Sunday, June 06, 2010

Very Green Soup

Contrary to what Kermit from Sesame Street says, it is pretty easy being green, by which I mean making eco-friendly choices, if people around you have the right attitude. For instance, when eating at a restaurant I usually can't finish my portion so the leftovers come home with me in a box. It feels great to not be wasting the food, but I feel a pang of guilt about bringing home a disposable container and this pang is stronger when the container in question is made of styrofoam.

On Friday, V and I were craving Chinese food and headed to a local restaurant called the Chinese Noodle Cafe. But this time, I remembered to grab a container from my kitchen as we headed out the door. When I was done eating my spicy Hunan vegetables and fried rice, I discreetly (and a little sheepishly) pulled out my own container and packed the remaining food in it. As luck would have it, the owner spotted me and instead of frowning or glaring at me as I half-expected, she surprised me by saying, "How nice that you got your own container; let me give you some more fried rice to take home", and proceeded to take my container away and fill it up with more food. How gracious of her. Now I feel bolder about taking my own containers to restaurants without feeling completely out of place.

Speaking of greener choices, nothing makes more sense than cutting down on food waste. Think about it. Not one of us would grab money from our wallets, tear it up and throw it in the garbage- that just sounds ridiculous. However, we (most of us, to some extent anyway) are quite happy to do it in an indirect way. We use our precious time to drive or walk to the store, spend hours shopping, spend the money, lug heavy bags to our kitchen, stock the food, wait weeks or months, then throw the food out. Well, this month is a challenge to use up some of the food that might be potentially wasted.

Inspired by this recipe for broccoli, asparagus and pea soup from Tara the Foodie, my soup contained the following:
  • A partial bag of frozen peas (frozen peas are a pantry staple for me, and this one was left over from several batches of peas pulao, upma etc.)
  • A partial bag of frozen asparagus spears (my downstairs neighbor moved, she was sighing and tossing it away and I offered to take it and use it)
  • Frozen broccoli that I had divided and frozen in portions when I bought a large quantity one time, several months ago
  • The last teaspoon of mushroom stock base at the bottom of the jar
  • Some of the nutritional yeast that has been languishing in the fridge
  • A hunk of stale bread
Here is my version of the soup:

Thick Chunky Very Green Soup

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. vegan Earth Balance butter substitute (or butter) and 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large pot.
  2. Saute 1 medium onion, some celery and garlic until fragrant.
  3. Add 7-8 cups mixed vegetables- chopped broccoli, peas, chopped asparagus and saute for a minute.
  4. Add some milk, water, mushroom stock base, 2 slices stale bread (chopped) and simmer until vegetables are tender.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried thyme. Add 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast for a cheesy umami flavor.
  6. Blend the soup.
Believe it or not, this "kitchen sink" soup was very tasty and nourishing. Because this recipe is inspired by another blogger, and because it uses up ingredients lurking in my kitchen, it goes to Blog Bites 4. Please join us if you wish and eat down your own kitchen clutter all this month.

On The Bookshelf
When a new movie is released, most people go to the movie theatre and watch it; not being a movie person, I go to the library and borrow the book that the movie was based on (and have you noticed that more and more movies are based on books these days?)- which is how I went to look for the novel Push by Sapphire that the award-winning movie Precious is based on. Several people had the same idea as me, so I only read the book last week. It is fair to say that it is the most brutal, harrowing book I have read in my life. I was utterly shocked and fearful as I read it and I am not easily shocked. It is a most difficult book to read, but completely worth reading.

I had a special interest in the next book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, because like almost everybody on this planet who has studied mammalian cell biology, I have worked with HeLa cells, which originated in the uterine tumor of Henrietta Lacks. Since I've grown thousands of petri dishes of these cells, and spent hours upon hours peering at them under the microscope, I had to read her story. And I am so glad I did.

This book is at the intersection of so many difficult themes- issues of class and race, the history of science, medical ethics, family politics- yet it flows effortlessly because the person who wrote it has mad journalistic skills and true compassion for the people she is writing about. Whether or not you have any interest or background in biology, it is a must read.

