Soup, A Way of Life

Years ago I bought a big, thick cookbook titled “Soup” with a perplexing subheading: “A way of life”. 

I’ve pondered the logic of that title forever. How could a bowlful of tomato, bean or chicken noodle soup determine one’s lifestyle?  Wasn’t this the domain of style or taste?  

But it turns out soup is just that — especially at breakfast. 

When I first witnessed Taipei office workers perched on stools at early morning street stalls slurping down hot steaming bowlfuls of doujiang, while dipping crispy, deep-fried bread sticks into a hot melange of soy bean soup, I knew it wasn’t for me. I could abide by doujiang as a late night snack, especially for its fabled anti-hangover abilities, but nope, not the morning after.

Ditto, say soup naysayers, when it comes to a dinner revolving around soup. A small appetizer, perhaps, but who in their right mind would make soup the star after six? 

Hot summer temperatures also tend to drive many people as far from soup as possible.  Yet not so in the Caribbean where scalding bowlfuls of callaloo or black-eyed pea soup not only assuage hunger but -get this- reduce body heat with cooling streams of sweat.

If anyone is guilty of a soup lifestyle, it’s me. It’s my go-to meal for lunch, dinner and snacks in between.  I make it by the vat full, counting on numerous labeled leftovers to pile into the freezer, otherwise known as my kitchen’s Taste Archives.  

Next time you ponder your lifestyle, consider pouring more soup into it. 

“Potage

This lush green soup  can be served hot or cold, preferably with a dollop of sour cream or cream-top yogurt and a flurry of fresh herbs.  

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

2 broccoli heads and stalks, chopped and separated

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup frozen green peas

2 cups packed spinach leaves 

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp salt  

2 tbsp white wine or white balsamic vinegar

1/2-1 cup sour cream 

Green onions 

Fresh mint

Heat a large pot, add oil and sauté onion, celery, carrot and broccoli stalks until tender and fragrant. Add stock and bring to a boil.  Add broccoli florets, peas, spinach leaves, bay leaf, dijon mustard, cayenne, black pepper, salt and white wine or vinegar.   Simmer covered until just tender, about 5-7 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Puree with an immersion blender. Whisk in sour cream or yogurt.  Serve hot immediately or refrigerate and serve chilled. Garnish with fresh mint and green onions.

 

Potato Bread

Whenever I buy a big bag of potatoes, I like to bake them all as soon as I can, before they languish in a cupboard, start to sprout and end up in the compost. I choose organic because they have double the flavour and nutrition.  

I scrub them under running water, but I don’t peel them. I prick each with a fork and leave them to dry on a clean tea towel as the oven heats to 425F.  Once it’s ready and hot, I open the oven and try to put each tater on the hot rack without any fall-throughs to the oven floor. I love the sizzling sputter when the cold potato skins hit the hot bars. 

It’s impossible to over-bake a potato, they just get fluffier and more intensely flavoured with time — but it is possible to have potato explosions when the taut, tight skin breaks. That’s why I prick them, to release the hot air. Yet, if you leave a little guy in there too along alongside bigger potatoes that are still under-done, you may hear a commotion behind the oven door and find sticky potato confetti splattered throughout. 

The best time to eat a baked potato is when it is hot out of the oven with a melting nob of butter and a sprinkle of Vancouver Island salt. 

The second best time is to bake it, again, in bread. 

Potatoes and bread are partners in starch crime. A potato makes bread fluffier and the crumb richer. If you prefer to boil your potatoes, save the (cooled) cooking water, for that also makes a flavour-filled difference when added to levain, sourdough or yeasted dough. 

The recipe below is loaded with garlic, too.  Roasting garlic takes away the harsh bite of fresh and turns it into a sticky, spreadable goo.  Equally sticky is this bread’s stiff levain. Running a plastic bowl scraper under water may help to remove it from the bowl in a large piece which you can break into chunks using wet hands. 

Freshly baked bread, whether it contains potatoes or not, will make your friends and family delirious with joy and is worth every sticky messy gooey part of the cleanup.  

Roasted Potato, Garlic and Spelt Levain

Adding potatoes to bread dough creates a fluffy, richly flavoured crumb, especially with the addition of roasted garlic. Yukon gold or yellow-fleshed potatoes are perfect for the job, but fingerlings are just as tasty, too. 

2 medium potatoes (9 ounces) organic yellow-fleshed or Yukon gold potatoes  

1 head organic garlic

Sea salt

Fresh rosemary or thyme

1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven 425 F.  Slice 1/2 inch off  the top of the garlic head, place upright on a square of aluminum foil, sprinkle with sea salt, dried or fresh rosemary or thyme and a teaspoon of olive oil, pull four corners of foil to top and close. Place in the oven.  Prick potatoes with fork and place directly on the oven rack. Bake 45 min or until potatoes are tender and ready to explode.    

1.5 oz 100% hydration starter

6.2 oz spring water

9.6 oz white flour

In a medium glass bowl, knead starter, water and flour to create a stiff levain. Cover and leave on counter to rise and create a dome,  7-8 hrs.  I usually do this in the evening before bed.

