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Nail Soup Recipe

When I was a child, we had a marvelous couple of LP recordings of Danny Kaye reading fairy tales by the Grimm’s Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson. One favorite of mine was “Nail Soup,” about a tramp who finds a house lit up in the dark, and knocks on the door for shelter.

The lady of the house reluctantly agrees to give him shelter, claiming that her husband is not home and she has no food to give the tramp, but finally says he can sleep by the fire. The tramp asks for a pot of water to heat over the fire; out of his pocket he takes an old nail, which he drops into the pot. He stirs the pot, declaring that he is making nail broth. Sighing, he wishes he had some barely to add; the lady seems to remember that she might have a handful left, which is duly added to the pot.

And so the story goes. The tramp longs for one ingredient after another–“If only I had an old bone to flavor the pot” or “if I only had a carrot to chop into the soup, it would be so much better”–and the hostess scares up each item as it’s listed. Eventually the pot of soup is done, and the tramp invites his hostess to share it with him. Well, she brings out bowls and spoons and a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, and they settle in to enjoy the feast, made “all from a nail.”

This recipe is my version of nail soup–minus the nail, however. The soup need not be limited to the list of ingredients here; it’s a good way to use up leftover grains and vegetables, whatever you have on hand. Enjoy your own nail soup for dinner!

Note: I used a bulk version of the bean mix; you can also buy a packaged version made by Manischewitz. Both come with dehydrated vegetables, barley, and seasoning.

Nail Soup

2 cups 13 or 18 bean soup mix
16 cups cold water
1 large onion, peeled and diced
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2-3 carrots, scrubbed and sliced ¼ “ thick
2 sticks celery, sliced
¼ head of red cabbage, rinsed and shredded
1-2 potatoes, scrubbed and diced (optional)
1 cup fresh or frozen green beans
1 cup corn kernels
1 bunch basil, rinsed, dried and rough chopped
4-6 chard leaves, rinsed and sliced
salt and pepper to taste
other herbs as desired

1) Put the bean mix and water in a large pot or kettle, and bring to a boil over high heat. Then reduce the heat and simmer the pot while you prepare the rest of the vegetables. The beans will take about 1-2 hours or so to get very tender.

2) Add the potatoes to the pot, if using, along with the cabbage.

3) In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions until golden and tender. Add the garlic, carrots and celery and sauté briefly until the garlic is soft and golden. Add contents of the pan to the soup pot.

4) When the beans are getting close to being done, add the remaining vegetables and chard; simmer until just tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and any additional herbs, as desired. Serve piping hot with a side of cornbread or other home made bread and plenty of butter. Yum.

Feel free to add additional leftover grains such as rice, quinoa, or millet, if desired.

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