Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hearty Vegetable Soup with Ragi Spaetzle and Beer Bread Rolls

A great welcome to new subscribers Krista, Bobby, and Wendy. It’s great to have you as part of the family!

When I put together a meal recipe consisting of an American vegetable soup containing German noodles that were made with an Indian flour and served with rolls leavened by a Dutch beer, I wasn’t going for some kind of international fusion concept. Hearty Vegetable Soup with Ragi Spaetzle and Beer Bread Rolls just turned out that way.

This unusual (but delicious) combination started with Facebook friend Caroline, a fine cook and baker in India, telling me about ragi (pronounced RAH-gee, with a hard g as in “go”), a flour that not only brings a deep, earthy taste to food, but plenty of nutrition as well: calcium, carbohydrates, proteins, iron, niacin, and more. I had to try it. (Indian food is quite popular in the U.S., so ragi flour wasn’t hard to find.)

Why it occurred to me to use this to make spaetzle (pronounced SHPEHT-sluh or SHPEHT-sehl), a traditional German noodle, and then to use that as the noodle part of a vegetable-noodle soup, is anyone’s guess.

Finally, homemade vegetable-noodle soup demands to be served with warm, fresh bread, so to save time I decided to bake a beer bread and avoid the usual fermenting and proofing processes. In general, when cooking with beer, it’s a good idea to select one that would match well with the meal if you were drinking it. Since the bread was going to be served with a vegetable soup, I wanted a beer with a simple, clean taste. I opted for Heineken.  

The result: a very delicious meal that, in spite of looking like it has a lot of steps, is actually quite easy to make.

A few cook’s notes before we begin:
  • If you can’t get ragi flour, or just choose not to, feel free to make a traditional spaetzle  or to use any other form of noodle, whether homemade or packaged. Remember, it’s your soup.
  • To soften ragi’s natural earthiness for the American palate (and to use ingredients likely to be found in the American pantry), I used a 50/50 mix of ragi flour and all-purpose flour, and went with American seasonings rather than more traditional Indian ones. (Although some traditional ragi-recipe items, such as shredded coconut, were used in the recipe since those are readily available in the U.S.)
  • The soup recipe uses both vegetable stock and chicken stock. If you want to keep the recipe strictly vegetarian, just replace the chicken stock with more vegetable stock. I just like the way a bit of chicken stock rounds out the flavor.
  • Beer bread can be denser than yeast bread, so I lightened the texture of the rolls by using all-purpose flour instead of the usual bread flour.
First, our ragi spaetzle.  This recipe makes about 6 cups of cooked spaetzle. That’s way more than the two cups you’ll need for the soup, but leaves you plenty for spaetzle’s more traditional role as a side dish. (More on that in the recipe.)

Prepare a large pot of salted, boiling water and an ice bath.

In a bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons shredded coconut; 3 egg-substitute eggs; 1 cup skim milk; 2 tablespoons dried parsley; ½ tablespoon dried thyme; 1 teaspoon dried tarragon; ½ teaspoon ground ginger; ½ teaspoon dry mustard; ½ teaspoon dried cayenne pepper; ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg; 1-1/2 teaspoon salt; and ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper.

Combine 1-½ cups ragi flour and 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, and add to the liquid mixture to make a loose dough.

Using a ricer, a food mill on the ricer setting, or using a spatula to press the dough through a colander, press the batter out into the boiling water, working in batches if necessary. Boil until the spaetzle floats to the top of the water, then transfer the cooked pieces to the ice bath to stop cooking.

Drain very well. Two cups of this spaetzle can be used in the soup recipe below.

(To use the remaining spaetzle as a side dish for another meal, melt 2 tablespoons of butter substitute in a sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the spaetzle and ½ teaspoon of white wine vinegar and sauté until lightly browned. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with butter substitute and serve.)

