With the right combination of ingredients, you can transform the humblest of foods into a comforting, nourishing dish. Tonight's dinner was so simple, but so satisfying. I chopped up the most basic vegetables - onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and parsnips. Then, I combined them in a pot with some basic seasonings and the most basic grains and legumes: barley and lentils. Cooked on low heat for a few hours, this mix of pantry staples became a hearty, comforting soup. (I also had a homemade bread on hand which I paired with the soup for a complete dinner.) All without even sauteing or preparing a soup stock!

Here's the recipe.

Vegetable Soup
Vary the vegetables if you like, but do use fresh ingredients. That dubious looking carrot will probably yield an equally dubious tasting soup. Be sure to try some of the optional mix-ins. For my family of six, I usually put out at least three mix-ins. The kids like mozzarella, my husband like sour cream, and I like yogurt or Parmesan.

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled and left whole
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika (mostly for color!)
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup pearled barley
1/4 cup brown or green lentils
OPTIONAL: shredded mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan, plain yogurt, or sour cream

Put all the ingredients in a medium soup pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about three or four hours (more is fine; less isn't). Check on the soup from time to time and add water if needed.

Serve the soup hot. Offer cheese, yogurt, or sour cream for mixing in if desired.

You can also make this soup in advance and refrigerate it for up to three days. The taste actually improves with age. You just may need to thin it with a bit of water when you rewarm it.

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