Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hearty Vegetable & Butter Bean Soup

After years of avoiding Twitter I finally caved a couple of months ago and started up the _danielledishes page. It seemed like a good compromise between highly personal and just checking it out. One big surprise, though, is I've been enlightened in some ways, now having a live action pulse on posts in the food world. I can't help but have this feeling that there is a movement happening. 

Of course, there is the Locavore movement - that's nothing new, really. The Locavore voice has been more than a rumor for 5+ years, asking consumers to buy and shop local as much as possible. It's just that there is a louder community voice right now, across various cross sections of people. Industry people. Foodies. Moms. Young people. Older health conscious people. There's not really "one type" of Locavore, so to speak, we are not hipsters. Nor are we hippies. This is good news and speaks to the feeling that seems to be gaining momentum.

Alongside Locavorism is a rising consumer awareness of what it takes to transport food across the country to our doorsteps. The fuel usage and costs associated: environmental, monetary, social...

The GMO labeling issue is evolving, as we speak even.

The swirl of fitness trending. P90X, T25, Crossfit, Insanity, Caveman diet, Paleo diet, Juicing, Alkaline Diet, etc etc etc etc....the list goes on & on, right? The word diet itself is becoming taboo. The swing is towards not "diet-ing" but diet, as in changing your habits for good. 
The healthy body campaigns are out there. The love your body campaigns. Michelle Obama's Let's Move crusade to end childhood obesity. Educating children to make better choices for themselves. Banishing bad food from schools. 

These signs of change are all around us. It comes on the back of the realization that the fast food generation's ailments have a heavy price, not just on the death toll, but on society, healthcare, the quality of people's lives. 

With the newly revised farm bill, passed in February, there are tangible shifts happening in our society's thinking. The farm bill has been altered to award farmers for their environmental contributions, and to award low income families who shop for fresh foods instead of frozen, canned, prepackaged, junk food, the list again goes on. Though controversial in some ways, i.e. the amount of funding for food stamps cut from the budget, these reflections of our changing views show good things are happening. Is this is the new era that we are seeing blossom before us, where people care about people and humans care for the earth? 

That may be a reach but I do have hope for us, some days more than others. Less so on a day where I get cut off by someone who doesn't know how to use their blinker or operate a vehicle, someone pushes their way in front of me at the store, I almost get run over while carrying my son through the parking lot IN A CROSSWALK and the awful lady at the bakery won't slice my loaf of bread because her "machine is wet" while she continues spraying it with water- when I tell her politely that I am in no rush, and will stop back in 20 minutes- her response is, "Oh, well it will still be wet, then too." I tell her how impressed I am by her clairvoyance and wish her well. But really the whole time I envision the scenario of punching her in the face, followed by explaining that what she is telling me is kinda like calling in sick for work, two days in advance.  

Nope, on those days my hope is low. My hope is Hans So Low, it's in the negative. I guess it may be a slow movement, but the train feels like it's moving, ya know what I mean?

Somehow I think this all plays in to my recent foray into gardening. We've (the plus one and me) started small to try our hand. Pumpkins and ornamental cabbage to be exact. We've had some luck. I think it might be Twitter's play on my subconscious, this new interest in gardening. Blame Twitter, it's all Twitter's fault....that Twat! Which leads me to the real point, this gardening thing takes time, love, frustration and now whenever I throw away vegetables I feel oddly guilty that the farming goddess is judging me. So came forth this hearty wonderful soup for just such the occasion that you have saved your week's worth of vegetable trimmings (in the fridge, please) and are ready to wield your mighty save-the-earth-one-plant-at-a-time sword. We are in a superhero phase over here, can you tell?

This is a healing soup. A soup that warms your soul. Great for a cold rainy day or a pick-me-up when you feel less than awesome. It's also vegan (leave out the optional noodles), vegetarian (obv), very low calorie, and a good way to get any person to eat their veggies.


Broth Ingredients

2 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil (or olive oil)
2 Cups Carrot & Celery trimmings (equal-ish amounts of each)
5 Cloves Smashed Garlic
2 Bunches Asparagus Stems
4 Tomatillos (green tomatoes)
3 Bay Leaves
5 Whole Allspice
2 Good Pinches Red Pepper Flakes
1 Large Lemon Wedges
12 Cups Water
Salt to taste  

Soup Ingredients

2 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
2/3 Yellow Onion, chopped
3 Carrots, chopped
2 Ribs Celery, chopped
1/2 Cup Celery Heart (leafy inside part), chopped
*2 1/4 Cups Crushed Tomato in Purée
12 Cups Broth
**2 Cups Cooked Butter Beans (larger lima bean)

Optional Ingredients:
1 Cup Cabbage, shredded
8 oz spaghetti noodles, break into thirds

Start your broth first. In a large stockpot, sauté veggies in oil, medium high heat, starting with celery & carrots first. Give them about 3 minutes; stir occasionally. 

