Have you ever sat in an Italian restaurant and found yourself inexplicably drawn to the salads? Who the hell goes to an Italian restaurant for the vegetables? (The tomatoes next to the Burrata do not count.)
Although on any given day you can find me preaching to friends and strangers alike on the benefit and necessity of eating a fork-ton of vegetables every day, I have a simple life philosophy: In restaurants, we do not order vegetables. Perhaps driven by my years in Eastern Europe where a salad at a restaurant would arrive still frozen, mushy, and sad, or by my gastronomic curiosity for the more thrilling items on the menu, I always, always skip the salads.
Even at home, vegetables, though gradually more lovable, are still somewhat of a chore. I eat them not because I want to, for the most part, but because I have to. To live longer, to ingest some fiber, to get some sweet, sweet micronutrients, to hit the overachieving goal of 7-a-day, to maintain the smugness of eating my vegetables. Do I derive joy from them? Hardly so. Do I stride towards home with a vibrant vision of a bowl of broccoli in my hungry mind? Nah.
Except on those occasions where, due to stress, busyness, or sheer extravagance, I have been eating like an idiot, indulging mostly in carbs on carbs with a side of carbs. And butter. Can’t forget the butter.
It so happens that after a few of those days in a row, I feel tired, grumpy, sluggish, bored, annoyed, joy-deprived, and no amount of coffee and chocolate can alleviate this. Why? Because my body is screaming for help. And for vegetables.
There is hunger when one has not eaten enough, and then there’s a hunger when one has not eaten well enough. This second type of hunger is a very particular feeling, a feely feeling. I am guessing it is micronutrient deprivation, or the body’s way of ringing the alarm and begging for a glass of water and something green.
When the feely feeling strikes and you’re craving vegetables, it’s too late. You have been neglecting your body for too long, and now it is mad. So humour it. Do something good for yourself. Self-care. Make a soup. A green one, for maximum impact.
First pick your vessel. A pot; a big one. You will be blending the soup later, so you really do not want a teensy casserole that will not handle what follows. Do not skimp on your vessel size.
Sauté a chopped shallot in olive oil to elevate the soup. Your body might be dying for vegetables, but your taste buds are still high on carbs. We need impact here. Keep your shallot on medium-low heat for longer than you have the patience for without burning it. Add a halved garlic clove if you don’t have a date planned for later.
Once your shallot is transparent, add some liquid. Anything will do here. You can go with plain water, or a broth (chicken, vegetable, or beef). You can add white wine if you’re feeling fancy, or if the strategy of highest-alcohol-percentage-for-the-lowest-price has got you stuck with something undrinkable. Your soup can handle it. Add just enough liquid to cover the shallot and prevent it from burning. There will be more later.
Now is the fun part: the vegetables. I’m a freak, so I colour-code my soups. This brings some order in the everyday chaos of existence, but you can do whatever you want. For the freaks out there, to color-code your soup, start with a base of white and then add vegetables from the same colour. (Duh.) The white base – potatoes or cauliflower or both – will be the starchy godmother that will make your soup creamy, silky, and delicious without the help of a small-dairy-farm’s-worth of cream or butter.
Chop your base vegetables in medium chunks and throw them in. What are medium chunks? Pieces small enough so they cook relatively quickly; big enough so you do not spend three hours chopping like a lunatic. This is a state of emergency; speed is of the essence.
Above all, size doesn’t matter as much as uniformity does. If you do not cut your vegetables in more or less the same size, they will not cook at the same time. The small pieces will cook far quicker than the big ones, and your soup will be sad. Avoid.
Then, add some colour. For the green soup, add broccoli, leaves, stems, and all, asparagus, the stalks of once-fresh herbs wilting away in the bottom of your fridge, frozen peas, green beans, zucchini. Any combination of those will work. The only no-nos are cucumber (do NOT cook cucumber), brussel sprouts (stinky), and leafy greens (they get weird when you boil them, too). Beyond that, the world is your oyster. Or vegetable. Whatever.
For a different colour-coded soup, try orange (carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, an actual orange), red (tomato, beets, red peppers), or white (celery, a whole head of garlic, mushrooms).
For a non-colour-coded soup, go ask someone else.
Once your uniformly-chopped vegetables are in the pot, top it up with liquid until they are submerged in water. Wait until the liquid boils, then reduce the heat so it barely simmers, cover with a lid, and wait. Depending on how well you chopped your vegetables, this can take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Use that time to reflect on your life choices and why you hadn’t been eating enough vegetables.
The soup is ready once you stab a piece and it shows no resistance. If you are using different vegetables, remember to poke at each one to make sure all of them are cooked.
Once you are at this point, add salt and pepper (and chili if you are my kind of person). Dried herbs like basil, coriander, parsley, thyme, or oregano will do, too. Last, add a slice of butter. It’s what Anthony Bourdain used to do, and we are no better than Anthony Bourdain, so we add butter to the soup.
Then it’s time to blend. I do not believe in fancy kitchen equipment. If my grandma did not have it, I do not need it. A decent immersion blender, however, is a must. It will make the difference between a soup that you end up giving to the neighbor that keeps waking you up in the middle of the night with their crap music and a soup so good you will want to take to work in a thermos cup and risk having it spill in your bag. Get the blender, then blend your soups and live your best life. Blend until there are no pieces left, which can take longer than you think. Also, try not to burn yourself.
Once this is done, pour some soup in a bowl or mug if you are an animal and/or a barely functioning adult (been there; done that), guzzle some olive oil on top, crack some black pepper, maybe crumb some feta, too, or sprinkle some of that weird seeds mix that you mistakenly bought for your pet bird once.
Then sit down, soup and spoon in hand, preferably in front of a window, and for a moment, just be. Observe the rumble of the trees, and the funny dance of the birds without a single worry in this life, and the swarms of people hurrying to nowhere. In the never-ending madness of existence, you carved out this one moment of serenity and bliss. Enjoy it.
And maybe set a reminder on your phone to not skip your vegetables. I told you I am that person.