arborio is wider and longer than Carnaroli. But both are wildly different in shape and starchiness than our Carolina long-grain rice used for fluffy pilafs, geared to be a grain that won’t clump.
But wait – do I need to take a step back? Is this iconic, and oh-so-tasty-dish familiar to you? Apparently, it is not well-known to you all. Risotto is a dish that is among the easiest and least fussy, but requires a watchful eye and some stirring. Once the rice is toasted in hot oil, warm stock is added a bit at a time and stirred until absorbed, when you can add the next batch of stock. And so it goes, until all the stock is added and the rice’s chalky, crunchy texture gives way to soft and creamy. It is then that I add in the vegetables, sautéed previously, and the grated cheese(s) to finish it off. Serve it up right away with a crisp green salad and a lovely glass of wine. Invite friends, if you must.
Spring woodland treasures matched up with creamy, cheesy risotto! Yup – a fiddlehead fern, ramps and wild mushroom risotto! I went with an organic Asian blend, including Shiitake, Brown Beech and Oyster mushrooms. The Shiitakes added a nice depth of flavor – umami for the win – and the Brown Beech and Oyster provide their unique textures. Use whatever you can find, but look for a range of flavor, texture and shape.
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice (just over 1/2 pound – one pound is 2 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 quart reduced-sodium chicken stock, warmed
2 Tablespoons butter + 1 Tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces mushroom blend – Shiitake, trimmed and sliced; Brown Beech, trimmed and separated; and Oyster, trimmed and sliced
4 ounces fiddlehead ferns, stems trimmed
4 ounces ramps, trimmed and chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan or Parmesan/Asiago blend
salt and pepper
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender, about 2 – 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook until coated and starting to turn a bit translucent, about 3 minutes more. Stir in the wine and cook until it is evaporated, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, heat the stock in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and keep it just below a simmer.
Add about 1 cup of the stock to the rice. Stir frequently until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring until mostly absorbed before adding the next ladle of stock. The rice will become tender – but not gummy – and creamy at about 25 to 30 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, melt the butter and remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the mushrooms, in batches if space requires, starting with the least delicate and ending with the most delicate (Brown Beech if using the mix above). Add the ferns and ramps and stir to combine. They will wilt slightly from the heat of the mushrooms.
Once the rice is nearly ready, gently stir in the vegetables and grated cheese. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
Whistle that group to the table now! Risotto waits for no one. (and NO!!! you can’t make this ahead – well – or “freeze beautifully”! So, don’t even ask.)
Substitute 2 cloves of garlic and 2 chopped scallions in lieu of ramps. Add the garlic with the butter/oil and add the scallions last with the ferns and delicate mushrooms.
If you can’t find fiddlehead ferns, maybe try young spring asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces. Sauté with the mushrooms.
Where are we going with this weather? It’s hot. It’s cold. It’s frigid. There are crocuses. Croci? I tested this recipe a mere week ago and the winds were howling at 65mph+++. I thought my house was going to slide down the dune. My pot rack was rocking. After finding a flashlight – because I just KNEW my power would go out – I started grabbing cans of beans, tomatoes, paste, etc. and this lonely butternut squash. I figured I could survive quasi-indefinitely with a “walk-out” (refrigerator) and a gas stove. When I ultimately tucked in by the fire, I had supreme satisfaction – I beat the power outage and this chili was damn delicious! Plus there was plenty left to freeze for those nights when you know you will get in super late and you just want something to eat in a jiff. Pull it out in the morning and thaw all day in the fridge.
You could make squash chili with any squash – I had a butternut on hand – but Hubbard, acorn, Kabocha, pumpkin or other winter squashes will work well, too. I like butternut because it’s more bang for the buck in the peeling-effort-to-flesh ratio. It has a smaller cavity so that you don’t loose a lot to seeds and air. You get the yield you need with only one medium butternut. At about 2 1/2 pounds, I got 7 cups of diced squash.
