The Holidays are over, and like most, I’m constantly hearing about healthy eating, cleansing, de-toxing, 100 different types of diets and exercise plans. You cannot turn on the TV or pick up a magazine without feeling guilty that you are just not interested in any of it. I enjoy all sorts of exercise and always have a moderate, varied plan in place, and I try all year long to eat healthy, with some splurges now and then (mostly now). I am just not interested in trying the new “Stiletto workout” and drinking nothing but green juice for a week. First of all, I can not even walk in stilettos, let alone do a workout in them. And it literally pains me to take gorgeous fresh vegetables and put them through a machine and watch 5 drops of juice come out, and then throw the rest away. Sorry, but I will stick with yoga and vegetable soup. So today I would like to share my secret for delicious (and cleansing) vegetable soup. The secret is to throw any vegetables, herbs and spices that you love into a huge pot of water, add some seasonings and cook for at least an hour. When done, you can add some beans, brown rice, pasta, if you like, and you will be very, very, happy. Don’t worry. I am not going to leave you hanging like that without any direction. I will give you the recipe that I concocted last night, with variations, so you can begin the fun of creating your own different, delectable “healthy” soups. Half the fun, is doing something different each time, and then awaiting the taste and making mental adjustments for the next time.
As I have mentioned, soup was something my mother made from scratch only when someone was sick. If you weren’t sick, soup came out of a can…Campbell’s. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that there was something other than homemade chicken soup.
Many years later, it was my mother-in-law who taught me to not be afraid to put anything that I thought would taste good into a soup. She was a master at this. She literally could take celery and turn it into a soup to die for. I would love to hear her tell stories about living in the countryside in Italy and having to feed a family of six ( 5 of which were boys) with just some potatoes and a few vegetables from the garden. Hence…..soup!
So let me share with you what I put together last night, along with a tip or two from “my Soup Angel,” who I think of fondly each time I go through this ritual. I hear her voice whispering, “just throw it in…it will be delicious” even when I might doubt it.
2 onions, sliced
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups sliced shitake mushrooms
2 small fennel bulbs, sliced
1 head cabbage, sliced roughly (I love Savoy cabbage as well in soup)
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp tumeric
1 tsp. hot pepper flakes (optional, but feel free to use any form of heat you like)
2 tsp. dried thyme
3 cups baby spinach
2 cups cooked cannelini beans ( or canned)
2 cups cooked brown rice
Combine all the ingredients, except the baby spinach, beans and rice in a large soup pot. Add approximately 3 quarts of water.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for at least one hour, tasting for seasonings and checking on water level. Add whatever you feel is needed. The soup is done when the vegetables are softened to desired, and the flavors have melded together to produce a tasty broth.
Just before turning off the heat, add the spinach, beans and rice. This last step can be added to almost any version of this soup, if desired. It is also delicious without this step. You can always keep the beans and rice on the side, for those who want to add it to their bowl.
Some tips from my mother-in-law:
1. Serve with a drizzle of fresh olive oil on top and some grated parmigiano cheese.
2. Lightly toast a piece of crusty Italian bread and place on the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the soup. You can use up stale bread this way.
3. Just serve a nice, fresh piece of Italian bread on the side. And as she always said “eat with the bread.” She still remembered how she used the bread (“pane’) to fill up the tummies of her six children.