I know this is a strange conversation for 100-degree, humid summer days, but David and I have been talking lately about how we want to get really, really good at making soup. We want to be those sorts of people who can just throw a soup together in a pot on short notice and have it turn out delicious, complete with that special something you can’t put your finger on.
These soup-making aspirations dovetailed perfectly with my taking that Plant-Based Nutrition course, because suddenly I’m re-focused on trying to make nutritious, vegetable-centered meals that are flavorful, tasty, and a little more exciting than our current revolving door of big salads, roasted vegetables, beans with brown rice, and baked tofu. Soups are a perfect way to put lots of vegetables together, and use up some of those herbs going wild in your garden as well.
I haven’t told you yet about Love Soup, which is a delightful vegetarian cookbook by Anna Thomas. She also wrote the 1972 classic version of The Vegetarian Epicure. It was published when she was only 24!
I’ve toted Love Soup to bed for evening reading a number of times- it’s that kind of recipe book. Obviously composed with much love and care, it weaves together stories, cooking lessons, humor, kitchen advice, menu suggestions, entertaining ideas, and more. The writing is honestly as good as the food. The author is engaging, spunky, and full of character. Every chapter has a couple of pages of introduction, and the headnotes preceding each recipe make me feel like I’m sitting at Anna’s kitchen table over a cup of tea, casually conversing about the dish and her life.
One other charming thing about the cookbook is that Anna seemed unable to stop herself at writing only about soups. There are entire chapters on hummus, sweets, breads, and salads as well. A recipe for fig and citrus tapenade looks amazing, and quesadillas, harissa, tortilla espanola, spinach pie, pesto, and spiced nuts are squeezed in too, as though she couldn’t bear to leave them out.
Anna does many health-conscious, vegetable-packed soups in the book. I was drawn immediately to the Zucchini Basil recipe due to the fact that we have more basil than we know what to do with growing in our herb garden. It’s a perfect light, fresh soup for summer that you can serve hot, room temperature, or chilled.
The other thing I love about it is that its flavor is so balanced and delicious all on its own- Anna suggests serving it with goat cheese, lemon zest, and/or a swirl of fruity olive oil, but I honestly can’t imagine it being much better than it is on its own. We’ve made it twice in the last five days. I finished the first batch on Day 3, and it still tasted wonderful, possibly even better than Day 1.
Zucchini Basil Soup
Adapted slightly from Love Soup
1 and 3/4 lbs. zucchini (about 3 thick medium-sized ones)
1 and 1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1/2 cup cooked Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed if from a can
2 cups vegetable broth (you may want to have extra on hand in case you need to thin your soup)
2 generous cups, packed, coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 – 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (approximately 1 largish lemon)
about 5 grinds of fresh black pepper
optional: lemon zest, fruity olive oil, or goat cheese to garnish
1. Trim off the ends of the zucchini and cut them into slices about 1/4 – 1/3 inch thick.
2. Combine the zucchini, 3 and 1/2 cups water, and 1 tsp. salt in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low or medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the beans, recover, and simmer 10 more minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt (about 1/4 tsp). Cook the onions slowly for about 30 minutes, until they are soft, sweet, and golden brown.
4. When the zucchini has simmered its full 30 minutes and the onions are ready, add them to the pot along with the broth, basil, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for about 2 more minutes.
5. Remove the soup from the heat, uncover, and allow to cool a bit. Put on an apron if you haven’t done so already.
6. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or follow these instructions to do so in batches in a blender. If you need to thin the soup, you can add more broth. If you’d like to thicken it, add more beans.
7. Bring the soup back to a simmer if you are going to serve it warm or hot, and stir in 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Taste, and add more salt, pepper, lemon juice, or basil if you’d like.
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 – 8 as a starter.