More about Green Soups and the Color Problem

Maybe it’s spring, maybe it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but green is on my mind.   Yesterday’s post delved into the problem with green pea soups and how to evolve past the “Eeew!” factor.  Garnishes are a godsend.

Brighten pea green with some color and their appeal soars.  Yesterday’s sweet pea soup was brightened up with roasted red and yellow peppers.  Here, split pea is paired with deep purple cabbage for a color combo that is actually quite lovely, especially for spring.

Split Pea Soup topped with Frizzled Purple Cabbage
Use color to eliminate the “Eeew” factor that so often accompanies pea soups. Here, frizzled purple cabbage creates an appealing color combo.

In case you need a good split pea recipe, my basic follows.

  • Diced potatoes, celery and carrots “thin” the intensity of the split peas, while adding some nice texture.  More vegetable nutrition is another bonus.
  • Make the soup as thick or thin as desired by using more or less broth.  I personally don’t like mine thick enough to hold a spoon upright, so I use most of the broth called for.
  • Bacon adds a characteristic flavor, but is definitely optional.  In the past, I have used a combination of a little soy sauce, light miso and soy milk for a flavor substitute, but this is not necessary—just a fun idea to play with.
  • A past blog explored what makes a recipe good for slow cooking.  Split Pea Soup fits the bill perfectly.  You can throw everything in the pot and forget about it all day.   As you’ll see from this recipe, however, I use a 2-step process that works better with my schedule. I put the peas on to cook in the morning when I don’t have much time.  The remaining ingredients get prepped and added at the end of the day.  Another advantage of this process:  the vegetables don’t get overcooked and the spices retain more of their flavor.
  • No time for slow cooking?  See the pressure cooker option at the end of the recipe.

Mary’s Basic Split Pea Soup, Dressed up with Frizzled Purple Cabbage

  • 2 cups dried split peas
  • 4 cups water

Combine in slow cooker, cover and cook over low heat 6-8 hours until almost tender.  (If you’re in a hurry, bring the water to a boil before adding and/or cook on high rather than low heat.)  About 2 hours before mealtime, turn slow cooker to high and stir in:

  • 3 medium potatoes, diced into small, 1/2″ cubes
  • 4-5 medium carrots, shredded (on a box grater)
  • 2 cups Imagine Vegetable Broth (plus 1-2 cups more to thin, as desired)
  • 2 bay leaves

Next, heat a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium heat.  Fry:

  • 3-4 slices of high-quality, lean bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces

After the bacon has rendered a little fat into the pan, stir in and sauté about 5-7 minutes:

  • 1 large onion, diced to 1/4″
  • 4 stalks celery, diced to 1/4″
  • 2 tsp. dried leaf thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried leaf marjoram

Stir sautéed vegetables into soup.  (Don’t bother washing sauté pan; it will be used again for the cabbage.)   Continue cooking soup over high heat until potatoes and split peas are very tender.  If desired, add more vegetable broth if soup gets too thick.

  • 2 cups red cabbage sliced very thinly (about 1/4 of a medium head)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Just before serving, reheat sauté pan over medium high heat, add oil and when it is quite hot but not smoking, add cabbage.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring fairly frequently, until cabbage just begins to soften and wilt.  Remove from heat.

Taste soup and add salt and pepper, to taste.  Then serve in bowls, topped with red cabbage.

Pressure Cooker Option: Lorna Sass, the master of pressure cooking, makes a similar recipe (but uses sweet potatoes and apples for something different.)  She sautés the onion and celery in the slow cooker, throws in everything else and cooks at high pressure for 10 minutes.  After a natural release period of 20 minutes, the soup is done—and just as tasty as cooking all day in the slow cooker.

Pity Poor Pea Soup

Is it time to grow up?  Poor pea soup keeps getting ignored just because its color has squeamish connotations that date back to childhood.  How I got the courage to dive in and discover a dish that’s really quite delicious.

Some foods have a hard lot in life.  Pea soup is one of them.

It’s sad, because pea soup is just as good as any other of the creamy vegetable soups like corn, broccoli and tomato.  But I doubt there are many among us who are so evolved from our 10-year old roots that we can ignore the resemblance between pea soup and you-know-what.

I was surprised at the effort it took just to buy box of pea soup.  A bright red flag on Imagine’s Creamy Pea Soup boasted “New Look! Same Great Taste.”  But the box was still a distinctively suspicious green color, and the bowl of soup on the front was still a matching hue of green, a fact that couldn’t be hidden even by the sweet garnishes arranged on top.

