For many years now, every Chinese New Year, I would make a pot of minestrone soup for dinner. I only cook this once year. This may sound really strange because minestrone soup is certainly not Chinese food. To have it as our family tradition for the most important Chinese festival may come across as really odd. The reason is actually quite simple : Chinese New Year is a festival associated with lots of feasting. We get more than enough rich food featuring lots of meat and pastries everywhere we go for visiting relatives. At the end of the day, what we really want is something simple and vegetable-rich. At the end of a whole day of visiting, we will come home to a pot of soup and we will normally eat with some baguette.
I have been using this particular recipe for many, many years. It is one of the nicest one I have had and is meant to be vegetarian. However, even though I do not add meat into it, I do cheat by using chicken stock. I am sure it is entirely possible to do a vegetarian version of it. To quote from the recipe :
To make this soup rich without using ham hocks or a canned broth, begin by making a buttato (or paste) of the fragrant vegetables.
I got this recipe off the internet many years ago. Unfortunately, it does not seem to exist in the cyberspace anymore even though the website – healthy.net – is still around. I am sharing it here for all to try.
Minestrone Soup (Makes about 14 cups)
Ingredients for the beans
1 cup canellini beans or other small white bean
6 cups water
1 bay Leaf
½ tsp salt
1 clove garlic
Method for the beans
Bring beans to a boil in the water. Add the bay leaf. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 2 hours. During the last 45 mins, add salt and garlic.
I cheat this part by just buying canned beans.
Ingredients for Buttato
1 stalk celery
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 tsp dried sage leaves
4 tbsp olive oil
Method for Buttato
Blend the carrot, celery and onion in a food processor until almost pureed. Heat the olive oil and add one clove of pressed garlic, the sage and the pureed vegetable. Saute until it begins to brown.
Ingredient for the Soup
10 cups water
3 cloves garlic
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
3 potatoes, diced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 cup green beans, tipped and chopped
½ onion, diced
5 roma tomatoes, diced
1 cup kale, chopped
2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, chopped
½ cup rice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
Method for Soup
Once you have browned the buttato, add the 10 cups of water. Add the vegetables, the hardier ones first as they take a longer time to cook. Add in the herbs. Add the balsamic vinegar to ‘wake up the taste’. Season with salt and pepper.
This may seem like a really complicated soup but I assure you, it is not, especially if you cheat like me and use canned beans instead. But the buttato does make a huge difference so don’t cut back on that. As for the vegetables in the soup, I basically use whatever is available. For instance, I really like cauliflower in the soup, I have that in my version. Until recently, kale is not easily found in the local supermarkets, so I left that out. This year I might just add that in again now that kale can be found here.
I find that using stock gives a richer flavour. So I use chicken stock instead of the 10 cups of water. However, you can use vegetable stock if you want to stick to a strict vegetarian version.
As you may know, pasta is featured in minestrone soup. This recipe calls for rice instead to make it gluten-free. For me, I do not use rice nor pasta as I do not like the mushy-ness of these things once the soup gets cooked a little longer, or kept overnight. I could cook the rice or pasta separately and eat together with the soup, of course, but I much prefer to eat it with a crusty bread.
You can add some shaved parmesan on the soup to add more flavour. According to the recipe, you can even add pesto (but I never do).
Between balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, I much prefer using balsamic vinegar, especially one that is more aged.
In terms of the seasoning, i.e the amount of salt, pepper and vinegar, it is a matter of adjusting to your taste.
** I will try to take a better picture of the soup this Chinese New Year. 🙂