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Vegetables, in a Soup


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#1 Daily Gullet Staff

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 08:43 AM

hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla

I believe I’ve said elsewhere, more than once, OK more than let’s say, twice, that soup is my favorite food. Something about its fluid sapidity splashing across all taste sensors at the onct, I suppose -- subtlety (or extreme heat) of a broth, savoryness of a smooth puree (or chunky mélange), snappy saline creaminess of a chowder or restrained smoky umami of shiro miso. Really, all kinds, but soup made entirely of vegetables is what concerns me today.

Concerns me many days, you could say, because I make it a lot. Always have, but with increased regularity since we’ve been eating veg two nights a week. We eat veg fairly often anyways, just works out that way, but for all sorts of reasons that everyone is familiar with so NO need to post a litany of them. Here it’s been a goal. An easily-met goal, may I say, which is a major bonus.

Aside from those alluded-to yet not explicated reasons there are also those that don’t appear on lists nearly often enough but are fully as compelling. Here’s one: I LOVE VEGETABLES. For me there is no cooking, no good cooking, without vegetables as the foregoing central focus. I get a weird excited feeling inside when regarding the offerings of my friends the farmers at the farmers’ market not unlike the one I used to get perusing the Vogue Designer Originals section of the Vogue Patterns book.

Another has developed over the years I’ve been cooking: A tendency to seek subtlety as often as takes-off-the-top-of-my-head bombast. Oh I have nothing against bombast, God knows, and pride myself on my heat tolerance, for example, but there is beauty and value also, maybe more so, in catching a light, elusive, upper-palate flavor and really tasting it.

From the start my vegetable-soup jag was not an exercise in privation, but rather creating an opportunity to shoe-horn more vegetables from my friends the farmers into a week’s aggregate menus, while at the same time without even trying simultaneous-like collaterally satisfying Those Reasons Which Shall Remain Unenumerated.

My soup varies in its constituent makeup and is descended in my cooking from Madeleine Kamman’s classic garbure, which I like to make but is not 100% veg and a bit more of a catch-all, in fact is the best way to make use of refrigerator odds & ends. Something is owed to familiar old minestrone too, and in that way there is no reason there couldn’t be beans and small soup pasta. Sometimes my soup takes a borschy bent, as when Ivan craves his native beet-cabbage-potato flavor profile, with sour cream, and fresh dill if he’s lucky, at serving. There is often cabbage, even without the beets; I try to buy my $1 cabbage (which is sometimes $1.50) every week. People: buy yourself a cabbage.

Often potato, though not always. Always at least a little carrot, I’ve been having kind of a thing with the mature gorgeous carrots from one of my favorite veg vendors for a couple of years now and there’s always at least one in the fridge. Celery, maybe, fennel bulb, frequently. Leafy greens, even the outer leaves of Romaine that didn’t make it into salades. Kohlrabi, purple, white, pale green. Green beans. Squash, winter or summer. And onion family, come on down: Just now the giant fresh onions of springtime are so delicious, but there is nothing at all wrong with a brown winter onion, neither. Or leeks. Or the 1/2 bunch of scallions kicking around. Overripe, or under-, for that matter, tomato. A clove or two of garlic.

Whether I’ve purpose-bought or am gleaning from what’s in stock, I take a gander at what I’ve got, and prep commences. In the universe I create in my Veg Soup, everything is chopped to the same size. Sometimes larger dice, sometimes smaller, but I have a real bugaboo about things not cut to the same size in some preparations. This is one. There should be quite a lot of raw veg -- the reduction in volume during cooking is astounding even for solid-seeming stuff. Onion is set to sauté with some butter, some oil. Could SO easily be all olive oil and then hey presto it’s vegan. Garlic is added after some time, doesn’t need much sautéing. Unlike the onion, whose golden brown will inform the entire soup in a very good way, the garlic’s contribution will come during the simmer as it softens and dissolves.

