LENTIL SOUP – EARTHY RECIPE, UNDER A WATER SIGN!

According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), lentils – a major staple in many diets around the world – possess the “energy” of Peace. Their element is water (and how would we eat them if we couldn’t cook them in liquid?), despite what I’d describe as an earthy taste, and their “planet” is the Moon (water… tides… get it?). Cunningham says to “eat it for peace.” I envision a whole day designated for making peace in the world, with everyone slurping lentil soup as part of the overall symbolism. On a full stomach, who can make war?

Peace wasn’t what I had in mind, however, when I made a large batch of it recently. It was about the next couple recipes to cover for From Scratch Club on GoodReads. Part of the assignment for FSC was to make another recipe from The Homemade Pantry, selecting from either Chapter 5 (or “Aisle” 5, as author Alana Chernila calls it), which covers Soups, or from Chapter/Aisle 6, entitled “Baking Needs & Mixes.” I made the soup from Aisle 5, then opted for Alana’s Yellow Cake in the following chapter (also made Corn Bread to go with Lentil Soup but not from this cookbook, although quite similar). Today’s post covers how I prepared the Lentil Soup, based on the book’s instructions but with my own revisions.

Dad (right) w/Uncle Champ & cousin Marge

Bill loves lentil soup. I enjoy it and especially like that lentils don’t take a long time to cook! Growing up, however, I don’t remember these tiny “beans” ever being present in our household. It was the 50s and 60s, and convenience foods were big in this country, especially soup-wise (think: Campbell’s).

Mom & Dad (Dolly & George), circa 1969

In our household if homemade soups were conjured up, Dad usually created them. And he had only two in his repertoire: Vegetable Beef and Manhattan Clam Chowder. In truth, they were the same concoction, except the first one got the beef and the flavor it created when the meat chunks were browned, and the chowder included clams (usually Little Necks). Otherwise, pretty much the same vegetables and spices. You’d think that our father’s taking over some cooking once in a while would be a gift to Mom, and she did appreciate it. Until it got to clean-up. It seems that Dad’s short stint as a cook in the army during the war made him prone to producing very large batches of soup, resulting in lots of clean-up detail (which he was perhaps used to leaving to other soldiers to handle). Mom always seemed to be the one handling clean-up in our flat’s tiny kitchen, a space not equipped with “instant” hot water. She had to be sure to light a flame under the gas water tank early on, so she’d have enough hot water to wash all the dishes!

If I need another reason to like lentils, it’s their awesome nutrition profile. 100 Best Health Foods (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books, 2009), a book that details health benefits of some foods determined to be best for our bodies and overall well-being, lists their major nutrient levels and further emphasizes that lentils are especially rich in fiber, have a high iron content, and contain plant chemicals to help alleviate PMS symptoms (wish I’d known that a couple decades ago) and aid in bone health. Their high zinc content also boosts the immune system. We’re talking a food that, from ancient times, has nourished the human race (almost 2,000 years before Christ was born, the Egyptians apparently traded lentils for the prized cedars of Lebanon!).

But few people want to be told how good something is for them (try it on a kid—see how far it’ll get you toward convincing them to eat broccoli or Brussels sprouts…). We want to know it tastes good. And this recipe is delicious – hot, earthy mouthfuls of flavor.

Note about this recipe: I adjusted things like:

  • salt (ran out of unsalted butter; used low-sodium soy sauce instead of regular soy)
  • didn’t have white onions on hand (used red)
  • chopped celery instead of minced
  • delayed when to add lentils (used dried red lentils instead of raw green or French lentils, which cook faster and would disintegrate if added early)
  • added parsnip and extra potatoes
  • added a mix of some herbs (some dried, some frozen from pots on my deck this summer).

