(No Samaritans were harmed in the making of this soup.)
I have a friend who is, among other things, a single mom of two teenage daughters. She also has some food allergies. When her kids are sick, she makes soup. Then she got sick, with one of those awful seasonal viral bugs that lays everyone low, and lamented to her (less-than-grateful-acting) daughters, "And I don't even have anyone to make me soup!"
I didn't know she said this, but I did know she was sick, and in one of those lovely moments of synchronicity, I texted her and said, "I just made some non-allergenic soup. Would you like me to bring you some?"
She said yes. I forgot to warn her I had spiked it with a liberal amount of garlic. She must not have minded, because once she recovered, she asked me for the recipe. A few weeks later, she Good-Samaritaned me when my daughters and I were all sick.
2 quarts broth (I used a mixture of homemade post-Thanksgiving turkey and purchased organic chicken)
1 onion, thinly sliced
4-6 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
2-3 small turnips, julienned
2-3 bay leaves
½ lb waxy potatoes, peeled and diced
1 c. frozen peas
2-3 small (or 1 large) sweet potatoes, quartered and sliced ¼” thick
1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into slivers
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced
¼ c. tomato juice, or canned tomatoes in juice, or paste thinned to a juicy consistency
½ lb. fresh baby spinach and/or arugula, cut into ribbons
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
Fresh parsley, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon juice and/or sugar to taste
In a large saucepan, sauté the onions, celery, turnips, and bay leaves in a little canola oil until the onions are translucent. Pour in the broth and add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a brisk simmer. Skim off any foam that forms. After about 10 minutes, add thesweet potatoes, increasing the heat if necessary to bring soup back to a simmer. In another 5 minutes or so, add the peas. Keep the soup simmering, but below a boil. After another 5 minutes or so of simmering, add the peppers. Simmer until the peppers are tender (double-check to make sure everything else is tender, too), then add the scallions and tomatoes. Simmer for another minute or two, then add the greens, garlic, and parsley. Cook just until the greens have wilted (arugula will take a little longer than spinach, which wilts almost instantly), then add the olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Taste the broth, and correct the seasoning as needed—a splash of lemon juice or a tablespoon of sugar can do wonders to a broth that is a little flat.
Note: It’s misleading to even write this as if it were a recipe. The truth is, I used the broth and all the vegetables I had on hand that I thought would complement each other (honestly, I only used the sweet potatoes because I was out of carrots. The turnips were a wild card.). The first trick to this soup is to cut everything in small pieces, so that each spoonful has a little of this and a little of that, and no one item dominates. The second—and slightly trickier—trick is to time the addition of each item so that when the soup is done, every vegetable is cooked through, but none is over-cooked. Potatoes and carrots (if you had some) will take the longest, then celery and onion (but we sauté them first to intensify the flavor, plus they are fairly impervious to turning mushy). Sweet potatoes will cook surprising quickly, and bell peppers should never be over-cooked because they become bitter (or perhaps I am biased after a childhood spent eating over-cooked stuffed peppers). The greens should only be wilted, and I add the garlic at the very end to retain the therapeutic benefits (admittedly, I love that garlicky punch), but if you’re cooking for someone with more delicate sensibilities, add the garlic earlier and let some of the “punch” peter out.
You could also add some cooked chicken breast, or a starch like rice, or a little tofu. The flavors, like so many soups, improve with a day or two of resting in the refrigerator.