Two factors have fueled my meal planning decisions in the past week: sickness and holiday rebound. The first is self-explanatory: my poor husband had an ugly cold for a few days and wanted nothing more than brothy soup for every meal. How could I say no? As for holiday rebound, this seems to happen to me every year, and I’m sure it’s not something just I deal with. After weeks of rich foods, larger-than-usual meals and sugary treats at every turn, my body wants, and needs, a break. I can’t look at cheese for a while and all I seem to be hungry for is vegetables. Though R is feeling better, this spinach soup was a welcome, comforting dinner we both enjoyed.
I had never had or made spinach soup before, that I can remember, but needed an option beyond a salad, pasta/orzo dish or wrap, my recent default meals for spinach. My first thought was palak paneer because YUM. (I will be making some soon, promise.) I didn’t have tomato or paneer on hand, so I decided to use some of the flavors of that dish in a soup, with modifications. As I was digging around in my spice drawer to find garam masala, I found my Syrian zahtar from World Spice and was immediately inspired to use that instead, with ingredients I thought would be complementary. The resulting soup was brothy and soothing: the spinach was a distinct, clean, good flavor and the zahtar, with its cumin, coriander and sesame seeds, gave warmth, nuttiness and depth of flavor. Perfect. It tasted so healthy! I got a juicer for Christmas and kept thinking that the soup tasted like something I made with that, not on the stove. I think some zahtar might find its way into my green juice someday…
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have zahtar on hand. My original plan was to use garam masala, possible curry powder, and I truly believe you could sub in either one with great results. That said, zahtar is a wonderful spice to have on hand: it’s great in hummus, as a seasoning for roasted meat or on potatoes or cauliflower. It’s often used as a table condiment, dusted on flatbread or mixed with olive oil as a dipping sauce. You can put it on popcorn. Sometimes called za’atar, zatar or zaatar (among other spellings), it’s not widely available in grocery stores but is well worth seeking out.
As corny as it may sound, it feels good to start 2013 in a fresh, healthy way. I jokingly dubbed January “Vegetable Month”, but I am actually leaning that way, so look for more veggie-heavy meals from me in the weeks to come. Happy New Year!
Spinach Soup with Zahtar
- 1 tsp. grapeseed or canola oil
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 1 tsp. zahtar (I like the Syrian blend from World Spice)
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 lb. fresh spinach, washed, tough stems trimmed (about 8 c.)*
- 4 c. vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 T. fresh lemon juice
- yogurt to garnish (optional)
In a stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat; add the shallot and cook until it is soft and fragrant but not brown, about 5 mins. Add the zahtar and stir to combine; allow the spice to cook for about a minute. Add the garlic and stir, then the spinach. Let the spinach wilt for 2-3 mins. and then stir/toss it to incorporate the shallot/spice mixture. Add the salt and broth and bring to a simmering boil. Lower the heat back to medium and cover, leaving a steam vent on one side; simmer for 10-15 mins. Use an immersion blender, or very, very carefully transfer to a blender (work in batches if necessary), to puree the soup. It will be quite thin and brothy. Add the lemon juice and taste to adjust seasoning. Return to the pan and reheat, if necessary, or serve immediately. You can swirl in a dollop of yogurt, if desired, or sprinkle a bit more zahtar over each bowl, or both.
*If you’re using baby spinach, the stems should be fine to use as-is. If you’re using bunched spinach, you may want to trim larger stems, or chop them finely. As for the measurement, spinach can be tricky– 1 c. is roughly one large handful. I was measuring from a container holding 1 lb. fresh spinach and used half of that container. This recipe would easily accommodate between 6 and 10 c. spinach.