I was a vegetarian, then a vegan for over ten years. That is, until the day I walked by Zabar's in New York City when I was five months pregnant, realized that I would die if I didn't eat any salami, then turned around and went inside. Guess what I bought?
Yep, a salami and cheese sandwich on a kaiser roll. What I didn't know until after Marc and I returned from our trip was that pregnant women aren't supposed to be eating cold, cured meats such as salami since their immune systems are more vulnerable.
Well, it was another five days before we got on a plane to come home. In the meantime, I had to eat that same Zabar's sandwich every day (at least once), usually before I would walk across Central Park. That sandwich. It became a fixation, an overwhelming craving that seemed to come from some extremely desperate person I didn't know who was housed inside my body.
Thankfully, I was fine. My immune system didn't let me down.
Since that Zabar's sandwich, I have continued eating omnivorously. I haven't regretted it, though I still do believe that it's best to eat a primarily plant-based diet.
Thoughts of my vegetarian and vegan past came up for me today when I was looking through a cookbook published in 2009: Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook. It was given to me by a friend when I first moved up to Washington. I revisited it today while trying to pare down my book collection.
Flipping through it, I recalled how I had studied its pages carefully in my attempts to be a thoughtful and "conscious" vegan. Then, I thought about how whole foods bloggers and cookbook writers today such as Heidi Swanson, Sarah Forte and Anna Jones approach plant-based eating in such a different and well, fresher, way.
See, if you look through Ronnen's book, though there are high points such as his amazing cashew cheese (who would have thought probiotic capsules could help make such a delicious thing!), you'll also notice the judicious use of processed meat substitutes and things like pre-made vegan mayo. I remember eating a lot of that back in the day.
Now I wouldn't consider doing such a thing. I prefer to prepare food that is closer to resembling something that was actually tended to and pulled out of the soil. Really, if you're going to be a vegetarian, why not just eat a salad, with some roasted chickpeas and a lemon vinagrette, or maybe a tasty and nourishing vegetable and grain soup instead? Farinata with asparagus, like the recipe in My New Roots' cookbook is a fabulous and satisfying plant protein option.
This soup is just a friendly reminder to all the vegetarians out there to eat your veggies! Forget about all the pre-packaged stuff and just grab a bunch of carrots to make this minimal-effort, flavorful soup.
Carrot Leek and Jalapeno Soup
I like using water when I make a vegetable puree soup. I want to really taste the actual vegetable and give it the starring role it deserves. If you don't have a leek in hand, it is perfectly acceptable to use an onion -- just not a red one. Dried jalapenos are actually even better used here than the fresh stuff. You might have some in the cupboard, go check. Toss them in just before you add the water and all will be well. And, veganize this by replacing the butter with coconut oil. Most importantly, don't leave out the garnishes! They transform this soup from a very nice meal into a spicy little party.
Makes A Quart.
1 1/2 pound carrots, sliced into 1/4" coins
1 large leek, light parts only, cut in half lengthwise then into thin slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Small handful of dried, chopped jalapeno peppers, or use 1/2 to 3/4 of a fresh chopped jalapeno*
4 cups of water, plus more to thin as needed.
Over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add leeks, turning up heat to medium. Add two large pinches of kosher salt. Saute leeks until soft. Add carrots and continue to saute for a few more minutes. If using dried jalapenos, add them now, then add water. Water should just cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil then turn down to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until carrots have softened. If using fresh jalapenos, add them five minutes before you turn off the heat.
In batches, process the vegetable mixture in a blender. Or, alternatively, use an immersion blender. Thin with water as desired. Adjust salt to taste. Garnish with carrot top oil and jalapeno pickle.
Carrot Top Oil
1/2 cup carrot top leaves, removed from woody stems
1 cup cold-pressed sunflower oil
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Place carrot top leaves, oil, and salt in a blender, whiz together until emulsified.
Quick Jalapeno Pickle
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, cut into thin rings or diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed orange juice
Whisk together salt, vinegar and orange juice. Add jalapeno and allow to pickle for 5 to 10 minutes. The longer you allow the jalapenos to sit in the vinegar mixture, the more the heat of the pepper will mellow.