Happy Soup for February

The twenty-eight long days of February inspire me to find beauty in the ordinary things of the day.
Today’s inspiration is Happy Soup. It’s perfect for beginning a Valentine’s meal, and it’s also perfect for lean days of Lent. It’s also a soup that can be made start to finish in about an hour. It’s filling, delicious, and beautiful to serve. That’s why I call it Happy Soup. The real name is Roasted Beet and Carrot Bisque.

Yes, I didn’t tell you that at first because I know many of you will stop reading at the word Beet. But just look at how lovely it looks in that little soup bowl. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt and swirl it around? Mr. H.C. was dubious, but two spoonfuls later, he exclaimed, “This is delicious!” (in a surprised voice…)

The last of the garden beets were looking sad in the fridge, so they inspired this soup day: four beets, three carrots, one large potato, and one large onion, broth, and herbs and spices is all you need. (You could substitute parsnips for the potato if you have some). But the one ingredient that you might not have, and is really critical to the taste, is Zatar.

It is a middle eastern spice blend; you can order it online here if you don’t have a Middle Eastern market or a Penzey’s nearby… This is not some odd spice that has one use — truly, it is delicious, and can be sprinkled on vegetables, chicken, breads, sauces, soups, rice… Zatar (or Za’atar) has a tangy, salty, earthy taste that you really need to try.

So, get your Zatar, and try this Happy Soup with bread and a salad.

HAPPY SOUP

Have on hand: 4 beets, 3 carrots, a large onion, and 1-2 potatoes or parsnips, depending on size. Enough broth to cover vegetables; 2-3 tsp. Zatar; assorted spices (salt, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, 2 T. honey or agave syrup.)

Chop the vegetables into small cubes of a similar size and toss them in 2 T. olive oil, 2 T. balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Pour them on to a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes; take the veggies out, stir them around with a spatula, and roast again for 10 minutes longer, or until they are fairly soft. (You are still going to cook them for longer, so they don’t have to be totally done.)

Here are the vegetables prepared for roasting. I have about 4 cups, and that made enough for 4 servings. How big or small you cut the vegetables will determine how long you have to roast them.

Scrape the veggies from the pan into a soup pot. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary if you have one, 2 tsp. Zatar, and cover the vegetables with broth. I used chicken broth because that was what I had, but vegetable broth would be just as good. Simmer the vegetables until really soft –about a half hour — but don’t cook down all the broth, because you need it in the next step.

Pour the vegetables and hot broth into a blender (carefully) and puree. Alternately, you could use an immersion blender, but I can’t say how that would work, because I don’t have one. If you need to add a bit more broth to blend the vegetables up well, go ahead. I added an extra 1/4 cup.

Pour the blended bisque back into the soup pot and add 1 t. cardamom, 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg, 2 T. honey or agave syrup, salt & pepper to taste. Simmer and stir gently just till all is mixed in. Keep tasting and adding spices to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with more Zatar, and serve.

This….

…to this — in about 40 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Sit and enjoy the brilliant red color in your bowl, the warming earthiness in your mouth, and the filled feeling in your stomach.
And be glad.

Kale, again?

I thought I had settled the whole kale issue in the fall with The Trouble with Kale.

Turns out, I didn’t because last week, on the eleventh of February, I walked down to check out the garden. I discovered both spinach and kale cheerfully surviving the Pennsylvania winter with just a light layer of straw mulch. Today, February 18th, I went down with my scissors and harvested both kale and spinach for a salad. The kale had new growth; there were a few larger frost bitten leaves around the edges, but the inside of the plant was actually growing.

Now admittedly we have had a very mild winter. But the temperatures have dropped to 8-10 degrees several times and one week in particular it was that cold all week.

The best thing about this is Fresh Greens. In. February. So for those of you who live in a year round warm climate, excuse me while I SHOUT IN JOY!


I’ve been trying an experiment this winter in trying to cook as much as I can with what’s on hand. (Note the word trying used twice…) That means potatoes, onions, garlic, beef, eggs, frozen peppers, canned green beans, beets, frozen squash/pumpkin, applesauce, salsa, frozen okra, canned and stewed tomatoes, and pickles/relish/ketchup.

The only vegetables I’ve been buying are mushrooms and carrots and an occasional red pepper. I had beautiful peppers last year, but none of them turned red (even though one variety was specifically a red bell pepper). I hope to remedy that this year — the frozen peppers are very acceptable.

But not in salads. I used the last of our onions two weeks ago. I’ve got ten potatoes left and two of them look like this:

We haven’t been having many salads this winter. So it was particularly exciting to discover the growing kale and spinach. If you remember the one drawback to kale was the cabbage worms. But guess what? There’s NO cabbage worms in winter.

So I’m rethinking the kale issue. If I plant it in September, I could have some greens in the fall and winter with no worries about cabbage worms. And this mild winter has me thinking of a hoop house to extend the season on both sides. Just a small one, maybe?

You Tube Video from BuddyClub Gardening. Click on the photo and it will take you to the DIY cheap hoop house video

Hoop House or not, I planted another row of spinach today and threw in some radishes for good measure. (They were just short rows…) It only took me ten minutes; it was last year’s leftover seeds and it still could snow in April;  but I couldn’t resist planting something on Feb. 18th. Just because I could!

And since I only harvested enough for two kale and spinach salads, I’ll just have to give you one of my favorite salad dressing recipes.

Tomato Vinaigrette (The basic recipe is from the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, but I changed it a bit.)

6 sun-dried tomatoes soaked in 1/3 cup almost boiling water for about a half-hour.
Drain the tomatoes, save the liquid, and coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Mix the tomatoes with 3 T. mixed vinegars–balsamic, red wine, white wine, cider, or lemon juice.
Add a clove of minced or pressed garlic and 1 T. whatever fresh herbs you have. Basil is good, Rosemary is good, Thyme is good, Dill is wonderful in the summer…
Add 1/2 t. salt and some fresh pepper.
Put all the above in a blender or small food processor and pulse five or six times.
While the blender is still running, add the liquid from the tomatoes, and then 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil in a thin slow stream and blend until all the oil is mixed in.

This is a thick, spoonable dressing. Dress it up with capers or chopped olives if you are serving it immediately; or you can add a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt to make it creamier.

(We had our spinach and kale salads with cheeseburgers from the grill. Outside. In February. Really.)