12/25/2013 03:10 EST | Updated 03/03/2014 04:59 EST

The Main Ingredients III: Holiday Side Dish (Challenger's Meal)

I prefer hot weather, so I'm always a bit sad when winter gets closer. I do, however, have one consolation prize: soup. It probably wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that soup is my favourite thing to eat. As a result, I've gotten pretty good at making it, and I can throw together a basic vegetable soup without much thought or trouble.

But because I eat soup so often -- especially at this time of year -- having the same kind over and over again can get pretty boring. I'd also like to find some ways to use new, healthy ingredients, because getting four or five health foods through soup is a great way to add variety to one's diet.

And because our meals need to feed me (vegetarian, gluten free), my husband (no dietary restrictions), and our toddler son (vegetarian), they should be easy to make. This is one of my favourite things about making my go-to veggie soup, but a new recipe can require more work. I was hoping to find something that we could add to our meal rotation, which meant choosing a recipe that wouldn't be too complicated.

Warm Winter Soup

Main Ingredients Used:

The Main Ingredients III: Challenger's Meal 3

  • Black-eyed peas
  • Fennel
  • Rapini

In searching online, I discovered that black-eyed peas, rapini, and fennel are commonly used in a type of Greek salad, so I thought the ingredients would blend together well for a soup. I adapted this recipe from FoodieFresh, halved the quantities, and cooked it on the stove instead of in a crockpot.

Ingredients List:

  • 250 mL (1 cup) dried black-eyed peas, cooked separately
  • 1 L (4 cups) water
  • 2 low-sodiumvegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1/2 fennel bulb and stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • Fresh pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. Newfoundland savoury
  • Chopped fennel leaves as garnish
  • 250 mL (1 cup) chopped frozen rapini

Preparation: I cooked the black-eyed peas on their own in advance, but you could also use canned beans to save time. I added some fresh Newfoundland savoury because I thought the flavour would work well with these ingredients. And I threw in some frozen rapini to echo the flavours of the Greek salad recipes I found; you could substitute kale or spinach, if you prefer.

This was pleasingly easy to make. Cooking the black-eyed peas in advance required some planning, but they didn't have to be checked often once they were on the stove. Similarly, I chopped the fennel and carrots in the food processor to save time, and the soup was as simple as putting everything in the pot and checking it every so often until it was done. We added a simple salad of baby spinach leaves with basic vinaigrette and pomegranate seeds to round out the meal.

The Verdict: I really liked the flavour: the fennel has a great taste, but isn't used often so it's surprising. The black-eyed peas made the soup hearty and added protein and fibre. I can definitely see myself making this one again. My husband liked it as well, but wished his bowl was a bit spicier; it'd be easy to add some crushed red pepper flakes if you want a bit of a kick. And I wasn't sure what my young son would think of the stronger flavours in this soup, but he really enjoyed it as well. (He comes by his love of soup honestly.) I added a bit of whole milk to his to up the fat content and reduce the sodium by diluting it, and gave it a quick spin in the blender to break the ingredients up a bit for him while still leaving some texture.

As a bonus, the original recipe is variable. Try a different bean or legume, and different greens. Use parsnip instead of carrot. Add in your own favourite herbs. It's both a delicious soup on its own, and a great starting point for many other one-pot meals that will keep you warm all winter.