This is the part I like about cooking, other than eating. Lining up the raw ingredients for a recipe on the kitchen counter, like a mad scientist preparing an experiment.

Transformation. Alchemy. Chop this, saute that, simmer those, put them all together and you've got an entirely different creation.

And, it just might be yummy.

Last week, when the weather report called for a 40% chance of snow here in the mountains of Virginia, it was time to make a hearty, happy winter soup.

The result is indeed hearty, tasty -- and so pretty.

Winter Vegetable Soup

This is an adaptation of a Real Simple recipe from 2006. The original lacked depth, I thought, so I substituted chicken stock for the water and added garlic and a bay leaf. And specified Parmigiano Reggiano, not the substitute stuff. A NBFF stopped by yesterday and said she'd use vegetable stock, to keep it totally vegetarian.

4 leeks, white & light green parts
1 bunch kale (or buy a bag of it, chopped up already)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, drained (I prefer plum)
6 c. low-fat chicken stock
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
1/2 c. brown lentils
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 fresh basil leaves (optional -- and I didn't use them cuz there weren't any in the supermarket the day I shopped)
1/4 c., or lots more, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Slice each leek lengthwise, then flip out each layer under running water to get all the dirt stuff out. Slice each half into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons (about 2 cups). Drain and pat dry. Remove the stems/spines from the kale (even if it's pre-chopped; personally, I don't like those crunchy bits); if in a bunch, stack the leaves on top of one another and slice them crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips to equal 3 cups.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and cook for 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, breaking up with a spoon, for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the kale, sweet potatoes, lentils, thyme, bay leaf, salt & pepper, and basil (if using). Simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon into individual bowls. Sprinkle (liberally) with cheese.

Now, look what you just made!

INSTANT Gratification: Real Simple "Simple Food, Easy Recipes."

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Thanks for your comment! ~Katey Lee

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