My husband’s goal is to significantly cut back on his consumption of animal-based foods so that he’ll be healthier, and I’m all for it! But the idea of being a vegetarian scares the hell out of him and the word “vegan” makes his eyes pop out. He doesn’t want to feel deprived or eat “hippie food,” which I think he imagines is a patchouli-scented mixture of twigs, couscous, gravel and hemp. (Since I’ve eaten vegan “food” at yoga camps prepared by well intentioned but clearly stoned dreadlocked people, I can understand his fear). So being the cook in our family who also really wants Operation Carnivore Conversion to work, I have to carefully pick and prepare particularly hearty and flavorful meals for John so that he’ll form a new impression of vegan food.
Last night, I made a perfect starter that’s filling enough to be a meal: tomato and bread soup. The recipe is pure genius – you use dried-out country bread to thicken up the soup, which makes it ultra filling. It can be made with fresh tomatoes (which I prefer since they’re so healthy and tasty) or if you’re feeling lazy or tomatoes are out of season, you can used canned as well. It’s quite delicious, flavorful and easy! If you’d like to try it, here’s the recipe, which I modified from one I found on epicurious.com.
Tomato and Bread Soup
Yield: about 6 cups (easily serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as an entree)
8 1-inch thick slices of a country-style bread (my favorite is a sourdough-walnut levain from the farmer’s market)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
14 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1/2 bay leaf
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
a pinch of fresh oregano if you have it, chopped
1 3/4 pounds fresh tomatoes, diced – plum tomatoes and heirlooms work best (or use one 30 oz can of Muir Glenn Organic diced tomatoes)
4 cups vegetarian broth
2 tsp smoked sea salt (you can probably use any kind of salt here, I just like the flavor of smoked sea salt)
pinch of sugar
freshly ground pepper to taste
optional for non-vegans: sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 225 degrees. Place bread slices right on the rack in the middle of the oven and bake until the bread fully dries out (but be careful not to toast it) – about 25-30 minutes. Break three pieces of the bread into large pieces and set them aside along with the full pieces of bread.
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and stir for 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and other spices and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cook at a low boil, uncovered for 15 minutes or until the the tomatoes fully break down, stirring frequently.
Stir in the broth, the torn pieces of bread, salt and pepper. Return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring and breaking up the bread with the back of a spoon for 15 minutes. The bread should break down to a mush. Remove from the heat, taste it and if it’s too sharp, add a pinch or two of sugar. Cover it and let it sit for 10 minutes so the flavors fully develop and open up.
Serve with a few grinds of fresh pepper, a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan (optional for non-vegans) and with a slice of the dried-out bread. Tear the bread into chunks and sprinkle it on top of the soup. Yummy!