New Year’s resolutions aside, January is actually a terrible month to try to eat more healthfully because of the cold weather that quite naturally makes a body crave carb-heavy, cosy fare.
The best January dishes bridge the divide between healthful and heavy. They’re warming and sustaining, but still full of vegetables and whole grains.
This spinach soup does exactly that. Loaded with greens, celery, leeks and herbs, it’s got vegetables galore. Some potato pureed into the broth gives it a creaminess without richness. And farro stirred in at the end gives it texture and an earthy depth, making this recipe walk the line between soup and stew.
One individual choice you’ll have to make is how thick or thin you’d like your soup to be. Start with a quart of good broth (either chicken or vegetable). This will be enough to liberally cover all the vegetables while they simmer away. Then, after pureeing the soup, you can evaluate it. If it’s too thick, just stir in a little water. If it’s too thin, let it simmer for a few minutes uncovered to reduce it.
If you can, try to start with a good, flavourful broth, something you’d be happy to heat up and sip by itself from a mug on a freezing day. But even a bouillon cube will work. This isn’t a fussy soup; it will forgive all kinds of substitutions and still taste excellent.
You can use other grains in place of the farro. I love its substantial chewiness and almost bready flavour. But if you don’t have any on hand, you definitely don’t need to run to your nearest fancy market to find some. Simply leave it out for a thinner, lighter soup. Or use two cups cooked rice (brown or white) instead. Wild rice would be another great swap if you happen to have some in your cupboard, maybe leftover from that pilaf you made for Thanksgiving.
In any iteration, this soup will satisfy your hunger and warm your bones — and a resolution to make it will be easy to keep.
Lemony spinach soup with farro
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 rosemary or thyme branches
2 bay leaves
400g potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces (2 to 3 medium potatoes)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup farro
400g baby spinach (about 20 cups)
1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems (or use dill)
1 cup parsley leaves and tender stems
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more for serving
Extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Aleppo, Urfa, Turkish or other red-pepper flakes
Grated Parmesan or pecorino (optional)
1. Melt the butter or heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat. Stir in the leeks and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves; cook 1 minute more. Stir in the potatoes, stock, 2 cups water, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer, partly covered, until vegetables are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook according to the timing on the package until just tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
3. Discard rosemary branches and bay leaves from the soup pot. Add spinach, cilantro and parsley, and simmer uncovered until very soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. (Alternatively, you can puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor.) If the soup is too thick, add a little water. If it’s too thin, let it simmer uncovered for another few minutes to thicken. Stir in lemon juice and more salt to taste. Stir in farro.
4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, flaky salt, red pepper flakes and a little grated cheese, if desired.