Soup's on!
// Leanne Kriz

Polévka means “soup” in Czech. My Dad’s side of the family comes from the Czech Republic, so I go there every few years to visit my grandma and other family members. The first year I went without the rest of my family was also the first time I had visited since I began to dip my toes in the world of vegetarian cuisine. I am more of a “flexitarian” now, but at that time I was a hardline veggie.

Little did I know that the word “vegetarian” barely existed in the Czech Republic, and those who had heard of vegetarianism considered it more as a mental illness than a dietary choice. Despite my insecurities about being an outsider, I managed to maintain a strong hold of my dietary habits and the moral values that went along with them. As a consequence, my new nickname became “Rabbit”.

My grandmother (or Babi, as I call her), loves to cook. She also takes pleasure in ensuring that nobody goes hungry, or even merely full; everyone must be near-bursting before they can leave her table. The whole vegetarian thing knocked her off kilter: how can you stuff a person with vegetables? In a land of meat, potatoes, and dumpling, the idea seemed preposterous. My vegetarianism troubled her; through all our language barriers, food had always been her way of communicating, and now she had no way to communicate with me.

My Babi will always find a way though, and the answer was found in polévka. My grandma taught me the fundamentals of cooking soup, and she also taught me a lesson that I didn’t realize at the time would become vital for me in the future: she taught me that I could survive on soup for many weeks, and it is by far one of the cheapest and easiest meals to make.

The best thing about soup is its versatility. If you learn to make a zucchini soup, you can replace the zucchini with brocoli, or replace it with beets. Once you know the basics, you’re laughing, and the world of soups will open up to you. Your vegetables can be on their last legs, old and wilted, but it doesn’t matter because it all gets blended up into the soup. One great tip to save money is to go to your local supermarket and find the old/ reduced-price vegetable section (I go to Kin’s Market because they always have tons of stuff).

You can switch up the recipe and replace the rice with barley or noodles, add turnips, use black beans, chickpeas, or any other type of bean that you like. Throw in broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, zucchini, or whatever vegetable you’re craving. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try cooking something new. If you’ve got a good standard recipe like this one and an array of delicious vegetables, it’s almost impossible to go wrong.

Chow chow, thrifty friends!

Babi’s Yummy Vegetable Soup
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 35 mins

Another tip is to pre-cut all your vegetables and have your spices, herbs and other ingredients ready to go so that you are not scrambling around the kitchen to locate all the ingredients while you are cooking. It is important to be prepared with soups, because timing is everything! You don’t want to overcook your vegetables, but I’ll explain that later in the recipe.

3 bouillon cubes
7 C water
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, chopped quite fine (optional)
1 carrot, chopped quite fine (optional)
1 tsp dry thyme (use half if fresh)
1/4 tsp pepper

1. In a large pot, bring 7 cups of water to boil. Crumble in the bouillon cubes and stir until dissolved. Turn off heat.

2. In a separate saucepan, sauté onions, celery, and carrot until the onion is translucent. Once cooked, add to the broth. Note: Sautéed onions give tons of flavour, so it is always better to have more rather than less.

3. Add thyme and pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmering means you bring the heat up to the point of just below boiling. You want the broth hot, but without the violent bubbles that come along with boiling.

You may have noticed that the celery and carrot are optional. I like to cook with these to give the base of my soup more flavour, but if you don’t have them, it’s not a big deal; they aren’t essential.

The rest of the soup is what I consider to be the most interchangeable part. You can mix and match vegetables and meats to suit your style. I’m going to recommend a nice mix of vegetables, but feel free to get creative and switch it up. I prefer to use beans rather than meat because they are equally delicious and a lot cheaper.

Starches and Vegetables :
1 large russet potato, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup uncooked brown or white rice
1 large tomato, cut into small cubes
1 can red kidney beans
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (optional)

4. Take the potatoes and cut them into small cubes. The larger the cubes you cut, the longer it will take to cook, so keep that in mind. Add the potato and uncooked rice to the soup and bring to a boil. Keep on high for about 15 mins, or just until the potatoes start to become tender but are still somewhat raw. They should still be quite hard at this point.

Note: The reason you are adding these first is because they take the longest to cook. The timing of adding your vegetables is the key to not overcooking them, and can be a little tricky to get used to.

5. Add the cubed tomatoes, kidney beans, and pressed garlic into the soup. Simmer for another 10 mins. Add the parsley at the end and let it

Leanne comes from a long line of food lovers, and has been cooking since she was eight years old. She has spent many years creating the perfect chocolate chocolate chip cookie. In spite of all of her food experimentation, to this day her favourite meal is still a delicious bowl of popcorn.

//Leanne Kriz, columnist

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