11 oz organic whole spelt 

11 oz organic white all-purpose or bread flour 

13 oz spring water

9 oz roasted organic potatoes with skins on, crumbled 

All the gooey garlic squeezed out of the roasted head of garlic

.6 oz sea salt

Next morning, mix spelt, white flour, water, potatoes, garlic and sea salt in mixer with paddle to combine. Remove 1.5 ounce of the levain and reserve, labelled and dated in fridge. Spoon out remaining levain in chunks and add to shaggy dough.  Mix with dough hook for 3 min at first speed, increase to second speed and mix another 3 minutes, until dough is balling around the hook. Cover the bowl with plastic or a dinner plate and leave on counter for 45 min. Run your hand under water and start tugging the dough gently stretching it as far as you can without tearing then folding down on top. Repeat three more times, turning the bowl in quarters clockwise. Rest another 45 min. 

Shape the dough and place upside down or crease side up in rice flour-dusted bannetons. Cover with shower caps. Refrigerate 18-24 hours.

To bake, preheat two dutch ovens (I use LodgePan Combo Cookers) in a 500 oven for 30-60 min depending on your oven. You want the pans to get dangerously hot and you must wear long and durable oven gloves when moving the pans in and out of the oven. 

Remove fermented loaves from the fridge, take off shower caps and cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over each one.  Place a rimless baking sheet over the parchment and holding both baking sheet and banneton, flip it over, lift off banneton and score the dough as desired.  

Carefully remove one dutch oven from the oven, slide the scored dough into the base, cover and return to oven.  Repeat. Bake 20 min. Carefully remove the dutch oven lids, reduce to 450 F and bake 15-20 more minutes or until deep golden brown.

Allow to cool on baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

Rhubarb: Fast & Fresh

Rhubarb. I really didn’t know if I should pick it. Nothing else in my April garden looked as ready.   

Yet there she was, boasting her verdancy amid a swirling carpet of troublesome buttercup and clumps of new grass. Rhubarb shouted out with big fat leaves the size of platters.  

She had erupted from the cold wet March soil as blood red crowns, quickly morphing into crinkly, neon-green bundles. I stopped trolling rhubarb for a couple of weeks and was shocked to find her wings unfurled.  Her massive (and toxic) wavy green leaves were hiding edible stalks beneath. 

She identifies as a fruit but is a vegetable, our lady rhubarb. 

I took a deep breath and harvested five stalks today, yanking each one from the base, a thin white filament sliced from the root ball clinging to the bottom of every stalk. 

In the kitchen, I washed and trimmed my April bounty, covering the base of a wide pot with a half-inch dice. Splash went sweet apple juice over the red chunks, just to cover.  I took a large spoon and scooped out an ample portion of fine, local honey from our friend and arborist Gordon MacKay. 

Covered, the rhubarb gently simmered for no more than 10 minutes dissolving into a tangy compote ready for breakfast yogurt, dessert-time ice cream or simply solo and divine.  

Roasted Carrots and Cabbage

Roasted Carrots and Cabbage with Rosemary

Easy and quick, this roasted pan of veggies is as fun to design as it is to eat. When peeling or slicing onions and cabbage do not pare off the core or stem end which holds the piece together when turning over halfway through the bake to expose all that caramelized deliciousness.    

2-4 tbsp olive oil

5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 4-5 inch sticks

6 cabbage wedges, core attached

1 small onion, peeled, quartered with core attached

10-12 cherry or grape tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled or not

Rosemary, dried or fresh, de-stemmed

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Chili pepper flakes 

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a rimmed baking sheet. 

Arrange carrots in a line down the middle and place 3 cabbage wedges above and below.  Scatter over with onion, tomatoes, garlic cloves and rosemary.  Sprinkle liberally with salt, freshly ground pepper and chilli pepper flakes, if desired.  Drizzle remaining olive oil on top. 

Bake on the top rack for 15 min, flip veggies over and return to oven until golden brown and fragrant, 15-20 more minutes.

 

dipping into soup

There is something so very gratifying about making soup again —  despite the sweltering August heat. The kitchen garden is busting with basil, tomatoes and zucchini. Meanwhile, the fridge is crowded with leftover this and that, daily harvests tucked into bags and fresh produce splurges found on sale.  

I open the crisper and am determined to find a destination for a clutch of golden beet greens that are still fresh and vibrant a whole week after their yellow orbs were removed. Wouldn’t these greens taste fine in a vegan bean soup? I pounce on two cups of leftover bean dip:  the genesis.  Laced with lemon, rosemary and smoked paprika, this luscious dip on the blog last week will be this week’s soup base.  

I yank out a medium pot, heat it on medium-high, waiting a minute or two before drizzling the base with two tablespoons of olive oil. Next up, a chopped yellow onion and two stalks of celery sprinkled over by a confetti of golden beet leaf stalks. 

