When Good Food Goes Bad, Part III: The Crisper from Hell

by Andrea Karim on 22 January 2007 7 comments

delicious vegetable soup

Until recently, I was using one of those organic delivery services that bring fresh veggies to your doorstep once a week. It was a pretty good bargain for the price, the veggies were varied and delicious, and I got away with avoiding the grocery store for days at a time.

The only problem was that, every now and then, I'd end up with a big batch of veggies in my crisper that were on the verge of losing their crisp. And I just couldn't bear the thought of doing a veggie sautee or another casserole. Also, because it was winter, I was receiving and awful lot of squash.

Lucky that I was rereading French Women Don't Get Fat, a book that I highly recommend for everyone, even the non-fat and the non-woman, and especially the non-French, because it's a very charming read and does a great job discussing the difference in dining mentalities between Americans and the French (it totally helped me quit eating junk food - not that I was big into junk food before, but I was known to indulge in Safeway donuts from time to time - now, I can't abide by them).

French Women Don't Get Fat, addition to being a cute, easy read, has some good recipes, and I found it inspiring enough to read a few times. I keep it around my kitchen for cooking tips or just to enjoy when I'm waiting for dinner to finish cooking.

Anyway, the author, Mireille Guiliano, offers a few tricks to make oneself feel full when trying to lose weight. Mireille offers some advice that should be obvious to all of us (chew slowly and taste your food, put your fork down between bites) to things I wouldn't have thought of (like using your best dishes all the time so that every meal feels special, and enjoying wine at every meal, something that all WiseBread bloggers will probably agree is a good idea). Also, Mireille believes that most meals should start off with a bowl of soup. At first, picturing the soups that are served in my office cafeteria, I balked at the idea, but upon reading her recipe, I decided to make use of my rapidly aging veggies and abundance of squash.

The recipe is exceedingly simple. The French seem to be fond of smooth, blended soups, more bisque than broth. I love a good bisque, but I never thought that I could healthfully blend a variety of veggies together and still get a great soup - turns out that it's not only possible, but really easy. It's an extremely healthy thing (it's really just veggies and water, full of fiber and naturally fat-free), but it's also cheap and it really IS filling. Blended soups are not for everyone - I served it to a friend who said it was too much like baby food.

The recipe is less of a true "recipe" and more of a general idea. Basically, you boil all your at-risk veggies in a big pot (add the ones that tend to overcook last, like the broccoli florettes). Once cooked, let everything cool, then remove the veggies from the broth with a slotted spoon and blend them, batch by batch, in a food processor. You can set aside some veggies if you want some chunkiness to the soup. Put the blended (and if desired, chunky veggies) in a separate pot, and slowly add some of the broth until you get a smooth soup of the desired consistency. Cook a bit longer, maybe ten minutes, until everything is evenly mixed. Salt and pepper can be added at anytime, but I prefer to do it at the end.

For additional flare, I sometimes add white wine (especially if cooking soup with broccoli) or sherry (for squash-heavy or carroty soups) as I add the broth. If you want a true bisque, add a touch of cream at the very end.

It's very easy to make too much of this, so go easy on the remaining broth. Whatever is left of the broth can be frozen for later use or enjoyed in small quantities following a meal (good for digestion). And remember - you can use fresh veggies for this, but the older and sadder-looking they are, the better it turns out.

Veggies

You can use pretty much any vegetable that you want to, but you probably want at least one veggie from every group below to make a good soup.

Aromatics:

Most classic soup bases are made with onion, celery, and carrots. I found that you can get away with doing either celery or onions, but you don't HAVE to do both. Of course, you can. Carrots, I love, but I find that they are more of a sweetener than an "aromatic" per se. Also, you can toss a couple of garlic cloves into the pot. Bay leaves are a popular, fragrant addition to many dishes, but make sure to remove them before blending, because they just don't blend.

Starches:

That would be your root veggies (potatoes, turnips, yams), cauliflower, and your squashes and pumpkins. Beans also count, if you have some canned or fresh beans that need using. Starches give the blended soup a creamy quality without added fat.

Flavor/Color/Health:

This is a catch-all category that would include all leafy greens (yes, I did cook some wilted salad greens into a soup once), broccoli, and whatever else needs using. I threw an apple in once because I simply had no idea what to do with it. It added a nice bite to the soup without overwhelming it. I had a bunch of green tomatoes that never quite made it to ripeness, so I threw those in to one batch and got a tangy, tasty soup.

Stinkers:

OK, so these are the category-crossing veggies to go easy on: broccoli, cabbage, turnips, radishes, cauliflower. These are what we call "farts in a bowl", not only because they do tend to contribute to gas, but because they make opening up a Tupperware container of leftover soup a practice in breath-holding. Seriously, very few things are grosser than the smell of cabbage soup on day 2. It will still taste good, but be prepared to open a window if using a lot of these (very healthy and good-for-you) veggies in your soup.

To keep the soup from getting boring, I make up some garnishes that I can just throw on top when I serve it.

Garnishes

  • freshly chopped herbs - seriously, just chop whatever and sprinkle it on top - I like mint, chives, and cilantro
  • sour cream - take a bit of sour cream and mix in some dried dill weed, salt, and black pepper - it's a little like tsaziki, but will last longer
  • lemon or lime - just squirt a little over the top before serving, or even while cooking
  • croutons - I just slice up a piece of bread (I make my own bread, but I guess you could use regular sliced bread as well), and grill it with some olive oil, then sprinkle with parmesan.

Because the soup is meant to be an appetizer and not a main course, I didn't eat very much of it, but it was so filling that I would often follow it up with a salad and be full for the rest of the night.

Photo Credit: Laurel Fan

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Sarah Winfrey's picture

As a rule, I'm afraid to attempt cooking anything that sounds even vaguely French.  Thanks for taking the risk out of bisque.

And no, no, I couldn't resist that. 

Will Chen's picture

That sounds like a great title for a cookbook.

Andrea Karim's picture

And to be fair, not every blended veggie soup is a bisque - I think there are some requirements (cream? alcohol?). I was just pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to make what was pretty decent soup without a lot of work.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

from the food lover's companion: bisque [bihsk] A thick, rich soup usually consisting of pureed seafood (sometimes fowl or vegetables) and cream.

[and andrea, totally agree with you on French Women Don't Get Fat -- so much wisdom in that little book, and it's presented in such a friendly, non-preachy voice. one day i'll take the plunge and eat nothing but leek soup for a weekend. on second thought.. maybe not]

Lynn Truong's picture

what is this cool organic-veggies-to-your-door service called?

Andrea Karim's picture

I used Pioneer Organics. They were reasonable and super-polite. I only cancelled because I wanted to better track my expenditures. Every major urban area seems to have an organic delivery business or two nowadays. There are several to choose from in the Seattle area, but Pioneer was the most flexible.

Magical Leek Soup - I personally can't imagine lasting an entire weekend on that. But it's a nice idea. :) The leek soup IS pretty good, too, just not filling enough to keep me sated for two whole days.

Guest's picture
Guest

I make soup from random leftovers all the time too - except I don't limit myself to vegetables. I've thrown in leftover minced beef, sausages, salami, shredded roast chicken pieces etc etc.

I find beans and lentils are great to give soup extra heft - especially in winter (it's winter here in Australia). I always keep a few cans on hand to throw in - chickpeas, canellini, butter etc.

When blending, I love to add pickled jalapenos or similar, adds a nice bite to the vegetable mash.

And if there is a clear enough, flavourful broth, I turn it into a noodle soup thing - using rice noodles or even pasta + a dash of soy/oyster.

Soup's the best...