Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Bits and Pieces Soup

Every so often, I'll have more vegetables than I know what to do with. Maybe it was a busy week filled with deadlines and pop-it-in-the-oven or, heaven forbid, microwave ready meals instead of lovely, freshly prepared food. Whatever the reason, I occasionally find myself saddled with an excess of vegetables that seems impossible to use up before the next deliver comes in. It's a terrible dilemma isn't it? What ever is a girl to do?

Thankfully there is an abundance of ways to get rid of leftovers - sauces, stir fries, pizza toppings. Over the weekend I put the last of the somewhat grungy mushrooms to good use in my first successful pasta endeavor - mushroom and savoy ravioli. Bear in mind that homemade pasta has been one of my cooking nemesis, so it was an absolute delight to have this little triumph after years of cursing impossible to work with pasta dough that tasted even worse than it looked. Let's just say that you'd have done just as well to shove a spoonful of flour paste into your mouth as eat the 'pasta' I made. However, that's another post.

Browsing through my refrigerator, the contents that screamed "use me!" were the mostly complete head of savoy cabbage, four mildly grungy looking carrots, a teeny tiny bit of cilantro, half an onion, and about a handful of leftover canned broad beans (fava beans). What to make, what to make.

SOUP! But of course. Now, having limited experience in the kitchen, I had no idea how these tastes would marry together. Or even if they would. I could end up with a big pot of yuck. Hopefully I'd end up with a big pot of yummy and highly edible, warm-you-up soup. Seems fitting considering the weather has taken a turn for the worst. So I consulted a couple of my favorite cookbooks - Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page and Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook. The first, while not particularly big on recipes appropriate for everyday use, is a veritable treasure trove of ingredients and their ideal flavor pairings. Don't know how to cook beets? Look it up for a list of ingredients that pair well with beets as well as suggested cooking methods - roasting, braising, etc. This book has saved me on more than one occasion, a brilliant companion for those like me who love to cook and experiment, but tend to lack the necessary experience and training to go "ah-ha!" on every whim.

I bought Madison's book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, about three months ago. Unfortunately, I've never had a chance to use it as I purchased it while visiting my family, and they're largely carnivorous. Of course part of the reason for going home is mom's home-cooking. Or, as is often the case, dad's home-cooking which means 1. I'm not cooking and 2. there isn't a whole lot of vegetarianism going on in the House of Scribble. Not expecting to stay in the UK past mid-fall, I left the gigantic book, a regular vegetarian bible, in New Jersey deeming it too large to bother with during cross-Atlantic travel. Rather than buy a second copy now that I'm staying in the UK a bit longer than anticipated, I bought another book - Greens. But why bring cookbooks up in an entry about leftovers? Well aside from the obvious usefulness of figuring out if Carrots and Savoy had any common flavor pairings, I based the cooking method for the soup I made on a recipe for Kale and Potato Soup with Chilli from Madison's book. A recipe, incidentally, that I highly recommend even if the chilli did make my nose a bit drippy. But that is what tissues and a future blog entry are for.

So with fingers crossed and a smattering of random vegetables in front of me, I got to work concocting a soup that somehow managed to pull itself together as I went. Love it when that happens!

The Scribble's Savoy and Carrot Bits and Pieces Soup


Four carrots, chopped
Half of a savoy cabbage, core removed, quartered and shredded
Half a large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic roughly chopped
Small potato, finely diced (added as an after thought to help thicken the soup)
About 1.5 liters vegetable stock or water - less or more depending on desired consistancy
Handful of leftover broad beans (fava beans) - optional
dash of chilli powder (optional - probably not necessary)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (I used bottled)
A good bunch of chopped up cilantro
Olive oil or other cooking oil
About 2 tablespoons spread or butter (I used Anchor)

1. Heat some oil* in a pan large enough to hold your soup. It is important that the oil is hot. You want to caramelize the carrots and onions just a tiny bit, and low heat will not accomplish this. In fact, low-medium heat will only contribute to a general wet mess for the type of quick cooking required here. Once the oil's hot, add the onions and give them a good stir. After about three minutes, the onions should be translucent and fragrant. Add your carrots and stir. Give the whole mixture another three minutes stirring regularly. Add your garlic. Stir. Yes, garlic comes last because onions+garlic at the same time at high heat tends to result in nasty, burnt garlic. Burny garlic is BAD.

