One of the snags people often get caught in when eating a local diet is the ebb and flow of specific foods. First, most foods are not in season year round. They come and go like the tide. They might be obtainable, but you have to travel far to get them. Second, when they are available, they are available in the same way that a tidal wave is available.
Lettuce is one of those foods. Somewhere along the line, it acquired the status of poster child for healthy eating. People on diets opt for the salad bar instead of fried chicken. Health nuts get bragging rights based on how many salads they eat. Prewashed, mixed, and bagged lettuce is a staple of busy moms trying to feed their family more vegetables. And then there’s me. I think I eat fairly healthfully. And yet, for most of the year, salads (at least those made from lettuce) are conspicuously absent from my table. In the south, where I live, the lettuce season is very short- from about March to mid April, and then again in September. Lettuces thrive in cooler spring and fall temperatures. The intense heat that other sun bathing vegetables like tomatoes adore, exhausts lettuces. But in the spring, before the days get too hot, lettuce comes rolling in from the garden and crashes in waves over farmer’s market stands. It is vibrant green (or red, or purple), succulent, tender, and without a trace of bitterness.
Faced with such beauty, it is all too easy for a girl like me to pick up my chef’s knife like a surf board and attempt to ride the waves of lettuce. Inevitably, I wipe out – salad spinner tumbling across the floor and lettuce wilting in my bottom drawer. When this happens, I am indebted to Kimi, of The Nourishing Gourmet, for her Tangy Herbed Lettuce Soup recipe. It’s basic formula of lettuce leaves wilted in hot broth with some vinegar and herbs, has saved many heads of lettuce from an early composting. This recipe works with all kinds of lettuce and other leafy greens. I’ve made heirloom lettuce soups that have specks of red and purple floating in them like confetti. If you live in Columbia, this is a great way to use the full pound bags of sunflower sprouts from City Roots. As long as you don’t simmer the soup too long, the soup should stay a vibrant green , so it’s hard to make an ugly soup. As far as flavor goes, however, the combination of spicy arugula and red onion is my favorite.
Arugula and Red Onion Soup
2 Tbs olive oil
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped (opt.)
1 qt chicken stock, or stock cut with whey
2large baking potatoes, cubed,
A large hunk of stale bread, crumbled
1/3 lb. of arugula, less is fine, more is good too
1 Tbs Herbes de Provence (a mixture of thyme, rosemary, lavender, basil, and fennel)
2 splashes of tarragon vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have)
salt and pepper
If your arugula has lots of stems, strip the leaves off first. The stems will just get caught around the blades of the blender later. (Save the stems in the freezer for your next batch of stock!) Heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the red onion, celery, and a pinch of salt. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent. Add your first splash of vinegar and deglaze the pan by loosening all the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add the stock, garlic, and potatoes. Bring the stock to a simmer, and turn the heat down. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. (This will be significantly less time if you are using stale bread.) Add the arugula and the Herbes de Provence. Simmer for just a minute or two, until the leaves turn bright green. Blend the soup to your desired consistency with either an immersion blender, or in batches in a bar blender. If you blend it less, it makes a chunkier, more rustic soup. If you blend it more, it makes a creamier soup. Add your last splash of vinegar and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. If you are lucky enough to have some arugula flower stalks, those make an especially elegant (and tasty) garnish.