Monday, January 6, 2014

Syrian Spinach Soup

With the sub-zero weather we are now enduring in Duluth, the thought of a cold smoothie or juice with healthy greens just doesn't work for my brain or body. So bring on a nourishing soup!! Pzazz on a cold day!

This soup was inspired by a recipe that I found at the New York Times food section for Pureed Spinach Soup with Middle Eastern Spices. The original recipe had rice cooked in it, but I omitted that and opted instead to add cooked rice to the soup when I served it if I chose to do so. It also used a bouquet garni of a bay leaf, fresh thyme, and fresh parsley, but I improvised with what I had available and simply used a bay leaf and ground thyme.  This is what I love about cooking as opposed to baking. Improvisation based on what I have in the kitchen keeps the process intriguing and creative and, many times, more budget-friendly.  
I also used the last of the onions we had from the garden. We had kept them in a bowl in a cool room and only a couple of them had sprouted, as you'll see in the photo below.  

Last of garden onions
I made several other adaptions to the recipe, including substitution of coconut oil for the olive oil, and I used goat yogurt instead of Greek Fage yogurt. Pairing yogurt with spinach is typical of Mid-Eastern cuisine and in this soup the yogurt contributes a mild tart flavor. The original recipe also used crushed walnuts as a garnish, which I omitted.  I chose to garnish mine with crushed beet vegetable chips.  

The mixture of spices creates a distinctly Mid-Eastern flavor, but in a delicate sort of way.  If you aren't familiar with toasting cumin seed, it is definitely worth the minimal time it requires.  Simply put them in a dry pan on low-heat and toast them for 2 - 5 minutes, just until they are fragrant. Then crush them with a mortar and pestle.
Toasting cumin seed

Don't have cumin seed?  Just throw in about 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin and you'll be fine, with a bit less robust flavor.   

Fresh Spinach

    1 tablespoon coconut oil 

    1 medium onion, chopped

    1/3 cup finely diced celery

    Salt to taste (I didn't add any and it was delicious without it) 

    2 garlic cloves, minced

    6 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

    1 bay leaf                                         

    1/4 teaspoon ground thyme

    1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, stemmed and washed thoroughly in 2 changes of water

    1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

    1/8 teaspoon ground clove

    1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used ground nutmeg) 

    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    1 scant teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground (or use about 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander if you don't have coriander seeds available)

    Freshly ground pepper

    1 teaspoon cornstarch

    1 cup yogurt  ( I used goat yogurt, but Greek yogurt was used in the original recipe.)


1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring, until tender about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic smells fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Spices added to the soup

2. Add the stock, bay leaf, and thyme and salt to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Stir in the spinach and spices, cover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. The spinach should wilt but should maintain its bright color.

3. Using an immersion stick hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender, purée the soup. Return to the pot and heat through, stirring.Whisk the cornstarch into the yogurt. If you want a pungent, garlicky yogurt, mash a garlic clove to a paste with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and stir it into the yogurt.  Stir the yogurt into the soup. Alternatively, you can use the yogurt as a garnish and swirl into each soup bowl when you serve it.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4.  Serve the soup, garnishing each bowl with a sprinkling of crushed vegetable chips or croutons.  Add cooked rice, if desired.  (Rice is not included in the nutritional analysis.)

Nutrition per serving:       
Servings per recipe: 6
Serving Size: 1 cup
Calories: 82
Total Fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 7 mg
Sodium: 254 mg
Total Carbs: 11 g
Dietary Fiber: 4 g        
Protein: 5 g