Come back in 2-3 days (if you dare) to read my first attempt at fiction! Have a wonderful week.


  1. Several months back I was in the car and heard Rebecca Skloot on the radio being interviewed - it sounded like a fascinating book. As is par for the course for me, I forgot about it by the time I got home. Thanks for the reminder Nupur! I just put a hold on it at the library. Looks like I'll be waiting awhile though - I'm 279th in the queue!

  2. Nupur, you are an inspiration. That is so nice of the the Noodle lady.

    The greeny soup is healthy and 'earth friendly'.

    That is one recommendation I am going to ignore. No Precious for me.

  3. The soup looks great. Love the green color.

    I must say you are a brave girl to carry your own container to a restaurant. I thought about it once but never dared take one. Will gather up some courage and try it next time :)

    I watched a documentary called 'Recycled life' ( over the weekend. Pretty disturbing... will make one think twice before trashing/wasting anything.

  4. I love the idea of bringing a container for leftovers to a restaurant. Brilliant!

    Our family just recently atrted working to reduce our food waste as well. It was really quite ridiculous. Now it means a few trips to the store, but it's nice to see almost no food go to waste.

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. gorgeous soup....wht a lovely to b green with this delcious soup nupur.

  6. I love the idea of taking your own container to a restaurant. Never thought about doing that, but I do hate the styrofoam ones.

  7. Very thoughtful of both you and the restaurant owner..Haven't read "Push/Precious", yet, but it is on my list.And i agree much with you on HeLa..

  8. Nupur Kudos! for having the spunk to take your own container. I say spunk coz people will appreciate it more. Was the restaurant owner oriental? Doesn't matter but it was outrageously sweet of her! Love this post every bit. Will this soup be good as a dip?

  9. That is so nice of the chinese restaurant lady! i have to _always_ bring some food back home (look at the portion sizes!) and i have been always shy to bring my own containers but your encounter now strengthens my resolve :)

    Yes, Push seems to be very touching and a tormenting read from what i hear. look fwd to your fiction attempt!

  10. You inspired me with this post to take more bold steps. I really am trying to minimise my use of plastics. I always ask for tin foil pouches for our home deliveries or take aways, and many a times have been subject to frowning and odd comments. its goos that the chinese cafe lady was so understanding and gracious hardly we can think of such awareness here.
    the green soup looks creamy and fits the theme perfectly.

  11. I thought I was the only one around carrying containers while eating out!!As u say,the floor manager/owner understands what we are trying to do.

    Lovely soup and am desperate to try it :)

  12. Oh cool! Love your writing so can't wait to read your stab at fiction!
    I picked up "Like water for chocolate" a while ago from the library and liked the way it played out in my head better than in the movie I saw a few weeks later.
    Looked up HeLa cells- very interesting!No Precious for me too though, avoided the movie for the same reason- I'm a wuss :(

  13. When we order we get the food in container and i gently ask the guy to wait till i empty the containers and return him ,,,sometimes he explains he cant take it back to which i say neither can i keep it !

    so what you do too seems on same lines :)

    btw right timing of the post, guess its environmental week - work ppl are providing each of us with 5 saplings for planting more n more trees ! We are quite excited with the initiative :)

  14. Thanks for the reminder about bringing your own container for restaurant leftovers. I always mean to do it, but always forget. I'm putting an empty container in my bag right now.

  15. I don't think I could pull off mission-container. :) :)

    Nice to read your short book reviews.

    Your soup looks great. I'm afraid my pantry cleaning exercises somehow are totally adhoc and unplanned dishes. Am finding it hard to coordinate that with cooking from another blog. Anyway, there's time.. :)

    Looking forward to your fiction!

  16. Cathy- I am full of awe for Rebecca Skloot, for her tenacity in getting this book written! I hope you get it within the year :) that the first 278 people in line hurry up and read it.

    indosungod- Isn't it nice of her? My behavior is definitely reinforced by such rewards :)
    Oh, I don't blame you for not wanting to read Precious...