EARTHY LENTIL SOUP
(with thanks to Alana Chernila for original recipe from which this is derived)
Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter (as noted above, I used salted butter; if using unsalted, adjust for difference)
  • 1 cup chopped onion (white onion ok, but I had milder red ones!)
  • ½ teaspoon fine-ground sea salt (table salt ok), plus more if desired
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped celery (if celery has leaves, use them too!)
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped carrots
  • 1 medium-to-large parsnip, chopped
  • 3 cups dried red lentils
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped potatoes
  • 7 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade preferred but not required) or water, or any combo of stock and water
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1½ tablespoons light brown sugar (yup! who’da thought?!)
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce (according to Alana, tamari is ok too)
  • up to 2 or 3 tablespoons of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram and/or oregano (Alana’s recipe calls for most of these [marjoram is my add-on] as garnish; I included them as actual last-minute additions to soup; some of these were frozen from my summer potted herbs, others were dried – all are optional but add nice flavor )

Process

  1. Melt butter in large soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion to butter; sauté for one minute or until shiny.
  3. Add salt, garlic, celery, parsnip and carrots to pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until aromatic and shiny.
  4. Add bay leaf, potatoes and about 7 cups of stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour.
  5. Stir lentils into pot. Bring to boil again, return to medium-low and cover. Check as it cooks, making sure it does not become too thick or dry; if it does, add more stock or water (I wound up using all 9 cups of stock plus a bit of filtered water). Cook for about another 45 minutes.
  6. Add pepper, brown sugar and soy sauce. Remove bay leaf. Cook for about another 10 to15 minutes.
  7. Add combo of herbs, if using. Simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes if needed (check doneness of lentils and potatoes to gauge this).
  8. Adjust for salt and pepper, then serve!

EGG ON MY FACE, POTATO IN MY SOUP, ICING ON THE (CUP)CAKE

There’s an expression here in the USA that might not be familiar to some of my blog followers in other countries. “Egg on My Face” could be a phrase translated to mean, “What was I thinking?” (as in, “Was I thinking at all?”); but more often it’s a big fat “OOPS!” (as in, “How could I do something so stupid?”). In the case of a blog, as in KitchenCauldron, it’s about somehow screwing up the post. Which usually isn’t so bad when it’s just a typo, or one edited-out phrase where the writer failed to take out a word or two (or took out one too many words) – these things mostly are “understood” by the reader and quietly revised when noticed by the blogger.

But in a recipe, the list of ingredients must include all of the ingredients. How else does the cook ensure s/he’s in possession of all necessities for re-creating the recipe?

A couple days ago, I decided I would re-create one of the soups posted on KC, but without the chicken. Basic Potato-Leek Soup (with carrot). Our Spiritual Alchemy group was meeting at Leslie’s again, and the other four of us decided we would be The Makers of the Feast rather than allow Leslie to once again exhaust herself to “make it nice.” (Of course, this didn’t stop her from putting out “just some things already in the fridge and pantry…” but our planning did manage to hold her in check somewhat. Who can blame her—she loves to entertain, especially for her writing/art sisters!)  I’d said I’d bring a soup and would also bake if there was time. Yesterday morning I realized I had to bake – it was imperative that I somehow incorporate four almost-overripe bananas (hanging on the “banana hook” atop our kitchen counter) into something, or they’d go to waste! Luckily, I was out of bed and functioning way-early, with plenty of time before our group met. And so it was that I toted Potato-Leek Soup and Gluten-Free Banana Muffins to Leslie’s.

Since the batch of Potato/Leek with Chicken Soup in my January 30th post turned out so great, I went back to my printed recipe (yes, I eventually print all my foodblog posts, put them in binders and easily refer to them when needed). Much to my surprise and chagrin I discovered that, while I’d included the potatoes in the “Process” part of the post (“Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.”), I’d failed to add potatoes to the “Ingredients” list! Major faux pas. Since then, I’ve corrected the recipe and mentally whipped myself several times for screwing up on proofreading! I have to assume that no one viewing that post has yet tried to make the soup (since there were no complaints or gentle references to something missing) but, just in case anyone printed the recipe, it will have to be re-printed for an accurate rendition (or note the changes by pen or pencil on the copy). I apologize for any convenience.

My minus-the-chicken version, by the way, was a big hit at Leslie’s (with Greek yogurt and gluten-free crouton toppings) – as were the muffins (recipe for latter to be posted at a later date).

Some of that “egg on my face” also comes from my recent, too-long unblogged space on KC. Or, to use an even more appropriate American idiom, turning it into a pun for the recipe in this post, it’s “the icing on the cake” (as in, “added to all the other stuff, this happened”; or, “I have to admit to this…”). Between the business of life lately and, I confess, getting caught up in reading a few books, I haven’t gotten back to the computer except for e-mail and a few Facebook comments. I’ve managed to post some pieces on the KC Food for Thought page, but making those additions are less time-consuming than including a posting with story and recipe.

