Clean Eating Vegetable Minestrone

This week, summer decided to make a comeback in Chicago. As much as I love the crisp fall weather, I’m not complaining. 74°, sunny, and breezy is OK in my book. So maybe I should be making some recipe reminiscent of summer, but I’m not. I’m making soup again. Deal with it.

This week in our CSA, we got fennel. I had never eaten fennel before, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little scared of it. I mean, the thing smells like licorice. What kind of vegetable smells like candy? As you might be able to guess, I am not a fan of licorice. Just thinking about it grosses me out. So I was a little nervous to try this soup, which not only includes fennel, but also fennel seed. Double licorice whammy. But I decided to go ahead and try it, because I didn’t want it to go to waste. We also got onions and spinach in our box this week, which I was able to use in the soup as well!

After looking at the title of this post, you might be asking yourself “what is clean eating?” Good question. Let me google that. (I love googling.) Alright, so my sources tell me that clean eating involves eating only fresh, unprocessed, whole foods. For all you meat-eating naysayers out there, don’t worry, you’re still allowed to eat meat. But it means eating meat that is whole and straight from the butcher. No chicken McNuggets for you, my friend. I would also add that no meat could be considered “clean” unless it is from a sustainable source. This means grass-fed, free-range, preferably local, and organic. You don’t even want to know all the junk that goes into the other meats, but that is for another post altogether.

Clean eating also includes eating lots of plants! This does not mean eating french fries and making excuses like “but, it’s a potato.” No, that is not a potato. Though still damn tasty, I know. Eat vegetables/plants in their whole form, straight from the ground, tree, or bush — preferably veggies from your local farmers market, a CSA if you get one, or organic from the store. You get the picture.

Summary: clean eating = don’t eat garbage.

There is a nice little blog post here for more info about clean eating.

Now on to the recipe. I must warn you that this takes a lot of prep time. Lots of peeling, chopping, and chiffonading (more on that later, but don’t I sound fancy?). It probably took me close to an hour in prep work. (Disclaimer: I’m really slow at that stuff.) But don’t worry, it was worth it. After all the prep work, the soup doesn’t take long to cook, and you get the delicious reward of a CLEAN and tasty meal.

A few notes about the recipe:

1. The bulb of fennel we got in our box was reeeally tiny. Itty bitty. Usually fennel has this massive baseball-sized bulb. Not the case here. So instead of the 1 cup the recipe called for, I only got about 1/4 cup. But it turned out totally fine. So any amount between 1/4 cup and 1 cup will be just fine. I’m assuming with the whole cup you’ll get a little bit of a stronger fennel flavor.

2. To crush fennel seeds, you need a mortar & pestle or a coffee grinder. I had neither. Well, I have a coffee grinder, but it was covered in coffee grinds at the time and I didn’t feel like cleaning it out. So I did the really tedious thing and just attempted to crush the seeds up as best I could using a large spoon. It didn’t work so well, and it took a long time and was extremely annoying.

3. If you’re at all like me, you looked at this recipe and said “what the heck is chiffonade?” Yeah. Here’s a video. Actually, chiffonading was kind of fun! I had so much fun that I decided to chiffonade my basil in addition to my spinach. Enjoy.

One more thing… look at this carrot. Monster carrot, right? With this baby I got an overly heaping cup-full of diced carrot. Sorry, had to share.

Alright, I’m done now. On to the soup, I promise.

Veggie Minestrone Soup (8 servings)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup diced fennel bulb
1 cup diced red onion (or really whatever onions you’ve got laying around)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1 1/2 cups  (or 1 can) cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup fresh spinach, cut chiffonade
1 Tbsp. basil, thinly sliced
2 oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (aboutt 1/2 cup) (optional)

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. The following is not a picture of oil heating up in a pot. It is a picture of your new best friend. I love this thing — so great for measuring out tablespoons of liquid. Much easier and much less mess this way. I got mine at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Once your oil is heated up a little bit, add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add 6 cups water, beans, tomatoes, and quinoa. Heat to boiling then reduce heat to low and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in bowls. Garnish each with 1 Tbsp cheese, if desired.

In the end you get a beautiful soup, packed with veggies. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this did not taste at all like licorice. You can taste the fennel, but it’s very subtle and adds a nice flavor to the soup. Isn’t it pretty?

Enjoy vegan:

Or not so vegan:

Either way, I think you’re gonna like it.

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2 thoughts on “Clean Eating Vegetable Minestrone

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