Some things about soup...

(This article originally appeared in Artvoice. To see it at its original location, click here.)

“Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”
–Louis P. De Gouy

Soup is delicious and nutritious, no doubt, but it’s also exceedingly easy to make. If you can boil water, you can make soup. Even soup’s foundation—stock or broth—which is often perceived as laborious, is simple to make. And, like making bread, there’s something about a simmering soup pot that is nostalgic. Soup is the original comfort food.

Soup is also a chameleon of foods: on one hand it’s as basic as simmering meat and/or vegetables in liquid to create a simple yet nutritious meal, but it can also be the epitome of culinary refinement, such as bisque or consommé. It's origins, though, undoubtedly lie on the humble side. From its earliest days soup is said to have evolved from the practice of boiling meat in a vessel over an open fire.

The word soup is derived from the Middle English, sop, or sup, referring to a stale piece of bread onto which hot broth was poured, thus giving a slight meal some substance. To eat in this fashion was “to sup;” this is also from where the modern word “supper” is derived. The classic French Onion Soup is one of the truly ancient soups remaining today: broth, onions, and bread (the thick topping of cheese is a modern and more luxurious addition).

Soups can be divided into two basic categories: broth soups and thick soups. Thick soups can be further defined into subcategories of cream soups, purées, thickened soups (those that are thickened with the addition of a starch, such as flour or cornstarch), and self-thickening soups (made with legumes, grains, pasta, etc.).

In its most simple form soup is nothing more than a collection of ingredients that have been boiled together, but this simple recipe will often produce a “simple-tasting” soup. However, when basic culinary principles are applied, a few simple ingredients can become an incredible soup (sauté or sweat the vegetables, for example, rather than simply boiling them; add stock or broth to the soup instead of water). Interestingly, while there are seemingly countless soup recipes available, their preparations are often similar: heat a pot with a small amount of oil or butter, add vegetables and allow them to sweat, cover with broth, skim and season the soup, and simmer it until a desired doneness. To thicken soup a starch is usually introduced while sweating the vegetables, and then broth is slowly incorporated.

Simply said, soup making is as straightforward as the aforementioned directions, follow those guidelines and you can make soup out of almost anything, within reason of course. The most crucial instruction within those simple directions is “cover with broth.” Stock or broth is without doubt the most important ingredient in any soup recipe, and unfortunately, this is also the area of soup making that is sometimes thought of as drudgery, but it shouldn’t be. Many view stock making as a lengthy and complicated process when it’s actually quite simple. True, stock or broth does necessitate a few hours to cook, but they need very little tending as they cook, and the outcome is far superior to a powdered base, bouillon cubes, and even the canned varieties that are so plentiful today (ok, yes, I—a professional cook—sometimes use canned broth at home out of convenience but it doesn’t compare to homemade).

The benefits of homemade stock or broth are many; they can replace much of the fat and sodium in a recipe—when you add stock to a recipe you add flavor. With a full-flavored stock or broth the simplest food preparation becomes something special. A flavorful stock or broth is very simple to produce, yet the process that takes place is nothing short of alchemy—extracting and conveying the flavor and nutrients from the meat, bones and vegetables into the simmering water.

The main difference between broth and stock is that stock is made by simmering bones and vegetables in water, whereas broth takes its full flavor from the addition of meat, thus broth is more costly to make. Stocks and broths are interchangeable in soup making, although broths usually have a fuller flavor because of the inclusion of meat in their recipes. Stocks and broths can be made ahead in large batches and frozen in small increments for future use.

When making stock or broth always start with cold water, this encourages the release of gelatin, albumin and nutrients that are in all animal products. Gelatin and albumin are water-soluble proteins that dissolve in cool or warm water. If the bones and meat are immersed directly into hot water in an attempt to speed the cooking process these proteins will coagulate too quickly, and the resulting product will be cloudy and insipid. Stocks should be simmered slowly; boiling them will also yield a liquid that is murky in both appearance and flavor. When simmered slowly the resulting stock will be crystal clear and offer a more well rounded flavor.

Another important factor in stock making is the ratio of water to flavoring ingredients (bones, vegetables, and meat). The flavoring ingredients should be added to a pot with cold water poured over them. For a concentrated broth or stock the water should just cover the ingredients. If too much water is added to the stockpot the outcome will be watery and diluted. And stocks should not be salted as they cook—salt is added to recipes in which the stock is used, this offers the cook control over sodium content.

