Green Tonic, or Bacon with Benefits

Sorry for the silence; I’ve been busy eating. And cooking, and thinking about eating, and talking about cooking (or maybe that’s vice versa) and driving around picking up more food. (I brake for farmstands, just ask the guy at the auto body shop.) Between starting to promote my book and shooting the initial 6 episodes of my new tv show (more on that later) and the stream-like start of the garden crush, the food has been flowing: barbecued chicken, pork kebabs, crusty potatoes with 40 cloves of garlic, rhubarb ice cream cake with crispy meringue (worth it), packaged sour cream onion dip with ridged kettle chips (nostalgic, but not worth it), flats of strawberries and a bowl of sugar, burgers (plural), oozy cheeses, and a whole bunch of blueberry pies. Not to mention black plum sangria and many delicious glasses of wine.

So it’s time for something tonic, and I don’t mean the kind that gets twinned with gin.

Around here, among the health nuts and hippies and health-hobbyists and everyone else who wants to add clarity to their diet (myself included), all-green soups are having their moment. I’m glad to see it because it just so happens that my garden is looking lively but still only spurting green leafy things. (And a bowlful of green is THE antidote to summer corn dogs, to which we’ve also developed a small attachment.)

This one is packed with spinach and swiss chard, and also the last of the dandelion greens for some grown-up bitterness and an extra jolt of health. Most green soups remain virtuous to the end, but I love this one all the more for being weak and begging for some bacon companionship. The round notes of smoke are a perfect (and actually, classic) partner for the tweak of dandelion green bitterness, and the mustard seeds and dijon knit the two together pretty darn nicely.

And yes, you should definitely leave the bacon fat in the pan before you add the onions. Good Lord, any healthier and it would be no fun.

Decadent Green Soup
Cooked rice makes any smooth soup creamier. If you don’t have leftover to throw in, just boil a handful in a pot of boiling water until tender.Serves 8
3/4 pound bacon, diced
2 cups diced onion (1 extra-large sweet onion)
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup cooked leftover rice
6 cups water
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 quarts (16 cups) lightly packed spinach
1 quart (4 cups) lightly packed dandelion greens or escarole or chicory
2 tablespoons butter
torn purple basil, for garnish

Heat a large pot over medium heat, add the diced bacon and cook, stirring often, until lightly crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and leave the fat in the pan. Add the onion to the pan and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the coriander seed in a small pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Add to a spice grinder (or your coffee grinder) along with the mustard seed and process until finely ground. Add to the onions in the pan, along with the nutmeg and garlic. Cook for one minute longer, until fragrant.
Add the rice, water, Dijon, salt, and pepper to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the rice looks saturated and plump and the broth tastes good, about 10 minutes. Add all of the greens, push down to submerge, and cook until they wilt, about 3 minutes.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender—carefully, with a towel clamped over the lid—and and pour into a clean pot to keep warm. Add the butter.
Serve the soup with the reserved bacon, a swirl of olive oil, and a few leaves torn basil.
Chill any soup you aren’t serving right away over an ice bath to preserve its green color, and refrigerate.

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