Food — Enter Soup

Enter Soup

By Amy Diaz

Spring is not always lovely.

Sure, those first sunny days after a long, cold winter — beautiful. But, and as a gardener I understand the need for this, just as many of those spring days will be rainy, gray and somewhat chilly. As ready as you and your bathing suit might be for the salads and raw crunchy foods of summer, the weather seems to call for something a bit warmer.

Enter soup.

Like a salad, but warmer

First, a few things about soup. Or, more specifically, about what soup isn’t. Soup is not always:

• made with cream

• made with beans or noodles

• only made from a can

• better from a can

• difficult to make from scratch

To the first two items — beans, noodles and cream can make your soups feel heavy and wintery. But, despite what the Campbell’s aisle of the supermarket might have you believe, not all soups require these things. Which brings us to the last three items — soup is not scary. Sure, the stuff from a can takes about four minutes to make but it usually tastes like a few of those minutes were actually spent making it worse. Soup made from scratch — soup that you will truly deeply enjoy and want to serve for friends and relatives — only takes about 25 minutes (with about 15 of those minutes not requiring anything in the way of effort from you).

And those magical quickie soups can be made from vegetables — either one or a medley — thus fulfilling our needs for that part of the food pyramid and keeping up that healthy eating thing that the advent of shorts season inspires in us all.

What can go from salad to soup:

• carrots

• tomatoes

• asparagus

• peas

• onion

• avocado

• mushrooms

Also, remember those herbs that looked a little iffy in the back of your refrigerator? Fresh herbs (and even the herbs that are starting to look a few days past fresh) do wonders for soup by adding lots of flavor without adding any fat. Some good candidates include:

• basil

• oregano

• dill

• rosemary

•mint

Soups, because of the flavor-extracting powers of heat and water, are also an excellent place to use dried herbs and spices. Just keep in mind that the older the herbs and spices, the less flavor they will have, so increase amounts accordingly.

How to achieve that perfect satisfying mix of vegetable and herb depends on your own personal tastes but can take a lot of cues from the salad that you would be eating if the weather was warmer. Were you thinking about a Greek salad? Try a tomato soup with oregano and some fennel, topping it with a few sprinkles of feta cheese and a handful of finely chopped black olive. Were you going to go with salad of spring greens? Try peas and garlic with a bit of basil for a similar fresh taste. Craving something a little heaftier? Try carrots and mint with a bit of cumin and paprika. For a tropical taste, try avocado and cilantro with a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.

The soupy part of soup

Broth in a box is to soup what lettuce in a bag is to salad.

Like its leafy cousin, the broth (usually available in chicken, beef, seafood, vegetarian “chicken,” vegetable and tomato, at least) provides an easy base from which to build. Most even come in a pop-top container, so that tonight’s soup can help you get started on tomorrow’s gravy or pasta dish. Boxed broth jumps you past the simmer-for-hours stage that can eat up so much time on truly homemade soup.

If, however, you are caught stockless, you can compensate by using water (about 1/2 cup less than you would have of the stock) and adding two tablespoons of olive oil (a flavored or extra virgin one if possible), a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of white wine, a teaspoon of celery salt and some pepper to taste. When you get to the boiling part of the soup-making process, boil a carrot, small garlic clove or sprig of a complementary spice in the mix.

About three cups of broth will make enough soup for two diners.

How chunky you want your soup depends on how big you chop the vegetables you add and how long you let them simmer in the broth. Many vegetables will at least partly dissolve into your soups — producing a more substantial soup — after about 15 minutes. To speed that process, chop vegetables fine or throw them in a food processor for a few minutes. (Avocados, tomatoes and mushrooms by and large will dissolve quickly on their own and be unwieldy if processed.)

Generally, the recipe for a basic quickie soup begins with a brief sautéing (in butter or olive oil) of items such as onions, cloves, mushrooms, ginger, garlic or green onions. In the soup pot, saute until very lightly browned and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add stock and boil. Once the liquid is boiling, add the vegetables, herbs and spices (6 cups of vegetables to 3 cups of stock). Let boil for about a minute more and then reduce heat and allow to simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for consistency and flavor, increasing herbs and spices if needed. Add an additional handful of chopped fresh herbs a few minutes before serving to increase the freshness factor. Serve with a few sprinkles of grated cheese and a few of those croutons you were saving for the next salad.

Soup Extraordinaire

Once you get friendly with the soup-as-meal concept (so different, really, from the salad-as-meal concept?) you may want to branch out to soups that require a little more attention but absolutely pay off. Try this variation on the French onion soup: roasted garlic soup from S.O.U.P.S.: Seattle’s Own Undeniably Perfect Soups, by Michael Congdon (Sasquatch Books, 2004).

Roasted garlic soup with croutons and gruyere

3 slices stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves and stems, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh savory leaves and stems, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves and stems, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves and stems,

3 to 5 heads garlic, roasted and pureed

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Kosher salt

1 cup dry white wine

8 cups stock

4 cups cream

8 ounces of Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss the bread cubes with olive oil. Spread them out on a baking sheet and toast until golden and crispy, five to 10 minutes.

Add the herbs, the pureed garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, a pinch of salt, the wine and the stock to the soup pot. Mix well and let it reach a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Pour the soup slowly through a strainer and into a storage container. Discard the herbs from the strainer. Clean out the soup pot. Refill with the strained soup. Add the cream, stir well and let the soup reach a simmer.

Serve topped with a few croutons and a nice portion of the grated Gruyere.

- Amy Diaz 

 
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