Soup is good food
Posted: 31 Jan 2011 05:10 PM PST
Let the seasons, your tastebuds and intuition guide your soup making experience. Photo: Theveganfoodie.blogspot.com.
Yes, I did quote the Dead Kennedys in the title. Because I love making soup. And rock and roll.
During my college years, when I was broke and working full-time while going to school full-time (and rocking out), soup was a staple of my diet. I bought a variety of ingredients and threw a soup together. I could freeze it or keep it in the fridge and eat it during the week. It meant that I could come home from an exhausting day, re-heat a bowl of homemade soup, eat and pass out.
But why do I love soup so much? I can make any number of interesting soups with a basic variety of ingredients. Furthermore, if there’s about half a bowl left, the base can be turned it into a brand-new soup with a little time and patience.
But wait…there’s more!
Chili works the same as soup. Start with a solid base and build up. There’s always something you can do, some way to stretch it a little further. Homemade soup provides comfort. There’s something about having a giant pot of soup going on the stove that says “home.” It’s the food people turn to when they’re feeling sick or sad. It’s an instant comfort. More than any other type of food, people want a nice bowl of soup in the tough times.And what goes better with bread?
Soup lends itself to seasonal preparation more than just about any other dish. While there are types of soups that call for specific ingredients, a vegetable soup can become a varied seasonal masterpiece—a different soup in different seasons— with very little effort.
Start locally. What’s good in your area? Who’s growing the best vegetables? What’s available right now?
If you’re interested in adding meat to your soup (which I often am) check local farms for fresh meat. Wild Edibles is a great resource if you’re not lucky enough to have a thriving local farmer’s market. I miss the plethora of farmer’s markets and vegetable stands that surrounded the Central Bus Station in Chisinau, Moldova. I was always guaranteed to find something different and usually locally grown and fresh.
So how do you go about making soup? The difficulty of explaining the process is that I don’t often cook using a recipe. Blame my mother for that one. She taught me most of what I know about cooking and she rarely uses recipes. Instead, she cooks like a jazz musician, adding elements based primarily on taste and imagination. I tend to use recipes for things like homemade bread, but the best bread my mother makes is largely based on a general idea of what needs to go in the bread.
I’ve gone off topic slightly, but what anyone who’s making soup seasonally needs to understand is that it’s like improvising on a solo. You start with a basic rhythm and take it in a new direction. That relates to rock and roll, right? Oh wait, we were talking about soup.
I like to start with the protein. What am I putting in my soup? As an unashamed omnivore I often add chicken or stew beef to my soups. I prefer stewing beef in chili to the customary ground beef. Its heartier texture satisfies more fully. Alternatives include stock or bullion cubes, if that’s something you’d like to use.
Beef: approximately 1lb of stew beef.
Chicken: generally 3-4 chicken breasts.
If you’re not as interested in adding meat, but still want protein, try beans. If you’re starting with dried beans (which are cheaper) soak them overnight. It makes a dramatic difference in cooking time.
I cook my meat with a variety of spices. Try:
Salt, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, diced fresh garlic, chili powder…or whatever you think will work for you.
I like spicy food. Which means that more often that not, soups with a tiny kick. Or a big one, if I’ve turned it into chili. Once the meat is about 75% done, set it aside and cover it.
I most often start my soups with a tomato and onion base. I prefer fresh diced tomatoes, but I will use paste if there’s no other alternatives.
4 fresh tomatoes (diced)
2 diced onions (Your choice, really. What’s in your area?)
½ cup of water
Saute the onions in a little oil in a large pot. (I know, it’s not really sauteing if you do it in a pot, but I really, really hate washing dishes.) Add the tomatoes and stir until they start to soften. Pour in the water and stir. If you’ve decided to put beans in, now is the time.
Here’s when you have to get creative:
What’s available in your area? If I can get the following, they’re definitely going in the soup: Yellow peppers, red peppers, yellow squash and zucchini. The flavor, the texture. Oh yeah. (Figure 1-2 peppers, 1 large squash or 2 little ones.)
But this shouldn’t limit you. Tomatillos? Cabbage? Potatoes? Carrots? Fresh peas? Find out what is available and use it to your best advantage. Figure out how to prepare it in order to add it to the soup. Be creative. What do you like? Let that be your ultimate guide.
Now we’re cooking
I’ll add more water to the pot and get the heat going. I usually add the cut vegetables and the meat and then check the flavor, tuning in to what the soup needs to build out flavor. What do I need to add? Too bland? Too salty? Not quite enough acid? (I will squeeze a lemon into the soup. I’ve done it before.) More garlic? Less rosemary? Oregano? There is no exact formula for making soup. It is a different experience every time, producing new textures and tastes. Once, I added peanuts to an incredibly hot chili. It worked. Just a little extra salt and the smoothness of the nut made the difference in my dish.
Once you’ve reached a flavor combination that you like, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the soup. This is when patience comes into play. It’s called reducing. I tend to cook the soup for around 2 hours. It allows the flavors to reach their real boldness. The excess water evaporates, leaving behind flavor. If the water level drops too much, add a little more. Taste and season again.
Then crank up the tunes and serve it up. Soup works great alone, and it’s the best kind of on the fly dish to share with a friend who’s just dropped in. And don’t forget to save the leftovers. Soup only gets better.
Reposted from Transition Voice