Nazila Merati shares recipes and stories at www.banamak.org. There’s something comforting about the way she introduces her recipes; you feel like an old friend cooking alongside her in the kitchen. You’ll see what I mean when you read about one of her favorite soups below.
If you just discovered October: Unprocessed, go here to find out more and take the pledge. Don’t worry if you missed the start date! You can start your 30 days today, or simply join in for the rest of the month.
When I first started thinking about the unprocessed challenge, I realized that with a few lapses into diet sodas, orange puffy snacks and airplane food, we eat mostly unprocessed/unrefined foods and meals. Then I thought about it more — what else could I do to expand my horizons? Instead of looking forward, I looked backwards. I thought about the way I used to cook when I had more time. Life was simpler and I had less money.
Instead of going to the internet to troll for recipes, I went to my cookbook shelves and pulled out Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest, first published in 1982. Before you all groan like I usually do, recognize that this is a classic cookbook that emphasizes wholefoods cooking and the use of fresh ingredients. For most of us, it was an eye-opening discovery. Katzen’s detailed descriptions of ingredients and their uses, hand drawn diagrams of technique, and introduction to different ethnic vegetarian cuisines made cooking seem like fun.
My memory of how much I enjoyed cooking from this book came a few weeks ago when I attended a farm for a day photo class on Vashon Island, Washington. The teacher, the amazing Clare Barboza, concocted a lovely lunch of salads, cheese with salami and fruit, and the vegetable soup from the cookbook. I took one sip of the soup and exclaimed, “This is from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest!” Vegetable soup can be vegetable soup, but this soup holds a special place in my heart — it was the soup that meant I was growing up.
How can soup make you feel grown up? I finally moved out of my parents’ house in during my last year of university and had to fend for myself. The house I moved into was a work in progress, meaning the owners moved to Rome for a year while the house was being renovated. We would occasionally see the contractor, but we went a few weeks without a working kitchen sink. We made it work: There was a pizza place around the corner, and we had no choice and lots of coupons. The best part of the house was the kitchen. It didn’t have anything special going for it — except the huge kitchen window that looked out at the garden. It provided the kitchen with amazing light for cooking, especially on dreary winter days.
The soup was special to me for another reason. Katzen calls for finishing off the soup with white wine. Wine which I could purchase myself that year because I had finally turned 21. It meant I was growing up.
The soup itself is simple in construction; it calls for ingredients that you probably already have in your fridge and pantry. My wine choices have improved since 1987, as have yours, I’m sure. Katzen calls for a lot of butter for sauteing the aromatics, but I would skip it and just use olive oil. I think it has a better mouth feel.
I served this with a yogurt herb bread also found in the same cookbook. Delicious hot out of the oven, or after a few days of aging.
Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Soup
From The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (Ten Speed Press, 1987)
(The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest is available on Amazon)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6 as a first course, 4 as a main
1 medium Russet Potato, chopped
4 cups of Water or Vegetable Stock
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, chopped
2 medium Carrots, chopped
2 Celery Stalks, chopped
1 Green Zucchini, chopped (I used Patty Pan Squash)
8 oz. Mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp. dried Marjoram
1/2 tsp. dried Dill
1/2 tsp. dried Thyme
1/2 tsp. dried Basil
6 oz. Dry White Wine that you would drink yourself
1 cup Frozen Petite Peas
Salt and Pepper to taste
Small handful of Chopped Parsely to finish.
In a pot, add potato to water or stock and boil until potato is just tender. Once tender, remove from heat.
Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet, sauté onion and garlic until soft (approximately 8 minutes) on medium heat. Add carrots and celery to onion mixture and cook until they start to soften (on my stove, another 6 minutes). Add mushrooms, zucchini and dried herbs, and cook until they start to soften. This two-step process is to avoid over-cooking the more tender components of the soup into a mush.
Remove from heat. Add contents to the potato/stock pot, simmer for another 20 minutes to mix flavors together.
Note: You can stop at this point if you are planning to serve the soup later on the in day. It will keep fine in the fridge or for a few hours on the stovetop if you used water.
Fifteen minutes before serving the soup, bring back to a simmer. Add wine and peas, and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, which will depend on what you used as your liquid. Commercial stock will be pre-salted. I use 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to season mine when I use water.
Serve in lovely, mismatched bowls that you inherited from your parents, with warm bread, cheese, butter and the rest of the wine you bought. If you can find it, sit at the table instead of the floor. You are all grown up, after all.