This soup is a great way to get your greens. I made it the other day from things I had around the kitchen, and my kids loved it. It was one of those rare times they asked for seconds, then Calvin asked if we could save some for the next day for breakfast. Yes, breakfast. He has an enlightened view of breakfast, for an American. I had pre-cooked red chard on hand, but any greens would do, especially tender ones. I would use fresh or frozen spinach, any chard, mustard greens, even collards if I could steam them for a while first. Anyway, I was trying to approximate the Saag Shorba at our local Indian restaurant, which is divine. If you use this recipe, could you come back and tell me if you like it?

So here it is:

Saag Shorba

6 stalks chard, leaves and stalks, chopped or 6 oz spinach, chopped
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 T canola oil or ghee
2 large cloves garlic
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger
1 1/2 t coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t turmeric
pinch cayenne
pinch cardamom
2-4 C vegetable broth, depending on how soupy you want it (or chicken broth)
1/2 C tomato sauce (I used some that I made in the summer and froze-so no salt or herbs) or 1/4 C tomato paste
1/4-1/2 C coconut milk or heavy cream
1 C leftover basmati or other long-grain rice
salt to taste

Steam the chopped chard stems for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves and steam about 10 minutes more. They need to be soft. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the oil or ghee on medium and add chopped onions. Saute for about 8 minutes, add garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and cardamom, and saute for 2-3 minutes more. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add chard, tomato sauce and rice, and boil briefly. Turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk or cream slowly, to avoid curdling. Add salt to taste, and more cayenne, if you need it to make you happy.

If you use frozen spinach, you can obviously skip the steaming and just add it straight from the bag. Make sure it comes to a boil before you add the cream. You could also use baby spinach fresh from the bag and just add it at the end, but boil for a few minutes to wilt the spinach.

For the tomato sauce, you could also used crushed or chopped canned tomatoes, or even fresh chopped tomatoes. If they’re fresh, just add them with the broth and boil for 10 minutes or so. You will need less broth with canned or fresh tomatoes. I grow my own tomatoes, because they’re sooooo much better than the ones you can buy, and I make a couple of batches of tomato sauce in the summer. This is the most versatile stuff. I don’t add salt or herbs, so I can use them in recipes that are Mexican, Indian, Italian, or whatever. I just add the appropriate spices or herbs later, with the recipe. This sauce has no seeds or icky skin, and is not runny like pureed tomatoes. It’s sauce, not juice. It’s pure, sweet tomato joy.

Tomato Sauce

Here’s how to do it: get about two gallons of fresh, very ripe tomatoes. I don’t use Romas, because they don’t ever get totally soft. I just use regular red slicing tomatoes. Blanch them about 4 at a time in boiling water for 1 minute. You can cut a little ‘x’ in the non-stem end, to facilitate peeling. After they have blanched, plunge them into cold water. Peel them, cut out the core, slice them in half, and scoop out the seeds and seedy pulp with your fingers. Do this over a sieve, to catch the juice that falls. Add them straight to a warming pot large enough to hold 1/2 – 3/4 or your tomatoes. You do not have to chop them or anything. Turn the heat up so they begin to simmer slowly, so that as you work, they will boil down and make more room. If you run out of space, take a break and eat some ice-cream, then go back and there should be more room. Pour the collected juice into the pot, discard the stems and seeds, and simmer the tomatoes for 2-4 hours very slowly, stirring often. You need to pay attention, especially after the first hour or so. They will stick to the pan and burn if you don’t stir. Let the sauce reduce to about 1/2 the volume you started with. The tomatoes will disintegrate as they cook.

When your sauce is nice and thick, and there is very little water floating on top, you can turn off the heat and let them cool to room temperature, stirring every so often to help it cool. At this point, you can either can it, or freeze it. The frozen tomato sauce is wonderful, and much less work than canning. Just get a bunch of 1 quart freezer bags and put about 2 cups of sauce in each one, squeezing out the air and laying them flat. Or, you can even use zippered sandwich bags, and put them all into a gallon size freezer bag together. Then put them in the freezer laying flat until they’re frozen, then stack them or put them upright where they fit. Use them all winter.

This makes the best spaghetti sauce in the world, with freshly sauteed onions, and whatever else you like in spaghetti. It’s also great to have for tomatoey Indian dishes like aloo gobi or baygan bharta. It’s so much quicker when you’ve already got the tomato sauce. It will make you happy in the winter, when there are no good tomatoes anywhere. I promise.