In my April 6th post, I promised to provide the rest of the recipes from WomanWords’ 15-Year Birthday Reading soon. Honest – they’re all coming! And there are so many other recipes backed-up. And food-related books I want to blog about. I could huddle down, drafting and posting, in my little office/art/writing space and not surface for a couple weeks for anything but food, water and the bathroom – but then I expect the quality of my offerings would begin to deteriorate within a few days (and there’d be no time to cook!). I am a social creature, requiring interaction with friends and family, and a bit of fresh air as well (although I am far from an outdoorsy type!), and so I’ll just do the best I can with this blogging thing.

In the meantime, in the catching-up phase, I’m now providing the frosting recipe for those Heavenly Chocolate Cupcakes served at Caffè Lena during our celebration. It’s easy to make and would also be a great topping for your best white cake (I love white cake with chocolate frosting!).

A quick tip of the (witch’s) hat to the magical aspect of hazelnuts, a major ingredient in the Nutella used in this recipe: According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), the hazelnut’s energies encompass wisdom, conscious mind and fertility. The tree itself, with its round nuts, “played important roles in European folklore and folk religion.” It was linked to sky deities and considered a guardian against lightning, bad storms and fire. While I’m not about to stand under any tree in a lightning storm, I found this interesting. (Hmm, when Hurricane Irene hit this area last August, maybe we could’ve used a few hazelnut trees…) On the other hand, I’m not averse to munching on a few of the delicious nuts on occasion – whether to enhance wisdom or purely for pleasure. And a little fertility where creativity’s concerned wouldn’t hurt either.

HEAVENLY NUTELLA FROSTING
(Yields enough for at least 2½ to 3 dozen cupcakes.)

Ingredients

  • 1½ sticks butter, softened to room temperature (12 tablespoons)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (more or less)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk (I use 2% but any will do, from skim to full-fat)
  • 1 jar Nutella hazelnut spread (or other hazelnut spread), although you may not use entire jar
  • dash of cinnamon

Process

  1. In a large bowl, beat together all of the butter, about half of the sugar and half of the jar of Nutella. If the mixture is too stiff for beating, add a tablespoon or two  milk.
  2. Add remaining sugar, gradually, and continue to beat ingredients together until smooth, adding a bit more Nutella (1/4 cup?) as well – and, if needed, another tablespoon of milk.
  3. Sprinkle in cinnamon, to taste (you can go beyond the “dash” if you love the spice), and add however much additional Nutella and/or milk required to bring the mixture to a good spreading consistency, as “light” or as dense as you prefer.
  4. Spread on cupcakes. (An option which I did not take for this event would be to sprinkle chopped, toasted hazelnuts in the center of each frosted cupcake top – yummy!)

See—I told you it was easy!

“MEN LOVE THIS,” LAURA SAID: ROASTED ITALIAN SAUSAGES & VEGETABLES; plus, what to do with the leftovers…

For this blogpost, I’m heading right for the food-witchy stuff – but not like you’d think. I’m not getting into the symbolism, at least not right away. I wanted to honor a special woman, a dear friend and former co-worker who’s always with me even though she passed away years ago. She was a “foodie” before the term was fashionable in this country. And what has this to do with witchy-ness? Well, as I was contemplating how to introduce the recipe, I remembered that I’d written the following short essay a couple years ago, although I couldn’t have told you the specifics of its content before re-visiting it today…  and, wow, this was before KitchenCauldron was even a flash in my brain:

**********

Laura

     “My kids say I must be a witch.” My dark-haired coworker grinned at me as we enjoyed a rare lunch away from the office. I already knew this would take some time because Laura Kurner was the slowest diner with whom I’d ever noshed. She savored every bite, often listing aloud ingredients detected in a particularly delicious dish. Now it sounded like some intriguing talk could delay us further.

     “Why is that?” I asked, expecting to hear about rebellious reactions to parental discipline.

     “Well, I seem to know things, they think, before other people do. Probably just women’s intuition.”

