This recipe is the follow up to the vegetarian stock that I previously posted. As I wrote there, I planned to make a soup of greens that I heard described on The Splendid Table (NPR). Anna Thomas was the guest and she just published a new cookbook: Eating Well. From listening to the interview, I believe that Anna’s definition of eating well means eating whole foods, extracting as much of the foods’ flavor and nutrition as culinarily possible and I definitely agree.
If you’ve got the vegetarian stock already packed away in your freezer, this can come together after work. If you need to start from stock, then this is a weekend project, but worth it.
I won’t summarize the recipe first, but I do need to comment on the onions. Anna made a big point about caramelizing those onions to what may seem like an absurd degree. Her rule of thumb was when you think you’ve overcooked them, go another ½ hour. The bit of water you sprinkle over them once they’ve browned, and lidding the pan, keeps them from burning and steams them a little. I almost had caramelized onion paste when I finished and that’s probably about right.
This is not a bright, springy type of green soup. Recall all of the browning of vegetables that has occurred both in the making of the stock and in the soup. Additionally, the Arborio rice base you create before cooking the greens sets a nutty, warm palette. You will need to finish it with good salt and fresh lemon juice to bring up some pop. I also especially enjoyed the lingering heat of the cayenne and don’t think that drizzle of olive oil is optional. Buy the grassiest, first-cold-pressed olive oil you can find and top it off with just a touch.
The soup is an excellent team player. Just on its own, it might be a little heavy. I had it once alongside a sparkling salad of fennel, parsley, and cranberries, with a citrus dressing, and they were perfect mates. We all went home that night and dreamed of dancing vegetables. I had it a second time with a brunch of potato/gruyere quiche and blood orange juice and couldn’t imagine a more delicious combination than that. Make it up, pack in the greens, and pair it up with just about anything.
Basic Green Soup
From Eating Well, by Anna Thomas
Yield: 8 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons, plus 3 cups, water, divided
1/4 cup arborio rice
1 bunch green chard (about 1 pound)
14 cups gently packed spinach (about 12 ounces), tough stems trimmed
4 cups vegetable broth
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
Drizzle of first, cold-pressed olive oil
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cover. Cook, stirring frequently until the pan cools down, and then occasionally, always covering the pan again, until the onions are greatly reduced and have a deep caramel color, 25-30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a soup pot or Dutch oven; add rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Trim the white ribs out of the chard (save for another use, such as stir-fry or another soup). Coarsely chop the chard greens and spinach.
3. When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, stir in the chard greens. Return to a simmer; cover and cook for 10 minutes. When the onions are caramelized, stir a little of the simmering liquid into them; add them to the rice along with the spinach, broth, and cayenne. Return to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once, until the spinach is tender, but still bright green, about 5 minutes more.
4. Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until perfectly smooth or in a regular blender in batches (return it to the pot). Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired. Garnish each bowl of soup with a drizzle of olive oil.