Having it All, Holiday Edition

Happy belated Thanksgiving, ma cherie! This year, I spent weeks contemplating what to cook – like you, I relish the process of culling recipes, making grocery lists, planning the day down to the minute – but couldn’t seem to make any final decisions. Something was holding me back. As you know, things are especially crazy here as we’re preparing to move in just a few short weeks. Maybe my brain just couldn’t handle one more decision. Anyways, by the time the Monday before Thanksgiving rolled around, I still hadn’t finalized my menu, so I was in an especially vulnerable place when I walked through the grocery store and saw this message staring back at me from the holiday table:

Doing it all, having it all – nice work Whole Foods for inserting yourself into the prevailing working-mother discourse of the moment! But seriously, I stopped in my tracks when I saw it….and  it dawned on me that I could actually accept the idea that I don’t have to do it all this year. That we could still have a meaningful and special day of thanks without a tableful of things I had prepared myself.

As soon as I got over the guilt that my kids wouldn’t smell a turkey roasting all day in the oven, or experience Tobin’s grandmother’s tried-and-true mashed potato recipe – an annual staple – it was liberating and actually a relief to take the year off from cooking. Our made-to-order Thanksgiving came neatly packaged in portioned, labeled containers with detailed reheating instructions.  It was enough turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, gravy and cranberry sauce to feed us with leftovers for days. I ended up making a simple kale salad for something fresh to add to the mix, but aside from that, it was fun to experience the day completely differently!

Home-cooked or store-bought, Thanksgiving kicks off a culinary frenzy that carries us all the way to the new year.  Last night I felt the urge to make something simple and clean to counteract the weekend’s indulgence. This recipe comes from the James Beard award-winning writer Anna Thomas, who is probably best known for her Vegetarian Epicure books.  Her 2009 cookbook, Love Soup, offers a fantastic baseline recipe for Green Soup, plus a few variations, of which this is my favorite. I know the “green soup” descriptor can be a little off-putting (lets be honest, it sounds like something you’d find on a diet blog, right?), but this one is intensely satisfying, its mushrooms giving off a rich, meaty flavor that's reason enough to give thanks for days to come.

Green Soup with Mushrooms
From Love Soup by Anna Thomas

1 bunch chard
1 bunch spinach
3 TBSP Arborio rice
1 ½ TSP sea salt, plus more to taste
3 TBSP olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 large leek, white and light green parts, sliced
8 oz Portobello or other brown mushrooms
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ TSP dried thyme (**I used fresh)
2 TBSP marsala or dry sherry (**I skipped this)
~4 cups vegetable broth
1-2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper

garnish: fruity green olive oil
optional garnishes: crumbly white cheese, sour cream, croutons

Wash the chard and spinach thoroughly and cut the chard off its thick stems. Coarsely chop the greens. Combine the chard, spinach and rice in a large soup pot with 4 cups water and a teaspoon of sea salt. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a nonstick pan and add the chopped onions with a big pinch of salt. Cook them over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about 10 minutes. Add the leek and continue cooking until the onions and leek are golden brown, about half an hour.

Clean and dice or chop the mushrooms. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in another pan, throw the garlic in, and stir it for a minute or two on high heat, until it starts to turn golden. Turn the heat down slightly, add the mushrooms with a dash of salt and the thyme, and sauté, stirring often, until the mushrooms are sizzling and browning. The time will vary with the moisture in the mushrooms, but figure on at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle the Marsala or sherry over the mushrooms and stir again as it cooks away.

Add the mushrooms to the soup, along with the caramelized onions and leek, deglazing the pans by swirling a little of the broth in them and adding it back to the pot. This gives your soup the benefit of those flavorful, crusty brown bits that like to coat the pans. Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes.

Add the vegetable broth – a little more or less as needed – and puree the soup in a blender, in batches, with an immersion blender, or leave it as it is. Return the soup to the pot, add a spoonful of lemon juice, and correct the seasoning with more salt if needed, freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. This is the moment when you must taste and adjust the soup to your own palate, and when adding that last bit of salt, remember to wait a few moments before testing again.

Pour a thin thread of fresh olive oil on every bowl and add crumbles of cheese, sour cream, or croutons as you like.

***A few comments, having made this a few times:

-       Don’t feel like you have to stick to the strict chard+spinach ratio. I always just fill my stock pot with as many greens as it will hold – kale works too and buying the pre-washed, pre-chopped stuff saves you a ton of time.

-       The way she describes it here requires a lot of dishes, which is a pain in a tiny NY apartment. Instead of having 3 pots going at once, I do the onions, then add to the greens and turn off their heat. Then I make the mushrooms in the same pan that had the onions, add them back to the greens+onion mixture, and then reheat and follow per usual.

-       When it comes time to add the stock, less is more…I find the soup to be more satisfying if its on the thick side, so I usually end up adding closer to 3 cups, rather than the recommended 4.