will bow to no one in my affection for holiday cooking. For
our Christmas open house every year, I make gallons of
posole and black beans. One family holiday tradition is
spending a day decorating hundreds of cookies. There is no
Christmas Eve without all-you-can eat Dungeness crab nor
Christmas morning without a breakfast with migas and
julekake. The month of December seems to be one solid buffet
of parties, dinners and an almost constant barrage of
cookies, tamales and big hunks of roasted meat.
it all, but every once in a while, I need a break. Maybe a
quiet dinner in front of the fire with "Foyle’s
War" or "Longmire." After a long workday, you
won’t believe how reassuring a baked sweet potato with
good butter and lots of black pepper can be.
got a little more time and feel like puttering, I usually
find myself turning to different kinds of vegetable soups or
stews. Honestly, I sometimes think you could throw an almost
random selection of vegetables in a pot and bring them to a
boil and wind up with something pretty tasty — if you know
what you’re doing. Here are a few guidelines.
carefully: Let me start by apologizing for that word
"random." In cooking — or at least good cooking
— nothing is truly random. But you’d be surprised how
far you can get by sticking with that old local-and-seasonal
thing. Potatoes, fennel, winter squash and greens? I can
think of half a dozen dishes without even trying.
need starch: It gives soup heft. If you’re using pasta,
rice or grains, cook them first and add them at the end so
they don’t muddy the broth or overcook. If you’re using
potatoes, use smooth-skinned boilers and add them early, so
they have time to absorb flavors.
in doubt, add greens: And then if you’re still uncertain,
add more greens. I don’t know a cook who doesn’t have a
few bags of odd scraps of lettuce, kale and chard in the
crisper drawer. Soup is a great way to get the most out of
them, and the more (and the more kinds), the merrier.
fine: Sure, you can use a vegetable broth if you want, but
don’t overlook simply adding water — that way, you also
can control the amount of salt more accurately. If you’ve
got the right blend of vegetables, you won’t need any
assertively: If there is one common fault with vegetable
soups, it’s timidity in seasoning, particularly salt. As
always, you don’t want the food to taste salty, but the
right amount awakens all the other flavors. This is
especially true if you’ve added starches — they suck
salt out of a soup like nobody’s business.
is a seasoning too. This is overlooked by too many cooks,
but if a soup or stew tastes a little flat, and you’ve
seasoned it correctly with salt, try adding some vinegar or
lemon juice to finish. As little as a teaspoon can make a
big difference, giving the flavors a strong backbone to hang
fear fat: You’ve salted correctly and added just the right
dash of lemon juice, but the dish still lacks something? A
drizzle of olive oil, a dollop of herb paste or a shaving of
hard cheese such as Parmigiano or ricotta salata can provide
a final lift. Because the rest of the soup is basically
nothing but vegetables and water, you can liven it up a
are a couple of very different but equally delicious
examples from two of my favorite cookbooks of 2014 —
"Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts" by Aglaia
Kremezi and "Persiana" from Sabrina Ghayour. One
is the essence of Greek family cooking — homely in
appearance but with a depth of flavor that comes only from
careful, long cooking. The other is simple to make but
striking enough to be the centerpiece of a holiday dinner.
But even given its gorgeous looks, Ghayour promises
"there are no rules for making it; the simple truth is
that this soup should contain whatever you might find lying
around the house and in your fridge."
GREENS AND POTATOES WITH LEMON AND FENNEL
hour. Serves 4
cup olive oil, plus good, fruity olive oil for drizzling,
onions, halved and thinly sliced
carrots, quartered and cut in 1-inch lengths
green onions, white and most of green parts, thinly sliced
fennel bulb, trimmed and coarsely chopped, fronds and tender
fingerling potatoes, cut in bite-sized pieces
teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle or
pounds mixed greens, spinach, sorrel, Swiss chard, outer
leaves of romaine lettuce, pea shoots, nettle tops or any
combination of sweet leafy greens, large leaves coarsely
cup white wine
preserved lemon, flesh discarded, rinsed and chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
cup chopped fresh dill or wild fennel, divided
1 to 2
teaspoons marash pepper or a good pinch of crushed red
pepper flakes, or to taste
a wide, deep soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft,
about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, green onions, fennel bulb,
potatoes and fennel seeds, stir to coat with the oil and
cook an additional 3 minutes.
the greens in batches, starting with the larger leaves and
gradually adding the smaller, more tender ones. Stir a few
times to help the leaves wilt and reduce in size, then add
the wine and cook for 1 minute; add the water, the preserved
lemon and salt to taste.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the greens and
potatoes are tender and most of the juices have been
absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. If there is still too much
liquid, raise the heat to high and continue to cook until
the liquid is reduced, up to an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
the lemon juice, half the dill, the fennel fronds and stalks
and sprinkle with the red pepper; toss, taste and adjust the
seasonings as desired. Cook an additional 2 minutes to marry
the flavors, then sprinkle with remaining dill.
Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with the good,
fruity olive oil.
fat 4 g
Adapted from Aglaia Kremezi’s "Mediterranean
Vegetarian Feasts." Kremezi recommends serving this
with ricotta or feta cheese and crusty bread.
hours, 40 minutes. Serves 10 to 12
cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed
of lemon juice
and pepper to taste
the olive oil, parsley, dill and cilantro in a bowl along
with the pistachios, lemon juice and some salt and pepper,
and blitz with a hand blender until the mixture is finely
chopped and has the consistency of pesto. If you need to
slacken the mixture, add a bit more oil.
2 to 3
tablespoons olive oil
pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1
large onions, diced, plus 1 large onion cut in half and
thinly sliced into half-moons, separated
cloves garlic, crushed
leeks, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped
boiling potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
tomatoes, roughly chopped
teaspoons ground cumin
teaspoon ground cinnamon
teaspoons smoked paprika
teaspoons hot pepper paste, such as harissa
and freshly ground black pepper
to 15- 1/2-ounce) cans chickpeas (reserve the liquid plus a
couple of handfuls of chickpeas to garnish)
large zucchini, finely diced
ounces feta cheese
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add enough olive
oil to generously coat the base of the pan. Add the
butternut squash, diced onions, garlic, leeks and potatoes,
and cook, without browning, until the vegetables soften
slightly, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, paprika and hot pepper paste,
and give it all a good stir to ensure the spices evenly coat
the vegetables. Cover the vegetables completely with water,
add a generous amount of salt (I would suggest at least 4
teaspoons) and black pepper. Stir once more and continue to
cook at a gentle boil until the squash is tender when poked
with a knife, about 30 minutes.
Puree the mixture in a food processor or blender until you
get a lovely, even, smooth soup. Once smooth, add the
chickpeas and their liquid, and stir well.
Adjust the consistency of the soup with additional water if
desired, then taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Cook an
additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the
zucchini and cook for a final 20 minutes before serving.
While the soup is cooking, drizzle some olive oil into a
large frying pan set over high heat, and fry the sliced
onion until browned and crispy. Add the reserved chickpeas
and brown them along with the onions. Using a slotted spoon,
remove the onions and chickpeas from the pan and set aside.
This makes about 31/2 quarts soup.
Pour the soup into large bowls (preferably wide, shallow
ones), then generously crumble the feta on top. Drizzle a
couple of tablespoons of the herb oil into each bowl over
the feta. Finally, add the reserved crispy fried onions and
OF 12 SERVINGS
fat 3 g
Adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s "Persiana."