Katie Green's Food Blog: Vegetable Soup
The summer adventures are coming to an end. Well, maybe just a temporary reprise. One would likely attribute this to a return to practices, busy schedules and cooler weather. However, the weather remains warm and sunny and my free time has not been completely consumed. Rather, it is football season: When all good outside things must come to an end. While I could be happy watching football games the entire day, I'll likely be cooking at least 4 different things in the process. I'm off to Seabrook, WA for cross country camp, so I spent this past Saturday watching football and making yogurt, bread, granola and vegetable soup to bring on the week-long excursion. The first 3 I could make in my sleep. However, that overconfidence almost got the best of me when I decided to start making the soup while the granola wasn't even in the oven yet. I can say that this resulted in a scene somewhat reminiscent of the Iron Chef: Things were cooking and I was trying to keep up. Thus, this vegetable soup isn't difficult, but don't try to make other things at the same time (that "constant stirring" part will get you).
This recipe is interesting for its collection of ingredients that come together amazingly well for a rich and full flavor. The chickpeas add protein and fiber as well as some substance to make this a solid meal even by itself. In addition to the vegetables, we're also throwing a couple of pears in there. They end up the consistency of potatoes with a subtle sweetness. (It took me awhile to remember what they were as I knew I hadn't added potatoes.)
If you've heard of saffron, it's likely only in passing. You can find it in jars with the rest of the spices, but it hardly resembles its neighbors on the shelf. Instead, it looks like red threads and is quite pricey. In fact, it is the most expensive spice there is. (This is a good example of where the 5-second rule does not apply.) So, if you do buy it, store it in a cool dark place and it will keep at least 3 years. However, its flavor will decrease with age.
Interestingly, the red Saffron threads end up giving your dish a golden-yellow color due to the carotenoid dye it contains. Saffron is very popular for its medicinal uses as it is purported to help bring down fevers and cramps as well as calm your nerves. Outside the body, it's even used to heal bruises. So don't be alarmed by that cloud of smoke coming from my office, it's called applied knowledge.
Olla Gitana (Gypsy Pot)
Adapted from "The Spanish Table" by Anya von Bremezen, courtesy of the Seattle Times
Combine the chickpeas, carrots and stock in a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the pumpkin, green beans and pears and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the vegetables have softened, about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the garlic (whole), almonds, and bread until they are a golden color, stirring constantly (I got away with stirring frequently). Use a slotted spoon to remove the mixture, while trying to leave as much oil in the pan as possible. (I had no oil leftover, so I added about a tablespoon to the pan and moved forward.)
Add the onion to the oil and cook till soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika. Then mix in the tomatoes and a few tablespoons of stock. Cook until soft - about 7 minutes. Carefully stir this tomato mixture and the soaked saffron into the soup.
Keep the soup cooking until all the vegetables are soft, adding broth or water if it becomes too thick (it will thicken in the fridge as well). Meanwhile, put the garlic, almond and bread mixture into a food processor, coffee grinder or magic bullet (my dad will be so happy that I finally used my 5 month old birthday present), until finely ground.
Add this concoction to the soup along with the vinegar and stir until combined.
Taste test and add more salt, pepper and/or vinegar if necessary. Let the soup cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Feel free to garnish with mint. But let's face it, if you're eating this while sitting at home alone, there won't be any garnish adorning your soup. However, if you're cooking for several, go crazy, and impress them with your presentation and complimentary mint flavor.
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