'Tis the Season--Soup Season


Photo by Regina Charboneau

To try Creole vegetable soup, click here for the recipe.

As I look out my kitchen window and see the leaves of my Ginkgo tree already golden...it says one thing to me: "Soup season." One of my favorite food groups is soup. Being a southerner, gumbo is a staple year-round, but when fall begins to ease into winter there are often two soup pots going simultaneously on my stovetop. I love corn chowder with new potatoes and apple smoked bacon. Potato leek remains an all-time favorite. And then there's white bean and ham, cream of spinach with oysters and a touch of Pernod, and smoked tomato-corn and lobster chowder--always a show stopper.

But it is hard to top my Creole vegetable soup with a hot skillet of corn bread on a rainy day. My Creole vegetable soup made with yams, turnips, and greens with a tomato base. This soup is a complete testament to what I so passionately believe about cooking--use the best ingredients the season has to offer.

As I write this I am wondering why I did not name this soup "under-utilized and under-appreciated vegetable soup."

I know these ingredients are at their peak as I saw proof of it just last week. I went to visit P. Allen Smith at his Moss Farm or also known as his "garden home retreat" a few miles outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. I have had the genuine pleasure of being friends with Allen for several years. He has talked for years about building a house that blurs the lines between outdoors and indoors, expanding his living space into his garden and bringing his garden into his home.

There is no way I could do justice in describing the magnitude of his success of this vision. I could go on for hours about Allen; he is the absolute definition of a renaissance man, a master in gardening, an accomplished artist, a visionary of design...I could go on and on with great sincerity. When we get together we have something new going on in our lives, but with his life of gardening and my life of food somehow we always hit common ground. This last visit I was not just taken with his perfect 1830s replica home-which he built on his farm and is the epitome of "going green"--and his commitment to sustainability, but with his passion for preserving Heritage poultry. You will be hearing much more about this from me, I promise.

We spent time in his garden as the last of the sweet potatoes were being dug up and turnips were at their peak, perfect for my favorite vegetable soup. Being a Southern chef, I try to utilize ingredients that are indigenous to the South. As I have written before, yams have such a great texture and taste I feel they are not used enough. They mix well with the texture and taste of turnips, another misunderstood under-utilized root vegetable. The greens from the turnips add yet another taste and texture that rounds this soup out. The fennel and tomatoes create a flavored base that you could add just about any vegetable to. Although fennel was often in gardens in the South, but I will admit it was in California where I learned to cook with it. As I write this I am wondering why I did not name this soup "under-utilized and under-appreciated vegetable soup."

I have given the option to add Andouille sausage for those who think meat is needed to make a soup more of a meal. The smoked Andouille sausage adds a bit of smoke and spice to the soup, which I like.