Spring is merely a week away and all I have to say is this:
Hello, Spring [muah]!
Aside from the obvious weather reasons, I have another agenda for my Spring jonesing: vegetables.
Green vegetables. Asparagus, peas, bok choy, chard, spinach, arugula, scallions, ramps. Yyyes!
Now, I like winter root vegetables as much as the next vegetable-obsessive, but by January — and certainly by February’s end — you’re just not going to see much in the way of root vegetables here on SoupAddict. And if you do, they’re no doubt in a soup. With other stuff.
And probably topped with cheese.
But Spring vegetables are a true love, and they provide a welcoming appetizer to the addicting delights of summer produce — tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, herbs.
April through October = happy food times for SoupAddict.
Not all Spring vegetables are green, of course (hello, neon pink radishes!), but one and all, they’re bright and beautiful with not a lick of desert colors in sight.
(No slight to the folks who live in the desert, as it definitely has its own form of immense, stark beauty … but I did the drive from Vegas to the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park in Utah. Once. Just once. And if I never see endless miles and miles … hours … days … of dirt dotted sparsely with odd little bushes again in my life, I’ll be A-okey-dokey-kay with that. The Vermilion Cliffs were beautiful but. they. weren’t. enough. The Grand Canyon was absolutely worth it, but next time I’ll fly in closer.
And actually, truth be told, it wasn’t so much the landscape as the wire fence that runs the length of the 89. It made me anxious and depressed, the mental picture I had of the folks whose job it was to stretch out and stake that simple fence, looking up from their back-breaking work now and then, down the road ahead. And seeing no end in sight.)
Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah … green. Green green green.
Spring crops will be early this year. The farmers I follow on Facebook are already seeing harvests from their high tunnel installations. Several local farmers’ markets are opening a full month earlier than last year. And I’ve already prepped my Spring beds for seeding, something I don’t normally do until well into April.
This soup turned out to be a delightful surprise — not your typical vegetable soup at all, it has a bright quality — a certain flavor snap — absent from the standard fare. Quinoa contributes healthy proteins, texture and bite; coconut milk adds a touch of a richness without cream-heaviness. It’s even better the next day.
French Spring Soup
Okay, so I know already what some of you are thinking: the ingredients list! it’s ever so long! Don’t panic. You don’t have to use them all. I really hope you do, but the earth won’t stop rotating if you don’t.
So, here’s what I would do: keep the onions, leeks, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and potatoes. Spring vegetables have what I term a dirt-like note to their flavors, so even though asparagus and radishes and sugar snaps have very distinct flavors, they have a shared undertone of dirt. (And I do mean that as a good thing. Much like mushrooms are earthy, spring veggies are dirt-y.) You want a solid savory foundation for this soup, and these six ingredients will give you that.
Then, for the Spring vegetables, just eyeball the list and pick your favorites. If you leave out several, compensate by using less broth, or more quinoa, or an extra potato.
2 tablespoons butter, olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 baby leeks or 1 medium leek, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only
1 small carrot, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 baby bok choy (Shanghai bok choy), thinly sliced, including leaves
3 radishes, very thinly sliced
8 to 10 asparagus spears, tender parts only, cut into 1″ pieces
12 sugar snap peas, string and ends removed, cut into 1/2″ pieces
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional for vegetarian/vegan)
2 bay leaves
1 large sprig, fresh thyme, leaves only
3/4 cup quinoa
splash of sherry (or vegan sherry)
1 cup light coconut milk
handful of spinach leaves, stems removed, sliced chiffonade
small croutons, prepared or homemade
cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
1. Heat butter or oil in a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium until shimmering. Add the onions, leeks, carrots, celery, peppers and mushrooms, stirring to coat in the oil. Saute until the mushrooms have started giving off their liquid, about 10 minutes.
2. Toss in a pinch of salt and add the potatoes, bok choy, radishes, asparagus, and sugar snap peas to the pot. Stir well and cook until the green vegetables are bright green but still crisp.
3. Add a bit of the vegetable broth — just to cover the vegetables — and add the fish sauce, bay leaves and thyme. Turn heat to medium-high. Add the remaining broth. When the broth comes to a gentle boil, add the quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. After 15 minutes, remove the cover and check the quinoa for doneness: the quinoa should be giving off tiny little rings (this is the germ separating from the kernel). No rings? Give it another 5 minutes and check again.
5. When the quinoa is cooked, reduce heat to low and add the sherry, coconut milk and spinach, and let rest for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.
6. Create a single layer of croutons in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle soup on top, and garnish with cilantro, if using.