Sopa Verde del Jardín

October 9, 2014

Someday, maybe I’ll share the story of my father’s house with the world. How its more than just a house, that its part of our family history, and that its more to him than just a family history. I’d tell about its quirky attributes, maybe about the squirrel that lived in the walls while construction was underway, and about the tiny stocking that we hung out for Christmas. Maybe I’ll tell of the mazes of closets that my siblings and I used to hide in, and how I was always afraid that there was something dangerous lurking in the basement so I’d run upstairs as fast as I could after playing down there. I might tell how one of my favorite pastimes was poking into his office to find graph paper to draw on, or to touch the books that he had accumulated over the years; some were his parents, and some were my parents and they all smelled like him. I might tell about when he and I would sit in the living room practicing piano, me with my eyes clenched shut at his request so that I would learn the chords by heart, him humming as my chubby fingers hit the keys. About the way I used count the rooftops of the little houses around ours as I tried to to sit and be patient while he made us fried eggs and waffles for breakfast in its tremendous kitchen, while my little brother would attempt to distract him by wandering beneath the bar that separated the chef from the dining room, making dramatic scenes and sounds with his model dinosaurs. (My father traveled a great deal when I was younger, and I always loved his breakfasts most so the delay, and the distraction, annoyed me.) Maybe I will tell about how I always dreamed that he would put the swimming pool of my dreams in the shaggy, partly forested backyard. But for now, all you need to know is that my father has the most fabulous, almost completely accidental garden growing in that backyard today.

My father is a simple, and tremendously kind man so, when his college aged neighbors approached him about using a small area of the land to plant a garden earlier this spring, he said absolutely, yes. His feeling is that the unfenced, still wild, un-landscaped yard is just as much for the neighborhood as it is for him. At some point, the hopeful farmers –as many Boulder college students are these days in so many ways — flung the seeds of vegetables all over a hilly little section of the land, tending them barely enough for them to take root before allowing them to grow wild and unkempt into the most surprising bounty of vegetables I’d ever seen. My father keeps to himself most of the time these days, never getting enough exercise for my tastes, and instead busying himself with little projects that don’t often take him through the yard. He was out for a walk the other day, to my bliss, and discovered the garden. He’s been picking his meals from the yard since.

I spent a good part of an afternoon this past weekend in the backyard with him; my first time seeing the fabled garden. A field of kale has bloomed, with bursts of nasturtium intermixed under the nests of tomatoes, and a labyrinth of tomatillos; all ours for the taking for these next short weeks before the garden will fall under our first snowfalls. We poked and explored all of its corners, that day, both of us feeling like we were hunting for treasure:

“Dad! Is this a cantaloupe? And do you think that pumpkin is ready?”

“Lentine, what do we do with this funny looking little basil? How many types of kale ARE there?”

So Many Tomatillos

Each of us let out little squeals of glee when we uncovered a tomato deep in the nest of vines, or a pocket of tomatillos hidden in the shade. Then we split our loot down the middle, vowing to get together later in the week when those last little tomatoes have had a chance to ripen a smidge more, and with me promising I’d take some of the produce with me and bring it back as something delicious. I left with my heart full, excited to find a way to use it all.

Wonderfully, and strangely enough, the lovely Heidi Swanson published an enticing recipe earlier this week for Sopa Verde de Elote – green corn soup. Heidi mentions that she took a few liberties with the original recipe she found in a vintage cookbook. And now, I’ve taken a few liberties with hers, the greatest being that I replaced her zucchini with my overflowing supply of tomatillos. The result  is a spicy, fresh, vibrant bowl-full that I can’t wait to share with my father.

About the recipe: as I mentioned above, Heidi used zucchini – I used tomatillos instead. I replaced her peas with half peas + half edamame, and her lettuce leaves with a handful of parsley because it’s what I had on hand. I also left out the charred Serrano chili, using chili flakes instead to make the preparation a little quicker. I made a few changes to the preparation as well, since we like chunkier soups and were just a bit short on time (chronically, of course.) We enjoyed this soup for dinner with big slices of crunchy bread the other night; it came together in about 30 minutes. AND, we had a nice few bowls left over for lunch the next day.

To fulfill our agreement, I’m going to go back over to my father’s house this week to pick more tomatillos and I’ll take with me some soup for him to enjoy; a priceless exchange of something so simple, and yet immeasurably special. xo – L

Sopa Verde del Jardin
  1. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  2. 2 -2.5 cups tomatillos, peeled of their lantern skins and halved
  3. 1/2 white onion, diced
  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 4 cups corn kernels
  6. 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups water
  7. 2/3 cup green peas
  8. 2/3 cup edamame
  9. a small handful of fresh cilantro, plus more to serve
  10. a big handful of fresh parsley
  11. 2 1/2 - 3 teaspoons fine grain sea salt, or to taste
  12. to serve: toasted pepitas, creme fraiche or salted yogurt, lime wedges, cilantro, dried chili flakes
  1. note: Tomatillos were what I had on hand, though they might be tricky for a few of you to find. If you can't employ one small zucchini, diced, instead. Don't forget to peel the lantern-like skin off the tomatillos before using them!
  2. Heat the butter in a large soup pot, add the garlic + onions, and cook for a few minutes, until soft. Add the tomatillos and cook until they soften and are a bit fragrant. Transfer the mixture to a blender, or using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
  3. In a blender or food processor, blend the corn kernels with 2 cups of water, peas, edamame, cilantro, parsley, a dash of chili flakes and a pinch of salt. You really want the mixture to be super smooth before combining it with the tomatillo mixture. Once it's to your liking, combine the corn + tomatillo mixtures in your soup pot and cook over medium-high heat for another few minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan constantly. Add another 1 1/2 cups of water, or more, depending on the consistency you like. Add the salt, plus more to taste, if needed. Serve with lots of the suggested toppings.
  4. Serves 4-6, or 2 for dinner and again for lunch!
  5. *To char the chiles: place whole chiles on a hot skillet or grill, cook, rotating regularly, until blistered and charred on all sides. Transfer to a glass bowl, cover, and let steam for a few minutes. Now the chiles are ready to peel.
  6. Prep time: 10 min - Cook time: 10 min

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