Though the weather may be warming ever so slowly this NYC springtime, I know there are still hearty soups in my future, at least until early June. Between grinding through the final portion of finishing up my latest cookbook, travel, and a few half-hearted attempts at spring-cleaning the junk drawer and the junk closet, making a big pot of soup is still the easiest, most productive, and yields the biggest bang for my activity buck. Buck as in time spent cooking a healthy meal, any soup will keep me going through at least two days of lunches and a light dinner.
Two things are on my mind this mid-April, the boatload of Greek recipes I’ve been experimenting with for this book (Vegan Eats World), and asparagus. Thanks to requests from my Queens-raised Greek husband I’ve made a satisfying vegan spin on the classic Greek comfort food-soup, egg and lemon chicken-based Greek avgolemono (dubbed “novgolemono” in my kitchen, made without the “ovo” aka egg and the chicken). True to the original this soup is bursting with lots of lemon, which you can further enhance by squeezing a wedge over each serving.
Asparagus, well, I never seem to eat enough of it this time of year when it’s at it’s finest. And I’ve always had a soft spot for creamy asparagus soups, and this mashup of Greek and French cooking hits each craving with soothing precision.
The magic ingredient highlight of this soup is a touch of Arborio rice. These fat grains that are the main feature of risottos and paellas, but in soups the abundant starch of this rice expands and softens and helps create a creamy base for this tangy, soothing Mediterranean styled soup. I lied, there’s also another other sneaky ingredient: pureed white beans add further richness, depth and protein. This soup will thicken up as it cools; for a thinner soup stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of hot vegetable both. Try using a high quality chicken-flavored vegetarian broth or bouillon in this recipe for the biggest flavor.
Both delicate and lively, this pale green soup is bursting with the earthy, umami flavors of asparagus and the sharp wake-up burst of lemon. Serve as a starter on a chilly spring night with a fresh crusty loaf and a crisp green salad dressed with olive oil and of course, more fresh lemon.
Asparagus Lemon Rice Soup, asparagus “novgolemono”
1 pound asparagus spears
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 large carrot, peeled and diced very small
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 cups vegetable or vegetarian chicken-flavored broth
One 14 ounce can or 2 cups cooked white beans (such as white kidney), drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons uncooked Arborio rice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper, salt to taste, and lemon wedges for drizzling
Additional dried oregano for garnish and handful chopped flat leafed parsley
1. Rinse and slice the asparagus spears into 1 inch pieces; set aside the tips. In a skillet over medium heat sauté the tips first in 1 teaspoon of olive oil until bright green and tender but still crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and lightly sprinkle with sea salt.
2. Heat the remaining 3 teaspoons of olive oil in the pan and add the diced onion and carrot in olive oil over medium high heat until onion is translucent and softened, stir in garlic and remaining asparagus and fry for another 45 seconds. Pour in white wine and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Puree beans with 1 cup of vegetable broth; add to pot along with the remaining vegetable broth, Arborio rice, bay leaves, oregano, and dill. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, stir and cover. Cook for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally and keeping covered, until both the rice has partially dissolved into a creamy broth. Occasionally make sure to stir the bottom of the pot to keep the rice from sticking.
3. When done, turn off heat, stir in the lemon juice and keep covered for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and season soup to taste with ground pepper, salt and additional lemon juice if desired. Use an immersion (handheld or stick blender) to pulse the soup to a desired level of creaminess; sometimes I like to leave a few substantial flecks of carrot and asparagus, other times I go for perfectly silky smooth. Ladle soup into bowl; top each serving with a few cooked asparagus tips and sprinkle of dried oregano or parsley. Drizzle with lemon wedge before eating.