stinging nettle soup

April 14, 2012

stinging nettle soup, vegan soup, vgourmet, Ruth Richardson

This wonder plant is one of the first to come up in the spring. Nettles – despite their little stingers – have a long and auspicious history as a food source, medicine, and cloth. Did you know that fabric woven of nettle fibre has been found in burial sites dating back to the Bronze Age? And for centuries nettles have been used for a long list of ailments from arthritis to urinary tract disease, perhaps because they are chock-a-block full of vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Tasting a little like spinach, only earthier and grassier, they provide a super power boost to soups, sauces, and risotto alike. Oh, and by the way, they create a soup that’s actually this green!

stinging nettle soup, vegan soup, vgourmet, ruth richardson

300 grams nettle tops

3 tbsps olive oil

2 onions, chopped

2 leeks, cleaned thoroughly and chopped

4 celery stalks, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

4 tbsps basmati rice

8 cups veggie stock

sea salt and pepper to taste

With gloves on to avoid the sting in stinging nettle, wash the nettles thoroughly and remove the leaves from any tough stalks. Discard the stalks and set the leaves aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, and celery stalks and sauté for about 10 minutes until they are soft but not browned. Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the rice and stir well. Add stock, bring to a boil, and let simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until the rice is done. Once the rice is cooked, add the nettles, and stir until they are totally submerged. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until the nettles wilt but don’t cook them for too long as you want them to keep their bright green colour.

Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Purée the soup in batches in a food processor or blender. Return to the stove and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve hot garnished with the first chives of the season for a truly local, healthy, medicinal meal.


March 26, 2012

Ribolitta is a famous Tuscan soup, or potage. It almost always contains stale bread and beans, and a healthy portion of various veggies like carrots, celery, cabbage, cavolo nero, and onions. It literally means “reboiled” and embodies all the best of peasant food which, for me, equals frugality and simplicity but not at the expense of taste and artistry. Let the uber-chefs have their emulsified this and that; I’ll take good hearty farmstead food any day. This is a variation on the traditional Ribollita, if you can call it that. I’m sure every variation is a variation and there is no “pure” original. Build a base soup and add garlic rosemary croutons, a bit of garlic scape or sun-dried tomato pesto, and a drizzle of some really good quality Tuscan olive oil. No wonder Alice in Wonderland said “Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish, game or any other dish? Who would not give all else for two pennyworth of beautiful soup?” It’s all love….


1/2 cup olive oil

2 onions, sliced

1 large fennel bulb, diced

4 carrots, cut lengthwise and sliced

3 celery stalks, sliced

1 heaping tbsp tomato paste

1 cup white wine

14 oz plum tomatoes with their juices

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

2 tsps thyme leaves

2 tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 bay leaves

2 tsp cane sugar

4 1/2 cups veggie stock

2 1/2 cups cooked cannelli, great white northern, or navy beans

a bunch of kale, chopped, stems removed

sea salt and pepper

Garlic Rosemary Croutons

1 loaf stale sourdough bread or baguette

4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped

4 tbsps olive oil

sea salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven or heavy pot. Add chopped onion and fennel and sauté for about 5 minutes over medium-high until they begin to get tender. Add carrots and celery and continue to sauté for another 4 or 5 mintues, stirring ocassionally. Stir in the tomato paste and mix well. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for a couple of minutes.

Add plum tomatoes with their juices, herbs, sugar, and stock. Add some sea salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop the stale bread into large chunks. In a large mixing bowl, toss bread chunks with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, sea salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Place half the beans in a bowl and smash them with a potato masher. Add them, as well as the other half of the beans, to the soup. Add chopped kale. Let simmer for about 5 or 10 minutes. Adjust sea salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place a small handful of garlic croutons in the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle a good portion of ribollita over the croutons. Add a dollop of pesto on the top and a  healthy drizzle of really good Tuscan olive oil. Serve hot and be forever grateful for the wonder that is soup.


