The Joy of Soup

mailife - - Contents - words and pho­tos by LANCE SEETO

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

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