When I was a kid there was an ad whose tagline was “Is it soup, yet? It’s Soup!” (I think for a dry soup mix, so, one could argue whether or not it really was soup, but, I digress…)
At any rate, the line became, for many of us my age, a common way to say that something was done, finished, ready for use. And I think that one reason it caught our imagination was that, indeed, you often put things together and wait and then – it’s soup!
So – this isn’t a recipe, but it’s soup. Soup is flexible, soup is warming, soup is comforting, soup can be made from leftovers, soup can be made from odds and ends that aren’t enough to cook by themselves. Sometimes hearty soup is a meal itself, sometimes you want a bowl of soup and a sandwich, or salad, or… Sometimes you can start a meal with just a cup of soup to feel more elegant (and use the last of last night’s vegetables.)
I’m not going to say there is no wrong way to make soup – I’ve had bad soup in a diner or two – but it takes some effort. (And was a surprise – diner soup is often excellent – or at least average, out of a can…)
I’m still working on the last of my CSA vegetables. We’d eaten most of one cabbage, cutting off a slice or a chunk at a time, and were now down to the area around the core. We’d eaten half a butternut squash and I still had the other half. There was one last lonely carrot (I’ll certainly be buying more carrots all winter, but…) and a red jalapeno pepper that Needed to be Eaten. Sounds like soup to me!
So – remember – this is the method. Start by sauteing aromatics. In this case, that was my onion, finely cut carrot, and pepper. It could also include celery, garlic (I wonder why I didn’t use garlic? I have some…) ginger, bell pepper, leeks, or spices. I could also have just thrown in my premade mirepoix from my freezer, or a nice big spoonful of sofrito, or… I could just skip this step all together and add flavor later.
I chopped the cabbage. I was down to the area around the core, so I cut it up, cut the core out of slices, and chopped the leaves. You can chop the core, too, if it is tender enough, but it is often tough and a little bitter, so I usually don’t. Then I peeled and cubed the squash. If I hadn’t wanted to saute the aromatics, I could also add onion, carrot, and so on at this stage – I usually add carrot now, actually. If I was using potatoes, I’d add them now. I put the chopped vegetables in and stirred them around with the onion.
You could use most vegetables in soup, but some can be added at this stage, and some should not cook long… I would, for example, add broccoli or peas later, to avoid overcooking them. The same with summer squash… but winter squash simmers well. If I use frozen vegetables I add them at the last minute, since they’re essentially cooked already. Remember, though, that you’re not adding any flavor to the broth from vegetables added late in the process.
I wanted this to be the basis of a meal, not just a vegetable soup, so I put in a cup and a half of lentils, and stirred them around with the aromatics. If I were using other beans, I might use them already cooked, or soak them first. If I were using dry beans other than lentils or split peas they would need more cooking time – see Any Bean Soup…
Then I added a couple of quarts of water. I could, of course, use broth – the soup would be richer and have more flavor. With lentils and this many vegetables, though, it doesn’t really *need* broth… the liquid will get flavor from the rest of the ingredients. To help it along, I added salt, and some spices – a few cardamom pods, and whole coriander. They cook soft with a long simmer (though the cardamom is a bit… fibery… you probably don’t want to eat the pods, but fish them out.) I absolutely could have added the spices in the first stage with the other aromatics, they would have only benefited from the saute – I didn’t think of it in time. (So now you know – first, sometimes I don’t think of something – and second, that if you get an idea later, go ahead and throw it in… it’ll still work.) And this is when I would have added herbs, if I’d used them. I sometimes use a few dried mushrooms – shiitake are readily available and reasonable – if I think the broth will need something.
I set it all to simmer for about an hour. And then, yes – it was soup! An easy, hearty, homemade soup. The lentils were soft, the broth – it was broth, by now – had flavor, there were still distinct vegetables, but they were starting to fall apart… If I hadn’t used lentils or beans, and wanted to add noodles or dumplings, they’d go in now, to cook in the broth for another 10 minutes. The same with cooked rice – or barley, when I ate that. I could put them in, raw, earlier, but I usually at least parboil them so they don’t soak up all the broth… Since I don’t like them to get soggy, I also sometimes cook them separately and then add them to the soup bowls – Asian style. (You pretty much need to do that with Asian noodles – rice noodles or soba – they get very mushy if you leave them in the soup pot.)
We had lunches for three days from it (I did add some broth, the next day – it needed to be thinned a little.) And it was good.
I’ll probably never make the exact same soup again. I probably will remember that lentils and squash, and cardamom and coriander work very well together, so I will do something with that combination again (with or without the cabbage.) I might add something with a bit more zip – that jalapeno added almost no perceptible heat, to my surprise. Garlic/chili sauce at the beginning, or black peppercorns with the broth… variations that should each work, with a different feel.
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