Friday, May 2, 2008

Kids Make Cream of Asparagus Soup

The idea of seasonality is not an easy one for young children to grasp. I'm hoping repetition will leave an impression. So this week we returned to the subject of asparagus in my "food appreciation classes." And who could possibly object to eating fresh asparagus again and again and again?

Children are fascinated by asparagus spears. In this week's lesson we read a picture book--"How Groundhog's Garden Grew"--that contained a surprising amount of good information about cultivating vegetables, including my favorite aparagus attribute: it is a perennial plant whose gnarly roots continue to produce spears for 15 years or more with very little maintenance.

Previously the kids learned how to poach asparagus and incorporate it into a frittata. This week we aimed to turn our asparagus into a creamy yet healthy soup. The recipe is extremely simple.

First the kids snapped off the tough ends off 1 1/2 pounds of asparagus. Then, using their platsic knives, they cut the spears into 1/2-inch pieces that we cooked until very tender in 4 cups (1 quart) of chicken broth. (You could also use vegetable broth for this to make a vegetarian soup.)

Meanwhile, we trimmed and cleaned a large leek. The kids were not familiar with leeks, so I cut off a piece and passed it around for them to smell. They noticed immediately a resemblance to onion. Leeks, onions, garlic, chives--they are all in the allium family. This time of year, we would be on the lookout for wild leeks--or ramps--to be foraged in area forests. They are delicious sauteed, and unlike cultivated leeks, you can eat the green parts.

To prepare the leek, I show the kids how to trim away the dark green parts. They are tough and inedible. Then I split the leek down the middle lengthwise from a point about 1/2 inch from the root end. The leek flops open, allowing us to rinse it thoroughly under cold running water and wash away any of the dirt that might be hiding between the layers.

We slice the leek fairly finely, season it with 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute it in a skillet over low heat with two or three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive until very soft. This takes about 12 minutes.

After we read our story, we return to the kitchen and scrape the leeks into the sauce pan with the asparagus and broth. In three separate batches, we process the broth and vegetables in a blender with 1/2 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt (or substitute conventional yogurt). Since the liquid is still hot, I show the kids how to avoid a burn by placing a kitchen towel over the lid of the blender. I hold the lid firmly in place with the towel. We don't want our soup to end up on the ceiling!

We pour the finished soup into a bowl after each batch, stir in a squeeze of lemond juice and finally ladle it into hot drink cups. The soup has cooled somewhat by now and could even be served room temperature.

Our asparagus soup is full of flavor but low in fat and calories. Funny how some of the kids who swore they would not like this soup are practically inhaling it. Some are even begging for seconds. Good thing we made enough.

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