Now let’s make our soup! (This recipe makes about two and a half quarts of soup.)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and add 1-1/2 cup diced onion; 1 cup chopped carrots; 1 cup diced green pepper; ½ cup chopped celery; and a ten-ounce package fresh, sliced mushrooms. Cover and sweat over medium heat until soft, about five minutes.

Add 8 cups of vegetable stock; 2 cups of chicken stock, and a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained but not rinsed. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. (While the soup is simmering, you can go on to the beer bread recipe below.)
After the soup has finished simmering, add 2 cups of the ragi spaetzle and 1 tablespoon of dried cilantro, and simmer five minutes more.

Prepare a garnish by combining 2 grated carrots and two stalks of celery sliced paper-thin. When the soup has finished cooking, add salt to taste, top with a bit of the garnish, and serve.

And, of course, our beer bread rolls. This recipe makes 8 rolls.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the following  in a bowl until combined: 3 cups all-purpose flour;  3 teaspoons of baking powder; 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt; 3 tablespoons of sugar; and 2 teaspoons of dried parsley or other herb compatible with the main meal.

Add a 12-ounce bottle of room-temperature beer (I used Heineken) and mix until a sticky dough forms.

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions on a baking sheet that is greased or lined with a silicon baking sheet.

Bake for about 12 minutes, then brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter substitute, turning the tray for even baking.

Continue baking until the edges of the rolls are lightly browned. (Total baking time should be about 26 minutes.) Serve warm.

If that doesn’t make your family happy, then I don’t know what will!

That’s it for this week! Please come back next week for another delicious (and kitchen-tested) recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, find an exciting new ingredient to play with, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. Ben: You chose the perfect day (for us) to feature this soup. It's snowing and all the ingredients are on hand in the pantry. Well, no Ragi flour but I am familiar with it and think it would make a nice addition to the spaetzle!

    Have a delicious weekend!

  2. What a great and informative article you did Ben, and thanks for putting my badge for Cooking Up a Storm All Over The World here! I just noticed it. How long have you had it up?

    I met a wonderful guy named Mario Godinez and I think he is the guy I have been waiting for. :-)
    He lives in Pasadena and is an Assistant Manager in a hospital there in Food Service.
    He took me to dinner at Mario's, a family owned Mexican place here in HB, (He let me pick whatever I wanted), and then we just spent time together, went shopping and it was sooo nice!

    He's coming back out to see me Feb 1st and he is going to take me wherever I want or need to go, which is a Godsend, since I don't drive, and haven't for 12 years, since my car accident. (I get around good for a lady that doesn't drive between taking the bus, walking a few miles a day, and taking ACCESS occasionally when I have to use the freeways.) We are going to the beach and just enjoy & there is plans for St. Valentine's Day together too.

    What are you planning for Valentine's Day? Do you have your Valentine's Day dinner planned yet or the post you'll do?

    I have something in'll see soon.

    God bless you and Emily, James and Jacob.

    Polly Motzko

  3. Thanks, Bonnie! There really is nothing like a good soup for the cold weather. This was my first experience with ragi flour and I was very happy with it. I am thinking its earthy flavor would complement oatmeal cookies very well; I might give that a try sometime soon.

  4. Thank you for your kind thoughts, Polly. :-) It is very much my pleasure to have your badge on my site. That is great to hear about your gentleman friend; he sounds very nice, and he works with food! Thanks also for the reminder about Valentine's Day. I suppose I probably should be planning something. lol.

  5. I'm always so intrigued by spaetzle...but I've never had it.

    By the way...I left you an award on my blog. :)

  6. Thank you so much, Keri! Spaetzle is surprisingly easy to make, and is gives a little variety from the usual pasta choices. If you decide to make a traditional spaetzle using all-purpose flour instead of the ragi flour, just leave out the ginger, mustard and cayenne. (And using a ricer or food mill is a lot easier than the spoon-and-colander method, though that works in a pinch too.)

    And thank you for your kind award! Being able to share my love for cooking with the great people I have been able to meet here is a privilege. I will keep on doing my best to make sure that when people take their valuable time to visit, it is worth their while.