…and it’s Fight Back Friday!
I know, I know… It’s been ages! But you throw in some major surgery, complications from said surgery, having to relearn how to eat, stuff like that – and well, I gotta be honest – it’s taken me a while to even care.
The good news being, of course – that I do, indeed care. And not only that, I’m on a major soup kick. So, I thought it only natural to start back there!
So here’s the thing – I’ve just always kind of assumed that everyone has this inborn ability to throw together a pot of soup. And not just any soup – soup that makes the horrible stuff you buy in the can (shudder!), or get at the grocery store’s deli, or even more than half of the stuff you can get at a decent restaurant make you want to sing the hallelujah chorus – you know, really amazing soup.
Cause – honestly – it’s really basic. And well, what would life be without the ability to peruse the fridge, freezer, and homemade canned goods and craft an incredible pot of soup that just makes you smile?!
Okay – so let’s talk building blocks.
The foundation of every good soup is a good quality stock. If you’ve never made stock and feel intimidated – let me just put your fears to rest – it’s a total breeze. All it takes is a nice big pot (I have a love affair going on with my All Clad 12 Quart Stainless Steel Stock Pot), the stuff from meat that you would normally toss out – i.e., the carcass, bones, cartilage, etc. (these are things you can put in the freezer until a convenient time to make your stock), an onion, some celery, maybe a few carrots, and lots and lots of water. See Diana‘s excellent post on making stock here. I will say, if you’d like, you can go to the expense of purchasing stock. I personally avoid the canned stuff – but when I do need to buy stock at the grocery store, I opt for the Pacific Natural Foods products – I love that I can get the six pack at Costco!
Next building block – in my humble opinion! – is the veggies. They don’t have to be your most pristine for soup. If I have odds and ends of veggies while I’m cooking – stuff that won’t go into the dish I’m preparing, but I don’t want to throw out – I’ll throw those odds and ends into a container in the freezer – to hold onto for soup making days! Although I will say that there is nothing like strolling through your own garden at the height of summer and bringing in a variety of veggies to put in your pot of soup – sigh! Your soup can be as varied and individual as you are – but for me, there are typically some building blocks that I pretty much NEVER omit: onions, celery, garlic. Okay – I don’t put garlic in my navy bean soup – but I think that’s the only one I can recall that doesn’t have it in there.
The next building block – protein. I was a vegetarian a long, long, long time ago. Kind of a stupid vegetarian way back when – so much so that I got good and sick from not paying attention to protein. Well, I learned my lesson – and then much later had weight loss surgery – which meant I’d always have to pay attention to protein for the rest of my days. Since then I’ve been quite the carnivore. But you know what? It’s a total toss up for me – I’m just as happy with a soup with no meat in it as not. It’s just that nowadays I choose to make sure that there is a decent representation of complete protein (i.e., a grain and a legume) in my pot of soup!
And finally – spices. These, again, can vary as widely as you want them to. Some soups I will spice quite heavily. Others – almost not at all. It really has everything to do with YOUR tastes and preferences. What I like very well may not float your boat.
Okay – all that being said, I’m going to walk you through the soup I made yesterday. I gotta be honest here – I’m not sure if this…
…is a soup or a stew – ’cause there’s just not all that much broth, it’s pretty hearty. But when I was growing up, a stew was something that had a gravy-like or cream-type base, and a soup didn’t. So, for the sake of keeping us all on the same page – I’m gonna call this one a SOUP.
First – I start with my 5 quart stainless steel pot. I throw in about 4 tablespoons of butter, turn the eye to about medium heat, and then start chopping.
I chop up an onion – I like my onion to be kinda chunky because I love onion – so it’s a rough chop. Type of onion is up to you. I adore sweet yellow onions, so that’s what I use – and the biggest one I can find. Choose your onion based on your preferences. Once your onion is all chopped up – throw it into that soup pot
Next, I chop up celery. For this soup I used the heart of a bunch of celery that was nearly finished up, and about five more stalks from the new bunch of celery. Yes – that’s a lot of celery – but… well, yeah, it’s true – I love celery, too! When yours is chopped up, throw it into the soup pot. Go ahead and give the onion, celery, and butter a bit of a stir – we want those onions to get sort of translucent before it’s all said and done.
