Outskirts and Edges

My favorite places to hang out as a child included the tops of trees, the insides of couch pillow forts, the underneaths of tables (especially when the grown-ups had forgotten I was there), and just about anywhere where I could watch the clouds going by overhead. The outskirts. The edges of where the action was happening. Places were I could observe but still stay separate if I wanted.

One of my least favorite places? The kitchen... If there was any expectation that I should be doing anything other than eating food in there. Oh, I didn't mind watching from time to time. On rare occasions I might actually pour myself a bowl of cereal, sneak a piece of slice American cheese food, or abscond with a bag of chips and a tub of sour cream and onion dip. On even rarer occasions, I might help prepare a dessert-type item, retrieving ingredients from the refrigerator, gobbling the leftover chocolate chips or licking the spoon/bowl/beater.

That area of the house was worrisome to me, though, because I might, at any moment, be asked to try a new food. Like tomatoes. Or mustard. Or potato salad. Or oh-god-please-no BBQ ribs dripping with sauce. I might have mentioned before: I was a picky kid. And the kitchen held everything of my nightmares. (Except the Headless Horseman. Still gives me shivers.) It wasn't until I was in my 20's and I met my future husband that I began to start discovering my way around the one room of the house I'd always actively avoided.

Still, I have spent my time on the outskirts of traditional cooking almost from the beginning. I never sought to learn many of the basic dishes I enjoyed (or didn't) as a child, preferring instead to strike out into less traveled territory. I learned a lot about vegetarian cuisine then moved onto vegan then wandered through raw vegan with side trips into gluten-free, grain-free, and nut-free. I spent a considerable amount of time in dairy-free and found much of that terrain quite to my liking. I am an omnivore and I eat like one, so I love dishes that can be easily tweaked for anyone whose eating style is different than my own. The basic soup I made this weekend satisfies that desire so wonderfully, I decided I really needed to capture the version I made this time around so I could easily find it next time I had an extra bag of 'taters hanging around.

Potato soup was another of those things I hated as a child but at least I have a decent excuse for this particular dish... The one and only time I tried it, I had just had a tooth filled and half of my face was still numb. The texture of the soup in my mouth combined with the sensation that half of my mouth experienced it as hot soup and the other half registered it as cold soup was far too uncomfortable for me to bear chancing a repeat. When I tried it again as an adult, it was a revelation - the clouds parted and birds sang! If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it was at O'Charley's - their cheesy soup along with their yeasty rolls can be hard to resist. Whatever the case, I was open again to the world of variety the lowly potato could offer when it was crafted into a wondrous soup form.

Without further diversions into my random eating vagaries, I present you the basic potato soup guidelines I used to make myself a hearty and healthful version I will definitely be revisiting!

Potato & Kale Soup with Quinoa and Roasted Garlic

Potato & Kale Soup with Quinoa and Roasted Garlic

Potato Soup

To get to the version in the picture above, you'll need:

1 lb. of baby Dutch yellow potatoes
A bunch of kale (4-5 leaves)
A sweet onion
A carrot or two
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
A bulb of garlic
Grass-fed butter
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic extra virgin coconut oil

Seasoning blend of your choice
Smoked Paprika

Organic, low-sodium chicken broth
A bouillon cube

Shredded chicken or brisket

This soup is one of those creations that does NOT want to be rushed - please don't choose this if you're looking for a quick throw-together on a school night when you're in between soccer practice for your daughter and ballet for your son. Also, this isn't really a recipe so much as a discussion of how I approached making this dish - I'm open to hearing about any reinterpretation you dream up. Any of the animal-derived ingredients can be replaced with plant-based versions or omitted without seriously changing the outcome.

So where did I start? Well, with the garlic, of course!

Gorgeous Garlic

This little head had been hanging around for a while but I wasn't ready to call it a loss. After I ran its viability past my brain-trust (i.e. my food-savvy Facebook friends), I cut the top off, set it in a small, oven-safe dish, poured a liberal amount of olive oil over it, and covered the dish with foil. I think I went with 350-degrees Fahrenheit for around 30 minutes - long enough to soften the cloves so that I could easily pop them out with a fork tine.

While that was doing its thing, I finely diced some sweet yellow onion (about half a very large one) and some carrots. In a large stew pot, I set those to sauté on very low heat in some butter and coconut oil. When the garlic was done, I liberated it from its papery prison, sliced the green bits out of the middle (probably didn't need to, but I wanted to), and sliced the cloves then added them to the sauté mix. I added some salt and other seasonings including turmeric and paprika then let it keep on cooking, stirring only occasionally. Low and slow, baby. Low and slow.

Then I cooked some quinoa in a broth I made with a vegan bouillon cube. It was just one quarter cup uncooked but fluffed up to more than half a cup when it was fully cooked. I let that hang out in its own pan while I kept working on the rest of the soup.  

I used about a pound of baby Dutch yellow potatoes but I would imagine you could use just about whatever type you prefer. Since I had diced the onion and carrot rather small, I diced the potatoes into fairly small cubes, too, maybe a half inch or so thick.

Keep in mind that these are very tiny potatoes - probably only about 3-4 inches long.

Keep in mind that these are very tiny potatoes - probably only about 3-4 inches long.

I added the potatoes to the pot and let them mix with the other veggies a bit. Then I dumped a box of organic, low sodium chicken broth in and brought it to a low boil then turned it down a bit to cook the potatoes well (the other veggies were plenty soft by this point). When the potatoes were soft, I pulled my brand-spanking-new immersion blender out of its packaging and made some delighted squealing noises as I blended up the whole batch into a beautiful, creamy liquid.

It's POTATO SOUP, y'all! Okay, I know it doesn't look the most appetizing-looking at this point, but it really was perfectly edible right here at this point in its life. The orange color comes from the carrots, turmeric and smoked paprika.

It's POTATO SOUP, y'all! Okay, I know it doesn't look the most appetizing-looking at this point, but it really was perfectly edible right here at this point in its life. The orange color comes from the carrots, turmeric and smoked paprika.

I let the blended soup simmer on low while I washed the kale, cut the ribs out then chopped it quite small. I find that the smaller you chop your kale, the less you end up having to chew... And that's a win in my book. I'll let the knife do that work for me any day. I suppose you could wilt the kale a bit before you added it to the soup... But I was ready to be done. Interspersed with the cooking to this point, I had puttered with some art projects, dallied on Facebook a fair bit, broken up a couple rows between my sons, fixed each of them a snack, and looked up instructions for baking bacon in the oven.

The kale will cook down a lot so don't be afraid to really pile it on heavy!

The kale will cook down a lot so don't be afraid to really pile it on heavy!

Me? I just dumped the raw kale straight into the pot and simmered it for a while longer. The soup thickened up a LOT and I considered adding some more broth. Then I remembered I didn't have any more. Plus, my hubby prefers thicker stewps to liquid-y-er soups any day.

When the kale had been in the pot for around 20 minutes or so, I added the cooked quinoa. I let it cook just a little while longer, so all the flavors could mingle well, then called it done! I ate some right away and it was good, but the spouse and I both agreed that it was even better after it had been around for a while. I found that I did need to add some water to it during those later meals because it got too thick for my taste. Hubby added some chicken to his; I added a little bacon one sitting and a bit of brisket on another. I feel comfortable suggesting the addition of corn, peas, edamame or other small veggies. Possibly even broccoli or cauliflower if it were chopped tiny. And you could add sausage or other meats as well, if you were so inclined. I don't think I'd personally add any other kind of grain besides the quinoa and I definitely wouldn't add any pasta. It's definitely a good base soup from which to launch plenty of soupy adventures!