From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, p. 28
Encouraging the younger (and sometimes even the older) members of the family to eat their vegetables can be a daunting task for the concerned mother. During the winter months, soups can provide not only a warming start to a meal, but with the addition of legumes, meat, grains, and hearty stocks, a bowl of soup can be turned into a healthy and satisfying meal in itself.
A good stock forms the basis to many a delicious soup and minimizes waste, since you can use a lot of ingredients that might otherwise be thrown away. Collect all vegetable peelings and scraps and keep them in a plastic container in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to make your stock. You can begin by frying an onion in olive oil until soft, then adding your vegetable scraps along with salt and pepper and a variety of herbs, depending on what you have available. Parsley and basil are always good for stocks and dried bay leaves, oregano, sage, and of course, garlic, are good flavor enhancers. Cover your ingredients in a large pot with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for at least two hours. The more the liquid is reduced, the more intense the flavor of the stock will be, so plan on reducing the volume of liquid by at least half. Strain and discard the solids. Large quantities of stock can be prepared and frozen in smaller containers for later use. To make a meat stock, add left over bones from a roast and any left over gravy. Fish stock can be made by using discarded trimmings: fish heads, tails, and fins.
The Recipe for Any Soup
A basic soup-making technique can be used whatever the chosen ingredients. It can be fun to have the family guess the ingredients, although the chef may not want to disclose everything: soups are a great way to sneak in healthy ingredients that might not be everyone's favorite! It works well to begin with an onion and some crushed garlic, sautÈed in olive oil. Then add the main ingredient/s and stock and cook until everything is soft and the flavors have blended beautifully. A minimum of 40 minutes simmering is usually required. If you have no pre-prepared stock, then throw in lots of extra seasonings and simmer for a longer period of time. Some of my personal favorite soups are leek and potato, carrot soup with lots of coriander, red pepper soup (remember to skin the peppers first), and mushroom soup made from a variety of exotic mushrooms. Be creative and remember all the wonderful nutritional benefits your family will receive from your originality. Unfortunately some of the most popular creations may never be exactly duplicated, but every attempt will be delightful in its own right.
Smooth or Chunky?
The texture of a soup is a matter of personal preference. Blending ingredients in a blender or food processor gives the soup a terrific smoothness and thickness. Adding potatoes also adds to the thickness of the soup. To make a creamy soup, you can blend half a cup of flour with a pint or more of milk. Make a smooth paste with a little milk before adding the rest and then add it to your cooked soup. Continue to cook to thicken and remove any raw flavor from the flour. For extra richness, you can melt a tablespoon of butter. Otherwise a swirl of cream (heavy cream, sour cream, or creme fraiche) can be added when serving.
An added benefit to cooking soups is that they can be made in advance and reheated when needed. Mothers with small children may not be able to predict when they will have time to cook. Morning nap time is a great time to get started on a soup and if made in large quantities, leftovers can be saved for another meal.
For those who prefer to chew their soups, vegetables can remain diced. Try adding some pasta shapes for a new texture. For a compromise, the soup can be partly blended, leaving chunky bits to get your teeth into.
There is a soup for every taste, so find what works well for your family and enjoy those long winter evenings in warmth and good health.
A note for those in the southern hemisphere: soups aren't just for winter warmth. Cold summer soups can help keep you cool as a cucumber on those hot summer nights.
My Favorite Soups
4 leeks, sliced
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
Cover with stock, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about an hour. Blend until smooth. Leave to cool. Mix in 1 to 2 cups of heavy cream, adjust seasoning, and chill before serving.
Peel and dice:
1 lb (500 g) tomatoes
1 green pepper
1 small cucumber
Take 2 slices of white bread and make bread crumbs. Peel and crush 2 cloves of garlic. Reserving some of the diced vegetables for a garnish, blend the ingredients adding a pinch of ground cumin, a cup of extra virgin olive oil, and 2 teaspoons of sherry vinegar. Add a little cold water if necessary to get a smooth blend. Season with salt and pepper. Chill and serve garnished with diced vegetables and croutons.
Creamy Potato Soup
Peel and dice:
9 medium potatoes
2 sticks of celery.
Cover with stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Blend 1/2 cup of flour with about a quart (1 liter) of milk and add together with a generous knob of butter. Stir as butter melts and soup thickens.