Memories of Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest Soup

When I arrived in the US at age 21, more years ago than all the digits on your hands and feet, I was in for a culinary disappointment, if not a culture shock.

Indeed, the shock was on the other foot, if weak puns are permitted. My new American friends not only had to deal with my innocent observation that all Caucasians look alike (have you ever been to upstate New York?), they had to struggle with misconceptions of my life in an adobe hut instead of a high rise apartment (like Columbus, they got the continent and the Indian wrong, again).

Back in the day, vegetarians were a rare and suspect breed, evident from the exclusively carnivorous offerings on every menu.  I quickly tired of grilled cheese sandwiches and Dannon fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. As for the salads! I cannot adequately express my disdain for the pointless scraps of iceberg lettuce, forlorn cherry tomatoes few and far between, and indistinguishable odd and ends all drowned in some fatty mess that instantly cancelled any dubious benefit of this so-called health food (mesclun was unheard of at the time). After an entire week of eating raw cauliflower and broccoli in salads at one memorable Gordon Conference in New Hampshire (notwithstanding the awesome science!), I finally informed the chef that the difference between a vegetarian and a goat was that only the latter did not need their food cooked.

In the midst of this culinary calamity, my housemate Catherine- a lovely British-American transplant- gave me the Moosewood cookbook. Mollie Katzen was the diva of experimental vegetarian cuisine in nearby Ithaca, with a restaurant of the same name. Inspired to spread my fledgling wings in our tiny apartment kitchen, I worked through her recipes from buttermilk beet borscht with its explosive color and tangy goodness to Yucatan salsa and Mediterranean ratatouille.  It was a heady time. We held semi-pretentious soirees with professors and students jammed into our apartment and Catherine holding forth as the original social diva. I still have the cookbook with Catherine’s inscription:

Moosewood Memories

Moosewood Memories

So when a friend asked about soups that delivered comfort and sustenance, my thoughts went back to my first cookbook and this enchanted broccoli soup:

Broccoli soup for comfort and sustenance

Broccoli soup for comfort and sustenance

It is a simple recipe, that you can dress up or down as you wish.

  • You will need a couple of broccoli crowns, half of a large, sweet onion, a green pepper and a couple of celery sticks if they are handy. Some low-salt vegetable stock would be nice, although I’ve substituted plain water. These days I use light cream in place of heavy, to compensate for my slothful metabolism.
Veggies for cream of broccoli soup

Veggies for cream of broccoli soup

  • Dice the veggies and keep them handy:
Diced veggies for broccoli soup

Diced veggies for broccoli soup

  • Heat together, a large pat of butter (1-2 tbs) and a drizzling of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. The oil keeps the butter from burning. Add a bay leaf or two and let sizzle.
Flavor the butter/olive oil mix

Flavor the butter/olive oil mix

  • Add the diced onions and let sweat on medium heat until translucent (5 minutes or so).
Gently cook the chopped onion

Gently cook the chopped onion

  • Add the remainder of chopped vegetables and continue to cook on low heat for a few more minutes until the broccoli is bright green.
Briefly sauté vegetables

Briefly sauté vegetables

  • Add enough vegetable stock to cover the veggies. You could substitute with water, other mildly flavored stock or a combination. I estimate using about a cup and half of vegetable stock and half cup of water. (In actuality, I poured the stock directly out of a handy carton). Season with coarse salt, cover, and let simmer. It should look like this in about 10 minutes:
Simmered in broth

Simmered in broth

  • Bring out the immersion blender (or transfer to a blender jar in manageable aliquots). Purée until nicely smooth.
Purée into smoothness

Purée into smoothness

  • Gently stir in about a cup of light cream, milk or whisk in a mild yogurt. The idea is to infuse the soup with creaminess to your taste and dilute it to a thickness that appeals.  Add more salt if needed, and season with freshly ground black pepper, a few drops of tamari (soy) sauce and a dash of balsamic vinegar for balance. Do not overdo the vinegar. Do not bring to a boil, but continue to heat gently until your home is filled with a delicious, comforting aroma.
Stir in cream and season with pepper

Stir in cream and season with pepper

  • Meanwhile, prepare the toppings. Chiffonade some basil leaves (roll the leaves into a cigar shape then slice thinly), slice some scallions/green onions on a thin bias, and break the reserved broccoli into tiny florets (did I forget to remind you to reserve some? oops). You can steam the little florets, but I decided to do a quick sauté on high heat which endowed them with intriguing brown flecks amidst the brilliant green.
Toppings for soup: broccoli florets, ribbons of basil and sliced scallions

Toppings for soup: broccoli florets, ribbons of basil and sliced scallions

Of course, I topped mine with crushed red pepper flakes! Serve with a slice (or two) of warm garlic bread. The bread business is consigned to my husband who roasts a head of garlic, mashes it in butter and slathers in on to slices before warming it, foil wrapped, in a low oven.

Cream of Broccoli soup served with a slice of warm garlic bread

Cream of Broccoli soup served with a slice of warm garlic bread

Catherine would have approved. Oh, if you were curious: Catherine’s inscription on my book ends with the Bengali words “Ami Tumarke Bhalo bashe”. Google Translate is not needed for those universal words of affection, “I love you”. 

Much comfort and sustenance to all!







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14 Responses to Memories of Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest Soup

  1. Problem solved it seems, so I can post here again. Yay!

    Wonderful soup. I love broccoli. And garlic bread is a perfect partner.

  2. i am a opportunistic vegan (i’ll eat anything if i’m hungry enough). and opportunity just knocked. i can’t wait to try this recipe and i am looking forward to reading through and trying the others. thank you for your work. also, i’m glad you liked “catholicism gets a makeover.”

  3. Ananth Rao says:

    Tasted heavenly – might have tasted even better if madamescientist had taken up my offer of the use of my brand new Vitamix Professional Series 500 blender to puree the ingredients. Maybe next time….

  4. Marc says:

    You weren’t kidding about the appetizing & comforting aroma 🙂 This is one delicious soup, many thanks Rajini!

    +1 from the Ponomareff test-kitchen!!!

  5. Jimmy says:

    Hi Rajini,
    I wanted to stop by your blog and see what was cooking! Great post… I loved reading about the culture shock issues you had all those years ago. Being stuck in the middle of Colorado we struggle with the lack of food choices here a lot. Not to mention a serious lack of culture in general.
    I had a dream recently that I was back in Germany eating some fantastic cherry yogurt though… (the REAL stuff)
    You take care…

    • Hi Jimmy!
      You have the majestic mountains of Colorado whereas I have Beltway traffic 🙂
      I hope you’ll tell me what the real cherry yogurt tastes like and how it’s made. We do make our own yogurt..the trick is in the culture. Commercial yogurt starters are not that “active” despite the advertisements.
      All the Best, Rajini

  6. Karen says:

    There isn’t a time that I stop by that you don’t make me smile with your whit…”only a goat”. The soup sounds great. It is wonderful when a restaurant offers vegetarian options. I ate at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago one year and ordered his vegetarian menu because it just sounded so good compared to his special 5 course meal. I can totally relate even though I’m not vegetarian.

    • Hi Karen, what is different now is that any good restaurant can put together a delicious veggie dinner even if it is not on the menu. Just ask nicely, and the chef typically goes out of his/her way to make some fantastic concoction that gets everyone at the table oohing. Must check out Charlie Trotter’s when in Chicago fact, I’m going to ask a friend right now if he’s been there.
      Cheers, Rajini

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