Birthday Soup for Friday Tidies
Over a dozen years ago, I started a volunteer group called the Friday Tidies to help maintain the extensive grounds at our public library on Bainbridge Island. After an expansion and remodel, the library parking lot was enlarged several times, as were the gardens that surround them. A few years ago, we won a national award for the best library gardens, which was quite a thrill.
Early in January, the Friday Tidies celebrates several winter birthdays. This year, we worked for a few hours at the library, pruning and moving shrubs around, then we regathered at my house for a potluck. As I waited for the others to arrive, I tossed together a rather pleasing Birthday Soup which provoked requests for the recipe (see below).
A Soulful Soup
I love soup. Nutritious, delicious, low fat and quickly cooked, entree soups are surprisingly simple to prepare. In the winter I make soup almost every day, usually involving fresh, locally grown winter greens (some right off my back porch) and some kind of citrus. Citrus has a magical quality of freshness that gives a lift to heavy, hearty winter fare, brightens salads, and makes sparkly desserts.
Though this was not The Birthday Soup, here’s a good example of a favorite, heartening winter soup that is totally satisfying yet feels refreshing rather than hearty:
Chicken Soup With Orange and Lavender
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 organic orange, juiced, rind grated
1 teaspoon dried food-grade lavender
1 sweet orange or yellow pepper, chopped
1 cup fennel, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated carrot
8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken, chopped
3 cups red chard, finely shredded
salt and pepper
In a pan, heat oil, shallot, orange rind, and lavender over medium high heat to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add sweet pepper, fennel, and carrot and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes. Add water to cover (at least 2 cups), cover pan and simmer over low heat until chicken is tender (15-20 minutes). Add chard and orange juice, cover pan and cook until barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 2.
Note: To avoid ingesting pesticide residues, always use organic fruit when cooking with citrus rind.
Speedy Soup Making; Fast, Fresh, and Fabulous
Here’s how to make a splendid soup super fast. Start with a teaspoon or two of of olive oil and a member of the onion family; garlic, red, white or yellow onions, sweet onions, shallots, or leeks. Dried herbs, organic citrus zest, minced ginger, fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, and other spices can be added now, as well as a good pinch of sea salt, which gets the juices flowing. Cook over medium high heat until these aromatic elements reach the fragrance point–usually 1 minute or so.
To build your stock, add vegetables (about 2 cups per person) in order of density, sautéing for a minute or two, then adding broth or water to cover. To keep your carbohydrate-protein ratios balanced, use fewer dense, calorie-rich vegetables and more of the fast-cooking ones.
Diced or chopped potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, beets, squash, and carrots (about 1/4 cup per person of these) cook for 15-20 minutes, while fresh green or yellow beans, peas, fennel, zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, and leafy greens (up to 2 cups of greens per person) need only 3-5 minutes.
Your broth will be enhanced by the protein source you choose (add about 4 ounces per adult). Thinly sliced or cubed chicken cooks in about 6-8 minutes, while shrimp, prawns, scallop}s, mussels, clams, and sliced fish need only 3-4 minutes. Vegans will prefer some kind of beans (mung beans and adzuki beans cook as fast as rice), as well as tofu, which just needs to heat up, while ovo-lacto vegetarians can add whisked eggs (1 per person) that cook in seconds.
A Fine Finish
To give your soup a pleasing finish, skim off any foam and season to taste with fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice(s), sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Always salt lightly during the cooking, then adjust the salt to taste after soup is fully cooked, using soy sauce, ponzu, or Bragg Liquid Aminos for a slightly different flavor effect. Freshly ground pepper makes a huge difference too; try white peppercorns as well as black or pink ones.
Garnish with something fresh and tasty such as diced apples or pears, shredded savoy cabbage or bok choy, sliced green or red onions, minced fennel or basil leaves, chopped almonds or hazelnuts, stemmed cilantro or lemon thyme.
Vegetarian soups often lack body, largely because they are not based on meat. The meaty quality called umame is one of the five basic flavors our tongue has receptors for (along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour). Fortunately, there are a number of good sources for umame besides meat.
If your soup tastes thin, give it more body with a dash of smoked paprika. Bragg Liquid Aminos (a kind of soy sauce that contains all the amino acids our bodies need) also contributes that umame quality. You’ll also build depth and body by adding some organic vegetable broth powder (I like the German kind made by Seitenbacher), a dry marsala, unfiltered pear or apple cider, balsamic or rice vinegar, organic brown rice soy sauce (it has more depth), or a teaspoon or two of anchovy paste (nobody ever guesses).
Bolster favorite soup or stew recipes with extra vegetables and use at least four kinds in every dish. For instance, add leafy greens, sweet peppers, fennel, and mushrooms to any chicken soup.
Refrigerate stews and thick soups overnight for fullest flavor.
Instead of adding cream, puree half of any cooked soup, then combine the two halves and serve. An immersion blender is great for this.
For freshest flavor, buy unsalted broth and season it yourself.
For a taste of spring, add up to 1/4 cup of minced fresh basil, fennel, green onions, or cilantro to a winter soup just before serving.
The Birthday Soup
Still with me? And now, at last, here’s what went into that savory soup pot:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon each celery seed, fennel seed, and mustard seed
1 organic lemon, rind zested
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons Italian herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil)
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 bag frozen corn (Cascadian Farms is the very best)
1 bag frozen baby peas (ditto)
1 large can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 bunch Black Tuscan kale, shredded
2-3 sprays of Bragg Liquid Aminos
salt and pepper to taste
lots of grated Romano cheese
In a soup pot combine oil, seeds, and lemon zest over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point. Add onion, salt, smoked paprika and herbs and cook, stirring, until soft (4-5 minutes). Add yellow pepper and cook until barely soft (2-3 minutes). Add frozen vegetables and tomatoes, adding water to cover as needed (maybe a cup or two) and simmer for 10 minutes. Add kale, cover pot and cook until barely wilted but still fresh green (3-4 minutes). Season to taste with Braggs and salt and pepper and serve, garnished with ample cheese. Served 10. Did I forget anything, girls?