     It’s been over forty years since that conversation and well over two decades since cancer took my friend from this earth, yet I still ponder its content. I’ve come to believe that, at least for me, Laura’s witchy aura translates into a metaphor of a cauldron: cauldron equals cookware, and everything connected with kitchen activities.

     Laura and I sat across from each other at one of my first permanent state jobs – she, the widowed mother of three older children; me, the college dropout not sure where life would take me. Close to my mother’s age, she couldn’t be more different than Mom. This short-haired, big-hipped woman (“better for child-bearing” she boasted) possessed the most infectious laugh I’d ever heard, and I heard it often. But this wasn’t the only difference.

     Mom’s cooking was good basic stuff (she got raves over her creamy mashed potatoes and everyone loved Dolly’s rendition of her Polish mother-in-law’s stuffed cabbage). But Laura’s culinary craft felt magical to me. My mother’s repertoire of spices pretty much encompassed things like salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic salt, factory-mixed poultry seasoning and sometimes cinnamon and nutmeg. Laura, on the other hand, uttered exotic terms like tarragon, rosemary and cilantro. Since she was Italian, basil, oregano and olive oil also rated high on her list of essentials. “You have to try out the spices,” she’d tell me. “Taste them, let your tongue get acquainted.” Then, I was assured, I’d begin to know them, understand which ones enhanced which foods.

     One late fall afternoon Laura, another coworker and I were enjoying an after-work drink at a local piano bar half-a-block from my new apartment. Glancing out the window, I noticed two guys crossing Washington Avenue, headed toward The Lamp Post. “That’s Dave,” I said, pointing to the straight-haired one on the left, no-hipped with a slight swagger. Both Laura and Nancy knew I still had a crush on Dave, who’d dated me once or twice. “And the other guy, the curly-haired one with freckles, is Sam, real name Bill.” Sam and Dave were best friends.

     Staring out the window as the two approached, Laura squinted her eyes at these two young men she’d never met but had heard snippets about for months. Before they came through the front door, she turned to me and said, “Forget that Dave. He’s a little arrogant. Marry the other one. Sam.” She proceeded to tell me to invite him to dinner that night and dictated the entire menu: Italian sausage, peppers, onions, potatoes. “Men love this meal,” she instructed. “Wine is good,” she said, “but you probably don’t want to sleep with him this time. Let him wonder…”

     A couple years later, upon returning from our honeymoon, one of our first visits as a married couple to someone’s home was to Laura’s in Coxsackie, NY. While we chatted away about what we’d seen and done on Cape Cod and how the new apartment was shaping up, Laura created a scrumptious feast. Our spur-of-the-moment arrival didn’t phase her a bit. She pulled a small roast from the freezer and introduced us to the pressure cooker (this was before microwaves graced 95% of American kitchens). In what seemed like no time, we were chowing down and offering up compliment after compliment.

     I treasure the few recipes I have from Laura, although I’ve never had courage enough to try a pressure cooker. More important than actual recipes, however, was another gift. Her kitchen was a place of joy, of adventure. I will never be a gourmet chef or master baker but, thanks to Good Witch Laura, I know things. My newly renovated kitchen boasts a whole cabinet of spices, and I know how to use them. And if there’s one I’m not sure about adding, I consult my shelves of cookbooks… or I can taste them, get to know them intimately, add them to my cauldron of kitchen spells.
**********

Just last year, while reading a novel titled Feeding Christine by Barbara Chepaitis (Bantam Books, 2000), I learned about an Italian “Witch of the Epiphany” named La Befana – and of course I had to research her further. At the time, I was creating what I called “Goddess Journal Entries” and sharing them with several friends via e-mail. I knew Befana would show up as an entry because I was intrigued. The internet offered much info, including a site eminating from Abruzzo, Italy – where Befana is quite “real” to the children who might receive her gifts on the eve of the Epiphany in early January.

Through my searches, I discovered that artist/writer Tomie dePaola wrote a children’s book called The Legend of Old Befana (Voyager Books, Harcourt Inc., 1980), and I ordered it from Amazon.com (then I ordered a couple more, for the grandnieces for Christmas). In it, as La Befana finally gets ready to seek out the Christ child (having earlier turned down an invitation to travel with the Three Wise Men because she was too busy sweeping – according to other sources I found, she sweeps in the new year). She decides to bake cookies to take along as a gift for the new babe.

