Other people’s recipes: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Green Onion Soup

As promised a few days ago, on Sunday (which was, by the way, a beautiful spring day, on which I got both an hour’s walk and a twelve-mile bike ride) I made a vegetarian soup from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (Ten Speed Press, 2014). Specifically, I made “Green Onion Soup” (p. 87), a creamy, filling soup made with lots of onions, peas, squash, and the Iranian dairy product kashk. Thankfully, Ottolenghi provides an alternative to kashk in the (altogether likely) event that it cannot be found in one’s local market.

A word about terminology here: People mean different things by “green onions”, and many people don’t use that phrase at all. This recipe, however, calls for two whole pounds of them, so it’s important to understand what Ottolenghi means by it; since he also writes, “if possible a large variety with a thick bulb”, I took him to mean spring onions, as opposed to, say, scallions. A spring onion is simply a onion which is pulled from the ground while still immature; the particular spring onions I used — I got three of the last four bunches available at my neighborhood Whole Foods — were Vidalia onions from Georgia. Also, Ottolenghi calls for “vegetable stock”; regular readers (or fans of Good Eats) will recall that there is no such thing: “stock” is made with bones, and vegetables don’t have bones, so what’s needed here is actually broth. (I don’t doubt that it would be tasty if made with a good chicken stock, but then it wouldn’t be vegetarian, which is the whole focus of the cookbook.)

Also a word about units of measure: it’s pretty clear that this recipe (like most if not all of the recipes in this book) was written for an audience accustomed to metric measures. To the extent feasible, I’ve followed the metric rather than customary units. Since this is usually more accurate and more convenient, you should do so too. Now on with the preparation!

Mise en place
No doubt there’s a lot of preparation work involved in this recipe. In fact, I think the cooking time is probably less than half of the prep time, when you take into account cleaning and slicing the onions, peeling and slicing the garlic, and especially stemming the parsley. Almost that entire bunch of parsley goes into the soup, as does a whole bag of frozen peas (plus a little bit of a second bag), all nine spring onions, butter, olive oil, zucchini, vegetable broth, and the kashk substitute made from crème fraîche and ground Parmigiano-Reggiano. Not shown: three bay leaves.

I used two different brands of vegetable broth: the “Culinary Stock” brand seen here, and Pacific Organic low-sodium broth which is hiding in back. (I calculated the nutrition based on the Pacific Organic broth alone.) The reason for using two different broths was purely curiosity: I wanted to taste both of them and see if I could find any reason to prefer one over the other. I couldn’t taste any difference (although I had them both cold, straight out of the aseptic packaging). This recipe calls for 1.3 liters (or 5½ cups) of the stuff, and of course our American broth comes in quart containers, so I knew from the start that I was going to have to open two anyway, so why not try more than one brand. One thing I did note was that the “Culinary Stock” brand was a bit darker than the Pacific; I’m not sure if that’s actually a good thing or not. (The ingredient lists are somewhat different.)

Spring onions separated into white and green parts
The first step in the recipe is to separate the onions into “white” and “green” parts, and then slice each into chunks (1.5 cm long for the white parts and 2.5 cm for the green parts). I considered “green” to be any part of the onion that was hollow inside, and “white” to be all the other bits, regardless of their actual color.

Cloves from two heads of garlic, peeled and halved
Ottolenghi calls for two whole heads of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and cut in half. He helpfully provides a quantity, 60 grams, and after I went to all the effort of breaking up and cleaning the garlic, I found that I actually had about 80 g of garlic, so I chopped the remainder and put it in some olive oil to steep in the fridge.

Garlic and white parts of onion sweating
The base of the soup is made from a multi-stage sweat. This is pretty familiar to anyone who’s cooked a lot, or even just watched cooking shows: ingredients are added to the pan at different times because they require different amounts of cooking, with the goal being for everything to be completely cooked at the same time. The first ingredients to go in (after the melted butter and olive oil) are the white parts of the spring onions and the cut garlic cloves; these cook, with salt and pepper, for 10 minutes or so until softened.

Adding green parts of onion to the sweat
In the second stage of the sweat, we add the green parts of the onions and the three bay leaves, and let these cook for another ten minutes.

Now sweating zucchini and peas with the garlic and onions
Now the peas and zucchini are added to the sweat. These take very little time to cook, only five minutes.

Vegetables divided and broth added
This soup is emulsified using an immersion blender. To ensure that it retains some texture, half of the vegetables are removed from the pan at this stage, while the broth is brought to a boil with the other half of the veggies and simmered for just a few minutes.

80 grams of parsley leaves
This is what 80 grams of parsley leaves looks like. It’s a lot, and it took a good ten minutes just to separate the leaves from the stems (and I didn’t do an especially careful job of that). Thankfully, this part can be overlapped with the sweating of the onions and other vegetables.

Parsley added to soup base
The parsley is added to the soup base as the bay leaves are removed, and allowed to wilt briefly before the base is ground up (or “blitzed”, as Ottolenghi says) with an immersion blender. (Well, that’s how long it took me to plug my blender in, at any rate.)

Finished soup
After the soup base is blended, the reserved half of the vegetables is added back in and heated through, and then the kashk or substitute is stirred in and it’s ready to serve.

Bowl of soup with lemon zest and mint for service
The recipe headnote says “serves four to six”; the actual yield, as I made it, was about 2.4 kg or just over 5 pounds. I generally consider a pound to be a more than adequate serving of soup; I could easily get six servings out of this recipe. For service, since I didn’t have kashk, Ottolenghi says to add a teaspoon of crème fraîche to the bowl; on top, there is some chopped mint (which I used, even though I despise spearmint, in deference to the recipe) and freshly grated lemon zest. I passed on the drizzle of olive oil Ottolenghi calls for, which really doesn’t do anything for me other than add calories, and (unlike the crème fraîche) is not included in the nutrition calculations below.

Nutrition

Based on five 480-gram servings, including crème fraîche, mint, and lemon zest added to each bowl at serving time.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 480 g (about 17 oz)
Servings per recipe: 5
Amount per serving
Calories 403 Calories from fat 234
% Daily Value
Total Fat 26g 40%
 Saturated Fat 12g 59%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 41mg 14%
Sodium 552mg 23%
Potassium 727mg 21%
Total Carbohydrate 32g 11%
 Dietary fiber 10g 41%
 Sugars 10g
Proteins 10g 20%
Vitamin A 105%
Vitamin C 88%
Calcium 25%
Iron 24%
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