Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soup's On

I have a new love. It's rich and complex, soft and elegant. Its beautiful caramel hue is so inviting. It warms my soul. Armagnac. So perfect this time of year. Incredibly wonderful to sip a snifter of this soothing elixir in front of a fireplace on a cold winter's night. Indescribable. I discovered it last week and fell immediately, and hard. I sit now, snifter beside me, reflecting on my night's concoction.

Fine Cooking was always one of my favorite food magazines. This is due to the fact that the writers actually try to teach you something, and not merely provide recipes. They give you step by step guidelines for techniques such as braising, roasting, grilling, etc. They instruct in a way that enables you to create your own recipes, with your own ingredients, following the basic steps. My goal as a novice "cook" was to become confident enough to not have to follow recipes, but rather create them on my own. My husband is a culinary graduate and has always offered me insight on the proper techniques used in the kitchen. When we first met, I did everything all wrong. I didn't think the "steps" to creating a dish were important, as long as the finish product tasted good. I learned quickly how wrong I was. The order in which ingredients are sauteed, how hot the oil must be before frying something, how to tell if something is done cooking not necessarily by the temperature, but by how it feels to the touch - all things a good cook must come to understand, and I learned them well. Through my husband, and of course Fine Cooking, I have learned a lot, and it has made me more skilled in the kitchen.

Which brings me to tonight's recipe - a basic white bean, kale and barley soup, which I created on my own following very simple, basic "soup-making" steps. I'm on a serious quest to lose 10 pounds before my upcoming family vacation to Mexico in January. I wanted to make the healthiest, and most satisfying soup possible. I started out with my aromatics - onion and celery. I also added some sliced carrots. After sauteeing for several minutes in some olive oil, until the onion and celery were translucent and soft, I added some organic, low sodium vegetable broth from Whole Foods. I am trying very hard to cut down on my sodium intake, so I set out to use as little salt as possible. (Admittedly, the soup is a little bland as a result. Feel free to add as much salt as suits you!)

I brought the broth and vegetables to a boil, and added a little over a 1/4 cup of pearl barley and a big sprig of rosemary. I let it simmer for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes until the barley was done. At this point, I added a large amount of kale and 1 can of white beans.

finished product

I have a large appetite and I am trying to cut down on my portion size. The addition of the barley was intended to make this meal a little more satisfying. I also added quite a bit of pepper. As I mentioned, it could definitely use salt, but I will not succumb. When I reheat it everyday for lunch this week, I will add a touch of shredded pecorino romano for extra flavoring. The soup looks beautiful and is very tasty.

But I do have a question for all of you who have more experience than I:  Is there anything I can use in place of salt to make up for its absence?

Healthy White Bean, Barley and Kale Soup
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced on an angle about 1/4" thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped celery
64 oz low sodium vegetable broth
2 large sprigs rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup pearl barley
1 15 oz can white beans
three large handfuls roughly chopped, or hand-torn kale

Basically, follow the directions above. Start by sauteeing the onion, carrots, garlic and celery, until translucent. Add the vegetable broth and rosemary sprigs and bring to a boil. Add barley and simmer about 1/2 hour until barley is done. Add white beans and kale at the end. Let the kale wilt a bit, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

I refridgerate mine and eat it all week. Probably gives me about 6 servings.

Thanks for the great recipe Amanda. Cooks love it when someone else does the cooking for us once in a while! I am sure your family enjoyed the soup. As for the salt, well, there is really no way I can tell you how to make things taste as good without it. Professional cooks rely on salt to enhance flavor and bring a dish together. A small amount of salt can go a long way and unless there is a very specific reason to eliminate it altogether I would add just enough to enhance a dish. I prefer to season things at every stage of cooking and never use salt at the table when I eat. Most professionals consider it a terrible insult to have someone salt their food after it has been served. It implies that the food has not been seasoned correctly. The addition of pecorino romano to your soup will indeed add missing flavor because IT IS SALTY. 
Limit salt, use it judiciously, add lots of herbs and spices to flavor food, eat in moderation.  Amanda, it sounds like you are taking some very smart steps to eat more healthfully and will lose those pounds before your trip. Good luck!

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