Catherine's Lettuce Soup
Understanding the roots of this recipe
Whenever my brother and I went to my Nanna’s house as kids, we'd always arrive to an activity. It was a serious game of Scrabble, it was playing Hot Wheels in the narrow basement, it was running around in her huge backyard and pushing the limits on how high we could go on the swing set. It was always something fun that kept us wanting to come back.
As you might guess, my favorite activity was cooking with her. Although she never really followed recipes, she one day began a new activity with me. Every time we would cook, she’d make me sit down and write the recipe on a white index card. My handwriting ranged from fonts 8 to 18 point at this age (mind you, I was around 8 years old), but that's not the point. We talked through how to write a recipe together, and I loved being in charge with a pen in hand. So I sat and wrote, line after line of ingredients, and she always kept the card after we were done. I didn’t care she kept it, I was just happy to use her colorful Paper Mate felt pens, which were my favorite.
On my 11th birthday in 2006, my Nanna gave me what I now consider my most cherished gift of all time, a cookbook from her titled, “Catherine Taylor Irvin’s Cookbook.” She used a 4x6 photo album to make this “cookbook” and inserted white index cards into each photo holder. Every index card was filled with her signature cursive handwriting and clear instructions of how to do what in the kitchen. Recipes included her tomato sauce, her meatballs, my great-grandmother Millie’s birthday cake, and so on. Then, the handwriting abruptly shifted into mine. She strategically placed each one of my recipe cards into the book that we spent months crafting together — unbeknownst to me.
My Nanna passed in 2016 but our cookbook remains one of the greatest pieces of her that I have to hold (her gumball machine that hangs in my kitchen is a close second). Every personalized recipe, sassy instructions list (she was Italian!), or Polaroid picture of her kitchen is a joyous memory. All some of the best childhood memories that were facilitated by the heart of her home — the kitchen.
Remixing the recipe today
I recently opened her cookbook on a freezing cold day in November to remember how much she loved making soup. My favorite soup of hers was the simplest, probably healthiest thing she ever made that features escarole, a leafy green, as the main character. How I loved this soup as a kid is beyond my comprehension, but I was so obsessed with it that she coined it, “Catherine’s Lettuce Soup” in the cookbook. I always went back for seconds or thirds when she made this particular soup.
I’ve since added a few more elements (e.g., the ginger and turmeric) to amplify its healthy stature into what I’d now consider a borderline medicinal soup. It’s simple, it’s nutritional, it’s my white index card lettuce soup. Please enjoy.
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, freshly grated
1 head escarole, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cups chicken* bone broth
4 cups water
3/4 cup bean sprouts
1 cup orzo
1 tsp coconut aminos
salt & pepper, to taste
How to make it happen:
Chop and prepare all your vegetables while you let 2 teaspoons of olive oil heat up in a large pot. Sauté onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and ginger on medium-high heat. After about 10 mins, add the escarole and turmeric.
Lower heat to medium-low, pour in broth of your choice and the water. Then, add the orzo and coconut aminos with salt and pepper to taste.
Let simmer on low heat for about 2 hours before serving, allowing the orzo to cook through and the flavors to marry.
Enjoy during the colder days!
*Optional: You can use vegetable broth instead of chicken bone broth to make this recipe vegan.