I make Vegetable Soup three to four times a year on average. When I cook it, the soup fills my home with fond memories and the comforting aromas of my grandparents’ Franklin Avenue kitchen, which was around the corner from my childhood home. My grandfather, Papa, was the family vegetable soup steward. He’d make a huge pot to share with those of us who lived close by. After a half-day of slicing, dicing and simmering, Papa would ladle loving portions into a handful of the empty, glass Sanka Instant Coffee jars that lined their kitchen counters and deliver a couple to our door. Well, actually, he’d blow the horn at which point one of us kids would run out to his car and retrieve the still-warm soup from his driver’s side window. There was nothing better than unscrewing the bright orange top of the jar, inhaling the soup’s glorious scent and sneaking a taste before dinner.
Unfortunately, there is no written account of Papa’s Vegetable Soup–at least not to my knowledge. But based on aroma alone, I think mine is pretty close. One ingredient that Papa included that I don’t is pasta. Papa threw broken spaghetti noodles into his pot. I started out making my soup that way, but soon realized that the pasta was absorbing too much of the broth (probably because I added too much). And the noodles gets mushy when frozen. Sometimes, though, I’ll cook several vermicelli or angel hair nests in a separate pot and add one to each of the kids’ bowls. I learned that trick from my sister who learned it from her mother-in-law. My version also includes okra and turnip greens. I don’t think Papa used either.
For those of you who have never eaten Vegetable Soup in or around these parts, let me clarify that this is not a vegetarian dish. Nope. In New Orleans, we like to fortify our vegetable soup with chunks of beef. I lean towards a chuck roast or brisket. But if you don’t feel like hassling with a whole roast, stew meat is a fine substitute.
Vegetable Soup Recipe
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons Creole seasoning, divided
3 pounds beef brisket or chuck roast, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 beef soup bones
4 to 6 quarts water, divided
1 quart beef stock or broth
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
1 small head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 1-pound bag carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
1 16-ounce bag frozen, chopped turnip greens with diced turnips
1 16-ounce bag frozen, chopped okra
1 8-ounce bag frozen green peas
1 8-ounce bag frozen corn (yellow or white)
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper
In a large stock pot (about 16-quarts), heat oil over medium-high heat. Season beef and beef bones with 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning, salt and black pepper. Working in batches, brown the beef and bones in the hot oil. Return all the beef and bones to the pot. Stir in 4 quarts water, beef stock, tomato products, onions, celery and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is fork-tender, 60-90 minutes. Skim off any fat or foam that rises to the top. Add cabbage, carrots, green beans, turnips, okra, peas, corn, parsley flakes, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper and reserved 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning. Add more water, if necessary, to maintain brothy consistency. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 30 additional minutes. Makes 10-12 servings.