The late American cookbook author, elegant lady and wise woman Marion Cunningham once told me that she reckoned there are only 50 great recipes in the world. That has stuck in my mind though it was many moons ago.
Having been in the food journalism biz for several decades, I feel she was probably right. And, when I have a year or two’s free time to do it, I’d like to compile my take on those 50 recipes. (I don’t believe Ms. Cunningham ever published her list but she is hugely famous for her Raised Waffles made with yeast.)
Meanwhile, I never know when or where I’m going to come across a dish that makes the tastebuds tingle, involves accessible ingredients and is easy to make giving it that proverbial wow factor and provoking the rhetorical question: “Where has this been all my life?” In other words, the dish in question vies in my mind for a coveted position among the aforementioned top 50.
Which brings me to Tracy Nesdoly.
Tracy hails from the Prairies – Saskatoon, to be exact – and is a fellow journalist. When I was food editor at the Toronto Sun for several years in the mid-1980s – my first real job in that capacity closely followed by 18 years at the Toronto Star – she sat a desk or two away from me in the newspaper’s, at that time, fun and free-wheeling newsroom.
We became friends and Tracy was a staple of our soul sisters’ group: a motley crew of women who attended extremely lively, candlelit Saturday night gatherings, mostly in the welcoming kitchen of my home in Kensington Market, for what became known as “girls’ nights.”
The focus of these soirees was a table laden with delicious, eclectic platters of food, assembled potluck-style, food that we washed down with plenty of wine and lots of laughter-inducing stories told at a leisurely pace.
The latter usually became more colourful – at times, somewhat lurid – as the evening wore on. Memorable were tales by fellow scribe Rita Zekas (mostly lesser-known facts gleaned firsthand about celebrities), chef Susan Weaver (once exec chef at the Four Seasons hotels in Toronto and NYC, now working in Chicago), yours truly (I say that with appropriate humility) and Tracy.
Some of us have lost touch over the years since girls’ nights gradually petered out and we’ve gone our separate ways. Some of us have lost touch, then re-connected.
So it was with Tracy and me. And as so often is the case, this story involves food.
We met up a few months ago over yummy grilled fish at Amadeu’s in Kensington Market where I now live – again. Four years in the mid-2000s in the rural town of Stratford, Ont. weren’t my cup of tea. As my brother Eric said: “It’s so quiet here, I can’t sleep.”
In turn, Tracy spent a decade or more “bouncing around a lot,” mostly in London (U.K.) and New York. (There are worse places to bounce around, say I.) She is now head of communications for the e-reading company Kobo and pens a regular column in the Toronto Star about aging.
Meanwhile, she likes to cook. Enter Great Green Soup, a recipe from “Soup: A Way of Life” by Barbara Kafka.
Tracy discovered Kafka – a no-nonsense, veteran American cookbook author whose recipes are excellent – while working for Indigo. In particular, the collection devoted to soup.
After our fish dinner at Amadeu’s, Tracy and I stayed in touch. I let her know that I was trying to lose weight. I was suffering from “metabolic syndrome” and, according to my GP, was “pre-diabetic.” In other words, I had become more than pleasantly plump.
As happens among foodie friends, Tracy sent me Kafka’s recipe. It was for Great Green Soup. I made it. I loved it. It is delicious, nutritious and low in calories. It’s easy to make and can be varied according to the contents of one’s fridge.
I’ve found similar renditions for “green soup” online. This one is a winner and may be a contestant for the top 50.
Great Green Soup
You can omit the potato and, if you like, use rice instead. Swiss Chard would be nice in it and I added some frozen chopped kale. I used frozen broccoli. Tracy omits the peas. In my mind, the secrets to this – for vibrant colour and taste as well as nutrients – are the parsley and watercress. This is good served hot, at room temperature or cold. I like to swirl a little plain yogurt in each bowl for garnish.
1 medium leek, white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
½ medium head broccoli, florets only
1 small cucumber, peeled, sliced
11/2 cups frozen tiny peas, defrosted
1 or 2 medium potatoes, peeled, sliced
1 small bunch parsley, leaves only
1 medium bunch watercress, leaves only
½ small green cabbage, cored, shredded
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
5 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 tsp white wine vinegar
20 basil leaves, shredded
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
In large saucepan, combine leek, broccoli, cucumber, peas, potatoes, parsley, watercress, cabbage and stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, partially cover and simmer until all vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
In batches, puree mixture in food processor, blender or through food mill. Let cool. Stir in basil and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 1 minute.
Makes about 8 servings.