I'm lucky to have two boys who like to cook. Strangely enough, however, they're rarely in the mood to cook at the same time. To make matters worse, it often happens that one of them decides he's ready to cook just as I'm finishing up. Bad timing. Out of sync.
But this past weekend the stars were in alignment, and after breakfast all of us wanted some time in the kitchen. The refrigerator was stuffed with leftover ingredients from the previous night's dinner party - I'd given over my kitchen to a wonderful chef from Napa so he could make a stunning dinner for my husband's watch-collector friends. He left an eclectic assortment of prepped vegetables and herbs, bits of leftover cheese, and a few mystery ingredients I was a tiny bit scared to investigate. There was quite a bit of lettuce, too.
We are not a huge salad-eating family. Michael, my husband, considers salad an obligation, though he'll eat it to set a good example. The boys will eat salad with certain constraints. Emery, the elder, prefers a sesame or miso dressing with tender butter lettuce, or the salad with truffle oil and Meyer lemon he engineered last summer. Weston, the younger, will only eat Caesar salad; I have learned to make a pretty good Caesar dressing, which I keep in the refrigerator in a jar and hope not to confuse with the jar of homemade caramel sauce come ice cream time.
I hate to throw out food, so lettuce soup has become a staple. The original version, a lettuce soup with tarragon, is an excellent base, but adding other vegetables and herbs changes things up. And I love making soup with my kids: There's just enough slicing and chopping, but because it will all be pureed smooth later, the exact size and shape don't matter. It helps that both boys love soup in most any form. Top it with something crunchy - homemade croutons, most often, although crushed tortilla chips will do when I'm short on bread and/or time - and the soup disappears.
So Emery chopped onions and potatoes. I cut up a head of cauliflower. Weston sliced celery. And it all went into the pot with several handfuls of leftover salad greens, a bit of dried tarragon, vegetable stock concentrate, and water just to cover. We brought it to a boil, turned down the heat, simmered until everything was soft, buzzed it with the stick blender, then added a little cream. Weston always tastes for seasoning at the end, and he has an exacting palate: "A little salt, a tiny bit of pepper, and some lemon juice," he said authoritatively. I followed his lead, and he tasted again. "Perfect," he said. And the soup was done.
With a soup like this, quantities and proportions are approximate, so feel free to adjust to your particular tastes or the contents of your vegetable drawer on a given day. Just make sure you have enough potatoes to give the soup some body when it's pureed. And feel free to use chicken stock instead of the vegetable stock concentrate and water - the soup will definitely taste richer.
Kitchen Sink Soup, or Family Soup, or Leftover Lettuce Vegetable Soup
(Use whichever name you like best)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 lb Idaho potatoes, any variety, unpeeled, diced
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into smallish pieces
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 6 cups salad greens, washed and torn or cut into pieces
- 2 Tbsp vegetable stock concentrate
- 1 tsp dried tarragon
- water just to cover
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste