Good Soup on the Fly

bean winter squash soup parsley pistouYou never know when that cup of cooked beans or chunk of roasted butternut squash will come in handy. Little time to think about what to make for dinner and little time to actually make it?

How does one turn random bits of already cooked ingredients into something delicious? Yesterday’s example . . . friend comes over for dinner but no real plan or time to be fancy. I had about 1 cup of cooked white beans and about as much bean cooking liquid, a rich, silky base for a soup. Also present, about 2 cups of already roasted butternut squash, some of it very soft and some of it still keeping its shape. I had a small chunk of celery root and I always have onions, potatoes and garlic on hand as well as veggie bouillon base (water would have been just fine since the bean broth was flavorful) in the freezer. The garden offered up a handful of parsley and a few leaves of sage.

Soup is a handy format for on-the-fly, no-plan cooking but to make it good–in the absence of time for lengthy simmering–it needs more than vegetables, grain, broths, etc. In this case a handful of chopped parsley and garlic clove and some salt, chopped/mashed into a paste and thinned with some good olive oil made it good. Sometimes soy sauce and/or fish sauce to finish does the trick, other times a slice of bacon, diced and added to the saute-ing onions does it.

parlsey garlic pistou

But to start, think of those beans and roasted vegetables as building blocks, really tasty and efficient ones, to make soup. Happy Cooking!

Simple Vegetable Soup with Parsley “Pistou

This is merely a template for a nice warming bowl of soup. Adapt and substitute to suit your tastes and needs.

Serves 4-ish

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon sage, fresh or dried, chopped (or thyme, oregano, marjoram. . .)
2 medium potatoes, diced fairly small (for quick cooking)
1 cup celery root, diced
1 cup cooked beans (white, pinto, cranberry, chickpeas. . .)
1 cup bean cooking broth
2 cups roasted winter squash, diced (or use raw if that’s what you have and add it when you add the potatoes)
2 – 2 1/2 cups veggie bouillon broth or water or chicken stock  (use more or less depending on how thick/thin you want your soup, you can always thin it out at the end)
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until the onion softens. Add the celery root, potatoes and sage and mix well and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the beans, bean broth, squash and stock and bring everything to a simmer. Cover partially and cook for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and beginning to fall apart.

Meanwhile use the side of a chef’s knife to mash the sea salt into the minced garlic and then mix it around on the cutting board with the finely chopped parsley and make a rough paste. It doesn’t need to be uniform. Put it in a bowl and add a couple tablespoons good olive oil; it doesn’t need to totally emulsify, as you can see.

Taste the soup and adjust seasoning with salt and or a splash of vinegar if it’s bland. Serve hot or warm and top with the parsley garlic garnish.

Why Not? Add a Spoonful . . .

Brothy Pinto Beans with Harissa and Parsley

of Harissa to my plain bowl of brothy beans for lunch? Why not do the same a few days later with chickpeas and top them with garlicky sautéed mustard greens and feta? This was such a success that I taught it in a recent class and I’ve noted the recipe below. I use this wonderful smoky, spicy paste in this greens and bulgur dish and have been reaching for it this winter to enliven eggs, bowls of rice and now beans. There are lots of recipes online to make your own Harissa and my favorite store-bought brand is Mustapha’s.

Why not? has become my new teaching refrain as well.  It of course goes hand in hand with the cook-with-what-you-have approach of substituting and adapting on the fly and is a catchy enough reminder to not be bound word for word to recipes and thus make cooking more fun, less stressful and more satisfying.

harissa mustaphas

I’ve had a couple of successes with the why not? approach lately. I added lots of sliced, raw leeks instead of a little onion to a gratin of root vegetables. Not sure why I’d never done that but it gave the gratin a lush, silky sweetness. I filled burritos with pinto beans and sautéed chard and roasted tomatoes. I made the Cauliflower Pasta Risotto that I wrote about here with Brussels Sprouts and bacon. And last night I thinned down heavy whipping cream with milk since the cream was so thick I thought it might not whip into a nice light topping for my son’s birthday chocolate pie. It worked beautifully! Sometimes the why not? approach is less successful as in the time I added some homemade vanilla extract (vodka plus vanilla beans) from a very fresh batch of extract to heavy cream that I whipped for some dessert and the cream tasted sour from the vodka that had not yet really been infused by the vanilla beans.

Have you had moments like these? Successful or less so? I’d love to hear about them.

Chickpea Soup with Sautéed Mustard Greens and Harissa

This is something I’ve been eating this winter for lunch with a variety of toppings or additions. It came about one day when all I had ready to eat was cooked chickpeas in their broth, a jar of Harissa in the fridge (and a few other things but they were not suitable for lunch). I heated up the chickpeas, added a little Harissa and a good drizzle of olive oil and lunch was had, with a piece of bread, I think. It was warm and nourishing and lovely. I like the addition of quickly sautéed mustard greens (or any leafy greens) and a little feta. This is just a basic template and another quick, cheap, delicious way to use those glorious chickpeas or any kind of bean you have around already cooked.

Serves 2

3 cups cooked chickpeas (or other beans of your choice)
2 – 2 ½ cups chickpea cooking liquid
½ – 1 teaspoon Harissa (depending on what spice level you like and your brand of Harissa)
About 4 cups washed mustard greens, cut into ribbons
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
Olive oil
Crumbled feta for serving
Salt and Pepper

Heat the chickpeas and their liquid in a saucepan. Sauté the mustard greens with the garlic in a bit of olive oil until just wilted and lightly salt. This should only take about 3-5 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir the Harissa into the chickpeas and portion the soup into bowls. Top with the mustard greens and a bit of feta. Drizzle on a little more good olive oil and grind of pepper and enjoy!