When the onions are golden brown and the garlic is in, the rest of the prepared veg can go, and get seasoned with salt and pepper and a hit of cayenne and stirred a few minutes until everything is sizzling. This is the first chance to NOT underseason, the first and the most important. So, don’t. Add water to cover, plus -- not by several inches, maybe one inch. I like plain water, rather than vegetable stock, which could certainly be used. The subtle fresh broth that results just from the vegetables in the mix is one of the main points, to me. Liquidity will be adjusted later; less is better during cooking for extracting the vegetables’ essences without destroying their structural integrity. Simmer, covered, until everything is very very very tender. Longer and slower is better than faster and hotter -- better for flavor, better for texture. As things start to get tender, be ready to season again.

At times I put in herbs, what I felt like or what was burgeoning in the garden, but honestly I think it’s better without. Herbs can be very strong, even fresh ones in judicious quantity. Parsley stems, I have liked, when I made a celery-dominant version after Ivan and I had sort of an O. Henry celery story at the farmers’ market; he thought he was supposed to get celery, I thought I was, so we each did. Parsley stems, if you have the Gigantica variety especially, support celery in a way that makes so much sense to the palate that the combination must be as old as stone. Another of Ivan’s favorites, the celery version.

When all is very tender (this is not a crunchy-vegetable trip), and one has stinted neither on the salt nor the black pepper, i.e. seasoning has been adjusted as we say euphemistically but which really just means DO NOT STINT ON THE SALT, we can call the soup done.

With it we always have bread, sometimes a toasted crouton with or without cheese in the bottom of the bowl or on the side, or the fantastic rustic multi-grain from the Japanese-French baker, sometimes a bread I have made. This first round we eat as it is, clear broth with the veg dice. For a second meal, I sometimes puree and add a little cream (and need I say it, seasoning.) With the addition of cream, several minutes’ simmering is necessary to activate, and pepper might need checking. If you reach critical mass with black pepper you can get away with minimal cream for maximum creamy effect. Not enough pepper and you can add lashing after lashing and it’ll never taste as creamy.

I think I might prefer the puree. Might be the cream, might be the flavor development over a day or two in the old Cambro. Or might be I finally apprehend the flowery ethereality that’s been in there all along.

* * *

Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon with desultorily paved roads and pleasantly anachronistic cultural lag, and is the founder of hyperlocal, Orange County-centric OCFoodNation.com.

Previously by Priscilla:
Give It Up for Lent
Roadhouse Blues
Danger Zone
Rarus Fructus
The Last Caprese
Fava-vavoom
Sourdough Ducks
Sincerely, Flounder


#2 maggiethecat

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 10:34 AM

Priscilla: What a delight to see you back again at Daily Gullet, and writing inimitably about one of my favorite topics. I don't make vegetable soup as often as I should, and there's no excuse -- I love soup and I own vegetables.Your story reminds me of a dish Jacques Pepin and his wife call "Refrigerator Soup." They pull out every vegetable in the fridge and make a soup exactly to your specs. It's one of their favorite things.

Hmmm. I have some cabbage...

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#3 Priscilla

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 12:18 PM

Thanks, Maggie!

One likes to think, doesn't one, that she is in the good company of the likes o' Jacques Pepin.

And good on you, already on the Cabbage Bandwagon. My $1 cabbage gave its all in coleslaw this week, with one of Carrot Lady's carrots.

Priscilla

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#4 heidih

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 01:29 PM

You echo my vegetable joy Priscilla. Contrary to some who use soup to use up tired vegetables, I plan my weekly vegetable soup based on the best local market produce and what my garden is displaying. Vegetable soup is a meal, not something watery and insipid that comes out of the Campbell or Progresso can! I get a giggle when someone unfamiliar with a vegetable in the Asian markets asks how it is used, hears the inevitable "for soup", and starts to sputter "but how is it really eaten?", as if soup were not a glory in its own right.

I am on the cabbage train as well. Along with onion and garlic in the pantry, the humble cabbage guarantees that there is always an enjoyable meal in the wings.

#5 Priscilla

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 02:42 PM

Right on, Heidi! The soup AND the cabbage.

The various vegetable-soup simulacrums-in-a-can are just sad, lacking even the Better Living Through Science fillip one gets from pondering the eternal WHY, not to mention WHY WHY WHY, of Chunky Sirloin Burger's teensy fake burger patties with teensy painted-on fake grill marks.

