I was a picky eater as a child. I didn’t like vegetables, as a general rule, and I’m sure my parents experienced a lot of frustration because of my selective eating. For instance, I would dip my fries in ketchup, but I wouldn’t eat tomatoes. I liked popcorn, but not actual corn. Green beans were fine, but any other beans were out of the question.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve surprised my step-father time and again by trying, and liking, unexpected foods. Eggplant parmesan. Chili. Beets. Brussels sprouts! The list goes on and on.
Which is why I’m sure this particular recipe will astound him. Last week, with a full bounty of delicious vegetables from a very obliging farm stand, I decided to make vegetable soup.
During the summer, I find myself drawn mostly to fruits and vegetables. Meat loses its appeal for me. Anything heavy – so, really, anything I like – suddenly becomes unappetizing to me. I crave watermelon, squash, corn, tomatoes, fresh berries. The lighter and more naturally whole, the better.
Last week, I needed the comfort of soup. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, and no matter what the temperature is outside, I want comforting food when it rains. Fresh baked bread, hot soup, hot tea, soft cookies warm from the oven.
My friend Heather always says that rain (and by extension, snow, as long as we’re indoors) is the weather of our people: writers. We are at our best stuck indoors, in pajamas, nursing mugs of hot tea or coffee, eating food that’s good for us, hunkering down in bed or on the couch, and writing. To have to leave the house on a rainy day is a great injustice to a writer; it’s like grounding an airplane on the day when conditions are the most perfect for flight. Just not fair.
And so, to enhance the rightness of rainy days, and to compensate for the fact that I haven’t had as much time to write because I’ve been doing course planning, I made vegetable soup.
Not just any vegetable soup, either. I made Alton Brown’s vegetable soup, so you know it’s going to work well because that man has figured out, scientifically, all the right proportions of things. You know me, though; I must tweak! I made only one small modification – I added zucchini to the soup as well as other vegetables.
I also made my own stock. In a large pot, I boiled water with chopped carrots, celery, potato, button mushrooms, green pepper, parsley, basil, and rosemary, along with a little salt and pepper. Once they came to a boil, I reduced the heat and simmered for half an hour, then strained the liquid into a large bowl and allowed to cool before using in the soup. Cooling isn’t necessary, but for me, and my timing for dinner, it was essential. Making stock is super easy, and that way you control how much salt you’re taking in (and you can avoid any other nasty chemicals that might come with store-bought stock.)
Garden Vegetable Soup
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups chopped leeks, white part only (from approximately 3 medium leeks)
- 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
- Kosher salt
- 2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds (approximately 2 medium)
- 2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
- 2 cups fresh green beans, broken or cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
- 4 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
- 2 ears corn, kernels removed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup packed, chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Heat the olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-low heat. Once hot, add the leeks, garlic, and a pinch of salt and sweat until they begin to soften, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the carrots, potatoes, and green beans and continue to cook for 4 to 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the tomatoes, corn kernels, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the vegetables are fork tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the parsley and lemon juice. Season, to taste, with kosher salt. Serve immediately.
For me, the soup needed more salt – but then, for me, everything needs more salt. I served it with homemade sweet Amish white bread spread with butter. I also added a little pat of butter to the soup for good measure, and I found it quite delightful.
It occurs to me that perhaps rainy days are the weather of our people because all of these little rituals – the tea, the soup, the blankets, the pajamas – create a sense of ceremony to writing, an act that really needs little more than just our imagination, paper, and pen. By factoring in weather, and food, and hot chai tea, and my ugly plaid fleece blanket, and socks, we make the practice of writing a bit more of a to-do. It is a practice that demands a confluence of all the comforts of our home/office/bed, our computers on our laps, our minds wide open to the muses. And soup. Warm, delicious, comforting soup.