Saturday, September 7, 2013

Veggie Soup, a staple

This is a picture of my most recent soup. The water was added after the picture was taken.

I used a bit of olive oil and sautéed on medium-medium-low heat some chopped fresh garlic, chopped green onion (the entire stalk), and cremini mushrooms, chopped. For a nice explanation of these mushrooms see A Few Mushroom Facts. The setting on my stove is actually more like high, it's just the other half of the nob is power boil at various levels of gas flame. Most of the time I have to alter the heat back and forth depending on how much has been prepped ahead of time (almost never).

Then I added a chopped red bell pepper and some coconut oil. I usually grab the green peps but heard the other colors are sweeter. Here is a nice explanation for the colors What's the Difference?

sautéed all that down to soft or relatively soft, flipping it around with my wide bamboo spatula you can see in the picture. Here and there I add more coconut oil as needed. For one, I am currently running out of evoo, and I heard from the public and a few friends that coconut oil is the way to go, not to mention it has a higher flash point, supposedly. Both Doctor Oz and a 2011 Times article mention the possible benefits and how it got a bad rap in the beginning (spoiler alert, it was chemically altered from its pure form, surprise surprise). I am not a one-oil woman here. I will give anything a try (I did just try (native) Alaskan seal oil and was tempted to eat the black meat. Thank you my new friend!)-actually I am pretty open to try anything, veggies, fruit, meat, substitutes, why not? The same-ol'-same-ol' can get pretty boring.

Back to the soup, I threw in chopped zucchini. I just learned from watching America's Test Kitchen that if you want your soup, stew, or chili to be less watery, scoop the seeds out of the zucchini. But I want it soupy, so I just chopped it up real small and in it went. I tossed in some liquid spices (see below).

In past experiences, I have burned the zucchini letting it just cook down. It was amazing in flavor, but I don't want to experience the OMG ITS ON FIRE feeling (it was NOT on fire, I will have you know) or having to scrub clean that pot afterward. So I add a cup or so of water to help the zucs cook down.

Debated beef or chicken bouillon. Settled on chicken and needed to replenish the little jar with stuffs from the bigger, bargain warehouse buy. As I was using my improvised funnel, a giant clump came out and everything spilled all over the floor, wet cutting board, and counter top. Bummer. So I let everything cook down while I cleaned it all up.

Spices: I added in some spicy mustard, Worcestershire sauce, low-sodium soy sauce-this is amazing for a meaty flavor when using only veggies, thank you, America's Test Kitchen-and whatever spices you might have on hand. The actual dry spices, I have yet to get a spice pot to grow my own fresh, are up to whatever taste you want. Sometimes I don't think we can taste the spices, but whatever. Today it was hot pepper flakes (we like it SPICE-AY), nutmeg, "curry," sage, tarragon, a bit of salt, and black pepper-I usually crush it fresh but I wasn't feeling it. That's about it because all my other spices are running low. I love tarragon on fish, but that is another post.

While all this is on the boil I chopped up some purple cabbage. I know, if left to boil too long the color leaches out. But I was bored with the green cabbage and it was the same price. While I was chopping, the thick parts of the cabbage conspired against me and I watches in slow motion as the large knife made a dive for my finger, which was properly placed for this type of cutting, except for cabbage, apparently. Second bummer in less than 30 minutes. I immediately washed my finger and grabbed some antibiotic ointment and a bandage. The cut wasn't bad but every time I bend my finger it will open up. Despite not wanting a water proof bandage, I realized I still had to shower and took it anyway. Doesn't it just figure that the top where I need it to be sealed onto my finger gets folded on itself? When I tried to pull it a bit to un-stick it from itself and it rips off. Gah!

After cleaning up the kitchen so it didn't look like a gore movie, just kidding- my cut wasn't bad at all-I finished the cabbage in a bit worse of a mood, added the dry spices, and poured in 8 cups of water to top off the pot half full of veggies and help mix in the spices. I set the heat to low and let it simmer all day. For whatever reason mine usually boils but it's all good.

Actually, for this type of soup I could just put it all in the pot uncooked and boil away. But most recipes have yosauté for taste or whatever, so I do it. Well, I do it when I have time. It happens to be Saturday morning and I am not working but DH is, so the house is empty and I have nothing immediately pressing.

After the cabbage is in I mixed it all up, watching to make sure the dry spices were able to get into the water and touch as many veggies as possible and to get the cabbage, which can float, down to the bottom to cook. Cook this on low if you have all day, medium heat if you are only around for a bit, or put it in the fridge and set it to cook at dinner time when you are ready. If you pre-cook it all like in this example, no big deal. If it's a toss and run day, it will take longer. For that I suggest a slow cooker, which makes excellent soup on low all day. I leave it on while we are at work. Then turn it to "keep warm" or off when we get home to let it cool off a bit.

