I mentioned last week that I was still working through many of the recipes from the current issue of Vegetarian Times and that one recipe I hoped to make was the Garlic and Kale Soup. Well, I finally got around to it and switched it up a bit based on what I had on hand in the house. This recipe proved versatile enough to stand up to my altering it and that is a good quality in a recipe in my book.
I didn't originally learn to cook from recipes, just like I didn't learn to sew from patterns. My mom was both a master seamstress and a master innovator in the kitchen. She had to be. Sewing is what made the money to put the food on the table and the food was rarely purchased based on a recipe - that would have proved to prohibitive in cost. Like many others who didn't have such luxuries she shopped according to what was lower priced that week with an occasional splurge for something special. Even the few recipes she actually referred to were altered often to make due with what was on hand. This wasn't to say she didn't have very many cookbooks. Far from it. If you had seen my mother's house and then mine shortly after she passed away you would see the irony in her being a woman who rarely followed a recipe. Cookbooks were a hobby of my mothers. Some people collect stamps, art and trinkets. My mother collected cookbooks. One of her favorite past times was to stop by a local second hand store and peruse the new cookbooks that had come in, often coming home with half a dozen at a time. New, old, obscure and occasionally popular cookbooks of the day. She would sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and read cookbooks like others read novels. If you happened to be nearby she would share what she was reading when something caught her eye or her taste buds, rather. I have picked up on this habit myself. Just ask my husband and look around at the piles of cookbooks I've brought home from the library.
I, at times have had the luxury to cook from recipes and at other times struggled to eat organic and chemical free while relying primarily on a food bank. What I learned from my mom was indespensible during those times and gave me the creativity to cook outside the box at others. I learned to use my senses and my creativity to pull meals together inside my mind - testing flavors in my head while looking at ingredients in the pantry and refrigerator, while walking down the rows of stalls at a local farmers market, when seeing what came in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share or what was available from the local food bank. It has become second nature for me to rarely follow a recipe precisely. While talking to others I have found that this is a rare quality among the general population of the United States. Most have barely learned to cook, having grown up on take out and boxed foods. Intuitive cooking is a lost art for many of the people in the US today. Thankfully there are food movements and food has been the "in thing" for a while, so I have hope that will change.
Of course among those writing food blogs it may not be rare at all. There are a lot of creative cooks out there. I only wish that could be said for the rest of America - that ability is one that would help many people eat healthier and have an all around better relationship with what fuels them. I would love to see programs at local food banks and farmers markets that reach out to people and share those skills. I would love to see chefs and home cooks and food lovers everywhere reach out to bring a good chunk of our society into a healthier relationship with food. If there were free to inexpensive cooking classes that taught how to prepare meals based on what came in a particular CSA box, less people would be daunted by the thought of signing up for a local CSA. More people would be supporting local farmers and the main course would be based on fresh vegetables instead of a slab of meat. People would be healthier and hopefully happier.
All that said, I'll share the actual recipe for the Garlic and Kale Soup from Vegetarian Times and then share how I altered it and give a few other ideas how this recipe could be altered to accommodate more pantries, more budgets and thus more people.
Garlic and Kale Soup - Vegetarian Times
1/2 cup wheat berries
2 Tbs. olive oil
3.5 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (1 cup)
10 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch kale (10 oz), stemmed and coarsely chopped
1. Soak wheat berries in a large bowl of cold water overnight.
2. Heat the oil in a 2-qt saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, and season with salt, if desired. Saute mushrooms 10 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Add garlic, and saute 2 minutes more. Stir in vinegar; simmer until vinegar is almost evaporated, stirring to scrape up browned bits from the pan.
3. Drain wheat berries, and add to mushroom mixture with vegetable broth and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes. Add Kale, cook 10-20 minutes more, or until kale is tender. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
- I used spelt berried in place of wheat berries. Most kinds of whole grain would work. Even precooked, left over grains could be added towards the end of the process to simply warm through. Try barley, brown or wild rice, quinoa and so on. Some would not need to be pre-soaked and you may need to adjust the cooking times. You can find cooking times for grains online by doing a search or some basic cookbooks will have a reference chart in them.
- Fresh shitake mushrooms can be expensive, for instance the organic ones I purchased for this dish were close to $15 a pound. It was my splurge that week. But that would not always be possible. You could use dried shitake, re-hydrated and the extra liquid squeezed out of them before sauteing or you could just skip sauteing the mushrooms and add them at the time of the broth. If need be use less expensive regular mushrooms, the flavor will be different but the soup would still be good.
- I didn't have any broth on hand, since I have had to make my own broth now to avoid some potential irritant ingredients in even the organic broths available. Making home made broth was still on my list of things to get done. So I used some barley miso paste at half strength to make a broth base. I dissolved the miso in the water in a separate pan and then added the warm broth to the recipe when the time came. So my soup became Miso, Garlic and Kale Soup and it was yummy. Any kind of broth or low to no salt bullion would do. If you used dried mushrooms, the broth from re-hydrating them would be perfect. If none of those are possible use water, salt and an herb like parsley (fresh or dried) if you have it to give the broth flavor. The garlic and mushrooms do a lot for the broth on their own.
- I happened to use kale for this soup, but ANY leafy green will work like chard, spinach or collards. If you don't mind a slightly spicier flavor to the soup you could try mustard greens or arugula.
Obviously altering this recipe is pretty straight forward and not all recipes would be as simple. But I hope this will inspire just a little creativity, just a little - it's a start, anyway.