Of course there’s more to the story, but perhaps you’ll buy dePaola’s book or take it out of the library (under the pretense of wanting to read it to a child, of course). My point here is that the legend of Befana joins both Pagan and Christian traditions. In fact, in some places in Italy both Santa Claus and La Befana appear at the same festivals. And always there are cookies. But when he’s not “on the road” delivering gifts on December 24th, maybe Befana roasts him some sausages with vegetables, á la Laura Kurner, insisting that he partake of “What Men Love” before he turns to “What Everybody Loves,” which would be the sweets.

ROASTED ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND VEGETABLES, LAURA’S WAY
Serves 4 to 6 or, in our case, serves 2, with great leftovers for a couple days, a couple ways

Ingredients

  • 5 to 8 good Italian sausages, depending upon how many you think you’ll consume (I prefer sweet sausages, but the hot stuff might be your preference)
  • dried spices:
    1 tablespoon parsley
    1 tablespoon basil
    1 teaspoon oregano
    dash of salt (optional)
  • 3 to 4 medium potatoes, skins on, cut into chunks about 1½ to 2 inches in size, soaked in water for about 15-20 minutes (while you’re getting the other veggies prepped!)
  • 1 basket of baby bella mushrooms, about 20 to 25 small ’shrooms (you can use white button mushroom variety, but bellas have so much more flavor!)
  • 3 to 4 bell peppers, various colors (red, yellow, orange, green), seeded, cut into large chunks (each of my 3 peppers were cut into 3 section)
  • 3 to 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into long pieces approximately the same in size
  • 2 large onions, skins removed, cut in half vertically, then each half cut into 3 large chunks
  • 1 zucchini, halved horizontally, then halved the other “horizontal” way as well; then cut each segment into lengths about 3 inches or so long.
  • olive oil: 1- 2 tablespoons to coat the pan; about 2 or 3 tablespoons to drizzle over vegetables before going into oven (I drizzle straight from the bottle)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (optional, but a plus)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (optional, but a plus)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Brush a small amount of olive oil over the entire inside-bottom of a large roasting pan.
  3. Place the sausage in the pan, spread apart to allow for vegetables to surround them.
  4. Add the dry spices and salt, if using it, to a large zip-lock plastic bag and shake them to mix.
  5. Drain water from potatoes and put them into the zip-lock bag, zipping it shut. Shake the potatoes until spices appear to have “stuck” to all chunks, at least to some degree.
  6. Distribute potatoes around the sausages in the roasting pan.
  7. Distribute peppers, carrots and onions throughout the roasting pan.
  8. At this point, you can choose to add the zucchini as well, although you have the option of waiting for about half-an-hour before doing so since they might soften beyond your taste preference if put in at the start of roasting time. (I add them at the beginning because I’m always afraid I’ll forget to put them in later!)
  9. Drizzle olive oil lightly over everything in the pan.
  10. If there’s any spice left in that zip-lock bag, top veggies with it. Then sprinkle the freshly chopped parsley and basil atop of it all.
  11. Roast until sausage is cooked thoroughly and fork pokes easily into potatoes. (This usually takes about an hour-and-a-quarter to an hour-and-a-half.)  A couple times during the process, open oven and stir sausage and vegetables around, to promote even cooking.
  12. Great served with applesauce on the side. And maybe Italian bread.

NEXT DAY:   Heat it up in the microwave, slicing sausage so it warms up thoroughly at about the same rate as the veggies.

DAY AFTER THAT (if there’s still some left):  We had no sausages left, but plenty of vegetables; so I decided to make a frittata with them (then figured I’d add some diced-up Polish ham too). Diced veggies up a bit smaller in some cases (like the potatoes), warmed them for about 10 minutes over medium heat in a large pan while prepping egg mixture. Beat up 6 eggs, adding dried parsley and a little pepper, as well as about a tablespoon of half-n-half. Poured it over warmed vegetables and let it cook for no more than a minute. Then put entire ovenproof pan into a PRE-HEATED (to 350 degrees) oven for about 15 minutes. Opened up oven, topped frittata with cheddar cheese slices, and closed oven for another minute or two – until cheese melted. Removed from oven and allowed to sit – while I took pictures! Served with sliced cantaloupe melon and blueberries, with a touch of raw sugar. And whatever “bread” on hand to toast (for us, I had one plain bagel and some rye). Incidentally, it tasted great with a little sour cream on top.

