Monday, June 20, 2011

A Spring Tonic: Ode to Greens and Root Vegetables

There were three things that I was eager to do immediately upon our return to town: pick up Lucy from the kennel, go to the farmer's market to get our CSA basket, and visit our community garden plot. Although Louisville has great vegan food, I missed the fresh vegetables from the market and our garden. There's nothing quite like planning meals around what's in season--it's this very thing that's made us so attached to the CSA (we're in our third year with A Place of the Heart Farm). When I visited our community garden plot, there were over half a dozen cosmic purple carrots ready to pick; I was surprised by how big they were--some as long as eight inches. It was my first time to try to grow carrots, and I only put in a couple short rows of them, but I have really been enjoying the results: the carrots are spicier and tastier than even the organic ones from the store. And they're just so beautiful, not only on the outside, too--I always look forward to seeing the contrasts of orange flesh, greenish-yellow core, and the purple skin when I slice them.

The soup I'm about to introduce isn't just about the carrots, although they are an integral part of it; the soup is more of a convergence of a few different greens and vegetables that have flourished in our garden. In fact, the only ingredients that are not local are the onion, olive oil, and the salt/pepper--everything else came either from our CSA (garlic, parsley, mustard greens) or was grown by us (beet, turnip, carrot, arugula, sorrel, thyme). It is a wonderfully quick soup that has a good depth of flavor without relying on stock; it also allowed me to use up a good amount of the greens that have proliferated in the week of our absence.

I've had Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups for at least four years, and have only used recipes from it a couple times because when I first bought the book, I had a very primitive understanding of soup, and a good few of her recipes call for stock, or patience, or both. Lately, though--and especially with this soup adaptation, my interest has been piqued--it's such a simple soup, and yet so good that I can only imagine how wonderful some of the more complex recipes will be. Also, now that we have a garden, some of these more elusive ingredients are readily available.
I picked the soup recipe specifically for the greens that have been missing from my diet in the last week and a half--it's called "A Spring Tonic," and although we're almost out of spring and into summer, it was definitely nourishing and restorative. The original recipe calls for nettles and watercress, but I didn't have any on hand; it also calls for two small potatoes--but alas, we finished off the rest of our potatoes before leaving town, so I substituted a good-sized turnip. I think that the soup I made yesterday was every bit as good as the original recipe, as I stayed true to the concept: lots of greens with some starch for consistency.

-2 T olive oil
-1 medium turnip, cubed
-1 medium onion, diced
-2 carrots, diced
-5 garlic cloves, chopped
-sprig of fresh thyme
-handful of parsley
-2 cups sorrel, chopped
-1 cup arugula, chopped
-2 cups beet greens, chopped
-1 cup mustard greens, chopped
(feel free to include radish tops, carrot tops, or other odd greens
-sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Warm olive oil in a wide soup pot. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion starts becoming translucent; add turnip, carrots, parsley, and thyme. Give a good stir and cook over medium heat for several minutes, and then add the greens. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until the greens have collapsed, about 5 minutes, turning them every so often.

2. Once the greens have wilted, add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the root vegetables are soft, 20 minutes or so. Puree the soup and adjust the spices; serve with a swirl of olive oil or chive blossoms.

As you can see, I chose to not puree the soup (at first), and just had it as is; the soup is just as Madison describes, "the sum of the flavor [of the ingredients] is always larger than the parts." I pureed the leftovers, and am looking forward to eating it again. I can see continuing to make this as "A Summer Tonic" on those days when I need rejuvenation or an extra dose of iron. I'm so glad that I've returned to this book of soups, and I'm sure I'll be using it soon to make cool soups for the hot heart of summer.

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