Frankly, I never quite understood the popularity of canned soup. Sure, it’s convenient, one stop dish that gets dumped into a pot and reheated in two minutes but making soup is just about the simplest thing even an inept cook can do. Not to mention, it’s the best way of getting rid of vegetables, fruit and assorted bits and bobs lurking in the fridge.
A few days ago, an old lady approached me at the restaurant where I work and asked me if I could tell her what our soup starter was. I was puzzled for a split second because I wasn’t sure what a soup starter was and, before I could answer, she said “You know, I am allergic to many chemicals”. At which point I reassured her that all our food is made from scratch. “Yes, but what is your starter?”. “You mean, how we start a soup? Well, it’s typically olive oil, onion, celery and carrot”. And that is just it, if you are feeling adventurous. But you don’t need all three vegetables – leeks or shallots can stand in for the onion and carrots and celery can be dispensed altogether. Then the rest of the ingredients just follow into the pot, with about 6 cups of water or vegetable broth or chicken stock or, in my case, a mixture of what I have handy. But water alone will be fine. Some herbs, about 30 minutes depending on what vegetables or pulses you are using and you are done. If you are partial to puree, take out your hand blender (or a regular blender) and go to town. Salt and pepper can wait until the end, once you have tasted the depth of flavour the vegetables have imparted.
Nearly two-thirds of the way into my yearly cleanse, with most food categories banned from my diet and in need of nutritious and satisfying food, a bowl of soup with a slice of gluten-free bread can make me happy. It’s nice to add some cream to purees such as mushrooms, carrots, corn but, restricted from dairy, I have been using potatoes to thicken my soups. Potatoes not only fill me up but they also prevent me from losing any weight that I really don’t need losing.
On a rainy Sunday night, more reminiscent of November than the first few days of Spring, inspired by a recent recipe in the Dining Section of the Times, I rummaged through the fridge and found most of the ingredients called for.
I sliced two leeks very thin and a quarter of a yellow onion which I sautéed in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft and golden. I added half a shredded cabbage, which I let caramelize for about 10 minutes. Then three peeled and diced russet potatoes, the cup of chicken stock I had handy, plus five cups of water and a cube of vegetable stock went in. And I left everything simmer for about an hour, until the potatoes were cooked through. I added salt to taste and served it with grated Parmesan. It was hearty, warming and, above all, super easy.