As part of my efforts to serve a first course at the start of our family dinners (see here, here, and here), I've been hunting for a vegetable soup that the kids will happily eat. If only I could find one, I thought, I could make gallons of it, freeze it, and have it ready to go as the first course for any dinner. Or if it was well-liked enough, we could have it several days in one week.
Ideally, it wouldn't contain potatoes (which don't freeze well at all), and it would be meatless. Even better if it would go together quickly and contain plenty of different vegetables.
One possibility is minestrone, which most of the family loves, but we think of minestrone as a main dish; we pile Parmesan cheese on it and have it with a salad and crispy garlic pita chips. So it can't be a first course without ruining the tradition, unless it's leftovers.
Another is tomato soup, but again, this soup already occupies a niche in our diet: 90% of the time, it is an equal partner with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Carrot soup and butternut squash soup are classic ideas, but I think of them as autumn recipes, and don't much want them in the spring and summer.
Last week I started trying new recipes. My first soup attempt was an enormous pot of Alton Brown's garden vegetable soup, with the potatoes removed and extra carrots and corn added. I don't know what happened to it, but everyone agreed it had a funny "soapy" taste. Too many leeks? Insufficiently rinsed pot? I don't know. I don't think I'll try to make it again.
Today I tried to adapt a sopa de lima recipe to make a vegetarian version. I started with a corn-cilantro stock that appears in a tortilla soup recipe in Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven, and then I followed an old cookbook recipe for chicken-tortilla-lime soup, replacing the chicken with extra vegetables. I borrowed a page from the Colombian soup sancocho de gallo and saved time by cutting the corncobs for the stock into manageably small chunks that could be transferred to the soup; this saved the work of cutting the fresh corn off the cob to put kernels in the soup and the cobs in the stock.
It was good, bright with citrus and not too spicy for the kids. If I wanted it to be a main-dish meal, I'd introduce a can or two of cooked black beans or pinto beans, and pass a big bowl of chips.
Here you go:
Vegetarian Tortilla-Lime Soup
For the stock:
- 3 ears fresh corn, each cob shucked and cut crosswise into five or six chunks (still on the cob)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, left whole
- 2 bunches green onion (about 16 green onions), cut into 1-inch lengths
- 8 cups water
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
For the soup:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup (or more!) minced garlic
- Finely minced jalapeño chile to taste -- I used a couple of teaspoons, no seeds
- 1-2 zucchini, cut into quarter-rounds
- 1-2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 6-8 Tbsp fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tortilla chips for a garnish
- Paper-thin lime slices, cut into quarters, for garnish
Combine stock ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer about 30 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Strain the stock, reserving the corncob chunks (most or all of the onions and cilantro can be discarded).
In a soup pot, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeño and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil; reduce to medium-low. Add the carrots, tomatoes and zucchini, cover, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes or so.
A few minutes before serving, add the cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper, and the reserved corncob chunks. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Ladle into bowls (including at least one corncob chunk in each), top with lime slices and a few tortilla chips, and serve.