Imagine Pea Soup with Roasted Red and Yellow PeppersNevertheless, being an open-minded foodie, I magnanimously set aside my prejudices and bought a box. (Didn’t hurt that it was on sale!)  And just last week I plucked it from cupboard for lunch. (Didn’t hurt that I was starved after a workout and the frig was uncharacteristically void of any leftovers.)  It took conscious effort to quash the giggles and automatic “eeew” response, but once past the first bite, the going got easy, quickly.  The soup was quite tasty.

I found it helped to add roasted yellow and red peppers (frozen from last year’s farmers market), not only for color but also texture.  I imagine that baked and diced potatoes or sweet potatoes, roasted carrots or thin strips of sun-dried tomatoes could be similarly helpful.

So happy pea soup as we head into the season of spring peas!  I might actually try to make a batch now.

P.S.  One more reason to get past your green soup hangups:  one cup of soup contains a whole serving of vegetables.  So the bowl of soup I had for lunch delivered a total of 3 vegetable servings:  2 servings of peas (in 2 cups of soup) + 1 serving of peppers.

What’s Going on in the Winter Garden?

Just a Dead Zone. . . or Place of Active Resting?

We just published the Winter issue of Vegetable a Month, online magazine.  Here’s the cover:

Vegetable A Month, Winter Leeks Issue

The Winter Leeks Issue: Take a look around

We loved this picture for the Winter issue.  It was the brainchild of our Creative Director, Claudia Chang.  Of course she also took the prototype “Beautiful Leek Picture,” shown below.  But she was particularly fond of this picture because it did what good art is supposed to do:  help us think about the world in a different way.  In this case, leeks “growing” in the snow sparks a little wonderment:  What’s going on in the winter garden?

From the outside, certainly, things do look a bit dead.  And that’s usually how we talk about gardens in winter.  “Everything’s dead,” we say, as in “there’s nothing going on.”  In Nature’s terms, however, winter isn’t just a gap of nothingness, but a critical link between Autumn’s abundance and Spring’s vibrancy.  It is period of profound rest.

This thought was with me yesterday on a short winter hike.  Once the noise of the city was behind me, Winter’s quiet could be heard.  There I was on one of the most popular summer trails, with not a soul to be seen, just the rocks and trees stoically marking the time, dutifully standing guard over the deliberate rest taking place all around them.

Settling.  Deliberate resting. Recharging.  There’s a lot going on in a winter garden.  How about in your body’s “garden.”  This is a good time for rest and recharge there, too.

But spring is fast on the way, so don’t delay.  Stock up on winter rest before the heady days of spring arrive.

Beutiful Leeks Picture

Claudia's Beautiful Leek Picture

Claudia Responds:

Yes. . . gardens in winter are magical.  I’m reminded of “puja,” a tradition from Hindu and Buddhist thought, which has to do with honoring and devoting attention, often accompanied by offerings of good food and flowers.  Winter is a time for honoring the garden.  Give it time to rest.  Respect the work it is doing beneath the frozen surface.  Harbor no regrets for the last season or anxiety for the next.  Give to the garden because it gives so much back the rest of the year.

Healthy Eating: Filling a Leadership Void

Finding “Lifestyle Leaders” in Everyday Places

People always kid me about reading month-old newspapers and magazines.  I say it’s a great way to get an historical perspective on things!  With that in mind, may I report on something from clear back in November of 2009:  Prevention magazine interviewed both Arthur Agatston, MD, of South Beach Diet fame,and Andrew Weil, MD, pioneer in the use of integrative medicine.  These health and wellness giants were asked about their own personal prescription for wellness.  Three surprises:

  1. First, that their personal regimens are so similar and simple:  Eating well, supplementing only modestly, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly are primary pillars for both.  In addition, Agatston believes in moderate indulgences (chocolate being his favorite) and he cultivates strong family and friend relationships.  Weil grows a lot of his own food and takes a mixture of Asian mushrooms for immune support.
  2. Secondly, it was interesting to see that their regimens were, on the whole, pretty unremarkable.  “Eat right, get plenty of rest and exercise regularly.”  We’ve only heard that mantra a thousand times over the last 30 years!  Shouldn’t good health require something more sophisticated, like intense knowledge about different foods, nutritional facts, statistics, and research studies?  Apparently not.  Both these men are enjoying wonderful health by following a routine so simple that any ordinary Joe Blow could do it.  For dinner, as an example, both men typically eat fish or chicken with veggies.  How hard is that (although I hope they subscribe to Vegetable a Month Online Magazine so they can do something fun with their fish and veggies, like White Fish with Leeks en Papillote.)
  3. That brings me to a third surprise in reading these interviews:  Both experts were so candid about their personal habits.  They could be because they actually practiced what they preached.  They could show as well as tell.

