I can't believe I'm nearly halfway through my Monday soup project that started in January as a part of my New Year resolution to live on a food budget of $100 for two people. (FYI--$100 a week is not as easy as it may sound for someone who has become a local food snob.)
Still halfway through the Soup Project is a star for me, and I'll tell you why. When I was about thirteen, I was sent to the school office where a school psychologist gave me a series of tests. At the end of the test, I asked the man what the test told him and he said that I give up on things too easily, that I don't finish what I start, that my approach to life was as a failure. Later, when I cried about the incident to my mom, she was livid that the school gave random psychiatric tests. The next day, she marched into the school office and gave them a piece of her mind. I'll never forget how she stood up for me, what it felt like to have someone in my court, and also what it felt like to have someone in authority tell me I was destined for failure.
His words came back to me when I graduated from Western Washington University, taught cooking classes at PCC Natural Markets for 16 years, got my first magazine article published, self published my first book and got a publisher for my second book. I thought about how easily a grownup might damage a young person's psyche. Now, whenever I start a project, I set out to prove the man who cast the evil spell on me wrong.
The Soup Project continues. . .
The problem I've run into with creating a soup week after week for 52 weeks is that after awhile my ideas begin recycling themselves--a curried soup, a lentil soup, a pureed soup. I wanted something different.
I searched my favorite books like Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and found inspiring ideas in both, but nothing that gelled for my soup of the week.
By Friday evening, I'd decided to let market choices guide my creation, but I didn't have much time to spend there, since I had an early class on blogging scheduled for Saturday morning.
I got to the market early and decided one of the main ingredients in my soup had to be the white frills mizuna greens that I fell in love with at Let Us Farm. The hint of wasabi intrigued me, but I didn't want the soup to be a repeat of my Turnip Greens Soup or my Creamy Curried Nettle Soup.
I put a number of ingredients from different farmers at the market on hold; then I went back after my class to pick up my selections. I didn't have a list (FYI: no list is big mistake if you're on a budget) and on my way out of the market when I passed Found and Foraged and saw porcini mushrooms and picked about six and just about fell over when I discovered they were $16--almost a fifth of my food budget. Instead of putting them back, like I probably should have, I told myself I'd cut back somewhere else and resolved to bring a list next week. I could write a book on how food budgets fail.
At home I gathered things from my pantry. These roasted dried tomatoes are the last of my stash from Ayers Creek Farm and the red lentils make this savory spring soup thick almost like an old-fashioned pottage.
Another impulsive find at the market was these English peas from Mair Farm-Taki. These are the first peas I've seen at the market and I often get too excited when produce first appears and when I bought them, I wasn't thinking about how first of anything commands a high price. (You snobs now on a food budget take note.)
Even my Cooking Assistant was astonished at how little $4.00 buys when the pods come off. It looks like maybe 3/4 of a cup. I wonder how much that averages out for each pea. I should have weighed the peas and pods to get a better idea of the price per pound, but maybe that might have seemed as depressing as the $30 a pound for porcini mushrooms.
I created this soup as I made it. Use as many fresh spring vegetables as you like. I like to serve it with rice--my favorite variety is from Massa Organics. My Cooking Assistant is so fond of grilled vegetables, I had to add them to this week's soup selection.
Spring Vegetable Soup with Red Lentils and Grilled Vegetables
4 yellow baby summer squash, cut in half lengthwise
1 pound of asparagus, tough ends removed
1/4 cup Italian vinaigrette
1 sweet onion, peeled and diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
5 or 6 mushrooms, sliced (use button, cremini, or porcini)
5 to 6 cups water or stock
3 or 4 spring turnips, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 to 1 1/2 cups dried frozen roasted tomatoes (if using store bought dried tomatoes, use 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup red lentils
4 cups finely sliced greens (use mizuna, chard, spinach or mustard greens)
Fresh peas, as many as you can gather
A handfull of fresh basil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Grill the summer squash and asparagus for about 20 minutes, occasionally brushing with the vinaigrette until fork tender. Grilling time takes approximately 20 minutes, but let the fork in vegetable test tell you when to take them off the grill.
2. Preheat a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the sweet onions. Stir and cook until they begin to lose their moisture and caramelize. Add the garlic, stir and cook for a few more minutes. Mix in the mushrooms and continue to stir until they lose their moisture and brown a little on the outside.
3. Place the water or stock in a soup pot and add the turnips, carrot, roasted tomatoes and lentils. Stir, then cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, then stir in the sauteed vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the greens, peas and basil. Don't overcook the peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve garnished with grilled vegetables.
My Cooking Assistant cheers me on, this is Soup #21--halfway home.