Thursday, November 21, 2013

Soup: Simple & Savory

Good evening everyone! I’m frequently asked how I taught myself to cook – people are frequently overwhelmed by the prospect of cooking 100% from scratch meals and don’t even know where to begin when trying a task for themselves. My answer is always the same, I taught myself through trial and error and with a lot of help from Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” cookbook. His cookbook broke complicated cooking concepts into basic English and made an overwhelming task relatively easy for a beginner.

From there, I moved on to America’s Test Kitchen recipes, which carefully laid out WHY flavoring works the way it does. This was supplemented by episodes of Alton Brown’s TV show “Good Eats” which explained the science of cooking alongside easy to follow instructions. It was a process and certainly didn’t happen overnight, but by taking small steps, I was able to effectively teach myself to cook from scratch.

“That’s all well and good” folks typically respond, “But I don’t even know where I’d begin to do something like that” that exchange typically ends the conversation. Most people are looking for the “starter recipe” something that is hard to mess up, but that will teach layering and other basic cooking techniques that are necessary for more advanced recipes. Pity such a recipe doesn’t exist, right?


In fact, we’re in the PERFECT season for just such recipes (yes, recipes, with an “S”). What is this wonder dish, this teacher of all teachers? Soup. Humble soup is the perfect candidate for the beginning chef, or those looking to brush up on their culinary skills (advanced chefs love it too – FYI). It’s almost impossible to mess up (too thick? congratulations, you made stew!) it has a decent amount of prep work (great practice) and it shows you how to layer different ingredients to create beautiful flavors.

If you haven’t figured it out, soup is on the menu tonight – and it’s one of my all time favorite recipes. Let’s get cooking!

The Recipe: Vegetable Soup
Original Recipe From: Good Eats (2004)

What You’ll Need:
(Serves 6 to 8)

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cups Chopped Leeks (White part only, rinsed well)*
2 Tablespoons Minced Garlic
2 Cups Carrots (Peeled, chopped)**
2 Cups Russet Potatoes (Peeled, diced)
2 Cups Fresh Green Beans (Cut into ¾ inch pieces)
2 Quarts Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth
4 Cups Tomatoes (Peeled, diced, seeded – canned works well as a substitute)
2 Cups Corn Kernels***
¼ Cup Packed Fresh Parsley Leaves
1 to 2 Teaspoons Fresh Lemon Juice

* By “white part only” the recipe means for you use the base of the leek all the way until the stem turns a darker green. You want everything that’s white to green/white (typically ½ to ¾ of the stem). For 2 cups, you’ll need about 3 medium leeks.

** Two medium carrots should yield two cups. We had smaller carrots, so we used four carrots. Adjust accordingly depending on what you can find.

*** If using fresh, 2 years of corn should yield two cups.

It’s tempting to take a shortcut with this recipe and simply use a bag of frozen vegetables to cut out the prep work. DON’T DO IT. While frozen vegetables certainly have their uses in recipes, they simply aren’t meant for this one. Go with as many fresh ingredients as you can, you’ll appreciate the final result when it’s all said and done. For our recipe, the only thing we could no longer find fresh was corn, so we had to use frozen corn kernels instead. Everything else was fresh and readily found in our grocery store.

Ideally for this recipe, you should use a large stock or soup pot with high sides. We’re not equipped with a stock pot, so we used our largest pot (our dutch oven) and while it worked, the pot was a bit crowded. If you have a tall narrow stock or stew pot – use it!

Begin by heating the olive oil in your pot over medium low heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering slightly, add the leeks, garlic and a pinch of salt (the salt will help pull the moisture for the leeks) and cook until the leeks begin to soften. This takes about 5 to 8 minutes. Next, add the carrots, potatoes and green beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 5 minutes.

Slowly add the stock, then increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a light simmer. Once simmering, carefully stir in the tomatoes and corn kernels. Add a pinch of pepper to the pot as well. Stir to combine and then bring the mixture to a light simmer again before reducing the heat to medium low. Cover the pot and allow the vegetables to cook until they are tender – this take about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how crowded your pot is (less room, more cooking time).

Once the veggies are tender, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the parsley and lemon juice. Season the soup with additional salt and pepper as needed (careful not to over season, it’s easy to add more salt, darn near impossible to take out excess seasoning after the fact). Serve immediately and enjoy!

Tip: if you find that some “foam” or “scum” from your veggies has risen to the top of the pot, simply use a small strainer or ladle to pull it off the surface and discard.

The Results:

The flavors of this recipe place it in my top 3 soup recipes of all time. The perfect blending of the veggies (hearty potatoes, fresh green beans, bright carrots, sweet corn) melding with the acidic tomatoes creates one of the most harmonious and fresh tasting dishes you’ll ever try.

The extra prep work that comes with this recipe is a great way to learn knife skills (there’s a LOT of cutting) and the diet friendly calorie count (255 per serving) just adds to this recipe’s appeal. If you’re looking for a place to begin your own culinary adventure or is you’re simply looking for a healthy soup for these cool fall nights, this recipe is sure to impress.

That's all we have for you this evening. Maggie takes to the kitchen tomorrow night with a brand new spin on pizza. Be sure to stop by and check it out!

Until then,


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