Green light: The transition to spring
March 26, 2014 —
Despite the cold front predicted for next week, I know that spring is on its way. A couple of hellebores (gardening.about.com/od/plantprofile1/p/Hellebore_Pro.htm) have managed to poke up through the snow, determined and perhaps just a bit reckless. I’m looking forward to tramping into the wet woods in search of vernal pools and the salamanders and frogs that inhabit them.
I’m dreaming of what we will plant first and itching to forage for wild mushrooms. (Now is the time to keep an eye out for ash, sycamore, dead elm trees and the old apple orchards where morels tend to pop up.) At this time of year, I’m possessed by the urge to clean out drawers and closets, reorganize the attic and generally freshen up the place—and myself. From bears to humans, we’re all preparing to shed the protective layers of winter and emerge into the sunlight.
Soon we’ll be tempting our weary palates with baby vegetables, sweet peas and the first slim stalks of asparagus and rhubarb, but, until then, we need a transition between spring’s delicate bounty and the heavier soups and stews that have seen us through these last months.
Since I’m craving all things green, a light vegetable soup is the perfect bridge between seasons—fresh and vibrant, warm and satisfying. It’s so simple and easy that you really don’t even need a recipe, but this one from Anna Thomas’ Love Soup (you may know her from her Vegetarian Epicure books) is the perfect template. Feel free to adapt it according to whatever greens you’ve got on hand: kale, chard, spinach, broccoli.
If you don’t have vegetable stock, water is fine or even chicken stock. The addition of a little starchy short-grain rice thickens the soup a bit and imparts a silky texture, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. What’s essential is to really caramelize the onions and to pay careful attention to creating the right balance with spices, lemon juice and salt.
Once spring’s tender options emerge, you can even make a similar soup with asparagus, garlic shoots, baby turnip greens and nettles. And, when the weather warms up, stir in a little buttermilk and chill it. Nothing goes down better on a hot summer’s day. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves...
Adapted from Eating Well by Anna Thomas
2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
2 Tablespoons plus 3 cups water, divided
1/4 cup short-grain white rice
1 bunch green chard, or tender kale (about 1 lb.)
14 cups gently packed spinach (about 12 ozs.), tough stems removed