Where do I begin singing the praises of soup? It nourishes and comforts us. Cools us in the summer and warms us in the winter. Soup can begin a meal or be the meal itself. Many healthy diet plans advocate soup daily and no wonder; it is a concentrated bowl of nutritional goodness. In the winter it also helps to keep us hydrated in a very dry season.
There are countless soup recipes; some have become classics like French Onion, Yankee Bean, or Minestrone. Minestrone is a perfect example of one of my favorite aspect of soup, the ability to take what you have on hand and create a tasty, nourishing meal where you otherwise would not have been able to. That cup of pasta in Minestrone wasn’t cooked just for the soup it was left over, and not enough to stand on its own.
People have often asked me what a soup I’ve served them is called, or asked for the recipe. I can tell them neither. Generally, I create as I go using whatever is in the ‘frig and needs to be used or just following where inspiration leads me. I am able to do this because I have the only soup recipe you’ll ever need.
When I was just starting out I learned how to cook from a book called “Tassajara Cooking” a vegetarian cooking book. Tassajara is a Zen Buddhist retreat in California that opens its doors to guests every summer. Rather than a collection of recipes the book teaches how to cook; how to chop, how to assemble ingredients, and how to respect your food, kitchen, and implements.
From this book I got the Any Soup Recipe I’m sharing with you today.
You can use stock as a base (meat or vegetable) or simply use water. To save time I often use boxed soup bases; if you do look for organic and read the label. I also look for low sodium for health reasons and for flavor control. You want to decide how your soup is flavored, not some factory in some other town.
When sautéing vegetables start with onion, it draws out and unites the flavors of the other vegetables. I generally proceed to add diced carrots, and then diced celery. This creates a mirepoix and is a classic beginning to most any cooked dish to create a good flavor base. It is best to dice vegetables for soup. This gives them a greater surface area for greater flavor infusion.
The longer the ingredient will cook in the soup the less time it needs to be sautéed. I have found starting most veg off with a sauté will add another dimension to the flavors. When adding ingredients to the sauté pan add a pinch of salt to each ingredient as it is added. This helps it retain its own distinct flavor and adds flavor dimension to your final product.
Toward the end of the sauté time you can sprinkle in a few spoonfuls of flour. This helps suspend the vegetables and will thicken the stock. After the flour is added cook it with the vegetables for about 5 minutes then add all to the soup base.
Now take a little liquid from the stock pot and add it to your skillet. Heat the pan gently to incorporate any food residue from the bottom of the pan; stray juices, flour, and oil. All of the flavor stuck to the bottom of your pot will come up and can now be included in your soup. This is called deglazing the pan. (An added bonus is the pan is now easy to clean because nothing is stuck to the bottom.)
If you use already cooked leftovers they can be added near the end of the simmer time as they just need to be heated through. Otherwise they will become mushy and very unappealing.
Mushrooms, peas, chard, spinach, etc require little cooking and can be kept out of the sauté and added directly to the soup stock. The same goes for any finely grated vegetables. As with any other cooking method, figure out how long each ingredient will take to cook and stagger their addition accordingly. Paying attention to the timing will help the vegetables keep much of their individuality.
The following rundown for adding simmer vegetables is directly from the Tassajara Cooking Book.
(For faster cooking, cut into smaller pieces.)
Potatoes, beets, onions 50 minutes
Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower 30 minutes
Celery, green beans, asparagus 20 minutes
Corn, zucchini 10 minutes
Peas, tomatoes cabbage, chard, spinach, green onion, parsley 5 minutes or less
“What is usually missing from any soup is . . . salt! Add this first to see what flavors are already present. If it’s on the sweet side, the remedy is to make it sweet and peppery or sweet and sour; pepper, garlic, ginger or a bit of lemon juice. To pick up a vegetable broth add thyme, marjoram, or mint and cloves.” Tassajara Cooking
JUST BEFORE SERVING
If adding miso (a fermented soybean paste) remember it is salty and adjust your salt accordingly. Thin the miso with hot broth from the soup before stirring it into the soup. This is done just before serving because cooking miso destroys the properties that make it so healthy.
After adding cream gently heat the soup (but don’t boil it). Then check to see if your seasonings need to be adjusted.
Grated cheese makes a nice garnish added to each bowl just before serving. The cheese will melt into the soup adding flavor, protein, and thickening.
Well that’s it. You are now ready to create a pot of soup from what you have on hand. What I’ve presented here is only an overview and I’m sure there is plenty I’ve left out. What did I miss? Please let me know in the comments section below.