February 11, 2012

vegan harira, harira, moroccan soup, vegan soup, vgourmet, Ruth Richardson

I wonder about the exact origins of this soup. Most references trace it back to Morocco. It has a long and auspicious history including being the traditional soup Muslims eat to break the fasting day during the holy month of Ramadan. Each time I rinse my lentils and pick out the rocks, I think of those that might have had to do the same centuries ago. I’m sure there were those that did the picking, and those that definitely did NOT do the picking enjoying instead their sunny balconies in their djellaba and balgha overlooking the waves of one of the greatest seas on earth. This soup is like the sun. It makes me think of the desert, of the Mediterranean, of history, of ceremony, and of nourishment when one needs it most.

3 tbsps olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 celery stalks, diced

4 medium carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsps ginger

2 tsps turmeric

2 tsps cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne

3 tbsps tomato paste

2 cups stewed tomatoes

5 cups vegetable or bean stock

1 bay leaf

2 tsps sea salt


2 cups chickpeas

1 cup brown lentils

juice from 1/2 lemon

parsley, chopped

cilantro, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté until tender. Add minced garlic and sauté for another 2 – 3 minutes until garlic is fragrant. Add spices and sauté over low heat until fragrant but be careful not to burn them.

Add the tomato paste and stir until it’s blended well. Slowly add the stewed tomatoes and stock stirring constantly until you have a smooth consistency. Add bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste.

Add chickpeas, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until chickpeas begin to soften. Add lentils and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes longer or until chickpeas and lentils are cooked through.

Add lemon juice and chopped cilantro and parsley (or serve with chopped herbs on the side). Adjust seasoning and serve.

Nothing says fall quite like root vegetables and soup. Try this earthy concoction of celery root and parsnips infused with porcini to ground you in the season as the leaves fall, the days get shorter, and we start to naturally turn inward and hibernate. The toasts on top are an extra, but an absolutely essential one in my books as they add texture, flavour, and substance.

For the soup:

a large handful of dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup white wine

1 cup water

3 tbsps olive oil

4 medium onions, sliced

3 large parsnips, cleaned and cubed

1 small celery root, peeled and cubed

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

6 cups veggie stock

a couple sprigs of thyme, destemmed

sea salt and pepper

For the toasts:

a handful of dried porcini mushrooms

a small bunch of parsley, destemmed

1 garlic clove, peeled

a small handful of roasted pecans

sea salt and pepper


Bring the wine and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat. Add the handful of dried porcini mushrooms and let sit until rehydrated.

Meanwhile, heat up olive oil in a large dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and let simmer until soft and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Add cubed parsnips and celery root and sauté until parsnips are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add porcini with their soaking liquid, garlic, veggie stock, sprigs of thyme, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and let simmer for about 40 minutes until vegetables are very soft and cooked right through.

While the soup cooks, prepare the topping for your toasts. Soak a handful of dried porcini in hot water. Once done, remove them from the water, squeeze out excess liquid and chop them with parsley, garlic, pecans, and a little sea salt and pepper.

When the soup is done, pureé in a food processor and return to the dutch oven, adjust seasoning. You can add the left-over porcini liquid from the toasts if you want to adjust the consistency as well. Toast some interesting bread and then cover liberally with your porcini, nut, garlic topping. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve the soup piping hot with the porcini toast floating on top.

This recipe is from my new friend Ninja, aka Eric Baxter, but mostly just Ninja. I met him at Vicki’s Veggies market stand at the Brickworks farmers’ market. We talked all things garlic, and bacon, and celeriac. He convinced me to buy a 5 pound bag of carrot seconds (you know, the ones that aren’t pristine but still fresh and tasty). I agreed as long as he gave me a soup recipe worthy of the organic vegetables I was buying (he’s a chef you know!). And, you know what? Ninja totally came through for me. He emailed me this insanely good recipe on this auspicious day before Halloween. I’ve made a huge pot and will feed it to the troops tomorrow night before they head out on their trick-or-treating-sugar-bender.

For the roasted garlic:

2 heads garlic, top cut off to expose cloves

olive oil

salt and pepper

Place heads of garlic on a sheet of tinfoil, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake in a 350 degree oven until soft and starting to brown on top.

