Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Monday, December 05, 2005

Yummy no-stock, meatless soups

I made this! This beautiful Squash Soup! Out of one of these squashes! I mostly followed a Moosewood recipe. Me! I made it!

Okay, okay, so I've got a nearly full-grown daughter, and I still feel like I'm pretending to be a grown-up myself. I wake up some mornings and wonder, "Why am I the one in charge? Why do I have to get everyone up today? Can't someone else make dinner tonight?" Honestly, my children make very fine pizzas, instant-anything, pasta, and so on. But if I want actual cooked food, it is up to me. When I became a vegetarian, I never really adjusted to vegan cooking. "What's for dinner, Dad? Grilled cheese sandwiches again?" was something I just didn't want to hear.

How do you make vegan and vegetarian soups with umami? (Umami of course, is that fifth flavor: the full, round, toothsomeness of a perfectly grilled hamburger, or the perfection of thick beef-drippings gravy over mashed potatoes) Vegetable stock is more effort than I have available to prepare, and the stuff in a box doesn't cut it. After a couple of years of trial and error, I've got a secret for making vegan soups that meat-eaters will eat and love, too. I'm going to share it with you, but you might already know it.

My two secret ingredients are leeks and potatoes. Any pot of soup I make uses at least half a leek and a potato. Use the green part of the leek, too, just open it up and wash the dirt out. It's not hard. I'll eat dairy, so I use butter, but this works with a good oil, too. Just start your soup in a dry pot, heat up your butter or oil and sauté the leeks with some salt until at least a quarter of them have caramelized. Drop in your chopped potato and stir-fry with the leeks until some of the potatoes have browned. A steel pot will have gathered a nice layer of brown crust on the bottom by the time you're finished with this step. That brown crust is going to give your soup umami.

Now just follow your soup recipe. Obviously, if it called for onions, you'd have sautéd them with the leeks and potatoes. Otherwise, just add everything in and use water instead of stock. All the browned, caramelized flavors stuck to the bottom of your pot will dissolve up into your soup and it'll have that satisfyingly full flavor a meat-stock soup has. I can make excellent soup in less than 20 minutes of prep. At least 20 minutes more of simmering while I make a salad, check homework or listen to Xena, and dinner's on!

Oh- I always boil my water (in another pot) before adding it to my soup. If I've got a nice hot pot, full of hot things, why would I pour cold water in and stop their cooking?

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