Another vegetarian soup recipe

Earlier this week, I had a nice conversation with my mother about food. One of the foods she happened to mention was “minest,” or what seems to be more commonly known in the cooking blog world as “minestra.” I haven’t had “minest” in years and years, but as soon as she said the word, I practically started drooling. I have fond memories of sitting in my grandparents’ kitchen, waiting for my grandfather to serve up that steaming bowl of soup for lunch. Lots of parmesan cheese for me, please!

When I asked, my mom listed off the various ingredients she uses when she makes her minest…ham bone to flavor the broth, chopped smoked sausage, assorted greens such as collard greens or endive, etc. As my mother described how she makes her soup, I felt I could practically taste it over the phone, and I couldn’t wait to make my own pot soon. However, Steve is both a vegetarian and my big soup eater in the house, so I knew if I made the minestra exactly as mom suggested, he would miss out. So I tried to think of ways to tweak the recipe so that the soup would both recall those childhood memories of mine and still be vegetarian fare.

Below is the recipe for my first attempt. I swapped out the meat-based broth for veggie broth, of course, and traded out the bits of meat for white beans. For greens I went with dandelion greens because there was a huge, beautiful bunch of them at the grocery store, and escarole because it looked good too. Next time I might try kale and bok choy.

The soup got a thumbs up from three out of four family members. Tobin wouldn’t touch it as the only soup he’ll eat is miso.

Vegetarian Minestra recipe

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
32 ounces vegetable broth
1 can cannellini beans, well rinsed
1 can navy beans, well rinsed
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon parsley
¼ teaspoon rosemary
Dandelion leaves, well washed and roughly chopped
Escarole, well washed and roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:
1) Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot. Sauté onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in the oil for 2-3 minutes, stirring around to keep vegetables from burning.
2) Pour in vegetable broth.
3) Add both cans of rinsed beans and crush some of the beans against the side of the pot with a spoon. This will give a nice texture to your soup.
4) Add salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, and rosemary. The amounts are just suggestions. Adjust to your particular tastes.
5) Bring soup to a boil and then turn down heat.
6) Shred dandelion leaves and escarole and add a bit at a time to the pot. If you are fond of greens, add lots of both. Cook until greens are softened.
7) Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Notes:
1) If you can’t find dandelion or escarole, try other greens such as collard greens, kale, bok choy, etc.
2) For a more filling soup, cook up some small pasta such as ditalini, orzo, elbows, or acini di pepe and add to soup before serving.
3) Serve your soup with a nice salad and some crusty bread. Any leftover, raw greens will be great in the salad.

*Serves four.

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I love Cauliflower

Mark Twain once described cauliflower as, “nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Obviously Mr. Twain did not properly appreciate cauliflower, but then he probably wasn’t eating it the right way. In our house, our favorite way to eat that wonderful vegetable is as a cauliflower patty, or fritter, if you will.

My mother used to make cauliflower patties for us all the time. It was always a treat that I looked forward to. I have vivid memories of trying to patiently wait for the next batch to be out of the fry pan and ready to gobble down. It was probably nearly impossible for my mom to cook them as fast as my brothers and I could eat them.

My mom always fried hers in oil, and I really miss eating them that way. However ever since I had my gall bladder out, fried foods and I are no longer friends, so I stick to using cooking spray instead. If you decide to fry them in oil, please remember to eat one for me.

Cauliflower Patties Recipe

Ingredients:

2 cups cauliflower broken into small pieces
1 cup of flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 eggs
½ cooking liquid saved from cooking cauliflower (could also use milk)
1 cup shredded/grated cheese (sharp cheddar, Colby, mozzarella, parmesan, etc. or some combination of cheeses)
Olive oil for frying (or cooking spray if you’re trying to keep it lower fat)

Directions:

1) Break fresh cauliflower into small pieces and put into a small saucepan. Add enough water to cover cauliflower pieces and boil until tender. DO NOT DRAIN WATER.
2) Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked cauliflower pieces to a medium sized mixing bowl. Set cooking water aside for later. Allow cauliflower to cool a bit.
3) When cauliflower is cooled a bit, add flour, onions if using, salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, and eggs to bowl and combine.
4) Add ½ cup of saved cooking liquid to create a batter the consistency of pancake batter. If desired, use milk instead of cooking liquid.
5) Mix shredded/grated cheese into the batter.
6) Heat olive oil in a fry pan over medium heat or spray pan with cooking oil.
7) When oil is hot, carefully drop ¼ cup pools of batter into pan. (I can usually make 2-3 patties at a time in my fry pan.) Cook patties for 4-5 minutes, about 2 minutes or so per side. If frying patties in oil, move cooked patties to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil. If using cooking spray, the paper towels are unnecessary. (The fried ones taste best, but they are probably healthier without all the oil.)

Serving suggestions:

1) I usually serve mine with plenty of salt and pepper.
2) Try serving with marinara sauce for dipping.

