January is the perfect excuse for a gypsy chef to take solemn posture before her cauldron. With the Holidays behind us, January provides a little breathing space to reflect on how we can better nurture our mind, body, and spirit in this New Year (and those we love, of course)! There is no better place to start than barefoot in the kitchen, chopping, peeling, and mincing to create a hearty and healthy potage! Potage is just a fancy French way for saying soup! (Clearly, I have been reading too many Fancy Nancy books with my girls!) The ministrations of preparing a soup for my family, my friends, and especially those in need of a little extra tender care, is a healing exercise, indeed! I am still amazed how a carrot, an onion, a stalk of celery, the rind off a fresh block of parmesan, and a melange of herbes, has the power to feed more than the body, but the very soul.
I have said it before, but I am stubborn when it comes to following recipes! Not one of my gypsy soup concoctions is ever the same, except for the fact that my heart and a scattering of prayers make it into the cauldron every time. Part of the beauty of preparing a soup is that it affords the opportunity to be creative, spontaneous and secretly healthy!
I love my Le Creuset soup pot. It has a fine, well-loved patina on the inside and a bright green apple color on the outside. I start with covering the bottom with a generous coating of olive oil. And then the mischief begins with the soup trinity:
1 onion, chopped
3-4 stalks of celery, cut in small chunks
A cup or two of chopped carrots: I use the mini snack carrots because they are usually in the refrigerator for kid’s snack. Slice them down the center and then cut into chunks.
Combine these three with a bay leaf, a tablespoon or two of herbes de Provence, oregano, salt, and pepper, and another generous swirl of olive oil.
The pièce de résistance is the rind off the fresh block of Parmesan cheese. Just cut it off, toss it in, and save the block of cheese to grate on the top the soup at the end.
Allow these ingredients to bathe in the olive oil for 10 or so minutes until they have softened and you can tell you are arriving at a nice herb-coated roux. Next, fill the pot with water. It depends on your liking if you would like to include chicken. If so, I learned from a Peruvian friend a trick: Wash either a whole chicken or a package of chicken breasts with lime. Lately, I have just done chicken breasts because they are easier!
Peel 4-5 Idaho potatoes: Drop them in whole. For some reason, leaving them whole renders a nicer consistency at the end. Next, I add a chopped leak, maybe toss in a chunk of fresh peeled ginger, a can of cannelini beans, and a little more salt. Because I am usually in a hurry, I turn up the heat and watch the soup bubble until the chicken is cooked. Then, I start taste-testing, and my gypsy spirit comes out to play. I usually throw in some more herbs. I am really liking oregano at the moment for its amazing healing properties.
At the very end, once I have turned the soup off, I toss in a cup or more of fresh cut cilantro, Italian parsley, basil, and fresh spinach. Hint: each time you reheat soup, toss another cup of fresh spinach in once the soup is warmed. Also, you can toss in cut-up avocado. In each bowl, I squeeze a little lime, and top with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese. In a separate pot, I have made either white rice or brown rice that I place in the bottom of each person’s bowl. My favorite is brown jasmine but it is has been difficult to come by lately at Whole Foods. You could also use noodles if that is more to your liking. Now, with a resounding bon appétit!, invite the edges of your mouth to curl up into a smile knowing you have just prepared a meal to nurture those you love!
Bonus: As an added treat, sprinkle home-made croutons on top! Cut up big chunks of sour dough or olive bread, coat with olive oil, salt, and herbes de Provence, throw in oven on broil for mere minutes, and then toss on top of the soup right before you serve. If I am delivering the soup, I wrap them up in tin foil.
Like I said, soup is an opportunity to be healthy and creative. Therefore, feel free to add cut-up green beans, green peas, a yellow, red, or orange pepper, broccoli florets, anything that boosts the health quotient. All of these ingredients do not need to cook for very long so should be thrown in towards the end of the soup cooking.
You can accompany the soup with a french baguette, grilled cheese sandwiches, or cheese quesadillas (my kids favorite!)
The best thing about this soup recipe is that it can feed your family for days or can be a true gift to many people. There is a reason they call it: Chicken soup for the soul!!
Live in Hope,