Add asparagus stems- use the hard bottoms you normal would toss, tomatillos & garlic; bring heat down to medium and saute 5 minutes, covered. Don't skip the tomatillos in this recipe; they add a very different character to the broth - it's that "thing" that is so well balanced and yummy! Careful not to cook too hot or your garlic will burn, no bueno.  

Add aromatics- red pepper flakes, bay leaves, allspice & lemon wedge before you stir, to let them jive for a bit, releasing their flavors. Sprinkle it all with some salt & let it saute for another 5 minutes uncovered. 
Add water; cover. Simmer for one hour. 

While simmering, prep the soup ingredients. 

Chop onion & celery leaves.

Chop celery ribs & carrots. 

Mince garlic.

About 10 minutes before broth is done, in a soup pot, heat up oil to medium. Add all veggies & let them saute for about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. DON'T BURN YOUR GARLIC. Don't be like me. Otherwise, you'll have to chop a fresh batch of everything. Aaargh. 

Strain the solids out of the broth, after it has simmered for a good hour. Add one cup of water; this should bring you close to a total of 12 cups broth needed for the soup. Taste & add a little salt if needed. I strained mine into a bowl first, to taste & add a little salt. But, it can be strained right into the soup you've started. Bring up to a boil, then lower heat down to a good simmer.

Gorgeous vegetable broth that can be used for this soup or make a double batch & freeze for rice, sauces, etc. Put broth in ice cube trays and pop them out when frozen. Store broth cubes for up to 6 months in freezer bags, giving you manageable sized portions of broth for whenever you need it!

Add the cooked, rinsed butter beans, once soup is simmering. 

Add crushed tomatoes in puree. I used canned this time; it's what I had on hand & quick. 
I've included a Kitchen Tip below on how to use fresh tomatoes, instead.

Cover & let simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Noodles aren't necessary but my fam loves them. If you use the noodles, add them 10 minutes before serving; simmer in the soup for 10 minutes. Serve piping hot in a BIG bowl with a BIG spoon & expect everyone to want seconds!

Super Low Calorie Option:
I usually skip the noodles in mine and instead shred green cabbage. Place the uncooked cabbage in the bottom of the bowl, ladle the soup over the top. The cabbage softens up but still has a good texture (aka no mushy cabbage!) kind of noodle like. A very diet friendly meal full of good nutrients and fulfilling, at the same time!

*Kitchen Tip - Peeling Fresh Tomatoes: If you are moved to use all fresh ingredients, you can make your own using the steaming/peeling method and then giving them a quick swirl in the blender. I sometimes make tomato puree in big batches and freeze for sauces and recipes, in quart freezer bags.

My Steaming/Peeling Method for Tomatoes:
So, I'm not sure if this is the "real" way to handle peeling tomatoes; it's what works for me. 
- Rinse tomatoes. 
- Fill a large pout with about 2 inches of water.
-Cut a large "X" just under the tomato flesh. Set them in the pot. Cover. 
- Bring water to simmer for 3 minutes; turn off & let the tomatoes steam for about 10 minutes. - -- Drain from water & peel the skins off; they will be hot inside so be careful peeling. 
- Puree in blender. 

**Kitchen Tip - Working with Dry Butter Beans: 
I use dried butter beans, which are really just a mature Lima Bean. They absorb the flavors in the the soup well and have a nice texture to them. I find Butter Beans at our local International Market, sometimes I can find them in the regular grocery, too. They can be replaced by Kidney, Navy, or even a regular Lima Bean (sometimes easier to find these). 

- Plan ahead if you are using dried butter beans; soak them overnight, then boil in water for an hour to prep for soup. 
- Use a very large pot, as they froth quite a bit when cooking. 
- Drain and rinse before using them in the soup. 
- I make the whole bag, use what I need for soup and freeze the rest for another day, that way they are cooked and ready to go. Making life easier one step at a time :).

Annnddd that is all the tips and tricks I have up my sleeve on this one, so until next time...Happy Cooking! I would love to hear about your gardening tips for Zone 8B, too!


Some resources I love for anyone interested in gardening in Las Vegas and the current food movements:

Helpful resource for the Las Vegas gardener

Insightful and relevant food news from environmental sustainability to health and wellness

NY Times article breaks down the recent Farm Bill enacted

A winery just over the hill of Las Vegas...Pahrump

An orchard in the desert

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