I have garden envy. When my brother and sister-in-law moved into their newly-built house on Bainbridge Island sixteen years ago, their lawn consisted of nothing but mud, rocks, old growth trees and dreams. Over the course of time, we have seen the transformation go from a yard that housed not even a place for Buffy to poop and pee, to many places for children to play and grow-up, adults to luncheon, retreat, tinker and entertain, and the gardener to grow vegetables rivaling those found at the Farmer’s Market. There is a cleverly designed tree house, an elaborate garden and potting shed, a trellised patio out back with trickling water, beautiful plantings and a resident frog. There are large trees, two in particular, that in the Summer are the anchoring points for a big screen, where movies are played for a gathering of neighbors, family and friends. There is a water feature that was built between a neighboring house that resembles a woodsy brook that you’d never know hadn’t been there a hundred years.
But, oh what a garden has transpired. The first time I encountered it, the vegetables were limited. There was cabbage, very large and obnoxious looking; yet I suspect they were good. There was kale. This, before kale was the “it” veg to eat. I knew not why someone would want to eat it, let alone grow it in their yard? There it was though, not particularly interesting to me, then. Ornamental perhaps?
On one particular visit to their house for dinner, I was taken aback by the progress. The little garden that once was made up of a strip of property in the proximity to the length of their (long) kitchen, had suddenly become, without my knowing, a white picket fenced area, encompassing actual square footage in their yard. Christine took me on a mini tour (because it was a mini footprint, but impressive), yes it was.
Quite some time has passed now and it is on the rarer occasion that we make it “on island”. In the following years though, while we were still somewhat regular spectators and participants, their adjoining neighbor became family, the toddlers became kids and the kids became adolescents…the garden shed was built and the tree house was erected. There was a dog now, other than our own, that graced the property and he (Snowball) has an orchestrated place to poop and pee.
If trees could talk, they might tell us of the nights that the neighboring families’ children came back and forth with my nieces and nephew, in happiness, in tears, and sometimes in the middle of the night. The trees might talk of teenage gossip, pubescent fears or the story of a comforting marriage of two homes. The trees might suggest that this was a place, in modern times, with old-fashioned values and good people. They would also be grateful, the trees, for the love that sprouted around them and the edibles that nourished the ones within. For that, Tom and I are happy too.
We live off-island but fond memories (and occasional visits) still languish in our minds. Most recently, my Mom, on her recent visit (to them, via our house) brought us home a gift from Christine; the most beautiful bouquet of hydrangeas, each stem capped in a plastic vial of water (a bouquet which made the most glorious appearance in our living room to welcome in the last of the decreasing summer sun) and a large bag filled with kale. The most beautiful and tasty kale. And chard. Gorgeous chard. And tomatoes, so sweet and perfect, they were oooohed and awed upon for the appropriate amount of time before the first one burst and the fruit flies laid claim. At this point, and not a second too soon, I had the will power and inclination to quit hoarding them for that most appropriate meal (which should always be now), and just dig in eating them raw, with reckless abandon. So reckless, I will not share the details. The remainder (because there were many) found their way into a most delightful fresh soup, recipe found here.
From the greens, among other things, I made soup! Green soup…and ham.
(Almost) All Green Soup
makes approximately 12 cups
As you will find, if you continue to read what I write (in the future, and I hope you do), I am reluctant to give up a good thing…I like to dream. I like to think about what might be best rather than what would be easiest (at the time). So with the abundance of kale and chard (still) stored in my crisper, waiting for that perfect purpose, I decided to make soup. Mostly with the chard, whose beautiful leaves had begun to wilt. I had used some of them previously, in a sauté with our steak and one with our fish. I had planned to wrap them over true cod, stuffed with bacon and leeks. I had thought of mixing them in with ravioli and then thought of layering with eggplant, red peppers and veal. I had imagined them as forming packets of ground lamb, co-existing with coriander, sweet onions and chopped kale. I did though, use some to wrap my tuna salad, some to wrap my hummus, and it made its way into Tom’s turkey with cheese sandwich (surprise!).
This soup was a finale to the wonderful gift, harvested from that, now abundant, garden on Bainbridge. The soup contains almost no fat and is vegetarian, if you leave out the ham bone I decided to throw in (used to flavor another soup effort, simultaneously occurring). It makes more than one family could possibly eat (unless you live at that house in Bainbridge I spoke of with the two families and friends sharing the meal…but perhaps more than enough even then). I will be freezing mine, in single serving portions, to eat for lunch at my whim.
