In my opinion, the most important meal in a restaurant is not necessarily the one being served to the customers, but the one served to employees.
The staff meal, or perso as it is called in French, is a group meal served to the entire restaurant staff prior to the beginning of each service. It is an essential part of the workday, even if the actual sitting-down part of the ritual lasts only a brief 30 minutes. Taking the time to eat together encourages team building and allows all levels of staff a space to connect as they nourish themselves in preparation for the grind that lies ahead of them.
It should go without saying that a well-prepared staff meal goes a long way toward setting a positive tone for the day's service. The food being served should be healthy, delicious and abundant, while remaining economical. This may sound straightforward but one must bear in mind that whoever is making dinner also has the rest of their regular prep work to complete simultaneously. This is why many cooks turn to pasta, as it is both easy to prepare and filling. I prefer a humble yet well-executed soup, because it can be made readily with just about anything extra I happen to have on hand.
This herbaceous soup was inspired by masses of leafy greens that had been arriving each week atop beautiful early fall turnips. Rather than sentence them to the bin, I used them in a vitamin-rich soup, garnished with an improvised chickpea salsa and served alongside copious amounts of crowd-pleasing cheese toast.
This soup is great eaten the day it is made, but can be prepared a day or two in advance if cooled properly and stored in the refrigerator. The salsa, however, is best if made the day you intend to eat it. And about the cheese toast: I like a mix of Gouda and cheddar, but feel free to use and combine any cheeses you have in your refrigerator. This is an excellent way to use up day-old – even two- or three-day-old – bread that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage.
And that is what the staff meal is all about.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium-sized yellow onions, small dice (about 1 1/2 cup)
3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 1/2 tablespoon fleur de sel
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
6 grinds fresh black pepper
1 large russet potato, medium dice (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 cups vegetable bouillon
10 cups turnip greens, washed well and roughly chopped (can sub with another leafy green such as spinach, watercress, radish tops)
1 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped and loosely packed
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped and loosely packed
1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped and loosely packed
1 1/2 cup canned chickpeas (one small can)
1 small shallot, finely minced
4 spring onions, finely sliced rounds
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Half a lime, juice only
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/3 cup sheep’s milk feta, crumbled
6-12 slices of bread
2-3 tablespoons grated cheese per slice
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and allow the butter to melt.
Add the onions, garlic, ginger and salt and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring often, until soft.
Add the cumin, coriander and black pepper. Stir to combine and continue to cook for 2 minutes more until fragrant.
Add the potatoes and stir to combine.
Add the vegetable bouillon and cover with a lid. Increase the temperature to high and bring the pot up to a boil. Stir well before reducing the heat to medium. Simmer with the lid on until the potatoes are fully cooked (around 20 minutes).
Add the greens and chopped herbs and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and allow the greens to wilt in the hot liquid for 2 minutes.
Carefully ladle a third of the hot soup into a blender and blend on high speed until evenly puréed. Pour the result into a medium-sized pot and continue to blend the rest of the soup in two more batches.
Taste and season the soup as necessary with salt and pepper.
Strain the can of chickpeas and rinse well under cold running water. Allow to drain completely before adding to a medium-sized mixing bowl with the shallot, spring onions, salt, pepper, olive oil, red pepper flakes, lime juice, feta and sesame oil. Stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Lay the bread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and layer each piece evenly with cheese. Cook in the oven 5 to 7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and has started to brown slightly. Use the broiler to finish if necessary. Crack fresh black pepper over the finished toast before serving. Serve immediately.