This is a soup that I have been making for years. There was once a restaurant attached to the Dallas Galleria hotel called Zucchini’s that overlooked the skating rink. They served a vegetable soup that had perfectly cubed vegetables. It was delicious but it was also lovely in the same way that I find big round hay bales on the plains to be lovely. Unexpected geometric symmetry appeals to me, I guess.
A few years later my mom gave me a blisteringly healthful cookbook from the Pritikin people that had a recipe for a very similar sounding soup. The Pritikin Institute is known for teaching people how to eat very little fat or sodium. They champion low cholesterol, and stuff their adherents full of high nutrient, minimally refined fare. Sounds healthy, but somehow doesn’t sound delicious at all. I’m guessing you have all figured out that I am passionate about butter and don’t shy away from salt. But the soup was a very close match and very delicious. My version is different in composition than the Pritikin soup but what I kept from their recipe is the most important thing about it…its simplicity. This is not a slaving over a hot stove kind of a soup. The base is…shhhh…chicken broth and V-8 juice. I know. I’m still in shock. It shouldn’t be that simple. You will spend most of your time chopping up your vegetables.
I’m going to tell you about another neat trick in this recipe. It uses an herb preparation that is fun. Bouquet garni is a term for what is essentially a bundle of herbs tied up with twine. We might as well start there. If you have the fresh herbs, do try this. The soup will be fine without it and you can also use dried bottled bouquet garni but it isn’t quite the same. If you mixed up any of the herbes de provence, you could use that instead, too. And, the soup is good without it altogether so do not despair if you have a lame grocery store or you are not in the mood to drop 8 dollars on the fresh stuff. Anyway, the only must haves in bouquet garni are bay leaves, parsley, and thyme. Beyond that, it appears that people put all manner of herbs in depending on their mood. I added fresh rosemary to my bouquets and I thought that the flavor was lovely. Once you have gathered your herbs all you do is put them in a nice long bunch and wrap them securely with twine. That is all. The beauty of this preparation is that you just toss it into your soup pot, let it simmer with all of the ingredients and then conveniently pluck the package out when you are finished. The flavors remain.
I said this before and I’ll say it again…put whatever veggies look good to you in here. The following is just my list of favorites, but there is no limit to the combinations you can make. And if you choose too many, you just add more broth and V-8 in about a 3 to 1 ratio until you have the balance of liquids to veggies that you like. I go for a ¼ to ½ inch dice on my veggies.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, whites and light greens sliced and chopped (or 1 white onion, chopped)
2 cups carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3½ to 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1½ cups low sodium V-8 vegetable juice
2 medium red potatoes, diced
1 zucchini, sliced and diced (I leave out the seedy core)
1 yellow squash, sliced and diced
One bouquet garni (bay leaves, thyme, parsley and rosemary)
Salt and Pepper
Into a heated stock pot, add the olive oil. Add the leeks, celery and carrots and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the broth, V-8, herbs and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are just softening. Add the squash and zucchini. Cook for another 5 minutes until the vegetables are all tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with hot crusty bread and softened salted butter.
On another note, the coolest thing about the Pritikin Institute is that once when my mom went out there for a healthy retreat, none other than B.B. King was there getting a dose of healthy living right along with her. About this time, I had a habit of getting my favorite performers to sign the inside of my cowboy boots. I lived in Austin at the time where this was as easy as going dancing at the Broken Spoke. The most amazing people just seemed to show up there. Anyway, when I found out that my mother was hanging out with B.B. King I actually FedEX’ed one of my boots to her to get his autograph for me.
How cool is that?
So when I eat this soup I think of ice skating and B.B. King, and I think that my brain might be the only setting in the history of the universe where those two themes have had a tea party together. Welcome to my strange mental mélange.