Soup of Spring
I love soup and stews of all kinds. Soup is a simple, satisfying, one-pot meal, with all manner of possible textures and flavors. Soup is refreshingly hydrating in summer, and comfortingly warming in winter. On a trip to Riga, Latvia several years ago, I bought a beautiful, handmade wooden spoon made from birch. My Russian traveling companion thought this was a weird souvenir at the time, but the Latvian birch spoon has been my dedicated soup-making spoon ever since. It has stirred borscht, gazpacho, Portuguese kale soup, chili, beef stew, clam chowder, sweet potato ginger soup, leek and potato soup, minestrone soup, black bean soup, and… well, you get the idea.
Tonight, the Latvian soup spoon worked its magic on a soup that celebrates spring with that most quintessential springtime vegetable — asparagus. I love creamy soups, but lactose intolerance makes me shy away from using cream or milk if I can avoid it. I had thought of using soy milk in this soup, but I decided to try a few potatoes as a thickener first, and after tasting it, I thought the bright, fresh flavor was great just as it was. If you really like cream (or soy milk) in your soup, you could go ahead and add about 1/2 cup to the finished soup for an extra bit of creaminess.
My kitchen herb garden has been providing me with lots of fresh herbs, but so far the basil and mint have been getting most of my culinary attention. Tonight, it was nice to turn to one of my favorite, lesser used herbs — thyme — and let it take a starring role in seasoning this soup.
I baked coriander-buttermilk biscuits as an accompaniment. The bright, almost lemony flavor of the coriander complemented the flavor of the soup nicely.
Creamless Cream of Asparagus Soup
2 Tbsp butter
1 Vidalia onion (or other sweet variety)
2 lbs fresh asparagus
2 small Yukon Gold potatoes
4 cups chicken stock
1 small handful of fresh thyme
salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
splash of Marsala (optional)
Roughly chop the onion and cook it in the butter in a large pot over medium-low heat, until it softens and begins to turn translucent. Chop the asparagus into half-inch pieces and add to the pot. Stir well. Add half the thyme and the chicken stock to the pot, bring to a low simmer, and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender. Add the rest of the thyme, and cook one minute more. Remove from heat. Puree soup in batches in a conventional blender, or use a stick blender right in the pot. Salt and pepper to taste. If you can’t resist tarting things up a bit, a splash of Marsala harmonizes well here.