Through the Fire
Soup! It’s what we want to eat when we are sick and when we are cold. For a lot of us it’s what our moms made. We loved it even if it was “just” opening a can. For me, it’s one of the best parts of Thanksgiving dinner. My mom barely let us finish eating before she was in the kitchen taking the rest of the meat off of the turkey carcass, and starting the broth for her soup. Oh how many times I have tried to replicate that perfectly delicious simple soup and never ever have been able to. I finally figured out the missing ingredient – mom. I also think of her whenever I make vegetarian bean soup. I remember when my brother became a vegetarian and a bit later when I did, it took her a while to figure out how to cook for us. she proudly would make bean soup and I would gently tell her that yes, beans were vegetarian but the ham bone she used to flavor it was not.
Just about every nation in the world, certainly every culture, makes soup. Soup is nourishing. It’s an infamous “diet” mainstay. It can be simple or extremely complex. It gets better over time. A regular on my menu and that of many of my cooking friends is “clean out the fridge” soup. You can forage through an almost empty refrigerator and usually find enough to make a pot of soup, maybe with the help of a few things from the pantry.
Wikipedia defines comfort food as ” traditionally eaten food (which often provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the person eating it), or simply provides the consumer an easy-to-digest meal, soft in consistency, and rich in calories, nutrients, or both. The nostalgic element most comfort food has, may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture. Many comfort foods are flavorful; some may also be easily prepared.” Soup certainly meets those definitions. ( Click on the link as there is a lot of interesting information there.)
It is also wonderfully easy to make. While you can find whole cookbooks devoted to soup recipes and thousands of recipes online, you don’t even really need a recipe. I’m going to give you some concepts and guidelines to follow so you can clean out your fridge into a pot of soup or come up with what will become one of your “signature dishes”.
The very first thing you need is a good pot. This is one of the kitchen items worth the expense. It makes soup making much harder if your pot isn’t big enough! And better quality is better. Go for good stainless steel.
Obviously, the amount of the ingredients mentioned below will vary with how much soup you want to make. I either go by what I have on hand or I just eyeball it. Use your intuition and your imagination. If you love onions, go for it. If you just want a hint of onion flavor, think about using a few tablespoons of chopped onion per soup serving. ( If you are making soup for 4 people, use around 1/2 cup) My soups are usually one of the things that grow as I might get carried away with adding things.
Do you want beans in your soup ? If so, you will want to rinse and soak the beans starting the night before. Use one kind of bean or a mix.
Some people don’t want any extra added fat in their soup. I am not one of those people! So I start off sauteing some aromatics in ghee or coconut oil. What I use depends on what kind of flavor I want in my soup. Typically it’s onions, garlic, and celery. I saute them until they are soft and translucent ( a few minutes). Next, I add stock/broth/water. I am a strong believer in bone broth and mention it regularly here. If you are inspired to make it, great! Less nutritious but delicious is regular old chicken stock which you can do in a few hours. You can save vegetables ends and scraps to make your own veggie stock.Â I do occasionally used boxed broths or bouillon cubes. There are lots of organic ones to choose from. And, last but not least, you can use water. I let the liquid and aromatics simmer for 15 minutes or so.
Are you making soup with beans? This is the point at which to add those already soaked beans. Meat ? You will probably want to use a separate pan and brown the meat. I think it looks more appetizing and it gets a bit more flavor in the process. Use what kind of meat you like. If you are going for chicken, please use dark meat. I usually get some thigh meat. I remove it from the bone, which I save for my next broth making event. I try not to make meat the main event. Throw a ham hock in there and see what happens. Soup seems the perfect opportunity to load up on vegetables and use the meat for flavor. So, salt and pepper your meat before sauteing it. If you want a thick stew consistency, you can lightly coat that meat in some flour before cooking. If you are gluten free, use rice or bean flour. If you are carb free, then just do without. After you add the meat, simmer for at least 30 minutes.
What vegetables do you have handy ? What do you like ? This time of year, I go for the root vegetables – carrots, celery root, rutabaga, potatoes, burdock. Also this time of year, I lean heavily towards greens – kale, chard, collards, spinach. You could throw in a can of tomatoes.
What are your favorite herbs ? Are you looking for a particular ethnic slant ? Please use fresh herbs if you have them. I like thyme and rosemary for my “generic” soup. If I’m using beans, I definitely use cumin. This part of cooking is mysterious and adventuresome. I highly recommend The Flavor Bible to help you get started.
Next comes the miscellaneous ingredients. How about adding some coconut milk ? cream? a splash or two of sherry or red wine ? The definite rule of thumb about wine is only use a wine that you would want to drink. That old grody bottle of cooking sherry will NOT do. Throw it out. If you want to deepen the flavor, add a bit of tomato paste. Now would be the time to add miso paste if you are heading in a Japanese direction or just want that mysterious salty flavor that it adds. and speaking of that, throw in some seaweed. If you are looking for a non dairy, non coconut milk creaminess, try a spoonful or two of tahini. This would also be the time to add grains or pasta. I generally stay pretty low carb so I don’t do this very often, and I try to practice food combining principles which recommends keeping starchy carbs and proteins at different meals. Altogether, my soups usually cook for a few hours. If you have some ingredientsÂ you’d like to be crunchier, add them at the end. Low and slow is good for soup. You can also put all the ingredients at the same time in your crockpot, set it on low, and have it ready at the end of the day.
There you go. Have fun! Here are some links I found with recipes and photos that will further inspire you.
Please share with me your favorite soup recipes, your efforts at creating something new and adventuresome, or perhaps some comforting soup memory.