Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Vegetable Soup

December is a good month to be unemployed. That’s my opinion, anyway, and the reason why my most recent efforts to find employment have been halfhearted at best. In January, my job search will become more earnest, but for now, I’m not exactly straining myself. That said, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m lazy, because I have had no trouble keeping myself busy. Andrew and I are still settling into our new place, and so I’m working at making it feel more like home. I’ve also been exploring our new neighbourhood, and discovering wonderful restaurants, butchers, and other shops. I joined a food co-op last week that advocates for all things local, organic, and environmentally sustainable, so as you can imagine, I’m very excited. Of course, there has been some Christmas shopping, as well as some Christmas baking, and it’s nice to be able to do these things at my leisure, instead of trying to juggle them with a demanding work or school schedule. I also made this soup.
I know, it doesn’t seem like much to look at, but I had it for lunch every day last week, and I’m still in love with it. The soup is simply composed of cubed vegetables simmered in chicken stock, and flavoured with some dried herbs (that’s right, I said dried herbs, and I’m not ashamed to admit it; they taste wonderful in this soup). I used mainly seasonal root vegetables: onion, garlic, carrot, turnip, and yams. I was hesitant to add the yams at first, because I worried that they may make the soup cloyingly sweet, but that wasn’t the case at all. They add just a hint of sweetness to the broth, and the chunks of smooth, creamy yam contrast pleasantly with the firmer turnips and carrots.
I made the chicken stock myself, and it contributed significantly to how good the soup was, but I’m sure you would have decent results with store bought chicken or vegetable stock that you really like the taste of. I also added some pearl barley to a) make the soup heartier, and b) add more contrast to the texture of the soup. Pearl barley has a firm exterior that, once cooked correctly, bursts in your mouth when you bite down on it to reveal a softer inside. It’s sort of a cross between crunchy and chewy. Pearl barley is also a good soup component because it does not absorb that much liquid, compared to something like rice or pasta, which tend to soak up all the liquid in a soup if it’s left to sit, even in the refrigerator. And it tastes delicious.
Once everything was prepped, I sweated the onion and garlic, and then the remaining ingredients all went into the pot together and simmered for forty-five minutes or so. It needs to simmer for at least long enough to cook the pearl barley. Meanwhile, the stock becomes delicately flavoured with the herbs and vegetables. The resulting soup is simple and unassuming. The flavours aren’t bold or overpowering, but rather, subtle and complex. I want to say that it tastes nourishing, though, of course, nourishing is not a taste, but maybe you know what I mean. You know when you taste something, and you can almost feel how it is not just filling your belly, but also providing you with the nutrients you need, giving you energy and making you stronger? That’s what this soup tastes like, and it’s a taste I can only describe as good.

 Winter Vegetable Soup
Makes approximately 1 gallon/3.75 litres 

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried savory
9 cups/2 litres (or more) good quality chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade (taste it first and make sure you like the flavour)
1 large white turnip, peeled, medium dice
2 medium yams, peeled, medium dice
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1 cm slices
½ cup pearl barley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it becomes translucent, about 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic, then the rosemary, thyme, and savory. Stir for about 30 seconds longer, until the garlic and herbs become fragrant. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, and then stir in the turnip, yams, carrots, and barley. Add about half a teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat to high to bring the soup to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat to medium and let the soup simmer for about 45 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the liquid reduces to the point that the vegetables are not swimming in the broth, add more. You can also partially cover the pot to slow the evaporation of the liquid.

The soup is ready once the pearl barley is fully cooked. The grain will have a firm outside, but when you bite into it, it shouldn’t be hard at all. Taste the soup and add salt and black pepper to taste. It is now ready to serve. This soup keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days or so, and it also freezes very well.

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