    Amruta- Oh, it is not so bad, do take your own container next time and tell us what the reaction was :) I think people are very open-minded to eco-friendly measures these days. The documentary sounds so interesting- must try and find it.

    jlm- How nice! I am sure as you build up the habit of not wasting food, you will get better at meal planning and minimize trips to the store. Kudos to you!

    Sanyukta- Thanks

    Kalyn- I hate styrofoam too, and we have some casual eateries here that sell everything ONLY in styrofoam so I don't eat there any more.

    musical- So you read the liked the HeLa book too?

    Anjali- The soup might be a bit bland as a dip but you could spice it up, it is definitely thick enough to be a dip!

    PJ (Ginger and Garlic)- I know, portion sizes are large enough that for the price of a meal, I can also have lunch the next day ;) Do take your own container next time and tell us how it goes; wouldn't it be nice if we could start a little trend?

    Sayantani- I think if I do hear an odd comment, I might try and explain why I am doing what I am doing. Tin foil avoids plastic but still results in trash!
    I remember as a kid, my parents would occasionally get take-out from a local restaurant; they actually took steel containers (dabbas) there because the concept of disposables just did not exist.

    PJ- Good for you that you are already doing this! Yes, it is nice when people see you doing something different and understand the reason you are doing it.

    magpie- My fiction writing is atrocious as you shall soon find out ;)
    I loved the book Like Water for Chocolate but I did not watch the movie.

    Kanchan- I did not know it was enviromental week- how cool about the sapling. Where did you plant yours?
    Have you tried taking your own dabbas to the restaurant to be filled up? I guess you can't have it delivered though.

    Lydia- LOL I keep forgetting too, but with this incident, I think I will remember more often.

    SS blogs here- Why not? Everyone can pull off mission container :) we are not doing anything wrong, so why be ashamed?
    I know what you mean about ad hoc pantry cleaning. The way I end up cooking from another blog is because I use random to-be-used ingredients as search terms to get inspiring recipes from other food blogs.

  17. I've been a silent reader for a long time but I had to speak up after this post. KUDOS to you on bringing your own container! We routinely bring our own containers for takeout, and I do my darndest to remember to grab some if I think the day's outing could result in a restaurant meal.

    I also keep a few sporks in the glove box. Never know when you might have to make a pit stop for some DQ soft-serve. Or some other food emergency. I can't cram my car full with containers, but at least a spork cuts down on all the plastic utensils!

    I have a story about takeout though - my husband usually is the one who picks up from our regular sushi place. Always with the same containers. One time, I went, laden with all manner of containers for sushi and miso soup and teriyaki. And then on the spur of the moment, I ordered a couple extra items. When I came back to pick up my order (luckily the grocery store is next door so I can run my errands while I wait), the waiter handed me my reusable bag, pointed to the one foil container and said, in a somewhat accusing tone, "your husband always brings enough containers!"

    My husband and I have not visited that restaurant together, so clearly they recognised me by my containers!

  18. You are so brave - you inspire me!!! As it is when I carry my cloth bags to the mall every week, I seem to see people sniggering as they carry their oversized Gucci holdalls instead ;)

    I am currently reading the Millenum trilogy - on book 2 now and completely riveting...

  19. First, wonderful soup!!!! I am over run with peas right now--peas it is for all dishes now! And I think your idea of a container to-go is a brilliant one! I would have been shy about this as well, but what a win-win idea! Can't wait to read the fiction you post--I love that! And. . .I married a biochemist and am fascinated with the vocation so I must check this book out!

  20. Gr8 idea of carrying your own container, i must try this trick, nice soup btw..

  21. An excellent idea to carry your own container. We always end up transferring to a plate to re heat the food. This is why i love to come to your space, I always have something new to learn from you.

  22. OOh! you are a brave gal taking your own container to the restaurent. And we need more brave people like you. I will try and join your troop the next time I go to one:) I completely agree with your food waste logic. The moment we got our food recycle bin (for composting), i realise how much of it is really wasted. And since then, my attempt is to reduce the number of bags in this bin, while still recycling the max. And that thankfully have resulted in very less food being wasted.

  23. I've never thought to take my own container to a restaurant but I love the idea - little things make a difference - I also love your soup - any green food always delights me - Kermit was so wrong


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