The Root of the Root {vegetable beef soup}

66 years ago today my mom was born and this is the tenth year I’ll be celebrating her birthday without her. In every single way I credit her with giving me my love of food and cooking and not a day goes by when I don’t want to tell her something new I’ve learned or tried. I know she’d be so proud to see me eating things like sweetbreads and chicken livers and less candy (well, a little less).

My mom was a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen, a follower of the Food Network before it became what it is today and a big fan of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. I remember watching Justin Wilson with her growing up when the only time you could watch people cook on TV was after “This Old House” on PBS. She had me making profiteroles at age 10 and poaching salmon in the dishwasher a few years later.

She was particular about everything. And I’m exactly that way. She absolutely said “I love you” with food and found a way to perfect a flourless chocolate cake at home when she could barely stand up in the kitchen because she knew how much I loved them. She splurged on champagne and escargot in the last few months of her life and sent waiters to nearby stores to fetch the beer she wanted when it wasn’t on the menu. And they didn’t seem to mind.

She was quirky. And I’m exactly that way too. She carried her own salad dressing around in her purse for years but only after pouring half the oil off the top so it was more tangy. She always had a cup of ice water on her in the car and even spent an afternoon at a high school baseball game sitting on a sandwich. She was her own panini press.

She instilled in me a sense of being adventurous and confident in the kitchen and the Christmas before she died, in a cookbook she made for me and my siblings, she wrote something that has shaped me and guides me everyday.

Call it what you will, I believe it was my mom charging me with being the tie that binds our family together through food and I’ve worked my hardest to do that. That’s why I have this blog.

So, it’s not a tradition in the sense that I do it every year, but I try to take the time to cook homemade vegetable soup and drink champagne on mom’s birthday. If nothing else, I generally at least nail the champagne part. This year, I was determined to do both. Full disclosure, I’m not actually eating the soup on mom’s birthday because of a work conflict, but I thought the birthday post was a good way to make up for that.

My husband laughs at the fact that we call this vegetable soup when one of the main ingredients is a chuck roast. It never occurred to me that vegetable soup didn’t have beef and so I never thought it needed clarification. I love this recipe because it always tastes exactly the same. It’s the most comforting of comfort foods – nothing fancy, nothing particularly fresh, but hearty and warm and as close to getting a hug from my mom as I can get.

The recipe itself has sort of gone viral. One of my best friends has cooked this for her family over the holidays and without getting too hopeful, I think it may become a tradition. She’s cooked it for friends who have asked me for the recipe so they can duplicate it. It’s exactly what mom would have wanted to happen. Somehow, she’s managed to keep feeding people after all this time.

Without further ado, here’s Mama G’s veggie soup. Meat and all.

  • 2-3 lb. chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 3-4 fresh carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 large cans whole tomatoes
  • 3 cups frozen white corn
  • 1 bag frozen green beans
  • 1 bag frozen okra
  • 2 lbs. red potatoes, trimmed and cut into large chunks
  • water
  • salt and pepper

Heat an obscenely large dutch oven or other pot over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and brown the cubed chuck roast. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the meat is browned, retrieve it from the pan and put on a plate to rest. Now you want to brown your carrots and onions in the fond (the brown stuff) left over from the beef. Saute your veggies for 7-8 minutes until they start to get a little color. Season with salt and pepper. If the bottom of the pan gets too hot before you can sweat the onions and get up all the good brown bits, add about 1/4 cup of water and deglaze.

At this point, you’ve essentially done all the hard work. From here it’s dump and wait. Add all the frozen veggies, the beef, the two cans of tomatoes and two cans-full of water. Do not add your potatoes yet. These go in when the soup is about an hour away from being ready. Otherwise they disintegrate.

Bring the soup to the boil and then turn down and let simmer, with the lid askew on top, for a good 8-12 hours. I’m dead serious about the length of time here. I usually make this the night before and let it cook for about 4 hours. Then I refrigerate it overnight and pull it out the next morning to let simmer all day. You can add water throughout if it gets too thick and be sure to continually check for seasoning. If the tomatoes don’t break down, you should go in with a spatula or paring knife and chop/break them up.

Remember to add the potatoes the next day about 1-2 hours before you want to serve. This recipe freezes well, feeds and army and satisfies the soul.

And, if you’re like I was growing up and it was too hot for you to eat right away, serve it up in a bowl with a big ice cube in the middle. That always worked.

See. Nothing fancy. Which is why it definitely calls for champagne.

Happy birthday, mom. I love you and I miss you.