As you can see in the picture I do have some chopped up potatoes in the bunch. Since I have successfully weeded carbs out of my diet (no, chips and salsa are not carbs, they are not, they should not be, I know, I know), we never have potatoes in the soup. But I tried a slow cooker roast recipe that called for potatoes-it was so yum, the seasoning was in/on the potatoes days after as leftovers. As it only called for a few, or our crock pot was not as large, and so we had the rest of the bag left. (DH does not shop at my bargain veggie grocer like he should where he could have grabbed them loose.) Since pots tend to have the amazing ability of absorbing salt I threw three small red potatoes in, finely chopped. This will not only add creaminess to the soup if they cook down all the way, but also absorb any extra salt. I have a very low salt diet, other than eating green olives for my martinis...

This recipe is a mishmash of whatever I have based on the age-old cabbage soup diet and a Weight Watchers recipe my Uncle Ted has given to me, said it was a million times better because of all the veggies and flavors and it was filling. Well, that link to the recipe is similar to the one I have printed. I did a Google search to find one for you, but they all have different ingredients. One looked much closer but it used "shallots" and I can never seem to find these when I need them, so I know that was not it. But it will give you the idea. Low carb veggies, low salt, high flavor.

Soup is the best thing for dinner because if there is any leftovers, it is the flavor to build off of. I usually end up buying too many veggies for my cooking pot (Mom took back my huge cook pot and I haven't gone into the garage to get the seafood boil pot). I used half the veggies, then, as the soup gets low, I chop up more and in it goes to simmer away for another day or on another day depending on what our menu looks like for the week. It freezes beautifully, as well. If you are into rice in your soup and have some left over from Chinese fast food take-out (or take-away), freeze the left over and then throw it in the soup. It will defrost just fine, make sure you break up the clumps. I have also defrosted first and then added to DH's bowl instead of the whole soup, so that I won't get any.

Let's talk protein. If I used the meat for the meal I will let it boil in, either first thing in a slow cooker or last thing after the veggies have sautéed, fishing it out to shred the chicken or chop the beef for bite-size pieces. Sometimes I throw in left over parts saved from other dinner, for flavor. If you have never heard of this think of medieval times, or lower income areas, where they use the bones for soup base. Yes, I do this also, especially if we have whole chicken (rotisserie or baked), meat pulled off the bone from other meals, the left over carcass is perfect to boil off. Not only does the small, hard to reach bits of meat fall off the bone for the soup but you get all that flavor. I will even save some of the fat I cut off my steaks (bleh) for boiling for soup, then I scoop it all out (bleh). Yum for flavor. Then toss the bits or bones you don't want. Gotta make this food go as far as possible.

Moving on, tofu. I get a block of tofu and cut it into four pieces. Then chop (mush, fold, flake) one into bite-size pieces and it goes in the bowl first to be warmed by the soup. This eventually gives us half a block in two bowls each. We are not having a conversation on portion size here because when it comes to soup, our focus is on fitting more veggies into our diet, use up older veggies, or need something quick because no one took out meat from the freezer. Cheese is also a good protein source, see below.

What to add to the soup? To me, soup is something quick, easy, cheap, and filling. It is the best thing to make when veggies are on their way out, as in past their prime. Need more veggies but don't have any fresh on hand? Check your freezer. Frozen are just as good. If you are a can family, rinse out the veggies really well to get as much salt out as possible, in my humble opinion. I do, now I try to keep the salt to a minimum and then add as needed. Greens of any kind are great, beware of the bitter ones, like turnip or mustard greens. One time I did try to use salad greens. Not bad but not really for soup. Starchy roots like turnips or sweet potatoes are good and add color and texture. Think of or see something? Try it, if its not good, try something else the next time.

Plating... or bowling... I don't make it look pretty, it's soup to us. The colors can work for you, go crazy if you want. We tend to throw in some hot sauce, I like grated or sprinkled cheese on mine. Actually, if you have any cheese that is getting pretty prime, toss it in the soup bowls. The veggies and spices will help to calm down that ripeness and if it's chunky soup the cheese will get gobbled up, too. If the cheese is stringy when melted, this makes for a fun experience. Thinking about protein, if you are trying to watch protein intake ("we" in the more comfy levels of society have a tendency to overeat on protein, or the unhealthy protein) watch how much cheese you add. Or if there is no additional protein, add more cheese to act as your protein.

The house smells delicious, I can't wait for dinner!

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