Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hearty Veggie Soup, a winter recipe

Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike cold weather? I'm a summertime girl, through and through. Give me flip flops and sun screen any day. But, alas, I live in Memphis. And in Memphis, we have two seasons: Summer, and Gray. Blech. Cold, overcast, dry, gray days - I loathe them.
So I have to find ways to warm up our days of cold and yuck. One of those ways is cooking. Specifically, cooking soup. Specifically specifically, cooking vegetable soup.

Photo creds to my friend Nicki. Thanks, friend!

I love a good vegetable soup. I make mine with beef. And lots and lots and lots of veggies. So much so, that my husband says it's too thick to be called vegetable soup. He says, technically, it's a beefy stew.

I say that there are too many vegetables to be called a "beefy" stew. Seriously, it's 85% veggies, 10% broth, and 5% ground beef. Totally not a beefy stew.

But whatever. If that's the worst of our disagreements... hahahaha... oh, never mind.

Here's the thing about this recipe: you can pretty much throw in whatever you want. I use three carrots. But maybe you really like carrots and want to use six? Do it! Want chicken instead of beef, or want to go strictly vegetarian? Cool!  Or maybe (like me) you love onion and want to throw some in there right at the beginning. Go for it! (I don't put onions in mine because I'm the only person in my house who likes them. So sad. Frowny face.)

There are a few ingredients that I think simply make the soup (oh, how I heart okra and kale!).  I will note those below. But maybe you disagree? Leave your comments below and let my tens of readers know how you make your veggie soup!

Finally, because I usually make this in the winter, I use frozen veggies. But if you're a summer soup kind of individual, by all means, make a trip to the farmer's market and get some freshness. Yum yum.

So without further ado, here's my recipe for Hearty Veggie... Beefy... Stew... Soup... Stuff:

Step 1: It's Not That "Hard" (the hard veggies)

2-3 Large, raw carrots, diced
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
1 bag frozen baby lima beans
1 bag frozen speckled butter beans
(My mama told me about these, and now they are a MUST for my veggie soup. Although I have used frozen black eyed peas in a pinch, the speckled butter beans have such great flavor and never get "mushy" like other peas do when they're cooked for too long.)
1 bag frozen corn
Salt/Pepper (Just a little, at this stage!)

Dump everything into large stock pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat all the veggies). Then let those babies sweat! The key here is to cook them over a low heat, completely covered, letting all that steam soften them up and sweat out the flavors.

Let these continue to sweat until soft. My "test" is: if I can easily cut through a piece of carrot with a spoon or rubber spatula, they're good to go.
Step 2: Roux the Day
Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and toss until all the veggies are coated.
(I learned on the cooking channel that this is creates a "roux." It allows your soup to thicken up without the "flour-y" taste or clumps. Learn something new everyday, eh?)
For a gluten-free option, you can totally use cornstarch instead or just skip this step altogether.  No biggie.
Step 3: Oh, "Broth"er.
2 boxes of beef broth.
I love the taste that beef broth adds to the soup. My favorite thing is to use the leftover "juices" from a pot roast to make a beefy flavored broth. HOWEVER, I have also used chicken broth (canned and homemade) and vegetable stock (for my vegetarian friends). It all works!
Also, if you only have a can or two of broth? No big deal. Just add water and a little salt and let it cook down.
Whatever you use, throw it in the pot with the veggies, give it a good stir, and bring it to a low boil.
Step 4: Time to Beef Up.
1 lb. Lean Ground Beef
This is one of those "have to have's." It has to be lean beef, otherwise you'll end up with grease floating on top of your soup.
So here it is: throw the whole thing in the boiling soup, raw, and break it apart while it cooks. Yep. That's it. No "browning" the beef in a second pan. Ain't nobody got time for that. This makes really crumbly beef and also releases the "fats" into the broth, giving it even more beefy flavor. Yum! Let the soup boil until the meat is no longer pink, then reduce to a simmer.
If all you have in the fridge happens to be a fattier beef (75/25, etc.), just brown it, drain it, rinse it, and add it to the soup. It'll still work.
Also: leftover beef from a pot roast makes excellent soup.
Step 5: Let's Soften Things Up a Bit (the soft veggies)
2-3 Large Kale Leaves, chopped
2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced (This is approximately 3-4 russet potatoes or 5-6 small red potatoes.)
1 bag Frozen Okra
1 can diced tomatoes, including juices OR 2 large, fresh tomatoes, peeled, diced and smushed (like, literally, cut them up and "smush" them with your hands.
1/2 jar of spaghetti sauce
2-3 sprigs of fresh Thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
A "Handful" of fresh parsley, chopped (If you don't have any fresh, just leave it out. Dried parsley does not do it justice.)
All of these are essential. All of them. You must have them all.
Ok. The truth is that I have made veggie soup without all of these before, and it's still pretty tasty. But each of these ingredients adds a "key" flavor that makes this soup so very scrumptious, I hate to leave any of them out.
Add them all to the simmering pot, and let it continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft. (Remember the carrot spoon test I mentioned above? Use it on the potatoes to see if they're soft enough.)
Step 5: Let's Spice it Up
Salt and Pepper to Taste. Depending on your choice of broth, tomatoes, and spaghetti sauce, you may need a little or a lot. (Homemade broth, fresh tomatoes, and homemade spaghetti sauce will probably require more salt and pepper. Boxed broth, canned tomatoes, and "Ragu" type spaghetti sauce may not require any salt, and only a little pepper. Just taste and add, taste and add. Plus, it gives you an excuse to eat some right now instead of waiting for dinner!)
Optional: If I'm just cooking for me and the Hubs, I will add a 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of cayenne pepper. We love that little kick that gives this soup an extra little sumpin sumpin.
That's it! Super easy, super tasty, and super full of good-for-you stuff. I sprinkle a little parmesan on top and serve it with sweet cornbread muffins.
Make yourself a pot today, and turn this cold, nasty day into something enjoyable! Or, better yet, come on over to my house. We'll eat and chat and pretend like it's 75 degrees outside. Okay? Okay.


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