It started with my totally white-trash affinity for ramen – back in third grade, when ramen was primarily available as a freeze-dried brick of lard you boiled in a pan of water and then doused with a packet of salty chemicals. Imagine my delight when ramen went all ironic and gourmet, courtesy of David Chang’s Momofuku.
Thankfully (that’s my heart – and colon – showing gratitude), my taste for soup has evolved as much as ramen, venturing into the far healthier, much heartier, and vegetable-laden. This has especially been the case over this brrrr-cold winter, when a giant pot of simmering veggies and spices is really all you need to keep the chill, much less that M.D., away.
And so my soup pot has quickly become the teacher’s pet of my pot & pan collection. It started last October, when I whipped up the potato soup I mastered in college, when I was first dabbling in vegetarianism. These days, I consider myself “mostly veg” as – sans a quart of organic half-and-half in my fridge for the customary a.m. cup o’ java – my house is meat- and dairy-free. (Outside the casa however, particularly when a wicked case of PMS strikes, if I want a burger, I am GETTING a burger – or a big plate of lamb and rice from the Mediterranean joint down the street – and Midol and my arteries can just suck it).
I’ve found that stirring up a big pot of soup/stew is the best way to get loads of veggies into my bod, while satisfying my hunger, and ensuring (thanks to frozen leftovers) that I have healthy, hearty meals in a jiff. Truth be told, there’s also an enormous sense of pioneer/Laura Ingalls-like pride and accomplishment that comes from making your own soup. And if you’re pissed off, chopping vegetables is a great outlet. I don’t need to elaborate.
And with that, I turn over my four favorites to you. With the exception of the lentil soup – which calls for chicken broth – all of them are not just vegetarian, but vegan. Just in time for Lent, for those of you giving up a vice starting this Wednesday (like my Greek friends who are about to forgo meat for 40 days). And P.S. I highly recommend these awesome frozen whole grain rolls from Alexia as the ideal accompaniment. Pair with a glass (ahem, a GLASS) of your favorite vino and your winter soup supper is served.
Potage a la Bonne Femme (aka Not Your Ordinary Potato Soup)
Lentil & Root Vegetable Soup (from one of my *fave* food bloggers, Aran Goyoaga. A few personal adaptations: I use yams instead of sweet potatoes, and two rather than one because I can’t for the life of me find kuri squash. I also add an extra stalk or two of celery. And I leave out the chorizo. Obvs.)
Cauliflower & Chickpea Stew (fabulous with or without couscous)
Photo above – a close relative of Potage a la Bonne Femme, adapted ever-so-slightly from Lisa Tracy’s The Gradual Vegetarian (I know, the cover design looks like something you’d find in an 80’s roller skating rink, but it really is a wonderful – if ancient – book). You could probably substitute chicken broth for the water for even more flavor; if you do, consider cutting back on the salt. Of course, you’ll also lose the whole vegan label, but you might not give a shit.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium potatoes, scrubbed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon Maldon salt (seriously, you shouldn’t be using anything else – throw that Morton shit out the window or use it to de-ice your driveway or something)
6 peppercorns (Tellicherry’s my fave. And yes, that’s *six* peppercorns. I like it spicy. Meow.)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bag or clamshell pack fresh spinach (pony up a few extra cents for the already-washed variety and save yourself some time)
Heat olive oil in a heavy kettle and add potatoes, onion, carrot, and celery. Saute for a minute, then add 2 quarts (i.e., 64 ounces/8 cups) of water. Bring to a boil, add salt, pepper, and thyme and cook until vegetables are tender – about a half-hour. Add spinach and cook a minute or two, until wilted. Whir through the mixture with an immersion blender (or pour into a food processor if you’re coordinated enough – I’m not). The consistency should be chunky, not quite smooth. Don’t use the photo of my soup as a guideline because I got carried away with an Immersion Blender Super Powers fantasy and pureed the shit out of it. It was still good, but restraint – or for that matter, reality – is clearly not my strong point.
Feel free to thin the soup with water if it’s a bit thick for your taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit. Also weed out any thyme stems that survived the blender so your guests don’t think you made soup out of your compost pile.
Just like the Alton Brown show, that, my friends, is some good eats.