Last weekend the Eatizens dinner party took place. I tipped my bed up against the wall of my studio apartment, pushed my bookshelves, sofa, and coffee table out of the way, and nine of us gathered around my new (collapsible!) banquet table and a whole smattering of borrowed silverware, plates, and glasses to eat some veggie grub. Everything I served was from Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry, which of course was the purpose of the dinner. But in my excitement to get the whole thing going, I didn’t think much about the menu, not until the date drew close. And did you know? Organizing a dinner-party-worthy menu around a book focused entirely on entrees was a bit of a challenge. Vegetarian Entrees is all about variety and heartiness—those two things were at the tip of my brain as I wrote the book—and with a dinner party, of course, you can’t just set out three filling dishes that don’t relate (this would be called a “pot luck”). There needs to be finesse, some sense of direction with the food, some theme or through line.
After much deliberation, here’s the menu I decided on: I’d set out the Warm Olives from the little appetizers section to be there when people arrived, then the first course would be a light version of the Spinach-Potato Soup. The Butternut Squash, Black Bean, and Spinach Lasagna that graces the cover of the book would be the main, alongside a light salad featuring the Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette from the little salad dressings section. Then we’d have an apple crisp for dessert. I’d also make a few loaves of Tartine’s Basic Country Loaf. It’s certainly not haute cuisine, but neither is Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry. In the end it all worked out extremely well. The guests—only a few of whom had met each other before—jibed well, conversation never slid into any awkward silences, and we ate and we ate.
There was only one minor hitch. At the farmers market, my last stop for the groceries, there was no spinach to be found. [Insert grievance about multi-stop shopping, and Brooklyn, and trying to shop seasonally from a shopping list at the farmers markets.] The good sport I am, though, I took it as a challenge and switched to Swiss chard. I liked the result very much. One perk was that it saved me some prep time—the task of cleaning chard is significantly less arduous than that of cleaning a few bunches of spinach.
I decided to make it again and thought I’d share the variation with you. In the book, I turn this pureed soup into a more filling entrée by serving it with a scoop of Jasmine rice. But because chard is just a bit heartier, I don’t think you need anything else to bulk it up. A few croutons are nice for crunch, and that touch of fresh ginger as garnish is a sharp little surprise. There’s also a miso element in the Spinach soup that I’ve foregone here, and I’ve also skipped the pureeing step, reaching for the potato masher instead. The result is the kind of weeknight soup I’ll be making a lot over the next few months: it comes together in less than 30 minutes, all from stuff that’s usually in my fridge.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 pound potatoes, sliced into thin rounds
5 cups vegetable stock
2 bunches chard (about 20 ounces), stems removed, and cut into small pieces
Salt, depending on the flavor of your vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
Julienned ginger, thinly sliced scallions, and toasted croutons (omit croutons if going the gluten-free route), to garnish
1. Heat the oils in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the scallions, tossing for a minute or so until just softened. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add the potatoes, tossing briefly, then pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot partially, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes—the potatoes won’t be fully cooked but they’ll be near. Add the chard, cover the pan, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes and chard are completely tender.
2. Use a potato masher to break up the potatoes to form a coarse soup, or, alternatively, puree the soup with an immersion blender (or blender or food processor, in batches). Add salt (if needed), black pepper, and drops of lemon juice to taste, and serve hot, garnished with a pinch of julienned ginger, scallions, and a few croutons.