Monday, January 09, 2012

The Power of Root Vegetables

Gorgeous striped beets get roasted and served

My Sweet Potato Carrot Squash Soup, (pre-blender)
In winter everything takes the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Gone are the spring and summer veggies bursting with juice and vitality, and in roll the many vegetables that grow underground. Carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, radish, beets. These vegetables possess a different energy altogether - they're soothing, grounding, incredibly nourishing, and I think they also help us to feel more connected to the quieter and more introspective rhythm of the season. Of course they're amazing for our bodies too, being chock full of beta-carotene, complex carbs, potassium, fiber and antioxidants.  

Perhaps Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor at Healthy Living, said it best: "I’m deeply drawn to vegetables grown underground. I find them mysterious, otherworldly. Like geodes and gemstones, they come from a world that I know little of. They drink in the nutrients from dark soil and transform them into perfectly imperfect knobs and tubes of exuberant color and uncommon nutrition. They are the heart and soul of plants."

Winter membership in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program means root vegetables, and lots of them. Turnips and beets get scrubbed, quartered, and roasted until tender in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, salt and pepper at 375 degrees. But one of the challenges I like most about being a CSA member is definitely creating new and exciting dishes with everything plus the kitchen sink. 

Recently I created a catch-all soup that's simple, wholesome, and oh-so-nourishing. Some of you requested the recipe. (Oh, goodness, now I have to write a recipe!) I make this soup without really measuring or timing, so I've done my best below. 

Notes: We typically get a small butternut squash and other assorted gourd-looking things too, which I roast and then toss in, hence the name of the soup. Squash, of course, is not a root vegetable, but it sure does taste great with them. (If you like a milder flavor, sub. shallots for the onion.) If you're using almond or soy milk, be sure to use a brand that you know doesn't curdle at high temps. (I use Silk brand Almond Milk.)

Signe's Sweet Potato, Rainbow Carrot, and Assorted Squash Soup 
3-4 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 bunch of rainbow (or regular) carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, diced
1 butternut or acorn squash
1-2 cubes Vegetable or free-range Chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 - 1/2 cup almond milk (or 2% cows milk)

Preparation for the squash: Lightly oil a baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees 30-45 minutes or until tender. Set aside. 

Fill a kettle with water and set to boil. In a soup pot saute the onion and carrots in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil about 4-5 minutes on medium-high heat, until the onions turn transparent and the carrots begin to soften. Toss in the chunks of sweet potato and a little more oil if needed. Cook on medium-high heat for another 3-4 minutes, being careful not to let anything stick to the bottom. When the water comes to a boil, pour it into your soup pot, tossing in your desired bouillon cubes. (Chicken bouillon gives it a deeper, richer flavor that I prefer, but I know many of you are Vegs.) Bring to a boil. 
Let the pot cook at a medium/low boil, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the (now-cool)squash. 

The squash - Scrape out the flesh with a spoon or fork. Discard the leathery skin and toss the meat into the pot. Stir in the nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Turn the soup down and simmer for 30 minutes, checking to ensure the sweet potatoes are tender before turning off the heat. 

Using a ladle, spoon the soup into a blender in batches to puree. (Please place a cloth towel over the lid and press down while you blend - this will protect you from getting any burns from the hot soup should the lid pop off due to steam, etc.) Move the pureed soup to a temporary pot once blended. Continue until all the soup has been pureed. 

At this point, I usually pour only the amount I know we'll eat right away eat back into the original soup pot on the stove. The rest I let cool and then freeze for a rainy day. (All you'll need to do is dump it into a pot to reheat and stir milk in once hot - it's a handy trick if you have dinner guests - they don't need to know you didn't slave all day over their first course! 

Turn the heat on med-low. Stir in your almond or other milk - start with a 1/4 cup and go from there, until the soup gets a creamy hue to it. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper as needed and serve. 

Bon Appetit!