Ok, I’ll admit it: I grew up eating vegetable soup out of a can and at the time, I liked it. You know the kind I’m talking about—the alphabet noodle kind. I’m not proud of it and as I grew into adulthood, I came to realize how disgusting the tin can taste of that mushy mouthful of so-called soup was. For years, I refused to eat vegetable soup until my wife came along and reintroduced me. She transformed my taste buds and enlightened my philosophy of freshness.
Oh, I’m driven to poetic prose when I even think about my wife Roxanne’s pure vegetable soup—the ultimate comfort food. I call this soup “pure” because of her emphasis on fresh, locally grown with a keen focus on the purity and potential of this hearty dish. Just cupping your hands around a steaming bowl is enough to warm your soul, and with the first spoonful of the beefy broth, you feel nourished, enriched, loved. She is a passionate cook, and this flavorful soup is her generous expression of farm-to-table family cooking.
Growing up in the rural, small-town Acadiana community of Jennings in Jeff Davis Parish, Rox had access to farm-grown vegetables that gave her a palate for quality when it comes to the simplest of ingredients. From her grandfather Clodius Fontenot’s farm just down the road in Hathaway, the family always had a steady supply of hand-picked produce as well as freshly preserved or canned fruits and vegetables. And she was taught that a pot of vegetable soup is a sensible way to use up an overstocked pantry, and the ingredients that go into this simple Cajun recipe depended on what was the ripest and at the peak of season.
When I ask her about her method, she rattles off a rapid-fire sequence of instructions: Use what is fresh…brown the meat, but no oil…veg stock, not beef stock…and store-bought is okay because it’s going to make its own beef stock with the browned beef…no Cajun seasoning, just salt and pepper only…no tomato sauce, just fresh diced Creole tomatoes or even a can of RoTel (the mild version)…slice the vegetables large, and do not overcook…add the ingredients to the pot in stages…frozen peas, not canned because flash-frozen preserves freshness…use Irish (or what her grandmother referred to as “arsh” potatoes) which are nothing more than russet potatoes. And on and on.
During this explanation, it struck me that several generations of experience were at work here. My wife wasn’t just making soup, she was channeling family traditions, cooking knowledge, instructional information that was passed down from her Mo Mo Eve, and her mother, Rosalie Waldrop. And this classic Cajun recipe will live on as our daughter Lauren stirs a pot of vegetable soup for her family one day. It is pure vegetable soup. It is pure love.
- Non-stick spray
- 1 ½ pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup rough chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup rough chopped celery
- 1 cup rough chopped green bell pepper
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1 Creole tomato, chopped or 1 (10-ounce) can mild diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
- 1 cup rough chopped carrots
- 1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 cup rough chopped zucchini
- 1 cup rough chopped yellow squash
- 1 cup rough chopped broccoli
- 1 cup fresh green beans
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a large pot sprayed lightly with non-stick spray placed over medium-high heat, add the beef. Sear the meat until it browns on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper, and cook for 5 minutes longer.
- Pour in the stock a little at a time and stir, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the rest of the stock and the tomatoes. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to cook for 30 minutes until the meat becomes tender.
- Add the carrots and potatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add the zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, green beans, and peas, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and let the soup rest for 15 minutes before serving.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with saltine crackers and butter, or better yet, a black iron skillet of cornbread.
Staging the addition of the vegetables in intervals ensures they will cook evenly and maintain peak freshness. Rather than small, diced vegetables that begin to disintegrate in the soup, roughly chop your vegetables into larger chunks. Feel free to make ahead your own vegetable stock, but the store-bought packaged variety does deliver good results when combined with the browned beef and vegetables. I don’t recommend canned vegetables in this recipe, but if you do, be sure to pour off the canning liquid before adding to the broth. You can freeze any leftover soup in a sealed storage container for up to 3 months; be sure to leave enough headroom for the soup to expand when frozen.
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