I’ve been making variations on this soup for years, usually around this time of year when the indulgences of the holidays have caught up to me and I’m yearning for something simple and nourishing. It’s endlessly adaptable and a perfect odds-and-ends soup to use up leftover bits of vegetables from your fridge. It's super easy and makes a large batch, perfect for a few days' lunches or a cozy dinner with friends on a cold night.
This is the recipe at its most basic, so feel free to add extra things if you wish, but I do find that the cabbage and rutabagas are essentials. I love how silky the humble green cabbage gets when simmered for a long time in broth, and it’s packed with nutrition. Rutabagas may be unfamiliar to many of you, but growing up they were a staple of our southern Thanksgiving, boiled and mashed like potatoes. A little less starchy than a potato, their flavor is much more interesting—a bit astringent, but balanced with a subtle sweetness. A cross between the turnip and wild cabbage, rutabagas are super healthy. They’re a good source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and magnesium, and they also have potent anti-fungal properties that are great for gut health. I fill out the rest of the soup with some white potato, which I think gets an unfair bad wrap as unhealthy. Potatoes are better sources of potassium than bananas, with fewer carbs and without the sugar, you just have to eat them with the skin still on. The potato skin contains the bulk of their nutrients, and adds a nice texture to the dish as well.
The vegetables themselves make a nice stock, but if I have time and the ingredients I'll make a quick chicken stock for the base. I do this in my Instant Pot, which is an electric, programmable pressure cooker, but you can easily do the same on the stove top in a regular pot. I start with either a chicken carcass (leftover from roast chicken) or a pack of chicken legs, cover it with water, and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. If on the stovetop, bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer for 1 hour. Strain the stock and you're ready to go. If you don't have the time or ingredients, or you'd like to make it vegetarian, simply skip this step, the soup will still taste good. Near the end, I add turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper for added flavor and nutrition. Turmeric is highly anti-inflammatory, though be sure to include the black pepper, which helps make the curcumin, turmeric's active component, more bioavailable. The cayenne adds another boost of antioxidants, but you can omit it if you don't like spicy food. Finally, I like to add a spritz of lemon juice as I serve it, which brightens up the flavors and balances the earthy root vegetables with a hit of acidity, and a pinch of fresh herbs from my garden. Oregano, cilantro, parsley, dill, mint, any could work and add a new dimension to the soup. Watermelon radish, a California winter farmers' market staple, also brightens up the flavor and color.
Winter Cleanse Soup
2 tbsp butter or oil (I prefer avocado oil)
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
8 cups fresh chicken broth or water
2 medium rutabagas, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped into 1" pieces
2 medium potatoes, skin on, chopped into 1" pieces
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
salt, to taste (about 2 tsp should work)
lemon juice, to taste
fresh herbs, for garnish (optional)
watermelon radish, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
In a large pot, warm your butter or oil over low heat. Add the diced onion, celery, and carrots, and cook until softened, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add your water or stock and the rutabagas, raise the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to just maintain a gentle simmer and cook the rutabagas until they're beginning to be tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes have softened, about 15 more minutes. During this time, add the turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, and 1 tsp of salt. Once the soup is done, taste the broth for saltiness and add more salt to taste. I find 2 tsp total works for a soup of this size, but your taste may vary. Serve the soup into bowls and add a spritz of lemon to each if you'd like. Garnish with a pinch of fresh herbs and watermelon radish, if you have them.