When you have a vegetarian for a grandson, it’s important to have a few dishes that a vegetarian will enjoy. I like vegetables, but I think of them as side dishes, or as I tell Will, our grandson, “I love vegetables, right next to the meat.” He doesn’t appreciate my humor. Seriously, however, I think of soups as a way to enhance the flavor of both the meat and the vegetables by cooking them together with different herbs and spices.
People have been making soups with meat and vegetables for thousands of years but sometimes there’s no meat to toss in the pot. The birds and big game elude the hunter and the fisherman comes home empty-handed. However, even the slowest hunter-gatherer (or his mate) was usually able to find some nourishing vegetables that couldn’t fly or run too fast or dodge the net. A few roots, leaves, seeds or fruits boiled in a pot of water could make a pretty satisfying meal.
Today, we have access to a wider variety of ingredients in supermarkets which makes it easy to create delicious soups without having to search for vegetables on windy prairies or in damp forests. The ingredients below are all available in any supermarket at very reasonable prices.
Recently I showed Will a quart package of vegetable broth in the pantry and asked him if he wanted to come over for a lesson on how to make vegetarian vegetable soup. He was eager to join Grandpa in the kitchen.
I chose vegetables that he likes and let him do the work of putting the soup together. I also listed four optional ingredients that he might want to add. He was positive that we should include tomatoes, so a half hour before dinner, we added two cups of cherry tomatoes that Jerri had chopped and frozen last summer. The soup was delicious, and five of us emptied the pot.
2 T olive oil
1 small onion (2 inches in diameter)
2 cloves garlic
2 small thin-skinned potatoes (2 inches in diameter)
3 medium carrots
2 medium parsnips
2 medium turnips (1 1/2 inches in diameter)
2 or 3 ribs of celery
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 or 3 T cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water
Cut off the stem and root ends of the onion and remove the papery outer layer. Cut the onion in half lengthwise. Holding one half with the cut side down on a cutting board, cut the onion into roughly quarter inch slices, then cut across to make a quarter inch dice. Repeat with the other half. Set the chopped onion aside in a small bowl.
Cut the ends off two cloves of garlic and treat them like the onion, except dice them into very small pieces. This is called mincing a vegetable. Put the minced garlic into the bowl with the onion.
Use a larger bowl to hold the rest of the vegetables.
Wash the potatoes and dice them in nearly the same way as you did the onion: Cut them in half, then cut each half into half-inch slices and make a half inch dice. With thin-skinned potatoes such as reds or Yukon Golds, you do not need to peel them. If you have potatoes with thicker skins, peel them if you want.
Peel or scrape the carrots. Remove the tops and the bottom scar of the root. If the carrots are no more than a half-inch in diameter, carefully chop them into quarter to half-inch slices. If they are larger, cut them in half lengthwise, then into half-inch pieces. Put the chopped vegetables in a bowl and set it aside.
Parsnips and turnips sold in supermarkets are usually waxed, so you definitely need to peel them before dicing. Wash the celery ribs with a vegetable brush, remove any bad parts and chop the ribs into half-inch pieces. Add these vegetables to the bowl with the carrots and potatoes.
You are done chopping.
Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook slowly, stirring often, for three or four minutes until the onion begins to turn translucent.
Stir in the rest of the vegetables along with the broth, water and spices. Turn the heat to medium to bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer the soup, covered, for thirty to forty-five minutes. Add two cups of chopped or diced tomatoes and simmer for an additional half an hour.
Dissolve two or three tablespoons of cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water and stir it into the soup. Stir and cook three or four minutes until the starch is cooked and the broth has thickened slightly.
Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve with bread for lunch or a light dinner or as a first course to be followed by an entrée.
NOTES: As he was peeling the carrots, Will said, “This is a boring, repetitive job.” He was right, but somebody has to do it. I had already included an encouraging note to bolster the cook’s morale: “You are done chopping.” I did assist with the parsnips and turnips.
You can of course buy pre-chopped vegetables fresh or frozen, but I can guarantee that your soup won’t taste as good as one made with vegetables fresh from the garden or market. Part of the reason, I think, is that each vegetable ends up being chopped a little differently when done by hand in the kitchen, so the soup is more interesting to the eye and the tongue.
When we tasted the soup just before serving, I asked Will to tell me what he thought. “I think it needs more pepper,” he declared and ground another eighth teaspoon into the pot. I would have done the same. He’s on his way to becoming a cook!
With a little nervousness I decided to introduce Will to bread baking before we started the soup. He followed the recipe for Mom’s Dough Gods, which makes a single loaf of white bread that he turned into a dozen and a half dinner rolls that were perfect. Not only a cook, but a baker as well!
Feel free to adapt this recipe to your tastes, but I strongly suggest that you use a variety of vegetables. In particular, at least one parsnip and one turnip lend a depth and complexity to a vegetarian soup that is usually provided by meat or meat stocks. Include them the first time you make this soup. If you absolutely can’t tolerate one of them, leave it out next time. On the other hand, you might want to add another vegetable. If I had known that Will now likes rutabagas, we would have included a small one in his first soup. Rutabagas are wonderful in soup.
If you have a twelve-year-old grandson or granddaughter that you want to introduce to the wonders of cooking, this is a good dinner combination to start with.