Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Soup Weather

Around here it's been cold. And wet. And dark. Did I mention wet? And cold? The perfect weather for soup! Every culture has a multitude of soups and for a very good reason. Soup is a cost effective way to get nourishing, warming food into lots of people. Warm food is so important in this cold time of the year. Many doctors and parents are coming to realize the health implications of not keeping our bodies, especially our children's bodies, warm. Being chronically cold can affect growth, attention, and even the course of diseases and infection. And we all know how important keeping those bodies well nourished is.

"But isn't making homemade soup difficult?" people ask. Not if you do a little prep work, keep certain ingredients on hand, and use a little creativity in your soup making. The key to good homemade soup is good homemade stock or broth. Canned stock or broth is just salty water with artificial flavors. It is not healthful or nourishing. Real stock made from bones and meat trimmings is healthful, nourishing, has fantastic flavor and mouthfeel. It does take prep work, but it's all prep work you can do in advance. For information on how to make bone broth check my blog here, my other blog here, Cheeseslave's blog here, or Kelly the Kitchen Kop's blog here. A tasty and relatively healthful vegetarian broth can be created with dried mushrooms or a well chosen assortment of vegetable peelings gently cooked, but check out Cheeseslave and Kelly's blogs for a hundred and one reasons to make bone broth.

Once you've got your bone broth a soup is as simple as sauteeing onions, adding meat and vegetables and adjusting the seasonings. Here is a basic stovetop "chicken" soup recipe with variations.

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Chicken Soup with Variations

*1 yellow onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
*3 ribs of celery, sliced fine
*2 medium carrots, chopped fine
*Coconut oil or other healthy cooking fat
*1-4 cloves of garlic, pressed or sliced
*1/4 tsp ground sage
*1 tsp oregano
*1 tsp ground, dried rosemary
*salt and pepper to taste (really depends on how salty your broth is)
*2 quarts chicken broth or diluted chicken broth
*1-2 cups assorted chopped or frozen vegetables - green beans, zucchini, peas, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.
*1-2 cups raw or cooked chicken meat
*1-2 tbs apple cider vinegar

Heat the cooking fat in a 4 quart soup pot and add the onion, celery and carrot. Salt and pepper lightly and stir over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften. Add the dried herbs and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the broth to the pan, scraping up any browned bits and turn the heat to high or medium high. Add the vegetables and meat and let soup come to a boil. Turn heat to low and let simmer until the vegetables are cooked and everything is hot. Taste soup after it comes to a boil (carefully! burned tongues ruin dinners!) and add salt if necessary.

When the vegetables and meat are cooked through taste the soup again for salt, pepper and acidity. Add a tablespoon of vinegar and see if you like the flavor. Add more if you would like, along with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Allow soup to cool slightly and serve with sauerkraut or other pickled vegetables, buttered or cheesy bread, a salad and a homebrew. Er.. or whatever you would like to serve it with. Hehe.

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Variations on this soup are endless. You can adjust the vegetables, the meat, the broth, the cooking fat, the acid and the seasonings. You can add tomatoes or cream. You can strip the soup down to its most basic. Here are a few of my very favorite variations.

Garlic Soup:
Omit everything except onion (reduce to half an onion, chopped very fine), garlic (increase to 6, 8 or 12 cloves, minced or sliced), cooking fat, broth and vinegar. Serve over a toasted slice of hearty bread, with or without cheese, or with a poached egg in a shallow bowl.

Cajun Soup:
Use cajun seasoning instead of the dried herbs (perhaps with some thyme and extra cayenne), omit carrot but increase the celery, and use green beans, peas and sweet potatoes along with chicken or spicy sausage. Serve with sauerkraut and hot pepper sauce.

Taco Soup:
Fry up some ground beef (with organ meat?) with taco seasoning, garlic and onion. Add some tomato, corn and black beans with the chicken broth. Finish with lime juice and serve with sour cream and tortilla chips.

Curry Soup:
Use curry powder instead of the dried herbs, use cauliflower, potatoes and green peas as the vegetables and use lemon or lime juice instead of vinegar. Use virgin coconut oil if you have it.

Bacon and Bean Soup:
Fry bacon first and use bacon grease as your cooking fat. Omit carrots and use drained, cooked pinto or kidney beans instead of the other vegetables. Use the fried, chopped bacon, hot dogs, sausages or no meat and season with a little rapadura, molasses or maple syrup if you'd like. Beef broth is great instead of chicken. Still finish with some vinegar.

Creamy mushroom soup:
Use bacon fat as your cooking fat and add a cup or three of sliced mushrooms in with the onions and celery and cook until the mushrooms have released their water and then gotten dry and browned. Increase garlic if you'd like and use thyme as a main herbal seasoning. Use beef broth if you have it and maybe a splash or wine or brandy. Use red wine vinegar to finish and add sour cream or heavy cream at serving time.

I like to make soup in batches that will provide at least two or three meals at a time because re-heating soup is an easy way to get healthful food on the table fast. You can always freshen up or change the flavor of the soup by sauteeing more onions with seasonings before adding the cold soup and heating it up.

What kind of soup do you like best? How do you work to keep warm, nourishing food on the table during these cold months? Whats your favorite soup garnish or topping?

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesdays. Check out more real food blogs here!

Huge thanks to These Days in French Life, Oz4Caster, Stubborndev and Greygoosie for their beautiful photos! Click on the photos and surf their flickr streams!


  1. We have been doing some variations on beef stew, with wine, apple juice and broth added and I just made minestrone with no broth! I used a bottle of beer (cranberry lambic) and homemade tomato sauce with some water are sooo right about that packaged stuff they call broth, once you have homemade bone or vegi broth you can never go back to the storebought stuff!!

    I love chopped zucchini, sauteed mushroom or croutons on top of soup!

    great post as usual!

    great ideas!!!

  2. Great soup ideas! It's definitely soup season. I like just about any soup with a good bone broth base. The bacon and beans sounds good too.

    Great photo selections too :)

  3. Mmm, mushroom soup sounds really good. I love the way soup can be such a blank canvas - just add the ingredients you have on hand, and the seasonings you are craving, and voila, deliciousness!

  4. Yeah, a soup post from Alyss! This is great, thanks!