Winter Wild Rice Soup
The key to wild rice is letting it blossom. I put several handfuls of wild rice (this is real wild-grown stuff, hand harvested by Ojibwe people on Mille Lacs Reservation! Just another local treat from the co-op!) into my little sauce pan, and a kettle of water on the hob. When the kettle whistles boiling, I pour the hot water over the rice, cover it and leave it. This can be done the day before, or hours in advance of the meal. Before cooking with it, I rinse the rice a couple of times. Then all the rice is softened and each grain opens up. Wild rice seems expensive, but expands a lot more than white rice, so it's not really more pricey. If I don't let it blossom, all the other veggies get mushy while I wait for my rice to soften. You then end up cooking the soup for four hours into flavorlessness, or having chewy wild rice soup.
Heat a jar of broth or stock in the bottom of a nice deep pot. I make stock from leftovers of all kinds. Lacking this, just use water.
Put into the pot chopped carrots, wild rice, chopped potatoes, or other firm winter veggies.*
In a saucepan or frying pan, saute in a few glugs of olive oil:
chopped onion, garlic, parsnips**
Have I yet mentioned my new love of parsnips? You can dig them out of the garden all winter (theoretically. this might take advance planning if you live in the frozen north, but if they can be extracted from that hard ground, they will be sure to please!) I love their tart sweetness. Roasted, they carmelize and become a snacky pleasure food. cooked, they are sweet, soft, and tangy.So, saute this high-flavor matter till it becomes fragrant. I let it brown a bit, and toss in a splash of water. For some reason, this makes it all the sweeter. Transfer to the soup pot. Here I also added a fistful of sweet farmer's market corn frozen from the summer bounty. Slosh in some white wine, if you've got it.
Saute some chopped fresh mushrooms and put in soup.
When the veggies are almost all cooked, add a chopped stalk of celery or two.
I don't bother to wash the saucepan before making the roux. This is to be a cream soup. The flavors from the carmelized parsnip and onions are so good I don't want to wash any away. To make the roux, I put two spatches of butter in the pan until melted. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in an equal amount of white flour. This is not the time to use whole wheat flour for this one! Stir with a fork or wooden spoon till smooth. Then I slowly mix in a cup of real (whole) milk, little by little so as not to get doughy lumps of buttery flour. Stir this white sauce into the soup and season to taste: salt, pepper, parsley***, maybe basil or thyme, as your fancy takes you.
I'm thinking about what people who didn't have supermarkets, cheap gas, and cheap refrigeration would eat, here in Minnesota all year long? Think pioneer suppers, think long Lakota winters. It just doesn't make sense to eat food shipped from South America, Fuji, or California for so much of the year that we don't have a fresh harvest here. Oranges at Christmas are one thing, we don't need this kind of expense and consumption to get good food here. (Joan Gussow articulates the concept of local eating quite well in her readable book, This Organic Life: confessions of a suburban Homesteader. I recommend the book as an intro to the local, seasonal table)
There is so much we can grow when it's warm and keep through the winter right here in Minnesota! I'm hoping do do more and more food preservation myself in the coming years, but for now we're just enjoying the few foods we have put by in the last year, and trying to buy foods that come from good, small, concientious farms as close to us as possible. Shopping at the co-op makes this easier, as they label where each offering hails from. Paul does most of the shopping, so I just ask him to look for the closest state possible. I know he also considers cost. Who wants to pay for shipping refrigerated, gassed spinach and tomatoes from California when parsnips are dirt-cheap?
Another factor is food durability. As in, beets are more durable than spinach. Foods that have to be eaten within weeks of harvest, that bruise easily, or need refrigeration or chemical treatment to survive until they hit the store shelf, we just avoid in the winter. We can eat green salads April through November, right out of our backyards. We're not super strict about this--we're in no danger of scurvvy, but as I learn about the whole history of the foods we eat and its implications for us, our neighbors, farmers, and children, I find it very satisfying to plan our meals around real keeping crops. Not to mention, I don't know anyone who actually enjoys grocery store tomatoes in February. As our friend Liz Fleming says, they should have a different name from the tomatoes one grows and picks in the garden, as they are an entirely different and vastly less enjoyable vegetable.
This really isn't as limiting as it might sound:
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets, potatoes, winter squash, cabbage, kale. (I found a variety though Seed Savers that is hardy to ten below, Farenheit and then when picked keep forever in the fridge,)
Grains: Barley, oats, rice, wild rice, cornmeal, quinoa, amaranth, pastas, etc.
And for fresh foods: Sprouts! Alfalfa! Mung bean, wheat, fenugreek, etc. Mary Jane Butters has a fun section on growing sprouts in her Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook.
Dried fruits: apples, cranberries, currants, raisins, etc.
Wine, hard ciders, vinegars
Dried Herbs, spices
Meat and Dairy: cheeses, cream, milk, puddings, broth, eggs, etc.
All that stuff can either be produced and sold right here all winter long, or stored from earlier production here.
I don't have qualms about getting spices, coffee, tea, etc from distant ports as they don't require refrigeration during shipping and aren't fresh; these are dried products, relatively lightweight, ship quite efficiently as compared to fresh, canned, or frozen fruit.
There is also a beauty in seasonality. Roasted root vegetables, thick soups, fresh bread, puddings, and stews feel good these cold months. Rather than feeling limited, I almost wish I had more time before spring to try all the recipes in my head for these foods. There will be plenty of time when it's too hot to even think about the oven. Luckily, in those months, fresh salads and fruits abundant will grow wild just outside our door!
**Cabbage would also be good
***I would like fresh parsley. If we had a good south-facing window for it, I would try growing more windowsill herbs through the winter. Some things take dried herbs better than others. In this soup, I felt the flavors of the veggies, especially the parsley, corn, and wild rice, along with the creaminess of the roux gave a full, rich taste that didn't need extra herbs. No sense in making bright flavors dusty with last summer's dried herbs. I don't go in much for buying them at the market. At ours, they come in plastic cases and are expensive. You get this paltry bit of greenery, more plastic case than herbage. I say, skip that!