Hearty Asparagus Soup: How I Got Duped By Popeye And Other Musings

You know you were a teenaged girl in the nineties if…

  • You remember that “the Cabbage Patch” was an easy dance move and the place where Xavier Roberts spawned the popular dimpled dolls.
  • In Your Eyes was “your song”… with at least two different people (and probably more).
  • You followed each subsequent teenage breakup with a viewing of When Harry Met Sally.

Well, I was a teenaged girl of the nineties, and it is for this reason that scenes from When Harry Met Sally pop into my head at the most unlikely of times.

Sally is telling Harry her opinions on Casablanca and claiming that when it comes to romantic pairings, women are practical and logical.  It’s at that moment that Harry is hit with an epiphany.

Harry: Oh, I understand.

Sally: What?  What?

Harry: Nothing.

Sally: What?

Harry: Forget about it.

Sally: For…  What?  Forget about what?

Harry: It’s not important.

Sally: No, just tell me.

Harry: Obviously you haven’t had great sex yet.

Oddly, it was this scene that was playing out in my mind while I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago.  The hostess brought out a bowl of Brussels sprouts.  A very small bowl.  To serve the entire dinner party.  I really like Brussels sprouts, but out of politeness to the other guests, I scooped a scant two or three onto my plate.  The bowl went around the table and came back to me again, almost full.  Bonus!  I could guiltlessly take more sprouts with the all clear.  The other dinner guests, self-proclaimed vegetable phobes, wanted nothing to do with them.  Then I took a bite… and realized those sad little sprouts had been boiled to oblivion.  They were an unfortunate comparison to the sprouts I was used to, roasted in the oven until caramelized, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.

Now, I got it.  This is why they didn’t like vegetables.  They thought vegetables tasted like this. It’s not that the other guests couldn’t love Brussels sprouts, wouldn’t love Brussels sprouts…  They just hadn’t had great sprouts yet.

Oh, we’ve all been duped by this kind of thing before.  Think back to before those teenaged days, back to your childhood, waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons.  You saw Popeye protecting Olive Oyl, ready to spar Bluto but first stopping to down a can of spinach.  You thought, “Wow, spinach.  If it makes ol’ Popeye’s forearms bulge like that, it must be some amazing stuff.”  So you asked your mom for a can of spinach, just like Popeye the Sailorman.  You were going to be a chiseled powerhouse like Popeye.  You were going to be the next Macho Man Randy Savage.  Your mom was delighted.  You were asking for spinach of all things!  And then you took a bite of that wet and goopy canned spinach and decided a life outside of professional wrestling and/or sailing wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Popeye must have been nuts.

So then for the subsequent decade, maybe you thought you hated spinach.  Maybe you avoided it, and olive oil, and sweet peas too just to be safe.  Until one day you had fresh spinach that had been lightly sautéed until just wilted in a drizzle of olive oil with a mound of minced garlic, a handful of dried cranberries and pine nuts.  You realized that Popeye was half right.  You could be strong to the finish cause you eat your spinach.  (And if you had a hamburger today, well, you might just be Wimpy.)  But spinach out of a can?  Absolutely not.

There were a plethora of vegetables that I just didn’t realize I liked until I had them fresh.  As a child I’d make a game out of eating canned peas just to get them down, but when I was introduced to fresh peas I was pleasantly surprised at how they popped with flavor and had a bite to the tooth.  Canned corn was okay, but how could it compare to an August day eating it right off of the cob?

All of that said, I suppose there is one small exception…  While roasted asparagus with a smidge of sea salt is my absolute favorite, as a young adult I still had a soft spot for canned asparagus.  I haven’t had it in years now, but I remember the condensed flavor of the asparagus, even as mush, was just plain good.  That was the impetus behind making the following soup.  I wanted a soup that held onto that bold asparagus flavor but made fresh.  It’s a hearty soup without a lot of spices.  That means that all of the focus is given to that lovely spring vegetable, asparagus.

Hearty Asparagus Soup

Serves one as a meal or two as a starter

  • 12 ounces fresh asparagus
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp oil (canola, avocado, or olive), plus a small additional amount for roasting asparagus
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ vegan vegetable bouillon cube
  • Pinch of smoked salt (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Wash asparagus, removing wooded ends at each spear’s natural breaking point.  Dry three spears of asparagus, drizzle lightly with oil, and roast on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally throughout.  When the asparagus is softened with a nice brown color, remove it from the oven and set aside for garnish.

Chop the remaining asparagus into one-inch pieces.  In a small soup pot, sauté the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery in one teaspoon of oil.  Once the onion is translucent, add the one-inch pieces of asparagus, half of a bouillon cube, and water to the pot.  The water will not cover all of the asparagus; the goal is to steam most of it.  Set it to a medium heat and cover.  If it starts to boil, lower the heat.  Cook for 10 minutes, until the asparagus is bright green and soft.  Once the asparagus and carrots are tender, blend the soup fully with a conventional or immersion blender.  (If you’re using an immersion blender, you may have to tilt the pot to have enough liquid in one spot for easier blending.)  Add a pinch of smoked salt, and salt and pepper to taste.  Chop the roasted asparagus that was set aside earlier into small bites.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with the roasted asparagus.

13 thoughts on “Hearty Asparagus Soup: How I Got Duped By Popeye And Other Musings

  1. Both my husband and I found the asparagus soup recipe to be delicious and satisfying. This works well as a light meal with a piece of bread. Thanks for posting this recipe.

  2. Hehe, this post is SO true! I’ve always thought the very same thing – and experienced it myself. I always thought I didn’t like cauliflower, sprouts, asparagus, and so on – until I had them properly cooked (mostly by myself – it’s stunning how many people don’t know about roasted brussels!). It really is tragic.

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  6. It was the craving for the taste of freshly picked vegetables that got me started on gardening. Nothing compares to the satisfaction and enjoyment of eating vegetables grown and harvested from your own backyard.

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