“Soup and fish explain half the emotions of human life.” Sydney Smith
When I was a kid, my Granny used to tell us, “A happy plate has three color.” This is a message I’ve taken to heart over the years, and when I was out on my own, I developed a favorite soup recipe that I called Happy Bowl Soup, because it had lots of colors — red, green, orange, yellow, purple, and white. The early versions of this soup had frozen vegetables and ground beef, but was still my favorite go-to soup. As my culinary tastes have evolved, so have the ingredients. These days, my soups (and most other dishes) generally include whatever I have on hand. We get our veggies from the CSA, and so don’t usually go shopping for specific ingredients. That’s forced me to be a bit creative, but it usually turns out quite well.
Last night’s version of Happy Bowl Soup included cabbage (green and purple), leeks, celery, potatoes, an enormous turnip, carrots, and tomatoes. And instead of ground beef or stew meat, I have been craving fish. So, I got some tilapia from Trader Joe’s.
You’ll notice how ugly many of these vegetables may look. They’ve been lingering in my fridge for a bit longer than I’m willing to admit publicly. It was a hard holiday season for keeping on top of the veggies. Lots of lettuce and radicchio heads had to be sacrificed to the compost bin. And these cabbages had to lose a couple of layers before looking even this ugly. And the potatoes were trying to grow out of the cupboard where I keep them.
When I cook fish soup, I like to cut the fish up and coat it in spices and a little flour. In this case, I used cayenne, paprika, crushed black pepper, garlic poweder, and about two tablespoons of flour.
I put the fish in a bowl, add the seasoning and flour and then put the lid on the bowl. After a few minutes of shaking, all the pieces are nicely covered.
I like to do this first so the spices have time to soak into the fish while the rest of the soup is being prepared and cooked.
Next up, is sautéing the leeks (or onions) and celery. I used leeks this time because I found several in the fridge under the bags of lettuce. Yikes.
While those are softening up, I cut up the cabbage into 1-2 inch strips. When the leeks and celery are softened, I add the cabbage to the pot, with about a cup of water so it can steam a bit. Cabbage loses a lot of its volume while cooking, and I like to have it do that before I put in the rest of the ingredients.
When the cabbage is taking up a little less room in the pot, that’s when I add the “secret” ingredient. It’s only secret because I didn’t include it in the preview photo. Because it was even uglier than the ugly vegetables.
Next, I add the chopped vegetables, the can of tomatoes and tomato paste, and the oregano. I wait to top off the liquid level until I’ve had a chance to bring the whole mixture to a boil, just in case the cabbage decides to get even smaller.
When the carrots and turnip are fork tender (about an hour), it’s nearly done. Time to add the fish, which has been marinating all this time. Add the fish gently and make sure it is fully covered with the liquid, so it cooks evenly. It should only take about five minutes for the fish to be cooked through, so this is your chance to toast some bread or get your bowls ready. You’ll know it’s done when the fish pieces start to flake and are easy to break apart with a fork.
And so pretty in the bowl!
+ + +
tilapia – three fillets (catfish works well too)
potatoes – four medium, cubed
turnip – one huge, cubed
carrots – three medium, cubed
celery – seven spears, chopped
leeks – two medium, chopped
cabbage – lots, one full head, one quarter head, one half head
diced tomatoes – one large can (can also use crushed or whole)
tomato paste – one can
chicken stock – two quarts
paprika – two teaspoons
cayenne – two teaspoons
garlic powder – two teaspoons
flour – two tablespoons
oregano – two tablespoons