Do you remember the children’s story about stone soup? Strangers stopping in a small village are given the cold shoulder until, one by one, each villager is persuaded to add an ingredient to the pot while the strangers contribute a stone to the boiling water. The original legend says this soup was the first minestrone and that one of the strangers was actually Godfrey of Bouillon, a medieval knight. Truth or legend doesn’t matter, the moral of the story is true: in times of scarcity and poverty we are still able to provide nourishment and delicious food to our own families and have enough to share in hospitality with others in need. Soup provides a way to do all of that and more.
“Whenever possible give your soups the full flavor of homemade stock.” – Julia Child
Homemade stocks, also called bone broths, have been around for as long as there have been cooking pots, and make the base for the very best soups. There is a simple beauty in these stocks as they give us deep nourishment as well as allowing us to use even the hard, normally inedible parts of the animal showing common sense, frugality and a respect for the life of the animal that was given for your sustenance. The bones of any and every creature were used for stock which then became soup, sauce, gravy or even beverage. Find a recipe for a basic bone broth here, or watch our video tutorial on roasting a chicken and making broth here. You can also save the pan juices from your roasting pan when you roast a chicken, leg of lamb, pot roast or turkey. These pan drippings have enormous flavor concentrated into a small volume and can be added to soups to intensify flavor or to stand in when you don’t have enough stock.
“There is no such thing as a good chicken bouillon, and you should stoop to using canned chicken broth only during times of dire emergency.” – Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet
To make your soup start with a big, heavy bottom pot at least 2 quarts or larger. The first stage begins with the “aromatics”. These are strong-flavored ingredients frequently sauteed together in butter, lard, duck fat or coconut oil to lend a complexity to the flavor of the finished soup. Aromatics can include onion, carrot, celery, shallots, garlic, leek, sweet or hot peppers, bacon, pancetta or salt pork. Asian soups often use toasted spices such as turmeric, cumin, fenugreek or cardamom as part of the aromatics. You can also use herbs bundled together and simmered in the soup and removed just before serving – bay leaf, parsley stems, thyme sprigs for example. Saute the aromatic vegetables about five minutes taking care not to burn, then advance to the next step.
Now it’s time to add the sturdier vegetables such as cubes of potato, turnip, broccoli, cabbage, winter squash or other root vegetable, or cooked beans. Toss them with the aromatics to coat them with the hot fat and then add in the homemade stock or bone broth. Simmer the vegetables 10-15 minutes and then add any additional softer vegetables such as zucchini, kale or some chopped cook meat such as leftover roast chicken or beef, or tiny meatballs. Add a little salt and pepper at this time as well. Continue to simmer 10 or 15 more minutes until the vegetables are done to your liking. Taste again for salt and add more if needed.
Now it’s time for the enrichments. In some Mediterranean areas one egg or egg yolk per person is added, either beaten in to thicken the soup or poached in some broth and added to the pot. Or you can add freshly grated cheese, sour cream, creme fraiche, coconut milk or heavy cream. Turn off the heat under the pot before you add in any of the cultured dairy ingredients or they may curdle and you will lose the probiotic aspect.
Ladle the soup into serving bowls and add a flavorful garnish. Garnishes can include a dollop of pesto or spicy tomato paste, a spoonful of capers or sliced olives, lemon zest and finely chopped parsley, chopped fresh chervil or chives, a bit of butter or swirl of extra virgin olive oil, some buttered croutons, or a drizzle of fish sauce. You can also add a spoonful of lacto-fermented salsa, sauerkraut or fruit chutney for added flavor and a probiotic boost.
Delicious soup isn’t hard or expensive to make. When you know the basic technique you can have gourmet soup just by cleaning out the refrigerator or freezer. With a bit of planning your soup can be a memorable meal.