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Ah! Soup! The nectar of the gods! Soup is the ultimate comfort food. It can be as simple or as complex, as cheap or as expensive as you wish to make it. It's healthy, too, as it keeps all the nutrients of its ingredients. This quote sums up my feelings quite nicely:

"Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don't catch steak hanging around when you're poor and sick, do you?"
 
Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

 

I love the goofy thrill of watching Top Chef, and what strikes me is how often a guest judge will comment that the mark of a good chef is the ability to make a great soup. Or maybe Beethoven had it right:

Anyone who tells a lie has not a pure heart, and cannot make a good soup.
Ludwig van Beethoven

It is very easy (and economical) to make a good stock. It's basically taking bones, or cheap bony cuts with some vegetables for meat stock, or vegetables alone for a vegetable stock and placing them into a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. One can make a seafood stock with bones/shells from fish, shrimp, crab or lobster, but I have never roasted the ingredients to a seafood stock.

This all gets dumped into a large pot, adding about a teaspoon of peppercorns and a handful of any fresh herbs you have on hand. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 2-3 hours, skimming the foam. Strain, pressing down on the solids with a large spoon to extract the liquid. If the stock is not quite strong enough, add a teaspoon or two of stock flavoring, but watch the salt content if you use bouillon cubes or granules.

For more detailed directions, see this site - a great reference for creating a flavorful stock: Fabulous Foods . I must confess, though, that with how frequently I am away from home with work and school, that I will often buy stock. My favorite is Kitchen Basics . If you purchase stock, please be sure it's not full of corn syrup, MSG, preservatives, etc.

Soup is always comforting when one is ill. Chicken soup has been called the "Jewish Penicillin". Soup can connect us to previous generations. One of the most cherished traditions among the women-folk in my family is this: The day I got home from the hospital after delivering my children, my mother visited and made a large pot of chicken soup for me. My grandmother did the same for her, and my great-grandmother was present at the home deliveries of my grandmother's children and did the same. I suspect this tradition has been going on for generations. I always equate soup with tender loving care, which is probably why it is so important to me.

frey60's Double-strength Chicken Soup

1 fryer chicken, about 2.5 - 3 pounds
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 black peppercorns
3 whole Allspice
1 bay leaf
Chicken stock to cover

(If I'm treating a cold, I will add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the broth).

Place all in a large pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, skimming foam as needed. Remove chicken and bay leaf. Once chicken is cool, pull or chop into bite-sized pieces. Add back to soup, or save for another dish. I like to add a tablespoon of lemon juice at this time to brighten the flavor. Add cooked noodles if desired.

Another fine quote about soup:

Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.
Marge Kennedy

One of my favorite chefs of all time is Julia Child. I've adapted her black bean gazpacho recipe; it's a favorite of one of my vegan friends and is always WFD when she visits.

Black Bean Soup adapted from Julia Child
2 -15 oz. cans Black Beans, drained and rinsed. (May also use dry black beans, just follow the directions on the package to prepare for soup)
6 cups vegetable stock
2 onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1 - 15 oz. can diced tomatoes - make sure to read the label and stay away from any with added high fructose corn syrup
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 small jalepeno, minced - use seeds and membranes as you will to adjust the heat
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes of your choice (this is the best part): chopped cucumbers, chopped scallions, diced tomatoes, toasted croutons, sliced lime, avocado and minced cilantro or flat-leaf parsley and for the non-vegan among us, shredded cheese and sour cream

Place beans in a large pot. Add the stock, onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, jalepeno and lime juice. Bring to a boil. Simmer slowly partially covered for 1 hour. Remove 1 cup of soup. Purée the rest in a blender. Add reserved cup of soup and purée back to pot. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add more stock if purée is too thick. Serve with garnishes.

A word of warning: Be very careful when blending hot liquids. Only fill the blender halfway and make sure you hold onto the blender cover. Another cautionary tale - When said vegan friend was visiting once, I went to purée the black bean soup I had just made. I searched everywhere for the plastic insert for the blender top and couldn't find it. Being impatient, I decided to just put my hand over the hole in the cover. As soon as I started the blender, I realized where the cap was - inside the blender! Fortunately, there was enough soup left over to serve.  

Soup lends itself well to creativity; it was the first dish where I felt comfortable enough to add or subtract ingredients to get a different end product. Some examples: take the above chicken soup recipe. When cooking, add 4-5 nickle-sized slices of ginger. When the soup is done, add a tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar and a few drops of dark sesame oil, and you have an asian-flavored soup. Or add a tsp. of cumin or adobo seasoning, a handful of cilantro and when the soup is done, a tablespoon of lime juice, and you have soup with a Mexican slant. Or take a recipe for cream of broccoli soup. Substitute any vegetable you like, in about equal portions, to make cream of "whatever" vegetable soup. If I get nothing else across in this diary, it's that you should feel very free to experiment with flavors and additions to the soup, to make it uniquely yours.

It's also a good way to get rid of whatever is in your fridge that's starting to wilt. In fact, save all your vegetable peelings and scraps (well washed of course) when cooking other meals, freeze and then pull out and add to the pot when making soup.

Clean Out the Fridge Soup

6 cups stock (your choice)
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste (freeze the rest in 1 tablespoon portions)
1 bay leaf
A sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Now comes the fun part: Add any veggies or herbs from your fridge that are just starting to look a little wilted. (They can be previously cooked or not) Some people advise against adding veggies from the cabbage family or asparagus, but I like those just fine. Throw in a Parmesan rind if you have it. Add any chopped cooked meat that you might have. Simmer about 45 minutes, checking to see that any raw veggies are cooked through. Remove any scraps and/or Parmesan rind. Add salt and pepper to taste. This is a great way to use those odds and ends that are too little to make a meal but are too good to throw away.

Finally, in honor of my Polish heritage, I'd like to leave you with a recipe for a typical Polish soup. No, not Czarnina . My grandmother used to make a mock Czarnina, using prunes (!) for the soup base and neck bones for the meat. We loved it, and I guess it kept us all pretty regular. No, this recipe is for Dill Pickle Soup. Another yummy recipe!

Dill Pickle Soup

6 cups chicken stock
2 carrots, chopped
2 large potatoes, peel and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 onion diced
1 cup milk
5 medium Polish dill pickles, grated
2 tablespoons pickle brine
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
Pepper
Additional sour cream and chopped fresh dill for garnish

Add the chicken stock, carrots, potatoes and onion to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the milk, dill pickles and brine and simmer another 15 minutes. Mix the egg and sour cream together in a bowl. Add a bit of the hot soup to the egg and sour cream to temper, mix well. Add this mixture to the soup, stirring constantly and being careful not to boil (the soup will curdle). Adjust seasoning with pepper (you'll probably not need additional salt). Top with a teaspoon of sour cream and the chopped dill.

Soup! I love it year round - hot and cold, and in all its forms and ethnicities. It can be a tasty and healthy meal by itself, or paired with a salad or sandwich. Good crusty bread is a necessity! I'll leave you with a quote from a very smart man:

When I was a young man, I had a mentor on women and he said when you meet a woman that you think you like, don't ask her for a drink. Take her out for a bowl of soup. Because a woman who can enjoy a bowl of soup is bound to be more interesting.
Art Cooper

I need to leave for about an hour, but am looking forward to returning and seeing your comments. What are you having for dinner? Are you willing to share your favorite soup recipes with us?

Originally posted to frey60 on Sat Feb 28, 2009 at 03:58 PM PST.

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| 108 votes | Vote | Results

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