After a stock or broth has simmered slowly for a sufficient amount of time it should be carefully strained through a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth. An easy method for removing any accumulated fat is to refrigerate it overnight. The fat will rise to the surface and will be able to be lifted off in large pieces. The resulting broth will be good enough to drink as is, or used as the base to any soup.

Curried Vegetable Soup

Makes about 12 cups

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 parsnip, diced
1 turnip, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup diced cabbage
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup chopped kale
8 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, and turnip. Cook the vegetables in the oil for about five minutes, allowing them to release their flavor but not brown. Add the garlic, curry, turmeric, cumin, hot pepper, and salt; saute for another couple minutes. Stir in the cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes and kale; stir to coat the vegetables with oil and spices. Stir in the broth. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the soup for 30-60 minutes, skimming as necessary; if it becomes to thick add more broth. Taste it for seasoning, and add the lemon juice just before serving.

Split Pea Soup with Garlic and Smoked Sausage

Makes about 12 cups

3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups diced smoked sausage
1 small onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound split peas, cleaned and rinsed
1 potato, diced
8 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook it for a few minutes, until it releases some of it's fat and begins to brown. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic; cook the vegetables with the sausage for a few minutes, until the vegetables begin to cook but are not browned. Add the peas, potato. Broth, and salt. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about an hour, stirring frequently. If it becomes to thick add more broth.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Apple and Toasted Walnuts

Makes about 6 cups

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds peeled and diced butternut squash
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/2 cup small diced apple

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat and add the onions. Sweat the onions over medium heat for 5 minutes or until they are translu­cent. Add the flour and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and diced pumpkin; sauté another minute. Add the stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the squash is very tender. Add the cream and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Puree in a blender or food processor. After ladling the soup into warm bowls, garnish it with the toasted walnuts and diced apple.

Roast Red Pepper Bisque

Makes about 12 cups

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups diced roast red peppers
2 cups heavy cream

Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots, over medium heat in the butter or olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Stir in the flour and cook over medium/low heat for 5-10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, stir with a whisk to remove any lumps. Stir in the diced peppers. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the heavy cream simmer 2 minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender. Strain if you desire a smoother consistency.

Potato Chowder

Makes about 12 cups

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces diced lean ham
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2-1/2 pounds peeled and diced potatoes
6 cups rich soup stock
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup milk (optional)

Heat the butter in a large heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. When it begins to bubble add the ham, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Sauté the vegetables and ham for approximately 5 minutes, or until they are soft and translucent but not browned. Stir in the potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, salt, and black pepper. Bring the soup to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer; skim any impurities that may have risen to the surface. Simmer the soup for 45-60 minutes, stirring often. Using a wire whisk, gently break apart some of the potatoes to give the soup some viscosity. If adding the milk, do so directly before serving the soup, and do not boil it once the milk has been added.

Chicken and Rice Soup with Saffron, Lime, Jalapeño, and Cilantro

Makes about 8 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons minced jalapeño
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon saffron, crushed
1 pound chicken breast, diced
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion, jalapeno, and garlic; sauté for 2 minutes. Add the saffron and diced chicken; sauté 3-4 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, salt, and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower it to a simmer; skim any impurities that rise to the surface. Simmer the soup for 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked rice and the limejuice. Return the soup to a simmer and cook the soup another 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve while hot.

Rich Soup Stock

Makes about 12 cups

5 pounds chicken bones
2 pounds pork bones
1 medium onion, quartered
1 medium carrot, cut into thirds
4 ribs celery, cut into thirds
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
1 gallon cold water, or enough to cover the ingredients by an inch

Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Bring slowly to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and skim any impurities that may rise to the surface. Simmer the stock very slowly for approximately 4 hours, and then strain it through a fine mesh sieve or colander. Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Easy Chicken Broth

Makes about 12 cups

3 pounds chicken wings
2 onions, peeled and cut in half
2 whole cloves garlic
2 ribs celery, cut into quarters
2 carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 bay leaf
12 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 gallon cold water, or enough to cover the ingredients by an inch

Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stock pot and place over medium-high heat; bring the liquid slowly to a boil. When the broth begins to boil, skim any impurities that may rise to the surface, then reduce the heat to a very low simmer. Simmer the broth very slowly—bubbles should just be breaking the surface—for 3-5 hours. Occasionally skim the foam that rises to the surface. Strain the broth through a fine sieve; reserving the meat from the wings for another use. Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Urban Simplicity


DanT said…
Hi Joe,

I love soups. Made a sweet potato and apple soup on the weekend.

Have a sourdough bubbling on the counter.

Regards from across the river,