Minestrone Soup

A bowl of warm soup seems like such a contradiction in the middle of summer, but given the right ingredients and preparation it can be a great dish that makes you feel refreshed and replenished. Take Vietnamese pho, for example. This fantastic soup is eaten throughout the year all over Vietnam, even during the very hot tropical summer months. The clear broth is delicately flavored with star anise and ginger, while soft rice noodles, chili peppers, plenty of herbs, and thin slices of beef provide wonderful layers of different aromas and textures. I never thought I could eat steaming hot soup in 100F weather, but slurping my first bowl of pho taught me a different lesson!

The following recipe is not as exotic as pho, but a light minestrone with lots of fresh vegetables that gets a kick from couscous cooked with mint and fresh chili peppers. The entire soup including the couscous can be made in about 30 minutes, so this is a great meal for a light midweek dinner. Crusty Italian bread or baguette makes a great side.

Minestrone with Peppered Couscous and Mint (serves 4)
200g zucchini, cut into small cubes
150g potato (firm cooking), peeled and cut into small cubes
1 can cannellini beans
100g carrots, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 onion, finely diced
120g couscous
fresh red hot chili pepper, thinly sliced (adjust heat by using smaller amount)
fresh mint, cut into thin strips
1 dried bay leaf
4 cups vegetable broth
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper, optional

1. Heat oil in a wide pot. Saute onion until translucent.
2. Add carrots and bay leaf and saute for 1 minute.
3. Add potatoes and broth and simmer until almost tender.
4. Add zucchini and beans and simmer until all vegetables are tender, but not overly soft.
5. Cut chives into small pieces and add to soup.
6. While soup is cooking, prepare couscous according to package instructions (use vegetable broth instead of plain water for cooking couscous). Stir mint and chili pepper into dry couscous, then add soup. Cover and let sit until couscous is tender.
7. Serve soup with couscous.


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