Eating locally and seasonally is an easy prospect to get excited about in warm months. But what about when it feels like the tundra out there? In the beginning of February in Minnesota, we still have a long way to go before local vegetables are coming straight out of our ground again. A trip to the grocery store is a lesson in blissful denial - with so many beautiful vegetables and fruits coming from across the country or halfway around the world, why would anyone have to worry about finding only foods that are grown nearby?
Or at the very least, couldn’t we wait until spring before we think about eating locally and seasonally again? Not really. Eating local foods matters all year long. Food issues surrounding the long-haul transport of foods, the economy of growing, selling and buying food and the importance of eating nutritionally-dense foods grown near the place you live don’t go away in the winter.
But what to eat right now? Homemade soup!
We’re lucky to have plenty of foods that came out of the ground a few months back and are still around to nourish and sustain us. We have root vegetables in all shapes, sizes and colors; turnips, beets, parsnips, celery root (celeriac), carrots and potatoes. We have onions, garlic, and shallots. We have cabbage. We have local butter for sautéeing all of those vegetables, and cheese for garnishing the bowl. Plus, we have local chickens and meats for rounding out a pot of soup.
Of course, soups or stews – or their cousin, the casserole – are among the very best ways to eat the less glamorous members of the vegetable world in the middle of winter. Onions, garlic, root vegetables and cabbages are packed with nutrients that heal us, boost our immunity and ward off inflammation in the body which protects us from heart disease, cancer and other age- or environment-related ailments. Plus, soup filled with all of those delicious ingredients is the kind of food that makes sense when we hear the words “eating seasonally”, because a steaming bowl of soup sounds so wonderful when it’s desperately cold outside.
No matter where you go in the world, there is a soup pot on a stove somewhere, filled with the local ingredients of that area that makes it taste completely of the place. Soup is good for us in so many ways. It is a perfect thing for removing a winter chill. It is excellent for opening up a stuffy nose. Soup fills up the belly, may aid in weight loss (except the beer cheese varietals), makes us feel comforted and almost always a little bit better than we did before.
So your soup might be different than my soup – maybe you’re lucky enough to have a wonderful recipe from your mother or grandmother – and it will taste like your memories. It will certainly also taste of the place where you live or have lived, and of all the wonderful ingredients that will find their way into your pot.
But here’s to hoping we have this in common - that our soup has a few locally-source ingredients, and that it warms us to the core.
Winter Vegetable Potage
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium leeks (white parts only), sliced into rings or 1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4” dice
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/4” dice
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4” dice
1/2 head orange or white cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 small or 1/2 large sweet potato, cut into 1/4” dice
1 small celeriac (celery root), peeled and cut into 1/4” dice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
6 cups filtered water or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons of fresh herbs - parsley, rosemary, or thyme, minced
Place oil and butter in a medium enameled cast iron soup pot or other soup pot over medium heat and add the onion, stirring to coat. Cook until translucent and add the garlic. Stir and cook for a few minutes longer, until garlic has lost its raw smell. Add the diced root vegetables, stir to coat with oil, and sauté until the potato is sticking to the pan and the pieces are beginning to turn golden, about 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and stir. Add water or stock and let the soup come to a gentle boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Carefully purée half or all of the soup in a blender or with a stick blender until smooth or leave slightly chunky. Season with salt and pepper to taste, garnish with fresh herbs and serve.
***This soup is totally forgiving and adaptable to any root vegetables you especially like or happen to get at the farmer's market or in a CSA share. Mix and match! Turnips, parsnips, orange cauliflower, white beets, rutabaga will all work.