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Autumnal Soups 2011: Part 1

October 27, 2011

Note: I am starting to contribute a food column to a local women’s group’s newsletter. This post and the two that follow will be from my upcoming column. It has a bit of an introduction about myself that some of you have heard already.

When I was a kid, I had the reputation of being the worst cook in the family. Once, I mixed together every single condiment in the refrigerator and cupboard (vinegar, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, salad dressings, spices, herbs, etc.) to make my own salad dressing. Guess how that worked out. Then, another time, when whipping up my mother’s birthday cake (a pineapple upside-down cake from a Weight Watchers cookbook,) I mistakingly added baking soda instead of baking powder. The soda did something funky with the pineapple and the whole cake turned green and disgusting. My father took the cake outside and put it in the compost. (Not recommended: cooked foods should not go in compost.) No birthday cake that year.

But, here I am, writing a food column for other women. How did it happen? Well, a lot of trial and error and a long-suffering husband who now loves to come home for dinner. (Ask me to tell you about the split pea soup of 2000.) I started a food blog in 2009 and love to try new recipes and post them. But having an eighteen-month-old daughter and working part time in a theatre take a lot of time–time I previously may have spent making more souffles, tiramisu, and other exotic experiments.

So, here I’ll post simple recipes that have worked on an interrupted cooking schedule with time to stop to put a child down for a nap, change a diaper, answer the phone, put out a fire at work (over the phone) without compromising the nutritional quality and taste of your food. (Yes–it’s possible!) I’ll also focus mostly on whole, seasonal, nutrient-dense foods like kale, whole grains, and free-range meat.

So…are you ready?

This week, we’ll focus on simple autumn soups. I love soup. It’s easy to pack in a lunch (if there’s a microwave at work) and leftovers are usually better than the original meal was. Evelyn, my daughter, loves soup. Because she’s still learning how to use a spoon, I crumble whole-grain bread or crackers (it’s OK if it’s a little stale!) into her soup so that she can eat it. Soup is the best way I’ve found to get her to eat vegetables.

Soup is also a good way to introduce new vegetables to your family. Parsnips, turnips, and celeriac all look like potatoes when they’re in soup and they add a wonderful flavor. Some of these soups are vegetarian, or can be easily made so if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. If your family loves to have meat at each meal, cut up a little cooked chicken or ham and add it at the end. Soup is forgiving–the only mistake you can’t really fix is adding too much salt or pepper.

Root Vegetable Stew with Herbed Dumplings

This is one of my most favorite autumn soups because it’s a sort of “choose-your-own-adventure” recipe. If you want to get all experimental, try some new root vegetables like celeriac or beets–or, you can just use up the carrots and potatoes you have on hand!

Stew:

4 t. olive oil, divided

8 oz. Italian sausage links, hot or sweet (You may also use Polish sausage or ham or omit)

2 lbs. assorted root vegetables, peeled & chopped (Some ideas: beets, carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi [not a root, but it works], parsnips, potatoes, radishes, sweet potatoes]

1 large onion, diced

1 T. chopped fresh sage or rosemary (or 1 t. dried)

4 C. chicken broth, or vegetable broth, or water + boullion

3 C. chopped dark, leafy greens, such as beet, kale, swiss chard, or turnip greens

Dumplings:

1 1/4 C. whole-wheat pastry flour OR white whole-wheat flour

1/2 C. all-purpose flour

1 T. chopped fresh sage or rosemary (or 1 t. dried)

1 T. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 C. milk

To make stew:

Heat 2 t. oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sausage or meat and cook until browned on all sides. Transfer to a clean cutting board; cool and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Heat the remaining 2 t. oil in the same pan. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until barely tender, about 4 minutes. Add root vegetables and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sage or rosemary and cook about 30 seconds. Add broth greens and bring to a simmer. Add greens and sausage. Cover. Stir occasionally.

While the stew cooks, prepare the dumplings. Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add egg and milk and stir until a stiff batter forms. (Don’t overmix of they’ll get tough!) About 10-15 minutes before you’re ready to serve dinner, drop the dough, about 1 T. at a time, over the stew, making about 18 dumplings. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook undisturbed until the dumplings are puffed, the vegetables are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 10 minutes. (But this can wait a little longer in case you get an emergency phone call!)

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