Priscilla

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#6 Dianabanana

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 06:43 PM

Oh my goodness, the Vogue Designer Originals section! That takes me back. My college roommate's mother was a fabulous seamstress and used to make her all kinds of things from that section, including that super-complicated Issey Miyake jacket with all the weird triangular flaps. But, yes, looking through that section provoked the same excitement that the farmer's market does--in our house, we call it the "greed high," and it usually ended in the same orgy of overoptimistic purchasing.

#7 maggiethecat

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 10:36 PM

I can still produce the YSL jacket I sewed from Vogue Pattern Originals thirty years ago. Still fits, still awesome. And lest peeps think that the discussion of VPOs is off-topic, you're wrong.Women of my generation learned about the real thing, about learning the real deal technically about cooking and sewing. When we weren't sewing a designer original we were reading Simone Beck and James Beard.

BTW, P, I am so with you about the next day puree and the dash of cream. Fresh herbs ....yum!

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."
Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com


#8 Priscilla

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 09:45 AM

Dianabanana, you understand! And even said the magic words ISSEY MIYAKE!

And the very useful term, greed high... ain't it the truth? I always caution new farmers' market shoppers on the risk of OVERbuying -- sososo hard NOT to want everything. Course it still happens to me and I started fming in the 1980s.

And M., the construction lessons absorbed in the doing were just invaluable. In high school and just after I shopped a lot in a fabric outlet for overruns and remnants of very fine fabrics, a wonderful place with bolts stacked everywhere and boxes of buttons to dig through and piles of zips and trims on tables, and the savvy salesladies would clip to the pattern book page swatches of the EXACT FABRIC a designer used for the article of clothing in his/her actual line. THAT was cool.

And not unlike, to me anyways, reading Marcella Hazan lamenting that the chard Italians use for that room-temp salad was a different variety than found commonly in the U.S., very thin ribs, and realizing that was the exact chard I was able to buy from my favorite greens stand at the farmer's market. We ate a lot of chard salad in The Marcella Years, that is a fact.

Priscilla

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#9 Rebecca263

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 03:47 PM

Soup! Soup is also my favorite food. I believe that everyone at least should be trained to make refrigerator soup. How else to empty the crisper of, and rescue from a fate of composting, all of the vegetables you forgot about last week?
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#10 Priscilla

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 04:26 PM

Soup solidarity.

Rebecca, it is SO TRUE that everyone should be trained as you suggest. The not-wasting is a vital part of good cooking, but if by performing soup alchemy you end up with something REALLY REALLY GOOD, well, that's just gravy, isn't it.

Priscilla

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#11 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 15 August 2010 - 12:43 PM

Some of my favorite soups have been refrigerator soup. I always have a pantry full of herbs, vegetable and chicken stock, so it's easy to take some odds and ends and have a nice soup. I make a lot of soup, usually heading to the market with some flavor profile in mind--rich tomato, delicate corn, sweet n' sour curry--always taking the contents of the fridge in mind. Sometimes the odds and ends are too odd to fit together harmoniously, but I can usually figure out how to get most of the 'looked good at market but didn't get cooked up by itself this week' veggies into this week's soup.

And there is such a variety of possibilities, that after a couple of decades of relying on soup for more meals than any other staple dish, I am still making new discoveries. Last fall I made an incredible winter squash soup without stock--just baked winter squash pulp, seasoned with peppers and leeks and sage and pecorino--and now I can't wait for fall squashes to come around again to explore this theme further. I've recently been doing a lot with cauliflower, which is so amazingly versatile, sweet, sour, hot, strongly herbed or gently sweet. Yum.

And now, fired up by this topic, I am starting to imagine a soup for today, but the freezer is still full of some marvelous sweet corn and freekah soup, and some tomato-corn-squash-pepper-basil stew, and there is no room for another large batch until I eat more of what I have. But once I get the soup bug in my head, it's hard to stop obesssing about it.

How much pepper can one soup hold? Sweet peppers and hot peppers, spiced with coriander and cinnamon, or with rosemary and oregano and dry jack, bulked out with carrots, potatoes, rice, barley, or millet? A bit of chopped or grated nuts for seasoning? What greens would be complementary? I don't eat nearly enough greens, always need to fit more of them in. And does it need a complementary bread, cracker, muffin to go with?

I love love love vegetable soups.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 15 August 2010 - 12:45 PM.