Magic Winter Squash and Bean Soup

When I first started making vegetarian soups, I worried that they would be watery or bland without the round, soothing backdrop of good chicken stock. In its stead, some folks take the time to make a rich roasted vegetable stock, but the point of soup, to me, is a meal that’s warm and satisfying on the fly—something simple but downright good.  

My winter soup fits the bill. It’s as nimble and changing as my mood. The only constant is the butternut squash (which breaks down and both colors and flavors the broth to a richer state, like magic) and aged Parmesan (rind simmered in the soup for depth, and shavings over the top for a salty satisfaction). I usually add potatoes (which thicken the broth) and something green (for good health). The rest, my friends, is utterly subject to your whim. 

Besides chopping vegetables, there’s not much to this. You’ll find your way. Promise.

This is the kind of soup you’ll want to eat for days on end when the temperature drops and the ground is suddenly covered in white. And if you make it in your biggest pot, you can. Served with thick slices of whole grain bread and butter, it will leave you so contented you'll need little more than a juicy Clementine for dessert.

So what’s the real magic of this soup? It’s almost guaranteed to serve as many as can fit around your table (or will double or triple till it does). Keep a pot of this going once a week in the winter and you might find your table full of friends and neighbors, waiting with their hands wrapped on eager bowls.

Ladle it forth. The sun is setting later now but there's much to winter yet ahead. 


Magic Winter Squash and Bean Soup

Serves 6 to 8

4 large carrots, scrubbed
4 stalks celery, plus leaves
2 handfuls fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
1 large squash, peeled and cleaned (or 20 ounces cubed butternut squash)
4 small campari or 3 plum tomatoes (optional)
1 large bunch kale 
1 small wedge aged Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
6 to 8 cups water, plus as needed
Pinch red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 15-oz can of your favorite beans, rinsed and drained

 1. Slice the carrots and celery plus the celery leaves. Quarter the potatoes and cut the squash into chunks. Quarter the tomatoes. Remove the ribs from the kale and chop into bite-sized pieces. Set all the vegetables aside. Trim the parmesan away from the rind (or use a rind saved from a previous wedge) and set the rest aside. 

2.Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery and celery leaves and stir to coat. Cook until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, tomatoes, water, thyme and parmesan rind and bring to a simmer. Add a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, the squash is beginning to break down, and the soup is full of flavor, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Stir in the beans and cook to warm through, 2 minutes. Remove the lid and add the kale. Stir to cook (uncovered) until bright green and tender, 3 minutes more. Ladle into bowls and grate parmesan cheese generously over the top. Serve warm with buttered bread.


winter blues + blueberry barley and banana pancakes

So much for New Years resolutions. Already this month I've done two truly bad things Ive never done before. First, I knowingly bought blueberries out of season. Naughty. And second, I lied to my sister. It wasnt a lie exactly, but if Im being honest, it was a clear omission of truth. Heres how it happened:  

You can probably relate to this part—we were home for the holidays, my siblings and I, our kids and spouses under Mom and Dads roof, enjoying breaking all our own rules. I twice ate (and enjoyed) the fresh berries my parents graciously buy to keep our fruit-loving family in oatmeal toppings while theyre feeding us by the dozen. And though they weren't anything close to seasonal, if Im being honest again, it was truly freeing. Next, we had pancakes more than twice in one week—first, moms light and lovely whole-wheat buttermilk stacks, and then at Richard Walker Brother’sPancake House, where their endless list of options brought out the utter glutton in me. No matter that they arent even that good. They churn those babies out in every shape, size and flavor.

Heres the thing, I love making pancakes, and developing delicious, surprising combinations people love. But I rarely crave them. I expect a breakfast to be filling, long-lasting, energy inducing--the kind of thing that sticks with you for a long day on snowshoes or skis. Pancakes, delightful as they are, rarely fit that bill. 

But when you want pancakes, only pancakes will do.

Pancakes were on my mind for a good week following our trip home. Still, determined to clean up my act after the New Year, I ordered the Blueprint Cleanse and encouraged my sis to do the same. During our juicing days, I sent supportive texts of good cheer (wait till you taste the cashew milk!), and then, on Friday, another that said: Stock the fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables for the weekend. No pancakes. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I could think of nothing but pancakes. And there on the top shelf of our fridge was the half-pint of organic, boldly out-of-season blueberries Id shamelessly bought for oatmeal, taunting me. Oatmeal? Or blueberry pancakes? 

