Thursday, January 3, 2013

And Now We Diet...
What’s cooking? New Year’s Vegetable Soup

In many ways, I’m really sad to see the holidays go. I love the decorated trees and the twinkly lights, and the stars everywhere and the twinkly lights, and the ornaments and the tinsel and...did I mention the twinkly lights? It’s all so festive. Which is one reason I leave our front door wreath and the twinkly lights up through January. In New Jersey, it was a habit that saved me from a bad case of the winter blues; but even in Texas, where the weather is considerably more tolerable, January is climate-wise a fairly grim month, so I need those twinkly lights.

But I won’t be sorry to see the end to the gifts of cookies and fudge (really excellent fudge, by the way) and the family dinners (though I dearly love my family) – all of which include dessert – and the munchie-laden parties. I’ve felt almost overwhelmed in the challenge to keep from piling on the pounds. This year, I discovered a way to fight that’s not only pain-free but delicious: vegetable soup.

I was in New Jersey on my own, getting the condo Christmas-worthy before my hubby and son would arrive. On a trip to stock the fridge with breakfast items and whatever else came to mind, I noticed the produce aisle fairly exploded with gorgeous veggies. A deep voice inside my head intoned, “ve-ge-table soup.”

So much for the eggs and milk and cereal. As if in a trance, I threw in carrots and celery and a fat onion and a handful of any other lovely green and yellow items I liked, including an avocado (you must trust me here). Add some small red potatoes for bulk, some good quality chicken broth, and I headed home. It had been a long day, and I was starving by the time I got into the kitchen, where I realized it was 10pm. No wonder I was hungry! But veggies take so little time to cook that I was serving myself in less than an hour.

I subsisted on that soup for the next two days. Okay, I ordered Thai for dinner, but I had the soup for lunches. Then I made more once my darling husband arrived, and I actually managed to gain nary a pound until I got back to Texas where the aforementioned cookies and fudge awaited. Ah, well.

Kitchen Goddess note #1: The addition of an avocado may seem a bit wacky to you, but the KG has been experimenting with a nice tortilla soup recipe here in Texas – not yet ready for prime time – and chunks of avocado do wonders for it. In a moment of what-the hell, I tossed it into the veggie soup, and liked it. Not mandatory, but you should live a little dangerously in the new year and give it a try. It brings a hint of something mysterious, and thickens the broth in a way that’s quite nice.

Kitchen Goddess note #2: This is a very flexible recipe. The quantities listed are general guidelines, not dictates. (While the Kitchen Goddess has been known to get dictatorial on occasion, this is not one of them.) You can add or subtract vegetables according to your preferences. I sometimes add a package of frozen spinach instead of the green beans, and might include a couple of parsnips, or collard greens (instead of spinach). The cooking time for fresh green beans is about twice that of the frozen ones. Parsnips shouldn’t overcook, so would go into the soup at about the same time as the corn and zucchini and turnips. And spinach needs to simmer only 5 minutes, so it would go after the corn.

I’ve called for ½-inch dice with most of the vegetables because I think it looks nicer that way; if you like larger chunks, you may have to adjust the cooking times.

New Year’s Vegetable Soup
Serves 6.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup celery, in ½-inch dice (I like to slice some of it instead of dicing, to get that pretty shape of sliced celery)
1 cup carrots, in ½-inch dice
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped fine (about 2 teaspoons)
6 cups good quality chicken broth
12 ounces new potatoes, unpeeled, in ½-inch dice
1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
5 ounces fresh green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces, or 5 ounces frozen cut green beans (½ of a 10-oz package)
5 ounces frozen corn  (½ of a 10-oz package)
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced ¼-inch thick (about 1 cup)
1 medium turnip, in ½-inch dice
1 large avocado, in ½-inch dice

In a large, heavy soup pot (I use a Le Creuset 5½-quart French oven), heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion 5 minutes. Add celery and carrots, and sauté another 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds.

Add the broth, the potatoes, 1 teaspoon each of the dill and thyme, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer the soup 10 minutes or until potatoes are barely tender.

If you are using fresh green beans, add only the beans and continue to simmer for 5 minutes before adding the corn; if you’re using frozen green beans, add the beans and the corn simultaneously. Once the soup is returned to a simmer, add the zucchini and the turnip, and continue to simmer 5 minutes. Add the avocado and ½ teaspoon each of the dill and thyme and simmer another 5 minutes.

And a healthy, happy 2013 to you all!

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