For Potato Lovers Who Also Love Soup: Potato/Leek Soup with Chicken

In early January, I received a notice from a blog to which I subscribe, which is authored by a young woman who moved to the Netherlands from her homeland of the Philippines for good reason: she married a Dutchman. Malou Prestado’s site includes not only recipes but also insights into everyday life in her adopted country, as well as an occasional glimpse into the culture of her birth. It’s called Going Dutch, and Loving It. Her 11/4/12 post provided me with an idea for possibly enhancing a soup I’d already made a few times.

Malou’s post began with, “For yesterday’s dinner, I have [sic] to raid the fridge because I didn’t want to bravely confront the storm on my bike. The fridge revealed the following: potatoes, leeks and carrots (leftover from the bag of carrots I used for the carrot cake I made for the hubby on his birthday). I happened to still have one chicken breast as well and there was still crème fraîche.” I loved the “vision” of that culture, so European, that emerged with the phrase in line one: “on my bike.” I’d have to jump into my little Saturn Aura to drive a minimum of four miles to the closest supermarket to get decent meat. Even if I owned a bicycle of my own, the thought of all those cars on busy roads would deter any thought of biking to Hannaford (my knees wouldn’t like it either!). As for vegetables, even in summer when farmers’ markets are now plentiful around here, one has to drive several miles for good, totally fresh, local produce – and make sure to plan the schedule around which markets are going on and when they happen (my favorites are in Schenectady on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – this one even runs during winter, but indoors at Proctor’s – and a Saturday market at The Crossings town park in Colonie, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m). This is why we own not only a large refrigerator in the kitchen but also a small freezer in the garage.

I also loved that Marlou talked about what home cooks everywhere do: she “made do” with what she had on hand. I didn’t have all those ingredients in-house, but her Creamy Potato, Leeks and Carrot Soup recipe set me salivating for potato-leek soup, so I made a point to purchase what I needed next time I hit the grocery store. I’d made this soup before (and loved it), but never with chicken. Hey, it was worth a try! Adding a bit more protein to the cauldron works for me.

Besides referring to the Going Dutch version, I also went back to my penciled-in scribbles on a Potato Soup recipe (allegedly French) in my go-to cookbook about soups, Robert Ackart’s A Celebration of Soups (Doubleday & Company, 1982), a book I’ve mentioned on this blog a couple times before. When I created a potato-leek soup from Ackart’s recipe, I made too many changes in it to list here, at least as far as ingredient amounts go; plus instead of water I used a combo of vegetable and chicken broths. I also added a few spices. This most recent concoction obviously included chicken. I didn’t have crème fraîche on hand since it’s an ingredient I buy only when needed for a specific recipe (what would I do with the leftovers?). In fact, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to find crème fraîche in most supermarkets – if you’re looking for it, you’re better off asking at the customer service desk if they carry it because the grocery workers aren’t likely to know what you’re talking about!

Incidentally, on the witchy side (if you’re at all interested), there’s a listing in the back of A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook by Patricia Telesco (Llewellyn Publications, 1994) called “Magical Correlations of Ingredients” in which it totes chicken as associated with “Health, well-being, sunrise magic.” The potato, it suggests, associates with “Folk medicine, health, grounding, earth magic.” (Makes sense: potatoes are root vegetables, ergo earth magic.) Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) cites leeks for “magical power” stating, “All foods that lend the body strength also lend extra magical power. There’s no difference between the two; there’s only the purpose for which they are used.” I guess that takes care of the basic ingredients in this dish! Oh yeah, the carrots – hold onto your (witch) hats for this one: Cunningham says that, “Prepared and eaten with the correct visualization, carrots may play a part in overcoming psychological impotency,” and further suggests one should “Cook them with parsley and caraway for the best results.” And here I thought that they were merely good for the eyes, beta carotene and all that…

Magical possibilities aside, I just happen to love potatoes – prepared almost any which-way. I was most likely primed by my mother’s mashed potatoes, a side dish she made at least twice a week every week of my childhood. They were so melt-in-the-mouth good that my cousin Mary even asked for – and got – a large bowl of them at her wedding reception! Isn’t that enough to acquire a lifelong addiction to a vegetable?

