Simple Vegetable Soup, French Style and a Stomach Bug

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Stomach bugs. (Why geez, Natalie, what a sexy topic of conversation for your food blog, but hey, it says in the title… ‘Cook / Eat / Run / TRAVEL / Repeat’) Something we travelers are so familiar with, something we expect to come down with from time to time. Fortunately, I’ve only had a handful compared with the hundreds upon hundreds of sketchy meals that made my weaker-gutted travel companions ill, but I’ve had some doozies, don’t you worry. I will not go into detail here. You’re welcome. All I’ll say is that if last year’s bout was like Woodstock ’69 on bath salts, this round feels like your high school boyfriend’s grunge ‘concert’ where it’s only you and his mom in attendance. As far as stomach parasites go, I’ll take it. And unlike last year’s, when I barely made it from the bed to the hospital, I know the signs now, I caught it early, and I can take a more holistic approach because it hasn’t festered. (Really Natalie, go on…)

I called up my good friend Ginger, who not only happens to be my Patron Saint of Guatemala but is also a fabulous Ayurvedic practitioner, and she told me I need two things. One, tea made from the leaves of Jacaranda trees, one of which grows in the yard of her house. Conveniently, that’s where I live. Two, I need to eat a diet of cooked vegetables for eight. whole. days. No alcohol. No caffeine. NO SUGAR. Cause that’s what the little f*$&ers feed on… sugar. So after I pouted for an hour when I realized that eight. whole. days. would pass without a) coffee or b) chocolate, roughly 7.5% of my time in Guatemala, I decided this was the opportunity to cleanse that I’ve been wanting since almost four months of the Student diet, aka lots of Domino’s pizza, pad thai and beer.

So I dug into a number of very good vegetarian cookbooks at the San Juan house and found this amazing book of French cooking aptly called French Home Cooking, written by Claire de Pratz in 1925, then updated in 1953 and 1956. It’s a small maroon book, about the size of a bible, with tea-colored pages that smell like dusty old book, not like these fancy, all color, all photographed cookbooks we’re obsessed with today, but I’m fascinated by it. (The egg section is absolutely to die for, but vegetables, we’re talking about vegetables.) I took inspiration from a soup called Potage Julienne, or Soup of Julienned Vegetables, a very popular soup in France, so popular you can get it canned. The soup, named for Jean Julien, who invented the julienne, inspired my breakfast this morning, because what do you eat for breakfast when you can only eat cooked vegetables? It’s a soup loaded with vegetables (duh), a few garbanzos (cheating, I know) and served with a gremolata (garlic fights stomach things). After this picture, I grated some Parmesan cheese on top (hey, I live on the wild side…). It was so good, I might have it again for breakfast tomorrow.

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And now, my caffeine withdrawal headache just kicked in, so I’ll say Buen provecho! 

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Simple Vegetable Soup, French Style

I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been chopping all my vegetables in the food processor and it’s given a really different texture to dishes, this soup included. Some of the smaller vegetable bits simply evaporate into the broth, and the slightly bigger ones make the soup a thick consistency, almost like a stew. The only thing in this soup I didn’t put in the food processor was the cabbage, which I sliced by hand. If I were my former self, parasite-less and fancy free, I would soak up the broth with good french or dark rye bread. But I’m not. Prep time: 10 minutes, cook time: 30 minutes, serves 4.

for soup
1 tablespoon each olive oil and ghee
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
2 güícoyes or 2 medium zucchini, diced
1 quart water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme or two or three sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup crushed tomatoes or 1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 14 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained (optional)
1/4 head green cabbage, sliced thinly

for gremolata and serving
1/4 cup packed basil leaves, julienned
1 large clove garlic
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lime or lemon zest
Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a heavy pot, heat oil and ghee over medium high heat. Fry garlic and onions unless just translucent, about 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery and zucchini and fry until vegetables start to turn brown, 5-6 minutes. Add water through cabbage, seasoning with more salt if needed. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until cabbage and vegetables are very soft.

For gremolata, crush garlic in with a mortar and pestle. Add basil leaves, salt, olive oil and zest; bruise basil and mix until just combined with garlic and other ingredients.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with cheese and divide gremolata among bowls. Enjoy immediately.

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