Food Ideas: Single Vegetable Soups

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By stu_spivack (chilled asparagus soup) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Single-Vegetable Soups are what I call my soup creations that use just one vegetable and seasonings. They tend to be pureed soups with very clean flavors that put the focus on the vegetable. For the same reasons, some might consider them boring.

I love soups. Some evenings, that’s all I feel like eating. Most of the times I don’t have all the ingredients for making a mixed soup. I had to come up with recipes with the ingredients on hand. I could throw a bunch of vegetables together and create something but those tend to be unpredictable. I decided that the best strategy was to stick to a single vegetable and try to make a soup out of it.

I wanted to share some of my tips and suggestions for creating some simple soups.  My goal is to always let the flavor of the vegetable be the most prominent. I enjoy beets so I also enjoy a beet soup but for those who don’t, a soup like this might be the too beet-y to enjoy. Therefore I recommend sticking to vegetables that you otherwise enjoy eating.

Broth– I do not use any broth/ bullion in my single vegetable soups. They tend to add their own flavors that I find takes away from the star ingredient. Using water is one option but a tip I learned from a friend was to concentrate the vegetable flavor using the same vegetable. This step take some additional time and is optional but it does give the soup a more richer flavor. I have learned to use any unused parts of the same vegetable and create a quick broth instead of using water. For example, using the tough ends of asparagus or the tops of leeks. Use anything that you might otherwise throw away. I boil this in water for about 20 minutes along with salt and garlic and/or onion. Strain and use the liquid for the next step.

Alliums (Onions, garlic, leeks, chives, etc…)– I love onions and garlic and use them in pretty much anything I make but my single vegetable soups are a dish where I have to be careful about being over-enthusiastic with them. These are strong, powerful flavors and can easily overwhelm the dish. My policy is always to use only one or the other. With a mild flavored vegetable like asparagus, I stick to onions/ green onions. If you have a stronger tasting vegetable or a very bland one (eg. potatoes), garlic is the way to go.

Dairy– Dairy should always be the last step and there should be very little heat added once you add dairy. Remember that cream or milk are not your only options. Consider mixing in yogurt, sour cream, or ricotta. If you don’t want a creamy soup but want that smooth flavor, a knob of butter works great. You can also experiment with some cheese.

Spices– People often like to add a few spices to make the soups a little more flavorful. A curried soup is an example. I do not care for very many spices in my soup. I do like parsley and find it to be a very versatile herb that goes with many vegetables. I am also a nutmeg lover and try to add it to as many foods as I can. I have found that it works surprisingly well with some of the heavier soups. I recommend that you remove a small part of the soup and experiment with you spices before adding it to the whole pot.

Acid– There is something to be said for “brightening up” the flavor of soups. If the vegetables are usually cooked for long tend to lose that “freshness.” Lemon is always a friend. If the vegetable is naturally slightly sweet or if the soup is going to be creamy, consider adding a few drops of lemon juice. A few drops of vinegar is another alternative. I find milder ones like rice wine vinegar to be the best suited.

Texture– Even if you are going to puree the soup, do consider adding a little texture. In the case of asparagus, it might be a few tips that you set aside. Other additions I like to make include crispy potato skins or roasted seeds when making a squash soup.

I think one of the main reasons I like soups is because I get to enjoy whatever produce is in season. I am looking for as many ways to consume the vegetables as they become available. Right now, I am working on tomatoes. I am constantly experimenting with various combinations of ingredients. Some turn out better than others but keeping it simple has ensured that none of them have been complete disasters.

My most recent favorite creation was an asparagus soup. Here is a quick description of what I did.

  • Use the tough ends to make a broth along with a little onion.
  • Set aside a few tips of asparagus spears.
  • Cook the rest of the asparagus in the “broth” along with some onions. Season it and puree it.
  • Added the reserved tips and heat for a few minutes. Add a few drops of lemon juice.
  • Folded in some yogurt and a little bit of parmesan.
  • Topped with chopped parsley.

Are there any single vegetable soups that you particularly love?

 

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The Multi-Purpose “Red Sauce”

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By Javier Lastras from España/Spain – Tomate Natural Triturado, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9822625

It’s summer which means an abundance of tomatoes. In the past, I have been overwhelmed by tomatoes from my garden or my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions. Living where I do now, I do not have access to such bounty but summer reminds me of the times I have had to figure out to use the tomato overload Today I wanted to share one of my favorite ways to process and store the fruit, red sauce aka tomato sauce.

What makes tomatoes so special?

Tomatoes cook well. Whether you start off with unripe tomatoes or with mushy ones, once you cook it, they fall apart to create this quick sauce. Tomato sauces also thicken really well. If you give a tomato based sauce, some time and heat, it will thicken without the help of cornstarch or other thickeners. Tomatoes are an excellent source of, umami, the savory taste. This is why adding some concentrated tomato, in the form of tomato paste, will improve any stew. Tomatoes are found in so many different styles of cooking. Although it originated in the Americas, this wonderful fruit, now, has a place in cuisines all around the world.

I prefer to use the term red sauce because the term tomato sauce can mean different things in different places. In America, it usually refers to any variation of pasta sauce but growing up, it meant ketchup. It is also that product you find in the canned tomato section at the grocery store. Another reason I call it red sauce is because I use it as a base for more than just pasta. Pasta is just one of the many ways I like to use the concoction. I use it in chili, Indian curries, as well as soups.

Goal:

  • Make use of the abundant summer tomatoes and find a way to make them last into the colder months. This means it has to store well.
  • Spend less money on store-bought canned goods.
  • The process should not be too time consuming. In the case of tomatoes that would be no peeling or seeding. Using thin-skinned tomatoes helps greatly.
  • In order to make it truly multi-purpose, it has to have versatile flavors that can be adapted for use in any cuisine.

After much experimentation in terms of flavor, processing time, and storage, this is a brief description of what I usually do to create a tomato base I like.

Process:

This sauce is all about the process. Add the ingredients in the right order and at the right time and it should be all good. Melt some butter and add a little bit of grated onion and salt. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are a very lightly brown. Add pressed/ grated garlic and stir until you have the wonderful fragrance. Add tomatoes (diced) and some sugar and bring it to a simmer and then cook uncovered until the sauce is a little thicker. It should take around 30 minutes of cooking time.

Notes:

I use butter because I find it to be the most versatile of the fat options. One could use olive oil if you only intended to use it in certain dishes. I personally do not appreciate the flavor of olive oil in my Indian food. I also use grated onions because something about grating it gives it the sauce the perfect distribution of flavor. I also do not link chunks of onions in all of the dishes I make using this sauce.

This is the simplest version of the sauce and the one I freeze. It can also be canned. I have done that in the past but I am not confident I have the directions to safely can something as tricky as tomatoes.

Now that we have a basic sauce, we will be able to modify it as needed for different foods. In Friday’s post, I will share my Top 10 uses for this sauce and how I adapt the sauce for each of these dishes. I find that giving tomatoes plenty of time to cook is key to many recipes and having a big part of that done really saves on cooking time.