Thursday, January 9, 2014

soup and semantics

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Soup seems like an appropriate choice this week, thanks to the (ridiculously named) Polar Vortex that has been chapping skins and freezing eyelids across the nation. Seriously weather people? Polar Vortex? It sounds like a place where the villain in a Carebears movie would live. What is with the weather channel and its hard core love of strong consonants? Winter Blitz, Arctic Freeze, Polar Vortex. Come on dudes, you’re reporting the weather, not writing a comic book. Take it down a notch. But we don’t need to get into a debate about semantics, let’s just get to the soup, shall we?

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I made this particular soup a few weeks back when I hosted my girlfriends for our Christmas get together. In the interest of making something satisfying and simple in addition to appetizers and desserts we had a big pot of this, some crusty bread and a salad. Now history serves that I have never met a lentil that I didn’t like and I previously whipped together a fairly similar soup during last year’s massive three day blizzard (who wants to move to Massachusetts? Seriously, the winters are TO DIE for!) but this particular soup, from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too cookbook, was Next Level. A magical blend of spices makes it slightly smoky, spiced and fragrant, the sausage lends salt and depth of flavor and the plethora of root vegetables brings a little hit of sweetness that makes for a soup that is truly out-of-sight good. The list of ingredients is daunting, I know, but TRUST: it’s worth it. I would never steer you wrong when it comes to soup.

Photo note: without fail, whenever I peel vegetables both my cats run over and sit next to the trash trying to catch them. So here's a few gratuitous kitty photos of Bea showing some carrot skins who's boss.

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(just barely altered from Flour, Too)

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 links sweet Italian sausage
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ bulb fennel, trimmed and diced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus 1 tbsp., divided
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ tsp. dried)
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. dried oregano
¾ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. curry powder
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 small potato, peeled and diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
7-8 cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 small turnip, peeled and diced
¼ small butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
1 small can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. ground black pepper
¾ cup French lentils, rinsed
2 cups packed greens: such as kale, rainbow chard or escarole

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Heat vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, spilt the casing on the sausage links, squeeze the meat into the pot and brown, breaking up into crumbles with a wooden spoon, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pot and set aside. Add onion, garlic, carrot, celery and fennel and sauté together for a few minutes, using your wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits of sausage that are stuck to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in the tomato paste, salt and bay leaves, stirring together completely to thoroughly coat the vegetables with the tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and add all herbs and spices: paprika, thyme, turmeric, oregano, cumin, curry powder and cinnamon and stir together for 3-4 minutes to toast the spices. (The sole alteration I made to this recipe was that it called for fennel seed among the spices. When I realized I had none I simply sliced up a half bulb of fennel I had in my fridge. I think you could effectively do either depending on what you have on hand.)

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Add to the pot the reserved sausage as well as the potato, parsnip, mushrooms, turnip and squash and stir everything together well. Add the tomatoes and stock and the remaining tbsp. salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and let it crank for 10 minutes. Add lentils and simmer, 40-45 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Stir in whichever greens you are using and let soften 1-2 minutes more. Fish out the bay leaves and sprig of thyme (the leaves will have fallen off, leaving just the stem). Ladle into bowls and serve immediately, with a few pinches of grated parmesan on top.

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Make this vegetarian by omitting the sausage, upping the number of mushrooms and subbing veggie stock in for chicken.

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