When the coolness of fall sneaks in and kids head back to school my what’s-for-dinner mind turns to soup. Doesn’t yours? Clutching the last bits of summer in the form of food - corn, tomatoes, green beans, summer squash, herbs – or all that crazy kale that’s getting weary and starting to topple – and transforming it all into soup is satisfying. Once the bowl reaches the table and the first spoonful goes to your mouth, the soup reminds you, “all is well, it will be okay, put down the load for a moment and replenish”.
The use of broths and soups to nourish and heal is timeless. By allowing bones, meat, vegetables and other whole foods to give up their livelihood to the liquid surrounding them, a highly digestible meal emerges that is full of nutrients. Soup is economical too, costing only a few bucks to fill many tummies. It’s versatile; you can use nearly anything you have on hand, interchange ingredients, add or subtract food and liquid; the soup doesn’t care, it forgives and keeps simmering. Best of all, hardly anyone ever complains about sitting down to homemade soup served with warm whole grain bread. Praise to the soup.
Stock is the secret elixir that can change soup from a humble lunch to fine dining, from a meal to medicine. When you slowly simmer the bones of poultry, lamb or beef in water, with salt and something acidic (like vinegar) the calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and other trace minerals leech into the water creating a bio-available, mineral-rich, broth. The bones also release gelatin which contains amino acids and aids in maintaining cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Similarly, the nutrients that reside in garlic cloves, carrot peelings, celery stalks and other vegetables used will be pulled into the water surrounding them when salt is present in the slow-cooking simmering pot.
Stock does not have to be anything fancy. In fact, it should be a utilitarian task. Unused raw chicken parts, an onion, a bay leaf and a few vegetable scraps are really all you need. Alternately, you can begin with the carcass of your thanksgiving turkey or the bone from the Easter ham. Cooked bones yield a stronger flavor and darker color than raw bones. Stock isn’t on a schedule. So if you forget about it while you check email or pay bills and an hour or two later it is still simmering, don’t worry. It’s still good.
Soup knows no time nor is it limited geographically. Every ethnic cuisine has one or many soups that are a traditional part of their diet. The Japanese have miso soup, the Indian cook knows how to make dozens of dahls, Europeans have survived for centuries on chicken soup and borscht. The Italians invented minestrone, which means “big soup”, where you use whatever you have on hand. The characteristic flavor of soups usually comes from the herbs and flavorings native to the cuisine. Lemon grass and coconut milk are part of what gives Thai soup its rich flavor, sea vegetables add richness (and minerals!) to Japanese broths. We are so fortunate to live in a time when the communication and sharing of culinary traditions all over the world are so accessible.
When enjoying leftover soup, add some fresh herbs or thinly sliced fresh vegetables to the soup when re-warming it to give it new life. Just a handful of chopped fresh parsley will not only revitalize it nutritionally, but brighten the flavor.
Soup is the perfect gift for a new family, a new neighbor, a sick friend. Leave the trinkets and potted plants behind and get down to what will truly offer healing and love. Pair a pot of homemade soup or a big jar of nourishing stock with a loaf of warm whole grain bread and you’ll never be forgotten. Parents can support each other by trading soup. It’s just as easy to make a big pot as a small pot. Work out an arrangement with another family where you swap soups once a week. Help each other. Create peace.
Do you consider yourself someone who can’t cook? Soups will help you shed that notion. They are supremely forgiving. Our whirlwind family lives can be daunting, overwhelming. Ladle a bowl of warm forgiveness. All you need is a spoon to take it in.
“The cook dances with the element fire. The cook stirs the cauldron. The cook transforms the parts and turns them into our whole. Blessings on the cook. Praise to the cook. May your food be well cooked.”
- Susun Weed (www.susunweed.com)