Saturday, April 20, 2013

Soup against the Storm

My homemade vegetable & fish chowder
A dry March, wet April, and cool May, fill barn, cellar, and bring much hay
March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers
~ English proverbs 

This year April showers have come imprisoned in white crystals filling the sky and the landscape with lion-like snowfall. After all, weather statistics inform us that April is second only to March for being the snowiest month in Colorado. And it has been a snowy April here in the Denver area. Several blizzards have visited the region since March and have dumped white powder, blown their blustery wind, dropped the temperatures, and then departed—leaving us the task of shoveling out and trying to keep warm.  Just when we were about to store our ski jackets, mittens and boots away, the storms remind us with great gusto that winter has not released her hold over the northern hemisphere yet. The good news is the water levels in our reservoirs have been raised with the abundant snowfall which is great for high desert inhabitants.

Secretly, I loved having winter visit again in April. It is not that I don’t adore warm spring temperatures but rather was not quite done being introspective. Those chilly dark months of winter are the perfect time for my interior work—pondering and creating the visions of new projects to come. It allows me time to imagine, create and edit my mind’s landscape—pruning thoughts here and there like tiny twigs. The cold wintery weather was a perfect excuse for me to postpone all the exterior work preparing my garden outside; after all, how can one plant or dig in the dirt when it is covered in 6 inches of snow? And consequently, to engage in my interior work, simmering and stirring stuff inside my mind. It also provided opportunities for Bumble and I to snuggle up on the L-shaped couch with some quilts, finish reading books, watch old B/W movies and eat homemade soup safe in our nest. Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart or Noel Coward joining us for vegetable fish chowder were perfect accompaniments.

Few cooks will deny the ease of a one-pot meal and making soup or chowder is full of this easy grace. It is a wonderful way to warm up our interiors from the exterior cold and to empty the refrigerator of any vegetables that have been hiding in the dark storage bins. All the vegetables hanging around in my cupboard or refrigerator are invited to join the chowder and are tossed into a large pot. It is quite a diverse group in this soup. Add some organic chicken (or vegetable) broth and a can of tomatoes and in less than an hour there is a hearty meal for a vegetarian. I add fish filets (or any shell fish of my choosing), top with spinach or kale, and a few minutes later a healthy pescetarian dinner is served.

You dislike vegetables, you say? Surprisingly, this soup is extremely delicious—cooked in broth and coupled with lots of potatoes and sweet carrots (and who doesn’t like potatoes or carrots?), the vegetables flavors complement one another and work well together. The fish adds a depth of flavor, a heartiness and sweetness. All the flavors are softened and arrive gently on the tongue; much kinder and warmer than our April snows.

Hedda’s Homemade Vegetable & Fish Chowder

1 large 32 oz. container organic free-range chicken broth  (I use Imagine or Pacific)
1 large onion — sliced and chopped
1 shallot minced
3-5 stalks of celery chopped
2 fennel bulbs sliced (please remove hard white core in center)
2  leeks sliced and cut in quarters, then soaked in water (to remove all sand)
1 bell pepper chopped or sliced (red for color)
3 cups potatoes cubed (I use baby Yukon gold, or red skinned potatoes)
4-5 organic carrots sliced in bite sized nuggets (I use the colorful carrots)
2-3 zucchini (or any squash you have laying around) cut in half, remove all seeds and cut into cubes
1 container of chopped Pome tomatoes (or 1 can chopped tomatoes)
1 small bag of baby spinach (I use a few generous handfuls) or use fresh kale trimmed from stalk
3-4 fillets of Tilapia, cod or your favorite fish (you may also use shellfish such as scallops)
1-2 T fennel greens minced (or use chopped fresh parsley)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup water or more to combat evaporation


Saute onions, peppers, celery, leeks, fennel; add potatoes, and carrots  

Wash/rinse all your vegetables that require it (e.g., celery, fennel, leeks, potatoes, carrots, spinach). Grab your big soup pot, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the first 7 ingredients until soft and aromatic, adding in a little salt and pepper. Next, add in the cubed potatoes, carrots, zucchini, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, minced fennel leaves, canned tomatoes, 32 oz. chicken broth plus one cup water. Simmer gently until potatoes and carrots are tender (20-30 minutes). You may need to add a cup or more of water to the cooking liquid. Lastly, top with fish fillets and spinach (or kale) and simmer until fish is cooked (5-6 minutes more). Presto, you have an awesome healthy pescetarian one pot meal.

After cooking all veggies in broth until tender, add fish filets and spinach  
Stir and Presto! Vegetable & fish chowder to warm the cockles -- what a confetti of color!

Apperson, George Latimer, et al. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs. Hertfordshire: Wadsworth Editions Limited, 1993. Web.