The cherry tree in my front yard is glistening with its first red fruits. Most of our days here in Charlottesville have been cloudy, storms intermittently breaking up patches of bright yellow sunlight. The arugula in my raised beds is rising and flopping over, living its best weedy life. Every day I walk through the garden and find some new wild or herbal thing to pick and smell and chew on.
Yesterday I found some fresh oregano and thyme patches underneath of my rhododendron; patches that were here when we moved in four years ago but have rarely sprouted up since then. They’re tumbling over the rocky rhododendron border, smiling at the sun.
When I water the tomato patch I find wood sorrel, purslane and lambs quarters — all wild weeds that are also deeply nourishing food. Beneath the blueberry thicket (yes, it is a full-on thicket this year) there’s more oregano. Next to the blueberries, the fig tree we keep hacking back is bursting with shiny new leaves.
Last weekend I scratched up some more earth and planted a rainbow of flower seeds. Whimsical little pods in variably stick-straight, long, short, curved, curled and furry compositions. Every day I look out of my kitchen windows to see if anything has sprouted. So far: I can’t tell if the tiny green sproutlings are my flowers or weeds. So I’ll just have to wait and see! While I’m at it, I give my borage and echinacea patch an approving nod, seeing how they’ve leafed out. And shrug my shoulders at the chamomile patch that never even attempted to sprout.
There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about a good tomato soup. Especially a tomato soup with an undertone of fennel. It reminds me of my childhood forages through grown-up gardens, places I would play-act fairy dramas. Places that smelled intoxicatingly of roses, blackberry, fresh herbs, recent rain. Places made magical with a bit of imagination, a pocket full of crackers and a bowl full of soup.
My creamy vegan tomato soup is close to my heart. I’ve made it every few weeks for the last couple of months. And I’ve made countless variations over the last few years.
In the winter, I cozy up with this creamy vegan tomato soup, a blanket and a good book. In the Summer, I sweat through every delicious bite while sitting on the front stoop and letting the breeze cool me off. It’s my all-seasons happy soup.
The genius of this soup is its simplicity. You sauté some onions and fennel with spices until aromatic. Then add pasta sauce, water, coconut milk, balsamic vinegar and let it cook for about ten minutes. After that, you blend it all with an immersion blender. And you’re done!
So… why fennel? Of all of the herbs and aromatics in this world, why the oddly bulbous vegetable with wispy green licorice bangs? Let me tell you why. Fennel is the unsung hero of tomato dishes. When browned the lofty, bright licorice sweetness becomes more mellow, smooth and grounded. It’s a natural partner to acidic tomatoes, especially paste tomatoes, that often lack sweetness and bite. It gives tomato soup a touch of je ne sais quoi. That elusive herbaceous flavor that you can’t quite put a finger on.
Oh, and the waffles! I developed this go-to savory almond waffle recipe specifically because I wanted something similar to a grilled cheese to dip into my bowl of tomato soup. But I didn’t have any bread-like or cheese-like things in the house.
I made these waffles without intending to put them on the blog. But hoo boy! They were good! I’ve made them a number of times since then, and I finally have a version that I’m happy to share.
They’re fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside; similar to the texture of a savory corn and wheat waffle, if you’ve ever had one of those. They’re even pliable like regular waffles! I consider that a big win!
The waffles are fabulous plain. But they’re even more fabulous with chopped fresh herbs and nutritional yeast thrown into the batter for a burst of flavor. If you’re not vegan, you might even try throwing some shaved hard cheese into the batter (or over the finished waffles). I’m just saying: get creative! Go crazy!
The process to make the waffles is simple. Blend all of the waffle batter ingredients together (the secret ingredients are applesauce and psyllium husk). Set aside to hydrate for 10 minutes. Then grease your waffle iron and pour in your batter. The recipe makes 4 waffles, so if you want LOTS of waffles simply double the recipe.
I generally get the waffle iron heating up and batter mixed as I’m sautéing my onions for the soup. That way everything is done at about the same time. The whole meal takes max 30 minutes. Another win!
Let me know what you think of this soup and the waffles. And have a fabulous Memorial Day Weekend, my American friends! I’m heading to da beach for a short family vacay. I’m hoping to get some kayaking in too. Oh lala 🙂
xoxo — Renee