Monday, February 25, 2013

Mexican Vegetable Soup

February. The shortest month of the year always seems the longest to me. Last night I arrived home sniffling, sneezing, and starving. A quick rummage in the fridge yielded the ingredients for this fast, satisfying vegetable soup, which gets its kick from ground chile peppers (my next-door neighbor was kind enough to grind a whole bunch in her Vitamix and bring me a jar), and jarred salsa.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in your favorite soup pot. Add half of a yellow onion, 3 cloves of garlic, one or two carrots, and 3 ribs of celery. Don't worry about knife skills here, just chop it all up willy nilly. You're in a hurry, aren't you? Toss in a teaspoon of ground chile peppers. When the mixture is fragrant, add 6 cups vegetable stock (the kind from a box is fine, I'm not judging), 2 peeled and diced Yukon Gold potatoes, and 1/2 cup salsa. Simmer until the potatoes are almost tender (about 10 minutes), then throw in 2 diced zucchini, 2 cups black beans (canned are fine), and 2 cups of kale (or whatever greens you have in the fridge). Simmer for 5 minutes more. Season to taste with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and some minced cilantro and/or parsley.

There. You're done. Wasn't that easy?

Extra credit: If you want to bake up some biscuits while the soup is simmering, throw 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour into your food processor with 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Buzz until combined, then add 3 tablespoons vegan butter, and 3 tablespoons plain coconut milk yogurt. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly (if you want to get fancy, throw in some finely chopped jalapeno with the fats), then run the food processor while you pour in 3/4 cup soy, rice, or hemp milk. If you are a Luddite, just put it all in a bowl, mash in the fats with a couple of forks, then stir in the milk. Spray a cast iron skillet with cooking spray, then divide your biscuit mixture into 8 biscuity-looking lumps and throw it in a 400 degree oven while the soup simmers. Your buttery, hot, not-at-all-fancy biscuits will be ready in 12-15 minutes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cure Your Winter Blues

"All nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair. 
The bees are stirring, birds are on the wing 
And Winter, slumbering in the open air
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Ah, January. Frigid temperatures, days of cloudy weather, and of course, the dreaded cold or flu bug. My new friend Isabel recently looked at me, huddled in pajamas on a Saturday night, sniffling miserably as I amassed a small mountain of tissues and teacups, and declared, "You need to make ginger soup. Now." She was right!

I set out to create a quick medicinal soup that would cure and comfort me, and since that first pot, I've been practically living on the stuff. With homemade vegetable stock in the freezer, and a few readily available ingredients, you can be enjoying a bowl of hot, gingery, brothy goodness in about 20 minutes. Each ingredient brings its own medicinal qualities, and the flavor is light, spicy, and comforting. While many reach for chicken soup when a cold is coming on, studies have shown that a soup of lightly cooked vegetables has similar symptom-relieving benefits.

The recipe:
1 cup jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions
1 TB. sesame oil
2" piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
6 cups homemade vegetable stock
1 tsp. tamari
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed well
6 oz. (1 package) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
8 leaves kale, sliced into thin ribbons
juice of 1/2 lemon
hot sauce, such as Sriracha, to taste

Heat sesame oil in a medium sauce pan over medium high  heat. Add ginger, garlic, and white parts of scallions. Stir for 1 minute, then add carrot and celery. Stir for 1 minute more, then add vegetable stock, tamari, and dried shiitakes.
Simmer soup for 15 minutes, then add fresh shiitakes and kale. Simmer 5 minutes more. Remove dried shiitake mushrooms (compost them, or save them in the freezer for stock).
Remove from heat, and add lemon juice and a little Sriracha.
Divide rice among four bowls, then add hot broth and veggies. Garnish each bowl of soup with reserved green scallion slices.

  • In addition to curing nausea and stomach upset, ginger provides anti-inflammatory and painkilling qualities.
  • Garlic offers natural antibiotic and antiviral benefits - use it generously when you're feeling under the weather.
  • Shiitake mushrooms provide immune system support, B Vitamins, and plenty of iron. Shiitake broth is often used to cure headaches, too.
  • Kale is rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K, and provides calcium, B vitamins, and cleansing phytonutrients.
  • Scallions cleanse the blood and, since they are a leafy green, are richer in vitamins and phytonutrients than other alliums, such as onions. 
  • Jasmine rice is fragrant and easily digested.
A big bowl of hot soup is the perfect comfort food. This recipe makes enough to serve four generously, or you can save it all for yourself. If you're making a big batch to put in the fridge, store soup and rice separately, then heat and combine.