The Joy of Soup
Being able to make a good, simple soup from scratch is a great skill all cooks should have. Soup is not only cheap and delicious to make, it’s an importance digestive starter full of vitamins and minerals – especially when its vegetarian.
Soup - it’s the easiest way to warm up your kitchen on a cold day and to feed yourself and your family in one delicious and healthy bowl. And you don’t need a recipe to make soup, especially if your fridge or garden is overloaded with unused vegetables. Nearly any vegetable can be turned into soup with a little time and effort. Yes, nearly any vegetable will make a tasty soup. Sweet potato, zucchini, tomato, green beans, celery, mushrooms, onions, leeks, cabbage, moca, and bele. Potatoes, dalo, radish, cauliflower, broccoli — the list goes on. The only thing you need to decide is the flavour of the vegetable. You can tone down radish’s bitterness with cream or yogurt, and you can offset cabbage’s pungent aroma with creamy white beans or tart lemon, but you can’t entirely erase the taste of a vegetable in soup, so don’t put something in that you really don’t like. Also, nearly any texture of vegetable will work, from tender greens to hard root crops, but the cooking time will change. A big pot of moca will cook down quickly, while pumpkin will need more time.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?
The essentials are vegetables and vegetable stock, plus olive oil or butter and some salt and pepper. After that, all is optional. I usually add some aromatics like onion, garlic, spring onions or leeks and some fresh herbs. You can flavour the vegetables with salt, vegetable boosters or spices, like curry powder or cumin. I sometimes add a splash of wine or coconut bu water to the pot. After the soup is finished there are so many other ways to jazz it up; a can of diced tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or a dollop of yoghurt.
STARTING WITH A GOOD VEGETABLE STOCK
Making an aromatic vegetable stock is essential to the start of a vegetable soup, otherwise you’ll end up with a bowl of water. Onions, carrots, and celery give stock a great base flavour, and you can round these out with any of the other vegetables. You can also make stock using any amount of vegetables that you happen to have on-hand, but it’s good to have a roughly equal portion of each so the resulting stock will have a balanced flavour. Cover the vegetables with enough water (I also use coconut water) that you can easily stir them in the pot. Less water means that your stock will be more concentrated; more water makes a lighter-flavoured stock. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring it to just under a boil. Once you start to see some bubbling around the edges of the pot and a few wisps of steam on the surface, turn the heat down to medium-low. It isn’t an exact science, but one hour is generally enough time to infuse the water with vegetable goodness. If you need to take it off the heat a little early or don’t get to it until a little later, it will be fine. Give it a stir every now and again to circulate the vegetables. Take the pot off the stove and remove all the vegetables with a slotted spoon. Set your strainer over a big bowl and line it with a hair net, fine cloth or coffee filter. Pour the
stock through. Divide the stock into storage containers, cool completely, and then freeze.
THE BEST VEGETABLES FOR VEGETABLE STOCK
When making a basic vegetable stock, you want vegetables with neutral, but savoury flavours. Some recipes recommend adding garlic and other strong spices, but unless you know how you’re going to be using the broth, I prefer to add those kinds of seasonings when we’re actually making the final soup. I also don’t add salt to the stock for the same reason. Onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms are the ideal starter vegetables for stock, but feel free to swap any of these for leeks or tomatoes. Not every vegetable is destined for vegetable stock. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and root crops will make for a gummy, cloudy vegetable stock. Radish overpowers their aromatic counterparts. Zucchini and greens beans become bitter when slowly simmered for as long it takes to make a stock. For the adventurous, try adding sea vegetables like fresh lumi or red seaweed. Two ways to add more flavour to your broth are to roast the vegetables beforehand or to let them sweat (start to soften and release their liquids) for a few minutes over the heat before adding the water.
WHAT’S THE BASIC METHOD OF MAKING SOUP?
Cut about a kilogram of vegetables into a medium dice, about an inch square or smaller if you’re using a hard, dense vegetable, like potato or carrot. Sauté the vegetables in a little olive oil or butter, keeping the heat to low and letting the veggies really cook and develop flavour otherwise you’ll end up with watery tasting soup. After the vegetables have softened and developed some fragrance and flavour, add about 4 cups of vegetable stock, cover and simmer. Simmer for about an hour or until all the vegetables are soft. Voilà! You have easy, flavourful vegetable soup that you can add noodles, pasta or rice to create a hearty meal.
TO PUREE OR NOT TO PUREE
When you cook vegetables in stock, you have a choice. You can stop cooking when the vegetables are tender, and slurp up your soup as it is, chunks and all, like an improvised vegetable stew. Or you can puree the soup until creamy. This works with any kind of soup, and you’ll be surprised at how creamy a soup can be with no dairy at all. But I tend to like this best with sweet, dense vegetables like carrots and sweet potato with a touch of cream or coconut milk. Once you know how to make a basic soup, the possibilities are endless. Have a play around with different flavours, herbs and spices, and come up with your own unique take on soup.
DELICIOUS GARNISHING IDEAS
There are all sorts of things you can add to your soup at the end to give an extra hit of flavour, or turn it into more of a meal. Try some of these ideas: Grill, toast or bake chunky croutons or slices of bread to make wicked home- made croutons. Bash up soft fresh herbs like basil and parsley in a pestle and mortar and mix them with some olive oil and lemon juice to make a delicious herby oil to drizzle over the top. Crumble or grate over your favourite cheeses. Pick and fry woody herb leaves like sage, thyme and rosemary in a little butter and olive oil, until crisp and delicious then scatter over your soup. Toast some seeds and nuts in a dry pan to add crunch and avour to creamy soups. Spice up your soup with some chopped fresh chilli. Swirl through a spoonful of pesto, yoghurt, single cream or crème fraîche before serving Add noodles, rice or root crops to create a substantial meal
WHY DO YOU DRINK SOUP FIRST?
Nearly every culture features a soup dish that is consumed at the beginning of a meal. The Chinese and Japanese prefer broths like chicken, fish or miso broths, whilst European cuisine features both hot and cold soups. So why do people drink soup first? When warm soup is consumed at the beginning of the main meal, the various digestive juices are secreted in the stomach and intestine, which helps in proper digestion of the main meal after. In Indian Ayurvedic cuisine, diners are encouraged to drink a glass of warm water first for the same reason. Starting your digestive system with soup, warm water or lemon juice before you eat solid foods helps to avoid indigestion, commonly known as “gastric”, as the food you eat begins to breakdown instead of being stuck in your intestines. So, drink more soup before you start your next main meal.
Add as much colour to create a feast for the eyes like avocado and egg
Adding beans to your soup helps to make it more filling
Pureed pumpkin soup with fresh coconut chutney
Whatever vegetables you have, you can make soup
LANCE SEETO is an award-winning international food writer, author, television presenter and executive chef based on Mana Island Fiji. Follow his culinary adventures in Fiji at www.lanceseeto.com