09 February 2009

La Soupe Pour Deux

It started raining last night. The morning dawned misty and overcast, making the bed seem like a warm haven from the dreary world, but the day beckoned. Before I had even finished my coffee, I was already planning the soup for tonight's dinner. This happens to me a lot and is one of the reasons I have problems sleeping in. I start thinking about food and what I can concoct in my kitchen with the resources at hand. If you've ever had the urge to jump out of bed and consult a cookbook or search the internet for a recipe, then you've the same "disorder" as me. My husband doesn't complain though because it usually results in good food.

After my morning cuppa and my run, I stopped by our campus store for ingredients. In America, a small supermarket like this would purvey Doritos and Pepsi. Although you can get your fair share of junk food in China, most stores also have vendors selling fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and tofu. Only the vegetable guy has returned from the New Year holiday, but sometimes all it takes is a plump tomato or firm squash to get my culinary juices flowing. I bought all the vegetables seen above for only $2! And all were of excellent quality, better than most supermarkets in the US.

My plan was a simple minestrone that could be made around our hectic day. I made the vegetable stock while I stretched and showered. Simply put a whole onion (skin and all), a few carrots, and a bunch of celery in a large stock pot. Cover with water and let them simmer for about an hour with a bay leaf and some salt. I was amazed at how flavorful this broth was (I was a vegetable-stock virgin, usually using chicken for depth of flavor). I think a lot had to do with the quality of the vegetables.

We were going to be gone for the afternoon so I turned off the burner and let all the vegetables steep until we returned (no meat there to spoil). After a cold day working in a dirty kitchen (not my own, thank you), it was comforting to come home to prepare an easy and very healthy dinner. I strained the vegetables out of the stock and added carrots and chopped tomatoes before putting it on to simmer again. After awhile the new vegetables began to soften and I added some black pepper, more salt, oregano, and basil. The zucchini, cannelloni beans, and spinach went in
toward the end. Everything came together into a light, fresh soup full of vegetables. I served it with cheesy toasts and forgot my worries over a steaming bowlful.

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