So here’s my most recent rendition of potato-leek soup, with chicken added this time. Make it as written or, as I do, tweak it to your personal taste! And thank you, Malou, for the inspiration to try it with chicken – it’s delicious!

POTATO/LEEK/CHICKEN SOUP
Yield: about 18 cups of soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 full chicken breast, cut into bite-sizes
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¼-inch rounds
  • 3 or 4 ribs of celery, chopped (If leaves are still attached and they’re healthy-looking, use them too; I also pare off most of the ribbing on the stalks)
  • 4 or 5 medium-sized leeks, rinsed and chopped, white part only (This time making it, I only had 3 medium leeks and so added a couple teaspoons of dried, diced shallot purchased in October when we visited Salem, Massachusetts – I’d never encountered dried shallot before!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth plus 4 cups chicken broth, preferably sodium-free (or use any combo that adds up to 8 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 to 10 medium potatoes (perhaps 4 or 6 pounds), peeled and diced into approximately 1 inch or slightly smaller chunks
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley (or ¼ cup dried parsley)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3 small bay leaves (or 2 large)
  • sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons, or up to ¼ cup, heavy cream or light cream (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter (optional)
  • Sea Salt or Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Ground Pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche (optional)
  • More parsley for decoration (optional)

Process

  1. In a large soup kettle, heat the butter and oil together.
  2. Add the chicken and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through.
  3. Remove chicken from pan and set aside, preferably in the refrigerator since it may be some time before re-added to the pan.
  4. Add carrots, celery and leeks to pot, sautéing them in remaining butter/oil (add a bit more oil if not enough left after removing chicken) – about 3 minutes.
  5. Add chopped garlic and continue to sauté for about another minute.
  6. Pour the broth(s) and water into the vegetables mixture.
  7. Add potatoes to pot.
  8. Add parsley, marjoram, bay leaves and thyme.
  9. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.
  10. Remove bay leaves.
  11. At this point, I generally remove about a cup of the broth-liquid, allowing that I’ll want a thick soup and preferring to add liquid after puréeing if it’s needed. It’s insurance that the soup won’t be thinner than I like it. If you prefer a not-so-thick soup, then skip this step. (Also, remember that you’ll be “thinning” it slightly with cream later on, if you choose to do so.)
  12. Whirl the mixture to a smooth texture (or semi-smooth, which is usually my preference), using either an immersion blender (easiest), food processor or blender. The latter two will take a little more time since you’ll have to do it in small batches. If you’ve used the immersion blender, you’ll purée right in the soup pan; if working with a food processor or blender, you’ll return the mixture to the same pan.
  13. Re-add the previously cooked chicken to the kettle, stirring in, and allow about 3 to 5 minutes for them to re-heat.
  14. If mixture is thicker than desired, re-add as much of the reserved broth-liquid as needed to get to preferred consistency.
  15. Stir in the cream (if using) and allow soup to continue to heat for a few minutes. (Unless I know a guest can’t do dairy products, I always add cream—it makes for a richer bowl of warm goodness.)
  16. If using the extra butter, add it to soup. (I often don’t bother – seems like plenty of butter with the sautéing.)
  17. Salt and pepper to your personal taste.
  18. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche; sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley or dried parsley (both of which are optional but do add an extra bit of flavor, besides making for a nice adornment!)

A nice side-salad goes well with this soup, or just some good bread or rolls. On the day after our initial potato soup indulgence this time around, I made sandwiches to add to the dinner fare: black forest ham encased between provolone and cheddar cheese, with sliced tomatoes, on great thick-sliced Italian bread from a local bakery – all grilled up beautifully.

“Beet-ing” the Autumn Chill

Root Vegetable Soup - Creamy but not necessarily With Cream

It didn’t take much ruminating on my part to come up with my premiere post on this new blog. It’s autumn, my favorite season. Soup season. End of the wicked heat of summer. Great root and other vegetables. And one of the best soups I’ve made in recent years is a root vegetable soup in which beets play a starring role.

