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February 9, 2009

Roasted Red Vegetable Soup

I love to cook with seasonal, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Nothing beats the taste of ripe produce plucked from familiar soil, and the knowledge that I’m supporting sustainable agriculture. But around here, February is a hard time to stand on locavore principles.

After another morning walk with the dogs in subzero temperatures, my long underwear frozen to my legs, I broke down and bought some red peppers and tomatoes. That they’re even available means it’s summer somewhere, right?

The problem with out-of-season vegetables is that their long journey to Maine from that verdant somewhere robs them of their potency. Roasting is one way to get more flavor out of lackluster, long-haul vegetables that smell like nothing and taste like refrigerated truck. They become sweet and smoky, deeply flavorful without a lot of oil or seasoning.

This slow, simple soup comes together in three phases:

1. Roasting the vegetables
2. Pureeing the vegetables
3. Combining all the ingredients and adjusting the seasoning

Nothing here is difficult, but you do have to manage several things simultaneously, so read the recipe through and have all your ingredients ready before you start. If you prefer a smooth soup, you can omit the rice and chickpeas. I like a little something to chew on, and the grain and protein make this a complete vegetarian meal. Any type of long grain rice will work. I cooked ½ cup jasmine rice in ¾ cup water on the back burner while my vegetables roasted.

When the windows for fresh Maine peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes converge in late August, I’ll make a few batches of this satisfying soup and store them away for winter lunches.

Roasted Red Vegetable Soup

5 large tomatoes
4 red peppers
4-6 cloves garlic, whole
Olive oil
2 ½ cups diced yukon gold potatoes
3 cups vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons vegan margarine (Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
1 diced sweet onion
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 ½ cups cooked rice
3 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Slice the tomatoes in half, then slice each half into thick wedges and put them in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pepper and place them in the oven.

Cut the red peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Remove the garlic’s paper skin. Brush or spray the peppers and garlic with olive oil and set them aside.

While the tomatoes are roasting, bring the diced potatoes and broth to a simmer. Boil the potatoes for 15 minutes, or until very tender. Puree the potatoes and broth and set the mixture aside.

When the tomatoes have been roasting for 30 minutes, give them a stir and put the peppers and garlic in the oven. Roast the vegetables for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the skins of the peppers are seriously blackened. Remove the vegetables from the oven.

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Melt the margarine. Sautee the onion in the margarine until it is lightly browned.

In batches, puree the onion, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic (burnt skins and all) in a blender. Combine them with the potato mixture in the soup pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the thyme, oregano, and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Add the cooked rice and chickpeas, and warm through before serving.

Makes 6 main dish servings.

Mary Lake is a writer, teacher, columnist for MF&L, and vegetarian food blogger: Mitten Machen


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