This final thought got me thinking about leadership in the healthy eating area.  Who else is “out there,” modeling how to live a balanced, healthful lifestyle, even though practically every aspect of our culture militates against it?  I thought about our business leaders, political leaders, spiritual leaders, celebrities, sports figures, non-profit leaders.  Very few (even among those debating health care reform!) qualify as role models for the balanced lifestyle that leads to optimal wellness.  In fact, many could be poster children for how not to live.

Surveying the field, it became clear that healthy lifestyle leaders are few and far between.  Weil and Agatston are remarkable not because of some special formula they possess but because they are two of that sadly small group. Maybe the absence of widespread role modeling helps explains why “wellness living” is such a tough act to follow.

Where does this leave us?  Doomed to wander, aimless and leader-less in the fast food deserts?  It might be tempting to consider ourselves helpless until “somebody” fixes our lifestyle mess.  Meanwhile, we can continue buying cookie packs from the vending machines at work.   But maybe not so fast.

It may be a while before those in formal leadership roles become healthy lifestyle leaders.  In the meantime, and before we die of heart attacks, why not head back to the grassroots?

We’re all potential good eating leaders, especially parents since the way we eat is one of the biggest determinants of how our children eat.  It may seem like “nobody looks up to little old me,” but  actually, anybody could be the spark that gets a fire started.  So skip the cookies in the vending machine.  People are watching and waiting for leadership, even from little old me and you.

Put yourself on a pedestal, honor every good choice you make and vow to be more like that person!  That kind of crazy behavior can start a wild fire.

What if, day after day, people saw you eating nuts and dried fruit for a snack?  What if you started bringing a lunch of healthy dinner leftovers instead of heading to the food court for pizza?  What if you hosted a salad potluck instead of a dessert potluck for your monthly book club?  What if your boss took your suggestion to ditch Friday donuts for a once-a-month healthy sandwich bar?  What if your kids stopped bringing sodas to school and just drank water?  What if you order the dish with lots of vegetables when taking clients dinner?

We all touch countless lives.  What better gift can we bring to those encounters than a quiet testament to the beauty, joy and health-giving richness of real foods?  I just read about a new documentary called Food Fight.  It’s subtitle:  “Revolution Never Tasted So Good.”  As with all revolutions, this delicious revolution is happening from the grassroots—enjoy every minute of it!

Sweet Success with Leek Cooking

Cooking offers so much more than just some food we can eat to not be hungry anymore.  Like a sense of accomplishment.  That’s what I felt after cooking some leeks that were really good.

Successfully cooking leeks may not sound like much, unless you know all the hesitancy, and even anxiety, I felt about developing 20 leek recipes for the winter issue of Vegetable of the Month.  Would I ever get a feel for this vegetable?

Wondering if others feel hesitant, maybe even anxious, when faced with a new vegetable, I wrote an article in the winter issue, sharing the three strategies that helped me drum up the inspiration to tackle leeks.

First I flushed out the bogeyman that was scaring me away from leeks.  It was actually of my own making:  I had always been too lazy to learn the right way to cook leeks, so I kept cooking them the wrong way.  Quite predictably, the leeks tasted awful and I didn’t want to try them any more.

After dredging up that bogeyman, I forced myself to tackle it by researching the right way to cook leeks.

Finally, I drug myself out to the kitchen to experiment, and when I say “drug,” I mean exactly that.   The weight of so many bad taste memories was as good as a 50-pound anchor around my neck.  To my credit, however, I motivated us out to the kitchen, me and the anchor, and jumped knee deep into leek cooking.  But this time I slowed down and consciously cooked the leeks as I’d learned:  “sweating” carefully, over low heat, for not too long.

The result:  Sweet success, not only figuratively but literally.  Properly cooked, leeks have a sublime sweetness, hard as that is to believe.  This success has prompted me to add one more New Vegetable Strategy to the three in my article:

No. 4:  Learn Right From the Start

Learning to cook with leeks would have been a lot quicker and easier had I not been burdened by so much bad-taste baggage.  In this sense, I am reminded of my experience with downhill skiing.

I was “taught” to downhill ski by being dumped at the top of a hill along with some advice to ski down.  I was a horrible skier for years.  Although my husband eventually taught me to become a reasonably competent skier, I had to painfully unlearn all the bad form and habits I had fallen into and never did I acquire a real love for the sport.

Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, was a completely different story.  I got proper instruction right from the start, became pretty good and, most importantly, came to love the sport.

So don’t wait to learn the right way to cook vegetables, and especially don’t let any more distasteful eating experiences spoil your feelings for a vegetable.  Vegetable a Month is here to help you learn right from the start.

And here’s sweet success to you.

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