Down in our basement, where the rat once lived, I survey the contents of my standup freezer door where each of the four shelves is lined with green-lidded yogurt containers.  Most are full of chicken or bean stock.  Others contain soup. Some are pasta sauces. All are meticulously labelled. I grab two white bean stock containers and climb up the rickety wood stairs.

In a flash, a soup base is born. It’s strange to spoon my cold bean dip into the caramelized onions, celery and beet stalks but magic happens when I pour in the broth and a cloudy, creamy liquid swirls beneath.

More veg! I cut a yellow bell pepper into mouthfuls and a dozen grape tomatoes into quarters. A cob of corn is sliced into a pile of niblets that are shoved with my chef’s knife into the mix. I find a small patty pan squash and a zebra-striped zucchini from today’s harvest and chop them up. 

I fiddle with seasoning, starting small with salt — just a  teaspoon — then lashings of ground black pepper, a big pinch of chilli flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika.  On with the cover and a low simmer for 10 minutes or so. 

Another taste of this soup-in-the-making tells me lemon from the dip is too loud.  I blunt it with tomato paste.  I don’t open a can, I find a flattened sheet of tomato paste frozen into a thin, easy-to-break sheet from the flavour drawer in my kitchen freezer. Baggies full of frozen bay laurel and kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chopped herbs, galangal, whole Thai red chili peppers and lime juice cubes are just a reach away from stovetop soups, curries and sauces.

I toss in a square inch of paste along with another 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a sprig of basil, pinched from the garden just moments ago,

Another taste. This soup is still asking for more…

I give it a wallop, smashing two cloves of hard-neck garlic just harvested by a Cowichan Valley young farmers’ collective. The smash is so sticky, papery thin garlic skins become glued to my fingers. Sticky garlic can only mean one thing: Rich, garlicky bite. I sprinkle the sticky crumble over the bubbling soup’s surface and chuckle and natter on to myself, laughing like a witch.

Last step and we find ourselves at the beginning again. Those beet greens. I slice then slide them off my cutting board, the green mound melting instantly into a sea of beans. I turn off the heat.  It’s done. Soup again. 

Garden Vegetable Bean Dip Soup

Totally unorthodox, this soup’s success rests on humus or bean dip. Clean out the contents of your fridge with this nutritious brew, substituting any of my additions with your own fridge or garden finds. 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 bunch golden beet stalks, minced 

2 cups bean dip

6 cups white bean vegetable stock

1 yellow bell pepper, cubed

1 small zucchini, 1/2-inch dice

1 patty pan squash, sliced

4 small boiled potatoes, cubed

6 grape tomatoes, quartered

Niblets from one cob of corn

1-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Big pinch chili flakes 

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

Beet greens, sliced 

Heat a medium pot on medium-high. Add oil, onion, celery and beet stalks and saute until tender. Add bean dip and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add bell pepper, zucchini, patty pan squash, potatoes, tomatoes and corn. Season with salt, black pepper, tomato paste, paprika, chilli flakes and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and beet greens and cook a final minute or two.

White Bean & Rosemary Dip

Let’s take the pulse on pulses. I’m talking dried legumes that grow inside pods, be it beans, peas or lentils. 

So much value in every bite.  Full of protein. Packed with fibre. What kitchen can survive without these yummy little packages?

Open my pantry and you’ll find shelf upon shelf of peas – like chickpeas, green peas and black-eyed peas. 

Then there are beans. Kidney-shaped in black, red and white. Black ones, often called turtle and fermented into a salty Chinese condiment. Italian variations like cannellini (white kidney) beans or ceci (chickpeas) beans, borlotti, butterbeans, lupini beans and fava. 

We haven’t even mentioned lentils! Small red ones (also called Egyptian) are one of the quickest you can cook, while green and brown lentils take a few more minutes. But those French babies dubbed Le Puy are my favourite. 

Indian cuisine revels in pulses and you’ll find the largest selection with the most confusing appellations in ethnic food aisles and Indian grocery stores.

Many turn to canned beans instead of dried, for convenience sake. I like to soak and cook pulses in bulk. Once they’re tender, drained and cooled, I freeze and label in two cup containers.  

No matter which pulse moves you the most, your health (and the earth) will thank you if you eat them regularly. 

White Bean and Rosemary Dip

This easy dip needs a food processor to become sublime.  Yes, you can hand-mash canned beans into a delicious affair but I like to use cooked dried beans, which provide more flavour and texture but call out for strong maceration. Do NOT use a blender. Dried beans you hydrate and cook yourself are not only cheaper than canned, but contain zero sodium compared to the oodles found in canned.

1 garlic clove

2 cups cooked white beans such as kidney, navy or cannelinni

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (aprox 5-inch sprig)

1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2-1 tsp kosher salt

1-2 tbsp water * optional

Freshly ground black pepper

With the food processor blade running, drop garlic clove down the tube to mince. Add beans, lemon juice, rosemary and paprika and mix until well combined.  Pour oil through feeding tube while the blade is running.  Add water, if needed, to make the puree the right consistency.  Season with salt and black pepper. Serve in a bowl, garnished with a whole sprig of rosemary, a light drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of Vancouver Island flaky salt.