Sunday, September 15, 2013

Basil, the Armenian Church, and Zesty Vegetable Soup

Today, September 15th, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Khachveratz). At the end of the service, parishioners receive blessed basil, which can be used in recipes.

Photo from the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church
Basil Leaves
Basil, also known as rahan, is a sweet-smelling plant with leaves that vary in size. On this feast day, basil is used to decorate the cross because according to tradition,"the True Cross was overgrown with aromatic basil, which is used in the commemoration of the feast day today".

To learn more about the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, please click here.

NOTE:  In the early days of The Armenian Kitchen's existence, I wrote about the significance of basil in the Armenian Church, and provided a recipe for ‘Eggplant-ZucchiniBake’, which features this fragrant herb.

Here is another recipe using basil to add to your collection: 

Zesty Vegetable Soup with Basil
Yield: 5 to 6 servings

    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, diced
    ¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (the amount of heat is entirely up to you!), optional
    3 (14-ounce) cans vegetable, chicken or beef broth
    1 -15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with its liquid
    1 medium zucchini squash, diced
    4 cups escarole leaves, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces  [NOTE: Swiss chard or 
    1- (10 oz.) pkg. frozen spinach, (thawed) can be substituted]
    2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1/4 cup chopped fresh basil for garnish
1. In a large pot, add oil and heat on a medium setting. Add onion, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to soften and turn brown, about 5 minutes. Add cayenne pepper, if using, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
2. Add broth, tomatoes and zucchini; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in escarole, lemon juice, and salt and pepper; continue cooking until escarole is wilted, 5 to 7 minutes more. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh basil.

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