Lemon Orzo Soup with Spring Vegetables
The first day back from vacation is always mildly unpleasant, and yesterday was no exception. After spending an amazing long weekend in Santa Barbara getting loved up, eating fish tacos, and working on my bronze, the reality of Monday morning seemed particularly harsh. There was a teeny bit of jet-lag happening, my back hurt, and I wasn’t overly psyched about any of the recipes on the docket for this week.
But then, as I shuffled to the grocery store on my post-flight sausage feet, distractedly itching my scalp sunburn and feeling sorry for myself, I realized something miraculous.
I wasn’t cold.
In fact, standing on the corner in my “loungewear,” I was downright toasty. Looking around, I registered that most people were without coats, and some of them had…wait for it….bare legs. It took a few seconds to process, but then it hit me: IT’S OFFICIALLY SPRING IN NYC!!!
This realization was enough to take my mood from dismal to manageably cranky, but then I got to the market and was greeted by a giant display of fava beans. I almost couldn’t keep it together because…
I fucking LOVE fava beans.
Sorry. I’ve been so good about keeping the profanity in check around here recently, but my obsession with these slightly sweet, buttery green gems requires expletives. If you’re not familiar with favas (have you never seen The Silence of the Lambs??!!), I’m obviously psyched to take credit for introducing you. This is so exciting!
Just to nerd out for a sec, fava beans are actually an ancient member of the pea family. Also known as broad beans, pigeon beans, horse beans, and Windsor beans, favas are one of the oldest plants under cultivation, and they’ve been a staple of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking for centuries.
A few fun facts: (1) The earliest fava bean remains were found in Israel from 6500 B.C.E. That was a very long time ago. (2) Pythagoras was supposedly deathly allergic to favas. (3) If you have a glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, fava beans could make you bleed to death. (Did you just open WebMD to check if you have a glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency?)
Anyhoo, I was clearly tickled by the presence of favas at Westside Market yesterday. Grinning creepily at the checkout lady as I payed for my giant sack of beans, I imagined all the wonderful things I could do with them. I originally planned to make a springy salad, but I didn’t have quite enough beans, so instead I added them to this heavenly Lemon Orzo Soup with Spring Vegetables. It was a good move.
I’m really into this soup, friends, and not just because of the favas. It’s a fabulously versatile meal that’s easy to whip up (I’m talking 25 minutes on the stovetop) and jam-packed with fresh, vibrant flavors. Between the leeks, asparagus and magical fava beans, all your spring favorites are present and accounted for in a bright, lemon-infused broth. The whole-wheat orzo cooks right in the soup, releasing just enough starch to thicken things, and the whole shebang is finished with plenty of fresh parsley and shaved Parmesan. Glorious doesn’t even begin to describe it.
I like this Lemon Orzo Soup as an easy weeknight dinner or a sassy desk lunch, but you could definitely get away with serving it at a casual spring dinner party. I’m picturing it with some grilled crusty bread, maybe a little prosciutto, and a chilled Sancerre. Do it.
One more quick thing. After all the fava fangirling above, I feel compelled to warn you that the beans make you work for their wonders. First you need to remove the beans from their fuzzy pods, and then you have to blanche them for 30 seconds, pop them in a bowl of ice water, and peel off the waxy outer coating on each one. I know, I know, BLERGH. But the whole process only takes about 15 minutes, and I promise it’s worth it. A labor of love, if you will. (In case you need some new cooking tunes, my friend Brook made a sick playlist.)
If you can’t get your hands on fresh favas for this recipe, or you’re too lazy to do the double shuck, I will be disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world. You can use canned favas (although they’re brown, which is disappointing) or baby lima beans. Whatever.
Lemon Orzo Soup with Spring Vegetables: (Serves 4)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic
6½ cups chicken stock (Vegetarians can obviously use vegetable stock.)
1 pound fava beans (about 1 cup shelled beans)
¾ cup whole-wheat orzo
½ bunch asparagus (about 12 spears), sliced into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Juice of 1 small lemon
Fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Shaved Parmesan cheese for serving
Preparing your Lemon Orzo Soup with Spring Vegetables:
-Heat the olive oil a medium dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the leeks, carrots, garlic, and a good pinch of kosher salt and cook for 5-6 minutes until the vegetables are softened.
-Meanwhile, prep your fava beans. Put a small pot of water on to boil while you shell the beans. To do this, simply bend the tip of the pod and pull down the seam to “unzip” the pod. Remove the beans inside and discard the pods.
-Once completely cool, strain them again and peel off the bean’s waxy outer coating. (Like I said before, I know this seems like a buttload of work for some beans, but it’s really not that bad. You can do it.) Set the shucked beans aside briefly and get back to your soup.
-Bring the soup to a boil and stir in the orzo. Cook for 7 minutes until the pasta is barely al dente, then add the asparagus and fava beans. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes until the asparagus is just tender. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and parsley. Add a generous amount of fresh ground pepper and cook another 1-2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
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