I’m a garlic girl. I’m honestly not sure there is such a thing as too much garlic – but to spare my family some, I try to show some restraint. For this soup I minced seven fairly decent sized cloves of garlic. Toss the garlic in with the onion, celery, and be sure to stir it in so that it gets coated with the butter – there’s nothing worse than burnt garlic!
I had a bunch of mushrooms that needed used up – so I chopped up about 15 of those to throw in. A quick insider tip – if you have mushrooms that need sliced or diced quickly – pull out your handy dandy egg slicer/wedger!
Next I peeled and chopped 8 decent sized carrots. I love carrot chunks in soup!
I love a soup with a bunch of cabbage in it, too, so I chopped up half a head of cabbage and threw it in to sauté with the onions, celery, garlic, and mushrooms.
I like to see some caramelization – i.e., browning – starting to happen – it just brings out amazing flavors (and smells!). Sometimes – depending on how many veggies I have in there by this point in time – I might have to add a little more butter to keep things from getting too dry.
Okay – my favorite thing to see at this point is some nice browning on the bottom of the pan, too. This is where having a nice acid to throw in serves quite nicely. I added 16 ounces of canned diced tomatoes. Using my silicone spat, I made sure to release the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, using that tomato juice to aide me. If you don’t want tomatoes, then try a little bit of red or white wine – it serves nicely.
Now… If you want to throw some meat in there – you go ahead and do that. For my pot of soup I opted for vegetarian, so no meat in mine. BUT – there is lots of wonderful homemade soup stock. I added 4 cups of beef stock and 8 cups of turkey stock. I don’t know what there is about a soup with a blend of two stocks – but it brings out a lovely nuance flavor wise. I personally love it – so I do that a lot! And for truth in advertising’s sake – I’ll mention that I store my home made stock in the freezer in 1, 2, and 4 cup containers. I put them under hot tap water just long enough to loosen them from the container, and then put the block of frozen stock on top of my veggies. It melts down quite nicely.
This is the point in time when I take inventory of what other veggies I have on hand. Yesterday it was two cups of frozen corn and one can of green beans. I knew I wanted a grain and a starch, so I didn’t really need much more than that. I toyed with the idea of throwing some frozen peas in, but yeah – it just didn’t do it for me.
I’ve been wanting a barley soup – so about a cup and a half of barley went in. As did a cup and a half of medium shell pasta. I knew that once the barley and pasta soaked up all the fluid they could this was going to be a fairly “hearty” – aka not very brothy – soup. But you know what? It smelled so fabulous I just didn’t care!
Once all of the ingredients were in, I gave it a good stir, put the lid on, turned the heat down to medium low, and went and checked on my baby chicks.
Time is of the essence at this juncture.
Soup needs the chance to slowly meld all of the flavors.
About an hour’s worth of melding later I got my tester spoon out and took a little sip. It was quite good. BUT… it needed a little something. A bit of pepper – fresh ground, maybe 10 or 12 turns on the grinder; a shake or two of garlic powder, about two teaspoons of kosher salt, and about a teaspoon of celery salt. I mixed it together well, let it simmer for about 10 more minutes, and then tasted again. Voila! Perfection!
See? Total breeze.
The great thing is that these basic principles can be used for pretty much all soup making.
Yes, some soups are more complex than others. Some are so easy it seems a little unfair all of the praise they garner – like my Navy Bean Soup – just onions, celery, carrots, ham stock, soaked navy beans, and diced ham – that’s it – and it’s amazing!
So – next time you feel the need for a good cup of soup – don’t wonder where you’re going to buy it – or heaven forbid, which can you’ll open! – grab your soup pot and throw a pot of soup together!
You’ll be glad you did!