Creamy Vegetable Soup

It’s that time of year when soup sounds like a really good idea. I made a tasty vegetarian soup for Steve and thought I’d write it down to share with others. It’s a pretty flexible recipe. I just use whatever odd veggies I happen to have on hand.

Creamy Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, chopped, white part only
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 bunch broccoli, chopped
water, vegetable broth, or some combination of both * see note below
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil (leave out for a fat free soup)
salt
pepper
1-2 bay leaves

Alternate veggies to add to your soup:
Yellow squash, diced
Parsnip, peeled and diced
Turnip, peeled and diced
Cauliflower, chopped
Corn kernels, fresh or frozen
Sweet potato, peel and diced
Winter squash, peeled and diced
Peas, frozen
Fresh chopped Swiss Chard or Spinach added at the very end shortly before pureeing so you don’t overcook it. If using Swiss Chard, do not include the rib, just the leafy part.

Optional ingredients for a creamier tasting soup:
Milk, heavy cream, yogurt, or sour cream…
We usually bring a container of sour cream to the table, and my family members will add a dollop of sour cream to the bowl if they wish to. Alternately, you could add a bit of heavy cream or milk before you puree the soup with the immersion blender.

Directions:
1) Fill a large soup pot with your chopped vegetables. Add just enough water/vegetable broth to cover your veggies.
2) Add your butter or oil, salt, and pepper and stir.
3) Add your bay leaves to the pot. I try to make sure the leaves are at the top where I can keep an eye on them so I can easily pull them out before blending.
4) Bring soup to a boil.
5) Once the soup is boiling, cover the pot with lid and reduce heat to a simmer.
6) Simmer soup for 10-15 minutes until all the veggies are cooked through.
7) Fish out and discard your bay leaves.
8) Using an immersion blender, puree soup to desire consistency. I purposely leave a few large chunks in my soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can carefully pour the soup into a blender and puree in batches until you reach the desired consistency of your soup.

*Note about liquid: I usually use water and then add a few tablespoons of Vegetable Better than Bullion Base. You can use just water, but broth will make a more flavorful soup. I find that it isn’t necessary to use ALL veggie broth for the liquid since there are so many vegetable being used already.

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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.

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.