Now this choice might not seem strange to many folks, at least not the beet lovers out there, but I couldn’t have imagined creating such a soup a few years ago. I hated beets, never having known any but the canned ones of my childhood (which I refused to let pass my lips). However, a few years ago I’d joined one of my writing groups in a 5-day retreat in Massachusetts and we took one day off from our personal writings to pilgrimage to Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst and to do a little strolling about Northhampton, where we indulged in lunch at a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. I was enchanted by the description of a beet soup (bisque? cream soup?) on the menu and dared to order it. To my amazement, I not only loved it but wished it had been a bigger bowl! I vowed to create a soup using beets at some later date. I knew my husband Bill would go for it– he even likes the canned variety, which almost never enter our household.

Conjuring up the recipe involved my ususal researching through cookbooks and a little clicking online, to see how others have handled such creations. I was even clueless about basics, like how long does one cook a beet? Do you peel them? It all came together in the following concoction, which is especially yummy if you go for the optional light cream and a dab of sour cream (or yogurt). The bonus for me was that a photograph taken prior to prepping the vegetables wound up being the model for my sketching and painting the tile which became the centerpiece for our kitchen’s backsplash. And it’s now cropped and serving as this blog’s header pic!

Root Veggies, backsplash designed and painted by MariLyn

Don’t be frightened by the list of ingredients. It’s a little time-consuming but not difficult to make– and so worth it! I’m not going to indulge in something like Harvard Beets or any other standard beet dishes anytime soon, but this one is a winner in my book! Hope you try it. If you do, let me know how yours turned out. And feel free to innovate any way you deem delicious– that’s how cooking magic happens!

MARILYN’S CREAMY (BUT NOT NECESSARILY WITH CREAM) ROOT VEGETABLE SOUP

Ingredients 

  • Beets, peeled & diced – about 2 cups
  • Carrots, peeled & diced – about 1½ cups
  • Sweet Potato, 1 medium, peeled & diced
  • Butter (or butter substitute), softened, 1 tbsp.                     
  • White Potato (any kind) – 1 medium, peeled & diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled & diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, ridges peeled, diced (reserve any celery leaves)
  • olive or canola oil, 1 tbsp.
  • butter, 1 tsp.
  • 1 small box chicken broth (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 2 bay leaf
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • juice of  ½ lemon
  • parsley, chopped – ½ cup
  • dried thyme – ½ tsp.
  • applesauce, scant ½ cup
  • honey, ½ – 1 tsp.
  • light cream (optional) – up to ¼ cup
  • sour cream (optional) – as desired

Preparation

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place beets and carrots in a large pan and cover with water. Pour a bit of the chicken broth in (a few tablespoons). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (it will be about 25 minutes until the next addition). 

While beets/carrots simmer, place peeled, diced sweet potato in a small baking dish greased with the softened butter. Swish sweet potato chunks around dish to coat with butter. (If you like, you can sprinkle with dried parsley, sea salt and ground pepper.) Bake in 350 degree oven until fork test indicates they are done (soft) – perhaps 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and turn it off. 

Sauté onion and celery in the oil for 2 or 3 minutes (to release flavor). Add remaining chicken broth, bay leaf, sea salt and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer for about 10 minutes. 

Add diced white potatoes to beets/carrots after about 25 minutes. Continue to cook this mixture of vegetables until all three veggies are fork tender. 

Place a strainer over a large bowl. Empty the vegetable mixture into the strainer, letting the red juice drain into the bowl. Then empty the onion/celery/broth mixture into the strainer, again allowing juice to drain into the bowl. 

Remove the 2 bay leaves and toss them out. 

Remove the veggies from the strainer into a separate bowl (reserve the large pan to refill with soup mixture) and add the roasted sweet potatoes. 

Add the lemon juice to the juices already strained into the bowl. 

Mix parsley and thyme into the vegetable mixture. 

Begin to gradually add vegetable mix to the food processor, along with a little of the juice. Process on puree until it is your preferred consistency for soup (if you plan to add light cream to it, you may want a slightly less creamy texture since cream will loosen it up more), adding the applesauce and honey to one of the batches being processed. 

As each batch is processed, return it to the pan. Slowly heat the mixture, stirring occasionally. 

Once heated, the soup can be eaten as is, no cream added, or a small amount of light cream can add a bit of richness (but warm a minute more after adding cream). 

Top with sour cream or yogurt, if desired. A pretty sprig of parsley atop a drop of the white stuff is nice if you’re trying to impress company!