Thursday, January 05, 2012

Herb, Chard, and Feta Soup (And an Epiphany)

“Life is always changing.” 

Yes, I thought from my downward dog position, watching the San Francisco sunlight pour into the yoga studio, feeling my shoulder protest the deepest stretch. Yes, it is. 

Change. It’s something we’re all aware of, something so ubiquitous that mentions of it quickly begin to sound overly yogic or Zen, especially when they are pounded into our brains in this week after the dawn of a New Year. We’re collectively encouraged to make resolutions (though now, the popular thing seems to be to call them “intentions”), clean up, cut back, and start fresh.  

I’m into this concept of self-renewal. Though I didn’t take down the tiny tree, the collection of penguins on the mantle, or the merry line of cheerful cards just yet, I did scour the fridge, organize the laundry and utility closet, and go through a jumbo stack of papers and old to-do lists. We committed to trying to eat vegetarian for the entire month, and vowed to limit the booze. It felt good, like I was setting the tone for a productive 2012, a year where I’d never feel flustered or behind. 

But the real revelation came when I was making soup: Herb, Chard, and Feta soup from the January 2012 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. The instructions were simple. After tossing a bunch of chard and herbs into a pot along with some vegetable stock, you blend the cooked greens and top with feta, Greek yogurt, lemon juice and more herbs. 

Here’s where things got funky. With immersion blender in one hand, I stared down the pot and felt my stomach sway. The greens looked swamp-like, and I had an immediate memory of a rank, raw green juice I choked down one hot New York day. 

You see, I grew up not eating anything green. There was no lettuce, no celery sticks, and certainly no spinach, broccoli, or chard. I didn’t even eat guacamole. I think I may have made an exception for asparagus, but that’s not much of a compromise, is it? This changed quickly, in my early twenties, as my mother promised it would, and now I eat greens in abundance. 

Still, the soupy sludge was testing me. I thought about the decades where I never ate a vegetable and how they led to this confrontation, this Me vs. Chard Soup Showdown. I thought about this time two years ago when I was broken-hearted, and how I met Sean, miraculously, on Epiphany. About how this time last year I wasn’t married, and now I am, and how this time last year I was an anxious, about-to-be-published writer, now I’m an anxious published writer. 

Life is always changing. Sometimes the change comes from decisions we make: Resolutions, intentions, to-do lists, whatever. And sometimes the change comes from within, or around. Sometimes the change is quick. Other times it is so subtle and collective that you’re not even aware of the blunt force of it all until you’re left alone in the kitchen, two days into a new year, with an immersion blender and a pot of green soup, marveling at just how far you’ve come. 

Herb, Chard, and Feta Soup
Once I got past my fear of this green brew, I fell in love with this Yotam Ottolenghi recipe from the January issue of Bon Appetit. The soup is savory, silky, and has a richness that belies its 100% healthful ingredients. The best part may be that it keeps for a day or two and makes for vibrant lunch leftovers. I recommend stocking up on the crumbled feta; we found we liked the soup best when it was liberally sprinkled with cheese.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pound Swiss chard leaves (center ribs and stems removed) or spinach, coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper 

5 ounces plain Greek-style yogurt (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup mixed chopped herbs (such as parsley, cilantro, and mint), divided
4 ounces feta, crumbled, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon juice (optional)
Olive oil (optional) 

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until translucent and soft (do not brown), 7–8 minutes. Stir in chard, broth, parsley, cilantro, fresh and dried mint, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth. Return to pan. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm soup before continuing. 

Place 1/3 of yogurt in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup warm soup; whisk until smooth. Repeat process twice more, adding a total of 1 cup more soup. Whisk yogurt mixture into soup in saucepan. Stir 1/4 cup herbs and half of feta into soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, if desired. 

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with remaining 1/4 cup herbs and 2 oz. feta. Drizzle with oil, if desired.


alanachernila said...

Yes, yes, and amen to that. Here's to a year of more change, and happy new year to you.

Megan Taylor said...

All of my favorite ingredients...YUM!

nicole said...

I have been wanting to try this soup ... this is my nudge. And, perhaps also, epiphany :)

Sunday Taylor said...

I saw this soup in the magazine and I'm so glad you made it. Looks delicious! Happy New Year.

Ana said...

Anne, I love your writing.
The last paragraph was so beautiful, so true!