There's a simple parable that I retold in my fist book Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival. I find it so true and illustrative of what I love most about my favorite winter–time comfort food – Soup.
In a small shtetl in Poland, the people were struggling and food was scarce. A soldier marched into the tiny village, hungry and tired and asked for something to eat. The townspeople told him of their plight and he re-assured them that he could make a delicious soup from a stone. He dropped a stone into a pot of boiling water, and a crowd began to gather. They were skeptical, but the soldier assured them of a rich broth; so they waited with great anticipation to taste the soup. He encouraged the villagers to contribute small offerings from their gardens and farms. Soon the villagers began tossing in bits of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, onions and potatoes. Some threw in pieces of beef, turkey and chicken as the soldier encouraged them and told them how delicious the soup would taste. By the time the entire village gathered to watch, the pot was filled with every vegetable grown in that small town and every cut of meat the butcher could find. Hand rolled dumplings and homemade noodles filled the pot and the aroma was splendid. The finished soup had an intense color and flavor and the villagers and the soldiers enjoyed a wonderful meal.
While the moral of this tale might be that when people come together they can create magic, it is also a culinary lesson in soup 101. To make a great soup you need a big pot, fresh ingredients and time. Whether you start with a beef, chicken or vegetarian base (that's right, the Kosher Carnivore used the V-word), soup is an amalgamation of wonderful ingredients coming together to create something hearty and satisfying. Pair it with a salad and crusty bread and you have comfort in a bowl.
Here are a few of my soup how–to tips and favorite recipes. I hope they feed your body and soul on those inevitable cold winter nights; fire in the fireplace and furry slippers, optional.
1. Don't overlook H20. Good cold water is the basis for just about any soup. Whether you are whipping up a chicken or beef stock, simmering lentils or boiling barley, cold water and just about any vegetable or protein can create soup.
2. Just as your bones provide the structure for your body, they also provide the structure for soup. The gelatin in the bones gives soup added texture and flavor, they enrich the stock and embolden the taste. When breaking down a chicken or finishing off a roast, save those bones to add to your next batch of soup.
3. If they grow in the garden together, they will play nicely in your stockpot. Don't be afraid to pair different aromatics, cabbage and fennel, carrots and salsify, celeriac and potatoes go as well as peanut butter and jelly when tossed into a stock pot. Buy those veggies that are seasonal and local, your soup will thank you.
4. Nothing in your kitchen should boil except water, so when preparing soup, turn the heat up just to bring everything to a boil and then reduce the temp to simmer. Simmering slowly coaxes the flavors to meld, while boiling hits them over the head.
5. When it comes to stockpots, size does matter. You want the height and diameter to be equal to mitigate evaporation when slow cooking. And that lid that comes with the stockpot, don't always assume it's better to trap the heat. When making stock (see the complete section in The Kosher Carnivore for preparing stock) it's necessary to leave the lid off so that water slowly escapes from your pot and concentrates the stock's flavor.
6. Choosing the right meat for soup is as easy as a first date. Go cheap. Chicken wings and backs work great in a chicken stock, shin bones and oxtails are delicious for a rich beefy taste and turkey giblets and frames are wonderful to add depth of flavor. Save your fancy cuts for the main course, soup is all about keeping it simple.
7. Consider condiments. Finishing a bowl of soup before serving with a pinch of sea salt, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or aged balsamic, or a sprinkling of fresh herbs is perfect. Some flavors cook out when added too early, but a finishing touch lingers on the tongue and enhances the soup.
Here are three recipes with different origins and flavor profiles. When making soup, the recipe is the basis, but your cupboard and fridge are your inspiration. Toss it in and see where the ingredients lead you – I promise it will be delicious.
Grandma Rose’s Schi – Russian Cabbage Soup: There are dishes that transport all of us back in time. Maybe an aroma that fires up a memory or a taste so singular that you know exactly the time and place you first experienced it. For me, one of those immutable memories is cabbage soup.
Gruenkern Soup with Mini Turkey Meatballs: When working on Recipes Remembered "my" survivors talked about a very popular German ingredient called gruenkern.It was a staple in their cooking and I wanted to incorporate it into a dish.
Beef and Barley Soup: This iconic American dish walks a fine line between a soup and a stew. Thick and rich, laden with beef bits, chewy mushrooms and tender pearl barley this soup is a meal in itself.
January 7, 2013