In the interest of economizing lately I’ve been turning to my pantry. Pantries are a magical thing- stuffed with dried beans, grains, cans of soup and coconut milk, pasta, lentils, vinegars, olive oil, nutella, and six types of sugar. At least, my pantry is. And that’s not counting the fresh staples that I always have on hand. There may not be an infinite variation of meals from these ingredients, but I haven’t hit the limit yet. It feels good to have a well-stocked larder. It feels like I could cook for months- as long as I can buy vegetables once a week.
Part of the efficiency of a pantry relies on actually using the things that I’ve collected, and that’s where I tend to fail. Dried beans? I’ve got ten types. And I even use them once in a while. But as fall truly arrives I’m interested in turning more towards pulses and grains.
I made this soup because I was curious if I could turn cabbage and rice soup- a drab sounding name if I’ve ever heard one- into something blog-worthy. As it turns out, the secret is in the spices.
Spices are another part of a well-stocked pantry that don’t get the attention they deserve. Too often spice cabinets are stocked with relics of decades past, the spices having lost their vibrancy a long time ago. I think that’s a reason Americans don’t cook much with spices- we are used to dusty old things, and don’t know how delicious spices can be.
Ground spices keep in good shape for a year, tops, before it’s time to toss them. Aaron and I buy most of our spices in bulk by the tablespoon, and buy actual jars of the ones that we go through quickly- mostly cumin, cinnamon, and paprika.
This soup relies on a mixture of smoked paprika, cayenne, mustard seed, fennel, allspice, and nutmeg. The taste twists and turns on your tongue- here pungent, here smokey, here spicy, here sweet. It’s hearty, but also sultry. Leeks and onions, cooking low and slow with butter, bring in a delicate sweetness. There’s a serious dose of sherry that comes in to elevating the nutty, earthy combination of brown rice and cabbage. And a flurry of Parmesan cheese brings out the nutty, salty, sweet notes of the rest of the soup.
It’s the kind of soup that makes me grateful fall is here. I hope you feel the same.
Cabbage and Rice Soup with Paprika and Sherry
If you don’t have sherry on hand, a fruity wine, either red or white, will do just fine.
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 an onion, diced
2 large leeks, halved, thinly sliced, and washed well
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup brown rice
1/2 a small cabbage, ribs removed and thinly sliced
1 cup sherry
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Parmesan cheese for serving
In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the onions, leeks, and a pinch of salt. Stir well, and let cook down until the onions and leeks have softened, and the liquid that the leeks give off is mostly evaporated, between ten and fifteen minutes.
Add the mustard seeds, paprika, cayenne, nutmeg, allspice, fennel, and black pepper and stir well. Let cook for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and let cook until it too is fragrant.
Stir in the rice and the cabbage. Let them cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is starting to break down just a little bit. This should take about ten minutes.
Add in the sherry and broth, and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Allow to simmer, uncovered, for about 35 minutes, until the rice is tender. If the soup gets too thick while cooking then add enough water to bring it back to a soup-like consistancy. Add the vinegar, and taste for seasoning- you may need more salt.
Serve hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.