Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Warming Vegetable Soup on Another Cold Night

We had a brief spate of warmer weather, getting into the low 40s for about 3 days, but that is gone again, and we are back to sub-zero temperatures. It was at -12 when I went to bed last night, and tonight may reach -21. Again. Sigh. So, a nice warming soup is always appreciated on nights such as these, and yesterday I made my vegetable soup; a one-pot meal at its best!

Beef Vegetable Soup with Beans & Barley
My vegetable soup varies depending on what I have available. It could be beef vegetable or chicken vegetable. It might have more, or just other vegetables, depending on what is in the fridge when I decide. I like lots of flavors, all lending their goodness to the finished product. My husband likes a soup you can just about stand a spoon in, so adding everything but the kitchen sink is not a problem. He is a picky eater and likes
few vegetables, most of which are the starchy ones like potatoes, peas and corn. When I add veggies all cut small, I can add things he would not normally eat, and he still enjoys it immensely. I find this a terrific opportunity to add vegetables to his diet. He also loves things like barley, beans and/or lentils added in the soup, as do I.

Some of the veggies I might add or substitute if they had been on hand are butternut squash, parsnips, green beans, zucchini, Napa cabbage and/or sweet potato. Things he won't tolerate, even when all mixed up like this are broccoli or cauliflower, but those could be added also, if they are favorites of yours. When I was in Guatemala, a favorite soup that was made often was called "Cocido", meaning "Cooked". Not that exciting a name, yet the resultant soup was similar to mine in flavors, but with all the vegetables left mostly whole. They would cook a chunk of beef with whole onion, carrots, a quarter or half of a cabbage, potatoes, some kind of squash, corn on the cob (maybe cut into 2 or 3 chunks), and many other things. I loved that soup. Another inspiration was my paternal Grandmother's soup. She added far less vegetables, but the broth was stupendous! Saffron was one of her
Figures 1 & 2: Browning meat & onion; adding vegetables
magic ingredients, and I love saffron with a passion, ever since that early introduction.

So, over the years I have made a vegetable soup, with ever-changing ingredients as the contents of my fridge or the seasonal availability changed. This is the soup I made last evening. During winter, I make this soup with a can of corn, where in the summer I might cut the kernels off fresh cobs. In summer I might add fresh tomatoes, chopped, where in winter I use a can of petite diced tomatoes. Dried beans can be added instead of a can, if desired - the soup will cook long enough that the beans will cook through. Be flexible. Be warned though: this makes a huge pot. By the time all the vegetables are added, you have a very large pot full and could feed at least 8 or 10 hungry people.

Beef Vegetable Soup with Beans & Barley

Figures 3 & 4: garlic, ginger, cilantro, parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 pounds beef stew meat, more or less as desired
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 - 4 stalks celery, sliced
2 - 3 carrots, diced
1 large bell pepper (or more than one, using different colors)
1/4 of a cabbage, cubed 
1 - 2 potatoes, depending on size, peeled, diced8 cups water (2 quarts)
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes with liquid

1 can (15.5 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
3 -4 cloves garlic, finely minced
fresh ginger, equal to the volume of garlic, minced
1 large handful each cilantro and parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (leave whole and fish out later, or strip leaves and add)
3 - 4 teaspoons salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon saffron, crushed 
Figure 5: Bring to a boil
 1/2 cup pearl barley (I prefer the long-cooking kind)
1 can (15.5 ounces) white beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil on medium high. Add the meat cubes and cook quickly, browning thoroughly. Add the onion and toss quickly, browning lightly. You want to see a fair amount of brown in the bottom of the pan. This gives both flavor and color to the soup. Add in half the water, to start, stirring up the brown in the pan. Begin adding in vegetables: celery, bell pepper, carrots, cabbage, potatoes (Figures 1 & 2). Add in the cans of tomatoes and corn. 

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Chop together the garlic, ginger, cilantro and parsley until fine and add to the pot (Figures 3 & 4). Add the bay leaves, thyme, salt, pepper and saffron. Add the pearl barley if using the long cooking kind. If not, wait for at least an hour before adding the barley. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer (Figure 5). Keep the soup simmering for at least 2 to 3 hours on very low heat. Wait to add the drained and rinsed beans and the peas until about 10 minutes prior to serving, just to heat through.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.