This versatile soup is the vibrant green of new growth that we are all waiting for in early spring. It has a silken mouth feel and dances with the flavors of basil and fennel. Comforting when served warm on a snowy perfidious spring day as we are having today. I love it best chilled and garnished with yogurt and chives.
March in New England is full of the promise of spring. The whispered promises of a cheating lover. After making it through the winter. Making it thru the frozen days of February. March arrives and each day is as grey as the one before plodding like grim soldiers towards April with its heavy rains and leaden skies.
Spring was unbearable for Rie. Her own mother’s birthday fell on the Ides of March. The scent of waking earth beneath the pines tore at her heart. Spring brought with it the homesickness she was able of push away the rest of the year. Walking home from the bus stop on those wet April nights when the road was slick and shiny with trapped starlight thoughts of home weighed at her feet. She would stare hard at the green haze that lay over April trees wondering if it were wishful thinking or had that miracle of true spring finally arrived.
“If there was only one tree like that in the world, you would think it was beautiful. But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is.”
-A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
In our tiny bricked yard that most would call a patio but for us was a garden, a yard, and an outdoor dining spot all rolled into one, was a lilac tree. Somehow in that shaded spot it had grown tall with one grey trunk rising upwards towards the light. Its crown unfurled with heart shaped leaves and bunches of pendent lavender flowers. Their scent wafted up to my bedroom window at night calling me to walk down and sit on the back steps in the dark. People would exclaim when they entered the yard “Oh a lilac tree. I didn’t know there were lilac trees”
Though we lacked what many families took for granted we had this one small wonder and Rie took pride in that. Lilacs meant that we had made it through winter and had the whole summer ahead of us. We were sitting at the table with a feast spread before us: that is what May felt like.
Down at the end of the block was a house with large lilac bushes so heavy with blooms that there was a mist of drunken bees in the air and the heavily laden bushes bent low with the burden of both bees and flowers.
The smell of moist earth and lilacs hung in the air like wisps of the past and hints of the future.
In early evening Rie would set out with her basket, her shears and her determination. She’d arrive home breathless with armfuls of lilacs. Her cheeks pink with exertion and with the excitement of having gotten away from the scene of the crime. There she was in her 30’s and 40’s still capable of wild acts. Just as she was the girl who stole sweet juicy fruit from the trees of her neighbors in Denmark. Sweet thievery suited her. For days our house was filled with the heady lilac perfume and the buzzing of the few bees too lazy to leave their blossoms.
A light green springtime soup. Serve it warm, chilled or room temperature. It is simple to make but between the layers of fennel, basil and leek flavours lies a uniquely delicious soup.
Slice your leeks lengthwise into 4 quarters and rinse well in water to remove all the grit. Roughly chop them. Heat olive oil in a wide pan until medium hot and sauté your leeks for 2 minutes and then add the minced garlic and continue sautéing until the leeks are bright green. Remove from heat and set aside. It took me 4 minutes start to finish.
Dice up your zucchini. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil and put in your diced zucchini and fennel seeds. Cover and allow to simmer about 5-6 minutes until the zucchini is vibrant green and just tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the cashews, miso paste and leek mixture.
Add the soy milk..
Allow to cool 10 minutes and then stir in the shredded basil. lemon zest and lemon juice into the pot. Puree until smooth using either an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender. Salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with yoghurt, and chives. Eat warm, room temperature or chill overnight.