Monday, December 02, 2013

Go-To Vegetable Soup

This past week brought a spate of traveling and holidays and celebrations. I have eaten cookies and latkes and New York pizza; I have finished unconscionable amounts of wedding appetizers and Thanksgiving courses and birthday cake. And now, I am home. I will snuggle my dog in my own comfy bed (farewell, pull-out couches!). I will do my laundry. I will read a book and spend a full 24 hours without making smalltalk with strangers. And I will make vegetable soup.

This soup is my go-to recipe, a sort of homely and humble minestrone-ish hybrid that I make every couple of weeks throughout the winter. It's an easy way to get a good shot of vegetables (whether or not you've had a deficit of same in your recent overindulgent Thanksgivukkah diet), and it freezes beautifully for a grab-and-go lunch on leftover-free days. And beyond a few basics (the building blocks of onions and carrots and tomato, the welcome sweetness of long-cooked cabbage), it is ridiculously adaptable. I've snuck in kale instead of chard, and a bunch of chopped parsley when I had neither. I've poured in leftover tomato juice instead of tomato puree, and stirred in handfuls of fresh basil in the summer. Beans have ranged from frozen leftover pigeon peas to quick pressure-cooked navies to none at all. No matter the variation, it tastes just like home.

Go-To Vegetable Soup

yields two full pots

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small-medium onions, cut in a small dice
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 cup barley
~8 cups vegetable broth (I tend to use homemade freezer stock or Rapunzel bullion these days)
6 carrots, peeled or scrubbed, and sliced into thick coins
3-4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 small head cabbage, thinly sliced/shredded
4 cups tomato puree
2 bay leaves
1-2 cups cooked (or par-cooked) beans
1 bunch chard, leaves and stems, washed and chopped (leaves can be roughly chopped, but make sure the stems are sliced thinly, like the celery)
1 handful chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil, or whatever you have — optional)
salt and pepper

Heat a large soup pot over a medium flame (if you have a mega stockpot you could make this in a single batch, but if not you'll need another pot later). Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute until they become translucent but haven't totally collapsed, ~10 minutes (adjust head as needed so that they soften without coloring). Add the garlic and paprika, and cook for another minute or two to soften. Add the barley and vegetable broth. Raise the heat until it reaches a boil, then reduce until it's just high enough to simmer. Cook for about half an hour, until the barley is par-cooked (you can use this time to prep the remaining vegetables).

After half an hour, transfer half the mixture into a second soup pot (unless your pot is epically large). Between the two pots, divide the carrots, celery, cabbage, tomato puree, and bay leaves. If the beans are only par-cooked, add them as well (if they're fully cooked, they'll come later). Add water to cover the mixture by a generous few inches. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat until it's somewhere between a very gentle boil and a healthy simmer. Cook ~45 minutes, until the carrots are fully softened and the cabbage is mostly translucent and softened. Add the beans (if fully cooked and not yet added) and the chard and fresh herbs. Simmer another 30 minutes, until everything is fully cooked and the flavors have blended. Season to taste, and serve. Soup improves upon standing (and isn't so bad after freezing, either).


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