Bali Garden Soup

Today's recipe is all about using what you've got lying around in your cabinets or stuffed in the back of your fridge, so I wanted to share some of my favorite ways to reduce food waste and make the most of the food I buy.

The most important principle is this: do not throw away stuff that tastes good. Citrus peels? Taste good. Onion roots? Taste good. Mushroom stems? Taste good. You can repurpose all of these scraps to get the most bang for your buck.

Put your freezer to work! I keep a couple of gallon-size zip-top bags in the freezer at all times for my vegetable scraps. The ones I find myself stashing away most frequently are: onion skins and roots, mushrooms stems, herb stems, ginger peel, carrot roots and tips, broccoli stems (I eat most of the broccoli stem like I would the florets, but remove the woody end that has an unpleasant texture and save it), corn cobs, leek tops, fennel tops, and apple cores. I also do this with whole carrots, herbs, and other vegetables that I know are going to go bad before I can use them. I just break them up into 2-inch or so pieces and throw them in the bag.

Once I have at least one gallon-size bag stuffed full in the freezer, I'm ready to make stock. Dump all of the frozen vegetables in a stock pot, cover with an inch of cold water, and add it some salt (start with a teaspoon and adjust as the stock cooks), peppercorns (2 teaspoons or so), and a bay leaf. Feel free to add other herbs and spices as you see fit; I often add dried chilies and a couple of garlic cloves to mine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the temperature and simmer for a couple hours until the stock tastes good. Strain the finished stock, and either put it in the fridge to use within a couple of days or freeze until you're ready. I also do this with leftover bones for a non-vegetarian version.

Another idea long these same lines is to save citrus peels. I save them in the freezer in a separate container to use for tea. Just today, I made a batch of iced tea that I flavored with the peel of a lemon and a grapefruit that I had stashed in the freezer last week. I boiled 2 quarts of water, poured it over 6 tea bags (3 green tea and 3 mint tea today) and the citrus peels, then let it steep for a while before throwing in a quart or so of ice. I keep the jug in the fridge, tea bags, peels, and all, and end up drinking the whole thing in a couple of days max. You can take out the tea bags after the ice melts, but I'm just lazy.

Now, for soup. This is a wonderfully versatile recipe. I've often used the basic framework of coconut, sesame, and red curry flavors to pull together the odd vegetable bits in my end-of-week fridge. The picture I've included in this post uses chard, broccoli, corn, carrots, and frozen peas, but in the past I've used leftover roasted eggplant, leeks, snap peas, and tomatillos with a couple of almost overripe tomatoes and beginning-to-wilt carrots. All weird yet satisfying combinations, especially when loaded up with a dollop of yogurt and served with some crunchy bread or crackers.

Bali Garden Soup
Adapted from The First Mess

1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-2 serrano chilies (or something similar; I've used dried red Thai chilis to wonderful effect), minced
1 medium onion or leek, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 cups water (or use vegetable stock for more depth of flavor)
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 medium (or 4 small) tomatoes, diced (or half a can-ish of diced tomatoes)
2 cobs corn, kernels removed (freeze the cobs for later use), or 1 1/3 cups frozen kernels
1 1/3 cups sliced green beans
4 cups chopped Swiss chard, stems and leaves separate
Kosher salt, pepper, and red curry powder (or paste if you've got it; you could also try yellow or green curry powder, I bet both would be great) to taste

Potential additions/substitutions: roasted eggplant, broccoli, sweet potatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, frozen or fresh peas, tomatillos

Heat coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chilies, onion, Swiss chard stems (save the leaves for the end), garlic, and ginger, and sauté for a couple of minutes until soft and fragrant. Add salt, pepper, and curry powder to taste, and cook for another minute or so. Add in the sesame oil, soy sauce, and water.

Bring to boil, then add the carrots (and any other hard vegetables that you want to add; think [sweet] potatoes, butternut squash, etc.), turn down the heat to medium, and simmer for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes (and any other larger vegetables that are soft; think tomatillos, zucchini, etc.), and simmer for a minute more before adding the corn and green beans (and any other small vegetables that you just want to heat through, like peas). Cook for a minute, then turn off the heat. Adjust the seasoning as desired, then stir in the Swiss chard leaves. 

Serve with yogurt and rice, baked [sweet] potato, toasty bread, or crackers!