One of the greatest things about being a vegetarian, a vegetarian who likes food and likes to eat, is the introduction to other cultures and their food. If you are looking to eat less meat and you want to eat things other than pasta and salad, you would do well to start investigating Southeast Asian cooking, Indian cooking, Mediterranean cooking, Middle Eastern cooking… You get the idea. So many of the world’s cooks use meat more as a garnish than as the focus of the plate. Those cultures do wonders with meatless foods.
It does take an open mind to start this journey. You will taste different combinations, foods you have never tried before, things will look different. You might need to take a trip to a well-stocked specialty food store, though today’s regular grocery stores stock more and more interesting ingredients. A great place to start might be this soup.
There are very few things I don’t like. The list is short. Okra, figs, dates, papaya. I think that’s it. If a food doesn’t have those things (or meat) in it, I will eat it. And actually, I will eat vegetarian gumbo (okra), this salad (fig jam in the dressing), sticky toffee pudding (dates in the cake), and papaya if I don’t know it’s there. So when I see a recipe for something stars things that I like but used in a different way, I’m always happy to give it a try. Unusual is good. Same old same old is boring.
Here you make a simple stock and after it has been strained, you add just a bit of rice to give it body. You mix together a bit of cornstarch, Greek yogurt that has been strained, and an egg yolk, temper it with a bit of stock, and add it back into the soup. The whole thing gets a garnish of chickpeas and a pesto made with oregano leaves and their blossoms. Originally I made this soup because I have a lot of oregano growing in my yard and, while I like it, I don’t find I use it all that often. I also made it because it sounded so interesting and unusual and I wanted something delicious alongside my pilaf. It was a huge hit. A hint of sour in the soup, full body from the egg yolk, the heartiness of the rice and chickpeas, and the lemony oregano pesto made this an intoxicating bowl-ful of goodness.
As with previous recipes I have made from this book, I had to tweak. I won’t bore you with what I did. Just trust me when I say make this. And make it this way.
One Year Ago: Savory Scones
Two Years Ago: Mint Filled Brownie Cupcakes
Three Years Ago: Fresh Summer Rolls with Tofu and Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce
Yogurt and Oregano Pesto Soup with Oregano Flowers
Adapted from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume
Makes 4 smallish portions
If you are buying oregano and it doesn’t have blossoms, don’t worry, you just won’t have the pretty garnish. I call for 7 ounces Greek yogurt here because I buy Fage brand and that is the size it comes in. If you have a larger container, use 8 ounces. I used their 2%.
For the oregano pesto:
24 sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves and flowers
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
For the soup:
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tbsp. Arborio rice
½ tbsp. cornstarch
7 oz. Greek yogurt, drained in a cheesecloth-lined wire sieve for 1 hour
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup cooked chickpeas (I used canned)
To make the oregano pesto:
Set aside some of the oregano flowers for the garnish. Add the rest of the blossoms, oregano leaves, garlic, pine nuts, and a pinch of salt to a mini food processor. Pulse to a paste. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until somewhat smooth. It will still have texture. If you prefer it smoother, you can add more olive oil. Stir in the Parmesan by hand. This will make more pesto than you need for the soup. Cover and keep the rest in the refrigerator.
To make the soup:
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and add the celery, carrot, and onion along with a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the thyme, oregano, and bay leaf. Pour in the water or broth. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, then strain into another saucepan and discard the solids. Add the rice to the strained stock and cook for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
Spoon the cornstarch into a small bowl, add a little of the soup and mix well. Pour the yogurt into a separate bowl and add about 3 tablespoons of the soup, whisk for a moment, then add the egg yolk and the cornstarch mixture. Stir well.
Pour the yogurt mixture into the soup and cook over medium-low heat, just to a simmer and until slightly thickened. Take care not to let it boil, as this will curdle the yogurt. Add the red pepper flakes (if using) and season with salt and pepper.
Serve hot in deep bowls. Put a few chickpeas in the middle, top with a spoonful of the oregano pesto, and finish with the fresh oregano blossoms.