For the curry spice:

1 tbsp coriander seed

1 tbsp cumin seed

1 tbsp fennel seed

1 tbsp mustard seed

Combine in a pan and toast, tossing or stirring constantly over med-high heat until fragrant (may smoke a touch). This should take about 2 – 4 minutes. When done, let cool and then grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

For the soup:

2 heads roasted garlic

2 large onions, sliced thinly

5 lbs carrots

2 tbsp curry spice

1 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp olive oil

3-4 litres veggie stock

salt and pepper to taste

In a soup pot over med heat add oil, once hot add onions with a pinch of salt, cook low and slow until caramelized, this should take 25-30 minutes, but it’s worth the time.

Rough chop carrots, toss in a large bowl with olive oil and light salt and pepper, place on a cookie sheet on parchment paper and roast in a 400 degree oven until slightly caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.

When onions are carmelized add the spices, cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant, add carrots, and squeeze roasted garlic in, cover with veg stock and simmer until carrots are very soft.  Depending on carrots this will vary from 30 minutes to an hour, they should be almost falling apart.

Using a blender (immersion or standard) purée soup. Caution: if you are using a blender take the center piece out of the lid, place lid on firmly and cover with a folded kitchen towel, otherwise the gases cannot expand and you’ll have a terrible, hot mess!

Adjust soup consistency with vegetable stock (or water if you have to), it should be thick but not pile up on itself, season, and garnish with carmelized carrots and olive oil.  Enjoy!!!

pappa al pomodoro

August 22, 2011

Pappa al pomodoro is a perhaps the mother of all rustic peasant soups. Once considered the soup of the poor in Tuscany, the ingredients are elemental, most would have been found in the garden, and it boasts a good serving of stale bread to make it thick, filling, and satisfying. So why me? Well, the kids are at camp so we have nothing but stale bread in the kitchen, except for a handful of fabulous looking heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market that needed to be consumed. I have a little basil in the garden and lots and lots of garlic so it was a no-brainer. And turned out to be a good-brainer because it was so ridiculously delicious we couldn’t stop eating it. Those Tuscans had a thing or two figured out!

1 kg or about 6 large fresh heirloom tomatoes, different shapes, colours, sizes, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 litre veggie stock

4 slices stale bread, chopped

4 tbsps olive oil

sea salt and pepper

Wash tomatoes and chop them coursely. Peel and mince garlic. Wash and chop basil. Chop bread slices into cubes.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven. Saute garlic until it’s fragrant but not brown. Add chopped tomatoes and basil and let simmer for 5 minutes or so. Add vegetable stock and bread, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for 30 minutes. The bread will break down and become one with the tomatoes and stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with a good chunk of warm, hearty bread.

PS The authentic version of pappa al pomodoro calls for unsalted, white, Tuscan bread. All we had was a stale olive boule from St. John’s Bakery. Go with what you’ve got and don’t be afraid to improvise.

This is a yummy, quick soup, especially if you have left-over rice in the fridge which we often do. I got it from Ross Dobson’s market vegetarian and he mentions that these sorts of boiled rice soups are often eaten for breakfast in China and other Asian countries. I would love to try that sometime but find mornings are too busy to actually “cook” something. But it does kind of make sense – this soup is warming, comforting, filling, and nutritious. What else do you need to start the day? Or end it? Or mark the middle of it? I guess ultimately it’s the perfect breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

1 tbsp veggie oil

2 tsps sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 scallions, finely chopped

2 tsps finely grated ginger

1 small red chile, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup long-grain rice

6 cups veggie stock (you need a lot less if you are using left-over, already cooked rice)

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 bunch of collard greens, roughly shredded (or other greens of your choice – I used rainbow chard)

1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

white pepper

Put the oils in a saucepan and set over high heat. Add the garlic and scallions and cook until the garlic is turning golden and just starting to burn. This will give the soup a lovely, nutty garlic flavour. Add the ginger, chile, and rice to the pan and stir-fry in the garlic-infused oil for 1 minute. Add the stock and soy sauce and bring to a boil.

Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, until the rice is soft and the soup has thickened. Add the greens and cook for 5 minutes, until they turn emerald green and are tender. Ladle the soup into warmed serving bowls, sprinkle the cilantro over the top and season to taste with pepper.