I took my time with the onions browning. Since there is no meat, I wanted to caramelize the onions to help with the depth and layers of flavor. You could also roast the squash to bring out even more caramelization, but I was racing the power supply and didn’t want to be beholden to an electric oven. There are also some bonus points for going one-pot, right?
In addition to browning the onion, I always toast the spices for this kind of dish. If you don’t, you miss a big opportunity to add flavor. Stirring raw spices into liquid does not give the same depth of flavor as when you take a moment to toast them. For whole spices, I toast, then grind. Today I am using ground spices, so I just add them to the hot pan once the onions are browned, and let them cook for about a minute or two. You want to have your liquid – in this case vegetable stock – nearby so you can stop the cooking quickly. It’s a baby step from toasted spice to scorched.
I added some of the usual suspects as toppers, but I think the real rock star here is the toasted garbanzo beans. You can buy them already toasted with a variety of spice blends. The crunch is the contrast this chili begs for. Tortilla chips or strips would do, as well. Chose a variety of color, textures and taste (creamy v spicy?) and trick it out the way you like it. Chef’s prerogative!
I’m filing this butternut squash chili recipe under D for Damn Delicious. The squash’s sweetness takes on smoked paprika, chili powder (brave enough to go Ancho?) and cumin – and wins. And the toasted garbanzo beans on top are the crunch this soup begs for.
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons ground chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cubed (7 cups)
1 quart vegetable stock
6 ounce can tomato paste
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 16 ounce cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Tortilla strips or dried garbanzo beans
Greek yogurt or sour cream
Heat olive oil in an 8-quart stockpot. Add onions and cook until browned, about 12 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika and cayenne. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
Add squash and about 1 cup of vegetable stock. Scrape up the browned bits in the bottom of the pot. Add the remaining stock, tomato paste, tomatoes and their juices, and kidney beans.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender but not mushy, about 15 – 20 minutes.
Serve hot with assorted garnishes.
You can prep most of the ingredients while the onions are browning, so prep time shown is just to organize ingredients and chop the onions and garlic.
If you cut the squash lengthwise in half first, it is easier to peel. Using a sharp peeler, remove the skin, then scoop out the seeds. Your squash is ready to chop!
You know a movement has had its awareness sufficiently raised when a blithe reference slips into a throw-away line on a sitcom. After two posts on food waste last week, imagine my squeals when I heard this from a waiter at a hip millennial launch party on a newish sitcom: “The bruschetta has been made with rescued tomatoes and date of expiration burrata”. I’m squealing. Really. Yipeeeeeeee!
Unfortunately summer bruschetta is the last thing on my cooking mind today. A girl can dream. But as I moped through the grocery looking for anything to lift the gloom of winter’s darkest days, I was thrilled to see fresh turmeric. I didn’t even know you could get this in a mainstream grocery – in the Midwest. It used to be relegated to special trips to Asian markets in big cities. Or more likely it could only be sourced dried and ground. Honestly, I was never a fan of turmeric when I only knew its dried self. I thought it tasted – well, yellow. It didn’t really register much on my palate. But while doing guest chef stints on culinary cruises in the Caribbean, I would gather up ever fresh market item that was a bit unique and had a story and introduce our passengers to these new world treats. I even spent one week being followed by the Food Network, and we hit the Grenada spice market hard.
Turmeric was just one of the many spices I found bears little resemblance to its dry spice counterpart. Mace was another. It makes sense that I love turmeric because it’s related to ginger – and I’m well documented as a “fiend for ginger”. Both are rhizomes, along with galangal, lotus, bamboo, and many more. They spread laterally (called creeping rootstalk) and send shoots up. Many have culinary uses.
Like ginger, turmeric when fresh has a pungent and aromatic taste that can be quite peppery (HOT!), especially when used in excess. It is a key player in many South Asian (Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian) dishes – both for flavor and color; you’ll find it in American food as a colorant that can range from subtle to supreme. Vanilla products like yogurt and pudding turn creamy, not stark white, and mustard turns bright yellow.
But turmeric’s real claim to fame is its medicinal properties. Like ginger, turmeric has powerful anti-nausea (turmeric tea, just boil it up), anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties. If only this miracle worker could clean the bath!! (Nobody wants a yellow tub, I know, I know). It’s even being studied for treatment of IBS, Alzheimer’s, depression and cancer. Rock stah!
So I grabbed a handful and headed home, determined to make a spicy vegan curry. It doesn’t have to be vegan or even vegetarian, but that is what I had on my mind. Tucking in for the night with a Buddha Bowl of Spicy Goodness.
Start by making a Yellow Curry Paste – this will make four times what you need and freezes well. You can add a lot of different ingredients or leave out some of these, but this is what I had on hand and so what I used. Roasting the aromatics and toasting the spices, while a bit more time-consuming, will elevate the taste and develop a real depth of flavor that you simply can’t get by just pureeing all the ingredients. It’s worth the commitment.
Many curry recipes are simple purees, but this one roasts the aromatics and toasts the spices. While a bit more time-consuming, this extra step develops depth of flavor that you simply can’t get with dump and whirl. It’s worth the commitment. And bonus – it freezes well!
5 pieces of turmeric
3heads of garlic
1 Tablespoon of olive oil (plus more to drizzle on aromatics)
2 Tablespoons ground coriander
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/4 teaspoon allspice
3 Tablespoons lemongrass paste (a tube usually found with herbs in produce section)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Preheat oven to 400oF.
Wrap the aromatics, each in their own foil pouch, and place on a sheet pan to roast. (20 minutes for the turmeric; 1 hour for the shallots and garlic)
Shallots – peeled, placed in a foil pouch and drizzled with olive oil
Turmeric – well scrubbed, placed in a foil pouch and drizzled with olive oil
Garlic – loose outer “paper” removed, tops of each head trimmed, placed in a foil pouch and drizzled with olive oil
In a small sauté pan, heat one Tablespoon olive oil and add all the spices. Sauté, stirring, for about two minutes until the spices start to release their aroma. Transfer to the work bowl of a food processor.
Once the aromatics are cool enough to handle, transfer the shallots and turmeric to the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the processor, picking by hand any that linger behind. Discard the garlic “paper”.
Add the lemongrass paste and sea salt. Puree until desired consistency.
Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate or freeze.
This will last longer than if it were made with raw herbs or aromatics, and it also freezes well.
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:1 hour
Keywords: turmeric, curry
Now that you have that tasty curry, how about whipping up a Coconut Curry Buddha Bowl, filled with hearty and soul-warming sweet potatoes and earthy greens and topped with pumpkin seeds. It’s vegan and you can feel great about that for so many reasons.
Coconut Turmeric Curry with Winter Vegetable Buddha Bowl
Serving suggestion – rice or brown rice* (See note below)
Start the rice.
In a wok or deep skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the ginger for 2-3 minutes until soft.
Add the sweet potatoes, curry paste, coconut cream and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring periodically, for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and sauce is thickened.
Add the greens and stir until wilted.
Divide rice among bowls and top with sweet potato curry. Garnish with scallions, pumpkin seeds, and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.
*Brown rice note: I really prefer brown rice but you’ve likely heard the bad news about arsenic. Because it is a whole grain, it has more potential for danger than white rice which has been stripped of its outer hull (and for that matter its nutritional value). Truth be told, I really don’t eat it very often – once a month or less – so I’m not that worried but I do take a couple precautions. Brown basmati from California, India and Pakistan are the best choices – about 1/3 less risk than other brown rices according to Consumer Reports. The other thing I do is rinse it several times, and then cook it like pasta in a 6:1 water ratio (instead of the normal 2:1) and drain the excess water. That will help wash away the evil-doers lurking in your lovely whole grain. My Grandmother always said “you’ve gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die”. I’m guessing she wasn’t talking about arsenic, but she did make it pass 90. Just sayin.