Notes:

1) If you don’t like cauliflower, try using shredded zucchini in the batter instead. If using zucchini, I normally increase the amount of onion I use with it. Broccoflower is a good substitute as well if you are lucky enough to find some in your local grocery store. I can never seem to find it when I am specifically looking for it.
2) Leftover cooked patties warm up pretty well the next day.

* Batter makes about 10 cauliflower patties.

Our son’s vegetarian adventure

Twenty days ago, Steve decided to become a vegetarian. (I know it’s been 20 days because every morning he makes a point of telling me how many days it has been.) My first response when he told me was one of surprise. There aren’t too many foods that my son doesn’t like, and my son eats A LOT; he likes learning to cook different dishes and simply enjoys eating, so I had a hard time imagining him giving up a bunch of foods that he so obviously enjoys.

Although I told him that I supported his decision and said we needed to sit down and discuss what foods he needed to eat to get enough iron, protein, etc., I also thought to myself that he’d probably change his mind after a few days. (I’m sure my parents thought the same thing when I made the same decision at age 14.) It’s not that I think of Steve as a fickle person at all, but more that I couldn’t imagine he’d willingly and happily give up his favorite foods such as sushi, grilled salmon, and steak slathered in A-1 sauce.

So far though, Steve seems pretty serious about it, and even if he does change his mind down the road, I still think this is a good opportunity to get him thinking more about eating a balanced diet and learning to cook some new recipes, definitely important skills to have when he’s living out on his own someday and doesn’t have mom around to nag him to eat something healthy. Up until this point in his life, Ken and I have obviously made most of the decisions about what our son eats on a day to day basis. But now that Steve is cutting out meat, there will be a lot more occasions where he will have to figure out for himself what he needs to eat and will likely have to cook things for himself. (Tobin has no intention of giving up meat, and in fact, denies that his brother is a vegetarian.) Steve does know how to cook a number of things on his own, but he definitely could learn more.

In order to help him learn to cook more dishes, I am going to make a concerted effort to actually write down the recipes of our favorite meals instead of just winging it as I normally do. It has always been a running joke that I am incapable of actually following a recipe line by line without making a million changes. I’m hoping that by writing down the recipe successes, Steve will confidently be able to make for himself the foods that he enjoys. There will be plenty of time later for him to make his own recipe adaptations once he gets the basics down.

Last week I attempted to write out my minestrone recipe as I was actually preparing it. I carefully measured everything before I put into the pot. Steve claimed that he didn’t believe I really did write out the recipe because if I had, it would have signaled the apocalypse, and we’re obviously still here.

Here is my minestrone recipe. I doubt I’ve ever made it exactly the same way twice, but it turned out quite well last week, so hopefully Steve can successfully follow the recipe next time.

Vegetarian Minestrone

Ingredients:

2 cups veggie broth
2 cups V-8 or tomato juice
4 cups water
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
3 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon rosemary, crushed
3 teaspoons minced garlic
½ cup frozen pearl onions
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 cups frozen mixed veggies (carrots, corn, green beans, peas, and lima beans)
1 cup frozen okra cuts
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed (15.5 oz)
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed (15.5 oz)
½ cup diced zucchini
½ cup diced yellow squash
½ cup chopped celery
1 cup diced potato
1 cup shredded green cabbage
1 cup ditalini or other small pasta such as orzo, small shells, or elbow macaroni

Directions:

1) In a large stockpot, combine all of the ingredients listed except the pasta.
2) Stir the ingredients well and bring soup to a boil. Once a boil is reached, turn the heat down, and cover the pot with a lid. Cook the soup until the diced potato is cooked all the way through, about 20-25 minutes.
3) While the soup is cooking, bring a small pot of water to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Once the pasta is done, drain, and add to your finished soup, stirring well.

Notes and suggestions:

1) If you don’t like a particular vegetable or don’t have it on hand, just leave it out. The various amounts of vegetables can be easily adjusted according to your tastes or whatever you happen to have in your refrigerator.
2) The beans listed can be changed as well. Canned red kidney beans, navy beans, or Great Northern beans work well in this soup too. I generally use whatever I happen to have on hand.
3) If you are watching your carbs or can’t have gluten, just leave out the pasta. All those veggies and beans will still make a hearty meal.
4) If you don’t have any pasta on hand, try replacing the pasta with cooked rice or barley.
5) This soup is great served with grated parmesan cheese on top and a side of crusty bread.
6) The soup freezes well, so freeze up some individual sized portions and keep for later lunches.
7) This recipe makes a very large pot of soup. For a smaller pot of soup, skip the 4 cups of water, use a 15 ounce can of tomatoes, add only 1 can of beans, reduce the quantity and variety of veggies included, and season to taste with your favorite herbs.

** I have no idea how many servings this is. It was enough for dinner for four people plus enough to fill a few single portion containers to freeze for future lunches.