So heres what I decided: Pancakes we could have, but no white flour, and definitely no butter (okay, just one pat). They should taste like a classic—light, fluffy—but with a lot more heart and good intent. Since this was an utter detour from the cleanse (pancakes are, after all, just cake disguised as breakfast) they had to be worth it. Irresistibly good.

Sometimes good things happen when you allow yourself a sudden detour. This particular good thing was fluffy, hearty, lovable blueberry barley banana pancakes. No white flour. No sugar. No butter (except that harmless pat you see). And though there are a few naughty fresh blueberries sprinkled on top, these pancakes are studded with organic frozen blueberries (Cascadia farms), frozen in peek season when they are best, and just the thing to keep on hand for when youre craving some winter blues. 

Heres to being bad. Love you sis. 


Blueberry Barley and Banana Pancakes

Makes 8 pancakes

3/4 cup whole-wheat white flour
½ cup barley flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 egg
1 cup 2% milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ripe banana, smashed
1 cup organic blueberries, fresh or frozen
Canola oil, for cooking
Pure maple syrup, for serving

Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla; stir in the smashed banana.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Heat a large cast-iron or non-stick griddle over medium heat. Brush the pan with a thin layer of oil and drop the pancakes by ¼-cupfuls onto the griddle, leaving plenty of space between them to let them spread. Cook until the pancakes start to bubble around the edge, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle a few blueberries around each pancake and carefully flip. Cook until the pancakes are set and lightly golden brown, 2 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining batter, brushing lightly with oil as needed. Serve warm with maple syrup. 

P.S. I know what youre thinking—barley flour, really? Yes, really. Buy it, and I promise Ill give you more than one way to put it to good use. Its my favorite whole-grain flour, and it marries like a dream with bananas and warm, bursting blueberries. You'll find it in the health-food section of your supermarket, at your local health food store, or easily online


of chestnuts and plenty

Happy New Year! The first day of the year is a good day for talking about a healthy start and new beginnings. Its a day for fruit salads and resolutions. But we lived so much in every inch and corner of last year that its spilled over into this one. Resolutions will have to wait. Today, Im still reflecting.

Last year was full—full of blessings. Of celebrations and new things. It was a year of grabbing each moment and living in it a little more richly—allowing space and time for doing or cooking or eating or learning something that grabbed my attention at a given time, a freer form of living I learned from my sweet husband. I spent more time luxuriating over details on the garden. I splurged a little on that fine stinky cheese or handmade chestnut raviolis at Eataly, despite the knowledge that I could make (the later) at home for half the cost.  I enjoyed the craft of crackly crust breads I dream of making myself, and not for a minute regretted that I havent gotten to that yet.

Last year, I read books, books like The Invisible Bridge and The Shoemaker's Wife, which let me travel far beyond our four walls, let my mind and soul soar to new places and times, like a tiny village of the Bergamo Alta in the Italian Alps at the turn of the last century.  It is there that I imagined this meal, and how it came to be in our table—a meal from the time of artisans, when handcrafted foods unassumingly filled our kitchens—a time of hand cut ravioli and Robiola that aged in the cellar of every family home. It left such an impression on my soul that when Gourmet asked me what my best meal of the year was, this one came immediately to mind. Its now a part of their collection of the Best Things We Ate in 2012 on Gourmet Live, and one of dozens of memorable meals, moments, and riches I count among my own year's bests.


I always thought it odd that in our culture on New Years Eve, we party until the ball drops, and start the New Year pulling our pillows over our eyes. Im much more inclined to want to sit around a table with good friends and a generous spread of food, as we did last night, giving thanks for the plenty in our lives—the friendships, our dear families, good health—and then, at home quietly in our beds, think about what we want to carry forward into 2013: meals like this one, the love of color and texture and intoxicating photography, the instinct to stop long enough and often enough to write down the amazing things our tiny girl is saying and learning, to savor the pink of her cheeks and lips when she first wakes up, to keep dreaming about making my own crackly crust breads, and when I can not, keep treating myself to those made by others.

More than anything else, I want to carry forward gratitude—gratitude to God for all the tremendous opportunities weve been given; Gratitude to our friends, our family, our communities for making life rich, and for believing in our little family; Gratitude to all of you who come here to read and be fed. I hope youll keep coming, and most importantly, I hope your new year is full of plenty. 

Photos and Recipes © Sarah Copeland 2013
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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.