Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Recipe: Leftover lettuce vegetable soup (aka "Kitchen sink soup" or "Family soup")

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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
Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup until the vegetables are very soft, about 40 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and blitz with a hand-held blender until the soup is smooth; it won't be completely velvety unless you strain it through a fine-mesh strainer, but that takes out much of the fiber, so I don't recommend it. Add the cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir and serve with croutons on top. (Yes, I know the soup is garnished with chopped bell peppers in the photo. It looks pretty, but it doesn't taste very good. Skip it, unless you're taking pictures.)


The Diva on a Diet said...

Aw, I love reading about you cooking with your kids, Erika. Such a wonderful family activity. And, what a great idea for using up leftover lettuce. It sounds magnificent!

suz said...

This is just brilliance. I don't know why it's never occurred to me to do a soup this with lettuce before. Every time I do a salad for a dinner party, I'm always left with a ton that goes bad in two days. I'm trying this when I go home for the holidays :)

Erika Kerekes said...

Suzanne - the simplest version of this soup is onion, potatoes, lettuce, dried tarragon, and chicken or vegetable stock. Even with just those ingredients, it's beautiful. And did I tell you about the GF polenta croutons I made last week?

Anonymous said...

Oh I love your soup recipe! I have only made lettuce soup once before, I shall have to try it again. Especially next week at my parents. At Thanksgiving the produce bin froze and I was thinking about lettuce soup then!

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