The flavor is slightly spicy yet humble and earthy. The coriander is apparent and the unmistakable texture of lentils adds enough weight to the soup that it tends toward the comfort spectrum rather than the light and healthy.
The health benefits are worth mention though. There are so many green things in here, it should qualify for LEED (sorry, occupational reference). It also contains onions, many, many onions; no feeding this to your dog(s), sorry G & B.
Chard: Has a low impact on blood glucose, making it an excellent choice for diabetics (Linda, please take note of that and stuff it into Dad’s food, shhhh). (a) Chard stalks: are high in glucosinolates, causing them to be a good thing for inflammatory purposes, especially associated with surgery (pay attention Dad; I will be sure Linda is aware (heh, heh)). (b) Chard greens: pack cartenoid which is good for your eyes and vitamin K, which is an excellent way of boosting your cardiovascular health (the stalks contain this too). They also contain a high level of oxalates, which if you have kidney problems, should be consumed in moderation. Consult your doctor for concerns.
Kale: Lowers your cholesterol! Steam your kale for the best cholesterol benefit (darn, I like mine raw and massaged; still cholesterol lowering but not as much as steamed). Steaming kale helps the fiber components to bind with bile acids which in turn help them to extract more easily (lowering your cholesterol). Kale is also beneficial in regulating detoxification at a genetic level. It can help with inflammation and oxidative stress. Who knew? (Apparently everyone but me!)
Carrot greens: Are not the tastiest eaten raw (unless you are a bunny or love bitter, herbacious and stringent, which I do) but they do pack this soup with additional vitamins A, B6, C and K, plus folate, manganese, niacin, potassium and thiamin.
Celery: Is packed with antioxidants which protect against oxygen damage to our cells, blood vessels and organs. The pectin-based polysaccharides in celery help to protect the stomach lining from ulcers. However, this nutritional value is better when the celery is steamed or eaten raw rather than boiled.
Cilantro: Is a member of the carrot family. It helps to relieve intestinal gas pain, helps treat headaches, coughs and mental stress. Cilantro also helps combat lead and other heavy metal toxicity (it is even being studied as a natural purification agent for water).
Parsley: Is great as a digestive aid, natural breath freshener and more…
…I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea.
So, if that’s not reason enough to eat this superstar, healthy soup, eat it because it is just damn tasty (personal opinion, of course)! You can wear it plain or dress it up with a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a dollop of plain yogurt or, better yet, a topping of tender pulled ham. If you feel indifferent or curious, try mixing all three (green, eggs and ham!).
1-2 TB olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 TB chopped garlic
1 cup chopped carrot (+ the greens if still attached, stems removed)
1 cup chopped celery
1 TB chopped jalapeño
2 cups sliced leeks
1 cup green lentils
2 tsp ground coriander
2 kale leaves, stemmed
12 oz chard leaves plus their stems, chopped
Sprinkle of sea salt over greens
2 TB lime juice
1 large bunch (2 cups) coarsely-chopped green onion
1 bunch cilantro, stems and all
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, stems and all
In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, jalapeño, chard stems and leeks until beginning to soften. Turn down the heat to simmer and let them sweat until the leeks begin to melt, approximately 15 minutes.
Add the lentils and coriander. Stir to combine. Add the tomatillos then lay the chard leaves and kale on top. Sprinkle a little sea salt and squeeze the lime juice over the greens, cover and let cook over low heat to let them wilt and soften, about 10 minutes.
Add the green onions, carrot greens (if using), cilantro, basil and parsley. Add the stock, water and almond milk. The liquid should mostly cover the greens but not overwhelm them. Add a little more liquid if you feel there is not enough. At this point, if you are using the ham bone/shank, tuck it into the liquid. Again, this is optional and while I think it does improve the flavor, it would be just fine without it if you prefer to stick to vegetarian. Bring this to a simmer then cover with the lid askew. Let cook over low heat for an hour or so to really draw out the flavors.
Let sit in the pot to cool enough to handle. Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor (I used my Blendtec). Purée until very smooth. You should have a very large bowl filled with soup when you are done. Squeeze in the juice of one lime and stir. Serve piping hot.
If you would like to add a little texture, mix in some additional cooked lentils. For a heartier soup, stir in some of the meat from the shank. Another suitable garnish would be crispy bacon pieces; so many choices, so much soup…
You can even eat it for breakfast (or this would make an equally satisfying lunch, dinner perhaps?). Simply heat the soup and ladle it into an oven-proof dish. Top the soup with a sunny-side up egg, a thin slice of gruyère and tuck in some thinly shaved ham. Broil until the cheese melts then dig in.