Book club was at my house last night. The book was Joy for Beginners, by Erica Bauermeister. This may be the perfect book club selection—it is the story of a group of women who gather to celebrate their friend Kate’s recovery from cancer, and then each accept the challenge to try something they thought they would never do. Adventures and growth ensue.
How could we not end up discussing fear and slightly scary wishes and ideas for what we each could do to challenge ourselves? And how could that not be awesome? I am a firm believer that courage is a muscle that grows with gradual stretching and plenty of exercise. Sometimes that means trying something hugely risky and crazy like skydiving, other times it just calls for learning a frivolous new skill like sabering the top off a champagne bottle. But then the day arrives when you find yourself at the edge of a real-life precipice and you realize you actually do have enough courage to put one foot in front of another, whether it’s to walk out the door on a relationship or job that doesn’t make sense any more, or to run straight into the arms of a new love, or chuck it all and move to Chang Mai.
And book club discussions require plenty of fuel. For dinner, I served a White Bean and Vegetable Soup that I’ve made at least five times in the last few weeks, and I’m not even close to getting tired of it yet. I’ve been riffing on this great recipe from a food blog that I just love, called Blue Kale Road. I cut Hannah’s original recipe down in size, monkeying with the proportions a little to suit the ingredients I had in the cupboard the first time I tried it, and I kept coming back to it, with variations based on whatever was in the fridge at the moment. For this book club version, I added some ground pork for heartiness, but the soup has plenty of flavor without any meat in it, making it perfect for a meatless Friday lent supper. Even though there is plenty of tomato in it, somehow there is none of that acidic bite to the broth—it is all mellow, savory goodness.
White Bean and Vegetable Soup
(adapted from Blue Kale Road)
- Olive oil
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 cups cabbage, shredded
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 15 ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
- 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
- 1 cup white wine
- Balsamic vinegar
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- Crushed red chile peppers (optional)
- ½ lb ground pork, crumbled and browned (very optional)
In a large soup pot, warm a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they start softening, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and carrots and give the vegetables a stir. Cook until they begin softening, about 10 minutes. Add another few tablespoons of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Toss in the cabbage and garlic and continue cooking for a few more minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Stir in the broth, tomatoes, ground pork, and wine. Add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until the broth begins to bubble up a bit, then turn the heat down to low, partially cover the pot and let simmer for about 45 minutes, then add potato. Stir it the soup a few times, taste for salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and see if the veggies are softened.
Towards the end of cooking, stir in the beans, parsley, and a few shakes of crushed red chile peppers if desired. The soup can be made a day ahead or earlier in the morning and reheated before serving (it really does improve if given some time to sit).