When we decided to throw down a thematic challenge for each week of the new soup season, I was emphatic about Green. Green! What could be more stimulating than this multipurpose adjective that could also be a noun? It seemed appropriate for the first Soup & Bread of the new year, with the potential for wide, or wild, interpretation, and I had high hopes for some ecofriendly soup, some mint soup, and maybe some soup appropriate for the golf course. Me, I was going to make “money soup” — but in keeping with the theme at hand, what I wound up with was more the soup of an awkward beginner.
I had started out by ordering three bags of croxetti (coin-shaped pasta) from Dean & DeLuca, and roasting a chicken. I ate the chicken for New Year’s Eve, and then made stock from the carcass – but no matter how long it simmered or how much salt I shook, that stock remained defiantly bland. Then, with no sign of the croxetti by 11 am on the 2nd, I shot to the store to buy some boring old shells — and got home to find the “sorry we missed you” sticky from the UPS guy. Somewhere around there my laptop crashed and, defeated, I poured in the shells, stirred in half a cup of pesto, dressed it with spinach and called it done while I poked at my hard drive.* Not my finest cooking hour — though I’m comforted that this unchallenging stuff got the thumbs up from the greenest palates at the Hideout that night, which belonged to a couple of boys under 10.
Happily, others met the challenge head on, and dominated. Above is a sumptuous soup of fennel, kale, and sausage from John Manion’s joint La Sirena Clandestina, delivered by Milk & Honey chef Carol Watson, along with her own tasty curried zucchini soup, and ladled up by critical last-minute volunteer Niall Munnelly. Recent Chicago transplant and S&B newbie Wendy Miller served up a vegan cream of kale soup made with sunchokes, red potato, sweet onion, fennel, HEMP MILK, walnut and olive oils, black pepper, smoked salt, paprika, “and love.” And New Year’s luck and prosperity was provided twice over, with Swim Cafe‘s “lucky green soup with gold coins” (little disks of Yukon Gem potatoes swimming in a green bath of spinach, kale, chard and arugula and topped with a crumbly, nutty gremolata) and Diane Galleher’s soupy take on the New Year’s tradition of collard greens, blackeyed peas, and ham — of which she provided six hearty gallons.
But the best story of the night came from WBEZ food contributor Louisa Chu, whose Nanohana Project Soup was inspired by a 2012 trip to the site of Japan’s Nanohana Project, an agricultural initiative to rebuild the farming economy around the northeastern city of Sendai after the catastrophic March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. (Remember those photos of the flooded airport, planes and cars and jetways tossed around like toothpicks? That’s Sendai.)
The tsunami dropped a layer of toxically saline sediment on the area’s valuable farmland, but, as Chu details in this lovely writeup, researchers found that under the salty topsoil, the ground is rich and fertile, perhaps even more so than before the disaster, thanks to the all the nutrient-rich sediment. Now the task is to convince farmers to return to working the land, something they’re approaching with gusto. As Chu reported:
“Usually professors only think about concepts, but we think we should really work to help the people,” said Professor Yutaka Nakai, Vice Dean of Tohoku University Graduate School of Agricultural Science and an animal science expert. “The government thought ‘farmers need money, so let’s pay them to clean their fields.’ But this is not farmers’ work. Farmers work to produce food. We thought we should help.”
Nanohana is rapeseeed, or “canola blossom,” a once-thriving crop around Sendai. Chu used it as the greens that gave body to a light and savory miso soup garnished with wasabi peas — a soulful bowl loaded with the promise of a greener future.
*Laptop hard drive suicide handily thwarted New Year’s resolutions re: timely soup blogging. But we’re catching up fast. Stay tuned for more on last week’s cumin, cardamom, coriander and cilantro soups, plus recipes, and what we’re looking forward to this week.Posted: Saturday Jan 12,2013 01:50 PM In Soup Wrapup