2. Add enough water or stock so that you're not quite covering the vegetables. Lower heat, pop a lid on your soup, and let this concoction cook gently for five minutes to soften up the carrots and get the flavors all mingly and friendly.

3. Chuck in your cabbage, give it a stir. Cover and cook until just starting to wilt. There should still be enough liquid in your pot to steam the cabbage.

4. Add the rest of the stock. Cover. Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

5. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil to enrich the soup. Although this is optional, I found that it did a hell of a lot to improve the overall flavor and yumminess of the soup. It also took the last little edge off of the cabbage which can be quite bitter otherwise.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit with the lid off. This will allow the flavors to mingle further as well as cool the soup down for blending. I did try this soup without blending it together, but I didn't like it much. Every so often I'd get a lone piece of cabbage that hadn't quite broken down as much as it ought to have and it wasn't very pleasant. Zipping this soup in a blender to puree it works wonders! Once your soup has cooled down enough to puree, give it a whiz. You can either add your cilantro here or after the soup's been liquified. I added mine in before. Unfortunately, I only had a few useable leaves lefts. I'd have added some more otherwise. I'm not usually a cilantro fan, but I did like the extra zing it added. I suppose this is another ingredient that can be omitted if you're not into cilantro or simply don't have any lying around. I had so little in the soup that I'm certain it would taste fine without. It was nice to have the fresh green tang though.

7. Once you've got everything lovely and smooth, add in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and give it a good stir. At this point you can either serve at whatever temperature things are at or pop it back on the stove over low heat to warm through and get nice and toasty.

The keys I found were the pureeing, lemon juice, and butter enrichment. The lemon's acidity brightened everything up and helped tone down the otherwise very earthy flavors of carrot and cabbage. The butter enrichment added what I felt was an absolutely necessary creamy smoothness to the soup. It also helped mellow the flavors just that little bit more and, more importantly, bring them together.

soup ready to simmer

And there you have it. Round one of the Bits and Pieces soup. I liked it. I'm glad to have leftover soup too. Of course, this might not be your cup of tea. I can't swear by my own recipes. But the earthy bitterness of cabbage seems to work well with the earthy sweetness of carrot which I suppose makes sense since quite a few of the suggested pairings for cabbage in Culinary Artistry are sweet flavors - apples, beets, caraway, chestnuts, coconut, Madeira, paprika. So hurray for success. Makes me happy anyway. Makes my tummy happy too!

Probably also a good idea that I've finally started writing down recipes when I'm making stuff up. Otherwise I tend to forget and there goes any opportunity of recreating the occasional culinary success.

* A note on oil - I used Carotino, a blend of red palm and canola oil rich in vitamins and Omega fatty acids. Sounds good, right? Now generally it is. I've been on Carotino's website to double check their environmental practices and am pleased that they're adhereing to sustainable and flora-and-fauna friendly methods. Although I'm not normally quite this finicky about environmental practices of pre-packaged items (who has time to research everything about the products they buy), I am rather picky about things with palm oil in them. In certain areas, palm oil producing plantations have run into issues with one of my favorite animals - the Orang-utan. Therefore, it's important to me that the companies producing the palm oil are doing so sustainably and in a way that adapts to the orang-utans in the area instead of the other way around as this usually involves orangutans being shot or maimed by plantation owners protecting their crops. So, if you're using palm oils, which is delicious, flavorsome and healthy, please check that your product is not only sustainable but ape friendly.

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