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Greet the New Year with a Healthy and Delicious Vegetable Soup

I know a lot of people who take the month of January to rein it in, take stock, and press the reset button. Some detox, some jump on the exercise wagon, some just try to focus and center themselves after the frenzy that is December. Personally, I never pass up an excuse for a fresh start, so January is as good a time as any to make myself some promises, which I then inevitably break, for which I have to forgive myself. It’s not a big deal. I don’t feel guilty about it. It’s just how I roll.

I’m of the “life is short” and “everything in moderation (including moderation)” philosophies, so I don’t see much point in chasing things that require more discipline than I happen to possess. Progress for me personally is almost imperceptible. Rather than make earth shattering changes, I try to improve myself with subtle shifts for the better. It’s all about the little tricks and tips and discoveries that make my life and the life of my loved ones easier and more delicious over time. It can be as simple as discovering how well OxiClean spray works on those tough stains (don’t mock until you have seen how it bubbles up on blood and grass stains!). It can be meeting new friends whose kids just happen to mesh perfectly with our own. It can be finding a new favorite restaurant that everyone in the family loves. And, more often than not, it can be discovering a great new recipe. I’m not talking about a fancy once-a-year type thing. I’m talking about a delicious go-to, workhorse recipe - something that tastes good after hockey practice or before a Friday night family movie night. Something warm, nourishing, comforting and most importantly, easily replicated.

Our holidays were lovely and indulgent to say the least, so as the calendar page turned to January, I was feeling the yen for something healthy. I decided to try to make a great vegetable soup. Yes, you heard me correctly: no meat. To my mind it is very difficult to match the savory, earthy depth that meat will bring to a dish, but I decided, in the spirit of a healthy start to the new year, to try.

My goal for 2011: a vegetable soup that is delicious enough to be brought into the fold of my workhorse recipes and join ranks with my chili, my Bolognese sauce, my Puttanesca sauce and my short rib barley soup.

I decided to make the broth from scratch in order to give vegetable soup a true fair shake. And so over a span of two days, I chopped, sautéed and boiled like nobody’s business. Every once in a while I would peer under the lid with a dubious grimace, but I was wrong to be so skeptical. My friends, this soup rocked my world. 

It’s always funny to see what you’ll discover when you’re cooking something for the first time. I was completely unprepared for the way the barley and the feta buddied up to create a toothsome chewy love – exactly the kind of love you get from meat. The lemon, dill, fennel fronds and scallions made the soup taste fresh and herby while the mushrooms, kale and savory broth gave the soup heft. It is truly delicious! Surprisingly delicious! It is bright and earthy, healthy yet completely satisfying.You could take many liberties with this soup and next time I might add some of those slow roasted tomatoes I have in the freezer from this summer. Or maybe I won’t change a thing.

Vegetable Soup, welcome to the family! I hereby crown you a workhorse recipe. You just made our lives a little bit better!

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to chasing doable resolutions!

Light Vegetable Broth (this has a mild sweet flavor. Leftovers can be frozen for up to three months) Adapted from Bon Appetit.

3 ¼ quarts water (14 cups)

2 whole large leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, sliced (about 6 cups)

2 large unpeeled onions cut into 1 inch cubes

3 large celery stalks, sliced

1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into ½ rounds

2 large parsnips, peeled, cut into ½ inch rounds

1 cup chopped fennel stalks and fronds (reserve bulb for another use and ½ cup of the fronds for the soup)

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley (with stems)

6 garlic cloves, peeled

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very soft and broth is pale golden, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat if necessary to maintain low simmer (about 45 minutes). Season to taste with more salt. Strain broth through colander; discard vegetables. Can be made 3 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate.

Barley Soup with Kale, Fennel, Lemon and Dill. Adapted from Bon Appetit.

4 cups water

8 cups Light Vegetable Broth or good quality organic vegetable broth, divided

1 cup (scant) pearl barley, rinsed

1 teaspoon sea salt plus additional for sprinkling

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling

3 cups chopped onions

4 oz package of porcini mushrooms (or any mushrooms of your choice)

8 cups stemmed and coarsely chopped kale leaves

¾ cup sliced green onions

½ cup chopped fresh dill

½ cup chopped fresh fennel fronds

juice of 1 lemon (or more to taste)

good quality feta cheese for crumbling

Bring 4 cups water, 2 cups broth, barley and salt to boil in large pot. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, sprinkle with sea salt and sauté until golden, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add sautéed onions and mushrooms and remaining 6 cups broth to pot with barley. (Can be made one day ahead. Cool, cover and chill. Rewarm before continuing.)

Add kale to soup and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Add green onions, dill, fennel fronds and simmer 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and season with sea salt and pepper. Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle feta cheese over, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

 

Gabriela Lambert is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. You can also read more of her writing on her blog www.peevishmama.com.

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