The distinct flavours of asparagus two ways, lightly blanched and deeply roasted, combine with fresh and earthy baby spinach in this healthy vegan asparagus and spinach soup.
Asparagus two ways
This vegan asparagus and spinach soup recipe is a great way to use the stringy asparagus stalks you would typically discard. Instead, we roast them, then infuse that wonderful flavour into our soup stock. Shortly before serving, we blend in lightly blanched fresh asparagus. This combination results in a soup with layers of flavour ranging from the savoury freshness of fresh asparagus to the bitter-sweet characters that the roasting process entices from the inedible stalks.
Early incarnations of this recipe didn’t include spinach. But there was that time when I had baby spinach in the refrigerator that was getting near its use-by date. It was a fortunate circumstance. The spinach contributes an underlying earthiness that nicely complements the sweet, savoury, and bitter notes of the asparagus.
It is worth pointing out that this was baby spinach. This point is significant. More mature spinach, when cooked, becomes quite bitter. The same level of bitterness is not evident in cooked baby spinach, making it a much more appropriate addition to soups.
You do need containers of vegetable stock in your freezer. This base vegetable stock recipe is an excellent place to start. Store-bought stock is a second choice, but a distant second. Make your own if you have the time and a freezer to store it.
How to best thicken a soup is an active topic in culinary circles. A roux, cornflour, arrowroot, and egg yolks are all worthy solutions. With this vegan asparagus and spinach soup, I decided to try something new (for me at that time). Add a handful of rice to the broth as it simmers before being blended. The rice, cooked in the broth then combined with the other ingredients by the blending process, results in perfect consistency with none of the sticky mouthfeel sometimes felt with cornflour or a roux.
Vegan Asparagus and Spinach Soup
- 500 g asparagus stalks or whatever you have got in the freezer. Or just the stalks from the fresh asparagus below
- 1 litre vegetable stock or chicken stock if it works for you
- 3 Tbsp arborio rice
- 500 g fresh asparagus spears
- olive oil for cooking
- 1 onion finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic finely diced
- 200 g fresh baby spinach washed
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil for topping
- 1 Tsp salt
- Trim the stalks, the lower third, from the asparagus spears. Set the head and mid section aside.
- To a baking tray, add the fresh asparagus stalks together with any frozen stalks you had retained from previous dishes.
- Drizzle over some olive oil and toss the stalks to coat.
- Place under the broiler until starting to char. Toss again to char the other sides of the stalks.
- Add the stock and the roasted asparagus to a saucepan and bring up to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, but not so long as the asparagus stalks start disintegrating.
- Strain the stock and discard the stalks.
- Add some olive oil to a saucepan and put over a medium low heat.
- Cut the asparagus spears into 30-40 mm long pieces. Start measuring from the head end, so that you have got some nice consistent sized pieces to use as a garnish.
- Sauté the asparagus in the olive oil until it turns bright green, about 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove from the saucepan and set aside.
- Add the onion, garlic, and rice to the saucepan and sauté until the onion has softened and just starting to brown.
- Add the baby spinach to the saucepan and stir fry until wilted.
- Add the stock to the saucepan together with the salt and pepper. Bring up to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Select a few asparagus spears to use as a garnish, and add the rest of the sautéed asparagus to the saucepan. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
- Use an immersion blender to blend the contents of the saucepan into smooth puree.
- Adjust seasoning to suit your taste.
- Serve into warm bowls and top with asparagus spears and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.
- Serve with bread. The picture above features a sourdough rye bread that had come out of the oven earlier in the day.