You never know how the cooking inspiration will come to you. Last weekend, after an afternoon of shopping that left me feeling too tired to tackle dinner, we came home to find a bag and a note hanging on our front door. A mystery! The bag was full of vegetables, and the note was from our neighbours. They were going away for a few days’ holiday, and asked if we’d keep an eye on their place, and also find a use for the vegetables so they wouldn’t go to waste.
Suddenly, I felt re-energized about cooking. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to turn those vegetables into a pot of soup! And, I could call it Neighbours’ Vacation Soup.
So, what was in the bag? A head of celery, one red and one yellow bell pepper, a bunch of green onions, an eight-ounce container of white button mushrooms and a head of iceberg lettuce. The makings of a good soup, and one quite different from anything I’d made before. I do admit, I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to include the lettuce, although I suppose I could have.
The soup turned into a real challenge of using up and making do, so I took stock of what was on hand that would add flavour and interest to the pot. I had cooked a big pot of chickpeas that morning, and saved the cooking liquid. I decided to use that, along with some of the chickpeas for protein and texture. A few leftover cherry tomatoes were sitting on the counter, so in they went. Parsley from the garden would brighten the flavour and make a colourful garnish. Onion and garlic? That went without saying. The soup needed more liquid, so I decided against adding water out of concern it would dilute the flavour. Instead, I cracked open a container of vegetable broth and it added both volume and richness. When I did my final tasting, the soup was still lacking a certain something. A trick I’ve learned over the years is the magic that white wine can work on a vegetable-based soup, so I added some (a squeeze or two of lemon juice would be a good alternative). Suddenly, the flavour sang, and dinner was ready!
As a side note, it was a windy and dark evening, and when I opened the back door to go to the herb garden for the parsley, a gust of wind sent some oak leaves skittering into the house and across my office floor. Somehow, that was a magical moment, one that I’ll associate with making this soup for a long time. The leaves looked so pretty on the hardwood that I actually left them there for a few days, to enjoy a bit of autumn inside the house.
The Culinary Enthusiast and I both enjoyed the soup. Although the broth was fairly clear, it was still robust from the chickpea liquid and vegetable stock, and the medley of vegetables brought a variety of flavour and textures. The wine added a brightness that elevated the flavours. I was generous with the ground pepper and red chile flakes, so there was a nice level of heat to add to the comfort level on a cool October evening.
I quite enjoyed this unexpected cooking adventure, and the experience has left me wondering … when might my neighbours go away again?
Neighbours’ Vacation Soup (Celery and Mushroom Soup with Chickpeas)
- 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- about 8 stalks celery, thinly sliced (4 cups)
- 2 bell peppers, chopped
- 1 bunch green onion, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 5 large cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarters
- 8 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and minced, caps sliced
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp red chile flakes
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 4 cups chickpea cooking liquid
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- large handful Italian flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped and stems minced (reserve some leaves for the garnish)
- freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
- 1/2 cup white wine (you could substitute a squeeze or two of lemon juice)
Over medium heat, cook the onion and garlic in the oil until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the celery, peppers, dried thyme and red chile flakes, ground pepper and salt; stir, and cook a few more minutes. Add the chickpea liquid, vegetable stock, tomatoes, green onions, mushrooms and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to a simmer, add the chopped parsley stems and leaves, and let cook for about 30 minutes. About ten minutes before the soup is done, taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with the reserved chopped parsley.