I move too slowly for what used to be called the blogosphere and at nowhere near the frenetic pace of a commercial kitchen. I'm more temperamentally inclined to protracted exchanges with pen pals and the gradual simmer of a stockpot. I spend many long winter nights babysitting a chicken carcass submerged in water with herbs and aromatics, coaxing a lentil soup or a carrot ginger puree out of the dregs of the larder, and sometimes inventing zucchini matzo-ball ramen or Thai red curry pho with wontons. In summer, too, I find joy in frugal improvisations with broth, blanched or straight-off-the-vine veggies, ice water, and a blender. I take a lot of inspiration from Iberia. Simple salmorejo with its resourceful use of old bread, abundant ripe tomatoes, and flavorful olive oil, sometimes topped with chopped boiled egg and jamon serrano, makes sense to me. For several seasons now, I've also been meaning to try a strawberry gazpacho. But my attention this Memorial Day, after all the rain this spring and its promise of new growth, is on a spicy bowl of brightly colored goodness that I'm happy just to call green soup.
This has a lot in common the "fisherman's soups" that I think are common in the Bay Area and that I've always admired in pictures but never tried. My version does have some shellfish although my approach has been to use it only as an accent, reintroducing it into a vegetarian version that I've largely borrowed from Heidi Swanson. And I do a second variation with chicken stock and a poached egg. That said, the base recipe (which requires no actual cooking--only blending) is vegan and can be riffed on in any number of ways. I like to serve this, warm or cold, in a wide shallow bowl with a hearty scoop of farro (or any grain that contributes a little bit of carbohydrate and a little bit of protein) in the center, with the beautiful soup spread out around it, with the toppings centered above.
Base Recipe (enough for at least 6 servings)
3 packed cups baby spinach or roughly chopped mature spinach
1 packed cup basil leaves
1 packed cup cilantro, leaves and stems
1/2 packed cup mint leaves
3 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
A small knob of ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 cups ice-cold water
1/2 - 1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cooked farro or other grain per portion
A handful of blanched fresh fava beans (peeled and halved) and/or wrinkly black olives (roughly chopped)
1 of the combinations below
For the Iberian Fisher's Variation
Fish or seafood stock
1 small can of good-quality pickled seafood such as mussels or octopus (some inspiration)
For the Chicken and Egg Variation
1 egg per serving
Mix all of the well-washed greens in a large bowl, tossing them together with your hands. Prepare the base in two batches by combining half of the greens with half of the garlic, ginger, almonds, zest, honey, and water in a blender. (If the honey is especially thick--not pourable--dissolve it in the water first.) The water should only come about one quarter of the way up the side of the blender. Blend, stopping to scrape down the sides occasionally. You want to end up with something the consistency of a thick paste, so add more water if you need to but not too much. Pour off the contents of the blender into a bowl and repeat with a second batch. Then return both batches to the blender, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and drizzle in the oil one tablespoon at a time while blending to create an emulsion (if your blender doesn't have a small opening at the top that you can pour through, add the oil a little bit at a time to the stopped blender, and blend after each addition), stopping to test what you have so far after three tablespoons of oil. If you like the taste and texture, stop there; if you need to add more oil or salt, do so and blend again. You can work with this right away or refrigerate it for later. The freshness is incredible right away; on the other hand, the flavors meld wonderfully with more time. If you're going to store this for more than a day, try putting it into a jar or another container and topping it off with a layer of plastic wrap directly above the liquid or, if your mix is thick enough, a thin layer of oil, to help prevent the greens in the mix from oxidizing and going a bit brown--you could keep the base for up to a week that way.
When you're ready to eat, your job is to combine the base with enough stock or water so that you have a soup that pours easily off a spoon but still has a little heft to it. Add more salt here if you need it. Heat up the soup or not. Stir in some harissa, a little bit at a time, tasting as you go, aiming for extra flavor and a discernible bite. If you're making the chicken-and-egg variation, poach the eggs now. To assemble: start with a scoop of farro in each bowl, cover with the now spicy green soup, and top each one with some of the preserved seafood or a poached egg, then scatter the fava beans and/or olives on top, drizzle over some chile oil in concentric circles, and dust with paprika.