CORNISH FLAT, N.H. – There is something about a bowl of warm soup on a cold winter day that warms the heart and soul, as well as filling the tummy. And if the ingredients are from your own garden, the soup tastes even better! Here is a soup I made largely with ingredients from my garden.
This is a vegan recipe, but you can include some of your favorite sausage in it or cook sausage on the side and add it to your bowl at mealtime if other members of your household don’t want meat.
The quantities listed below are enough for a large pot of soup able to feed six or eight, but they are only intended to give you an idea of proportions. You can cut the recipe in half. Or double it if you have half a dozen ravenous teenagers. Each time I make it I vary the ingredients and spices.
Henry’s Homegrown Winter Soup
4 cups cooked dry beans such as Jacob’s cattle beans or black beans
2 cups leeks
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 tbsp. smashed and chopped garlic
2 cups chopped kale
5 medium carrots
30 oz. tomatoes, either frozen whole or one large can
1 medium butternut squash (about a pound)
1/4 tsp. chipotle pepper powder
1 tbsp. fennel
1 tsp. each oregano and marjoram
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 to 2 cups sweet peppers
2 tbsp. finely chopped jalapeno pepper
salt and pepper to taste
A day ahead of “soup day” I measured out a cup and a half of our home-grown dry beans and soaked them overnight. Then I drained and rinsed them and cooked them in plenty of water for an hour and a half. They produced four cups of beans when cooked and drained. They should not be hard or crunchy — but not mushy when the soup is done, either. Beans stored longer take longer to cook.
Other dry beans can be used, but avoid pinto beans as they tend to get mushy when cooked a long time. And if you forget to soak dry beans, you can use canned beans – three standard 14 oz. cans would be needed, after draining and rinsing.
I cooked my soup in a six-quart heavy enameled cast iron French cooking pot. I started by sautéing the leeks, shallots and garlic in a little olive oil on low heat. You can use onions instead of leeks, but leeks freeze well and I grow a lot leeks. My supply of onions from my garden is low by now, so I used leeks. When the garlic started to brown, I added a quart of water and the beans and cooked at medium heat.
While that was happening, I chopped two cups of kale that I had picked that day from my garden. Yes, even in early February my kale was still okay, despite freezing and thawing many times. I also have bags of kale in my freezer. I remove the mid-rib before chopping. I added it to the soup, along with five medium carrots cut in rounds, not too thinly.
Carrots and onions come in lots of varieties, including those labeled “for storage.” Storage carrots last for months in a spare fridge or cold cellar (so long as you keep them protected from mice). The classic storage carrot is a variety called ‘Bolero’. Plant on the Fourth of July weekend for fall harvest. Patterson is the yellow storage onion I grow.
Next, I added a little hot pepper — not enough to notice, but enough to add complexity to the broth. I had frozen chopped jalapenos peppers I grew in 2018 and added some along with a smoky dry pepper I buy called chipotle. Fennel seeds compliment carrots well in a stew, so I added a tablespoon of them, and some marjoram and oregano we had grown and dried.
Tomatoes are central to most soups and stews I make, so I freeze large quantities of them whole and store in zipper bags for winter use. I used nine two-inch tomatoes that weighed 30 ounces – roughly one big can from the store if you don’t have your own. To thaw them, I submerged the tomatoes in a bowl of hot water for five minutes or so and chopped them coarsely.
Why are tomatoes a key ingredient? They contain the fifth flavor our tongues recognize, one called umami. Americans seem not to know much about it. We recognize sweet, sour, salty and bitter, but not umami, which is Japanese for “essence of deliciousness”. So, I used not only those frozen tomatoes, but a cup of dried ‘Sungold’ tomatoes and two cubes of tomato paste I froze in an ice cube tray.
I have a few winter squashes I’ve been storing in a cool room, but they don’t last forever, so I peeled and cut one in small chunks for the soup. After peeling and coring, it weighed about 12 ounces.
Lastly, I added two cups of sweet peppers. I bought a half bushel last fall and froze it all in zipper bags. No blanching required, and they add a lot of sweetness to the recipe.
Use whatever veggies you have in your freezer and larder. Keep tasting, and add spices, salt or sweet things (like more carrots or dried tomatoes) until you have it just right. Bon appetit!