It’s early December as I write this. It’s cold and gray; the first snowflakes of the year are falling, and I’m stuck at home with a bad cold. Sounds pretty bleak, huh? It could be, but I’m also sipping on some hot turkey broth that I made from the bird my family roasted on Thanksgiving. As I feel the hot liquid trickle down my throat into my belly I suddenly feel warm, and my stuffed-up sinuses and sore throat are soothed. It’s so satisfying that for a moment I completely forget my sickness and the cold dreary weather outside.
It’s not just me who draws such satisfaction from good soup. Soup (especially chicken soup) is legendary for its restorative and soothing qualities. Why? I think it’s a combination of the hot liquid that hydrates and warms on a cold day, the rich savory flavors, and our bodies’ intuition that this is something that not only tastes great, but is also really good for us.
All good soup starts with broth, and it doesn’t have to be meat broth. Vegetable broth is easier to make than meat broth and it can be just as satisfying. To make vegetable broth, simply put vegetable scraps (peels and all) into a large pot, cover with water, simmer for an hour or more, strain, and voila, you have broth! As it simmers, the nutrients and flavors from the vegetables are extracted into the water, creating a wonderfully rich and healthful liquid. The particular nature of the broth depends on what veggies you make it from. In my opinion, all good broths should start with a base of onions and a little garlic. Celery or fresh parsley imparts a nice fresh flavor. Mushrooms give it a beautiful deep color and richness that’s great for soups like French onion or Russian borscht. Tomatoes add a tang that’s just perfect for Minestrone. The best way to learn your favorite veggie broth is to experiment.
Meat broths are made using basically the same method. I love whole roast chicken, and it’s a meal I often prepare for Sunday dinner. Instead of wasting the bones after the carcass is picked clean, I simply put them in a big pot, cover them with water, and simmer on low for a few hours, or overnight in a crockpot. As it cooks, the bones soften and release healthful minerals, gelatin, and lots of flavor. When it’s done I skim the foam off the top and strain the liquid. Again, it couldn’t be easier. Beef bones, fish bones, or even pork bones can be made into broth in exactly the same way. Adding a few vegetables or herbs to your meat broths can give another dimension of flavor and can make a simple chicken or beef broth into something divine.
And if you want to make soup but don’t have the time or inclination to make your own broth? The Co-op has a great selection of organic and free-range broths and broth powders that don’t have any of the excess sodium, MSG or other additives most commercial broths contain. Just because you don’t have any chicken bones on hand certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make chicken soup.
Now that you’ve got your broth it’s time to make soup. Here’s where your creativity can really shine. There are so many delicious soups in the world, it’s hard to pick just a few to talk about here, so I’ll divide them up into two main groups.
Vegetable, grain or pasta soups
First, the simple vegetable, grain, or pasta-based soups. Usually these are made by simply sautéing some vegetables and/or meats in a large pot, adding broth and pasta, potatoes, beans, and/or a grain (rice, barley, lentils, split peas, quinoa, etc.) and simmering for a few hours until everything is cooked. Before serving, taste the soup and season it to your liking with salt, pepper, fresh herbs, spices, lemon or lime juice, or maybe a touch of vinegar. You can make a multitude of soups this way: French onion, chicken noodle (add precooked chicken at the end of cooking), potato leek, split pea, vegetable barley, Russian beet borscht…or why not make something up?
The second category is a little more complicated. These are the creamy soups. They are made just like the soups above, except some cream (or cream alternative like soy milk or coconut milk) is added at the end of cooking to give an extra dimension of flavor and texture. These soups are sometimes pureed and put through a sieve to make them completely smooth. While techniques like this can be rewarding if you have the time, personally, I’ve enjoyed a chunky cream of tomato soup just as much as an extremely smooth one and sometimes all the extra work involved in getting it totally smooth just isn’t worth the time. It’s easy to be intimidated by a recipe that has lots of steps (peeling everything, pureeing, pushing through a sieve, etc.) and decide not to make the soup at all. Don’t give in to that, just simplify the recipe! One thing’s for sure, I’d take a homemade chunky creamed soup over an extremely creamy one out of a can any day, and I bet you would to.
What if you really don’t have the time to make soup, even an easy one? Well, you’re in luck! We have soup on sale in the Deli all through January with two selections (a vegan and a non-vegan option) every day. Our soups are made from scratch in our Production Kitchen, and like all of our Deli food, they are free of MSG and the other nasty things you find in most commercial soups.