Give the Gift of Food

I was raised with an assortment of tenets that have guided my life, but one that I will always hold special sentimental value is: "The way to a man's (or woman's) heart is through his (or her) stomach." Fortunately, my grandmother expressed her love for me (and many other lucky people in her life) by cooking healthy homemade meals. This was a gift that was passed on to her by her mother.

Fresh, simply prepared vegetables were always the focus--generally in the form of a salad and then colorful sides--served with some protein followed by a dessert. I didn't always know what she was planning on serving when she would invite me over, but I always knew it was going to be something special. And delicious. Made with love, from the heart.

So it is no surprise that I also like to express myself this way. I am the one who offers to make a birthday cake or birthday cupcakes or whatever that person's favorite sweet treat happens to be. I share soups and other things I make with my favorite neighbor, Granny V, and equally enjoy whipping up holiday desserts for family and friends. But honestly I really don't need an occasion to cook. Though a special occasion does help to inspire you to try new things.

When a girlfriend's birthday happened to fall on a weekend earlier this month and we couldn't plan a celebratory get-together, I thought an invitation to come over for lunch so we could steal a few minutes together and escape the holiday madness would make up for the tardiness of my effort. And taking into consideration that this friend does not cook, but does appreciate good food, I knew it would be a welcome proposition.

I love soups and when I inquired as to what she might like, she responded with soup and salad. "Your soups always look so wonderful to me," she emailed. It's true. Soup warms the heart and soul and in such a nurturing and nutritious way. I knew immediately what I was going to make. When the January issue of Bon Appetit arrived in the mail last week, I tabbed a page featuring a soup that made me weak in the knees. Because this was not going to be something David would jump up and down over, I thought a birthday lunch with my friend was the answer to having someone to share this dish with.

And since greens are in full bloom right now, a seasonal salad with walnuts and fruit (citrus from the valley) was definitely the way to her heart. (She cleaned her plates and bowl.) Naturally, closing with something sweet, indeed. No, not a birthday cake, but an entirely unique and gratifying dessert without being decadent and excessively caloric. Chocolate panna cotta with spiced pepita brittle

With endless parties on the holiday schedule, this festive soup and salad birthday lunch was a great way to celebrate another passing year in our lives. Together.

Cheers to friendship--rekindling old friendships, maintaining current friendships and commencing new ones. Because that really is what the spirit of the season is about.

Buen provecho, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Kwanzaa!


Herb, Chard and Feta Soup
The Cowgirl Gourmet adapted this recipe from the January 2012 issue of Bon Appetit

Print recipe

In describing this recipe, Bon Appetit writes, "The sharpness of the feta against the brightness of the lemon juice take this hearty winter soup in a bold direction." I have to agree with that statement, but add the following: "This Swiss chard soup takes on a Mediterranean twist with the feta, herbs and lemon juice, making it a refreshing, light and completely satisfying main course. Serve with salad and crusty bread and even the most carnivorous eaters in your family will be content."

Serves 4

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped ( I used 2/3 large onion and 1 leek)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lb. Swiss chard leaves (center ribs and stems removed) or spinach, coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth ( I use a 32 oz. organic, low sodium veggie broth by Imagine)
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnishes
5 oz. plain Greek-style yogurt (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup mixed chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro and mint), divided in half
4 oz. feta, crumbled, divided in half
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon juice (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil

In a large soup pot over medium heat, add oil. Then once it's hot, add the onion and garlic, stirring often and allow to soften, until translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Do not let it brown.


Softened onion, leek and garlic

Stir in the chard or spinach, broth, parsley, cilantro, mint and nutmeg and bring to a boil.

Herbs, herbs and more herbs

Swiss chard
This organic, low sodium veggie broth is a great go-to
and something that should always be in your pantry.

Once it boils, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.


Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Alternatively, you could puree in batches in a blender. If soup gets too thick, thin it out with leftover broth.


Do ahead--soup can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm soup thoroughly before continuing.

Garnishes
Place 1/3 of the yogurt in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup warm soup and whisk until smooth. Repeat the process twice more, adding a total of 1 cup more of soup. Whisk yogurt mixture into entire batch of soup. Stir in 1/4 cup herbs and half of feta into soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with remaining mixed herbs and feta. Drizzle with olive oil.

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