There is this popular children’s book on how to make stone soup. It seems a man came to town and was hungry. But he didn’t have the money to buy food. So he began to pile stones in a pot with water, which he brought to a boil.
Local citizens came out to see this miracle. He said, “Pebble soup is delicious, but it would be better with carrots. A woman came running back with carrots for soup. He said the potatoes would make it better. Someone else brought some potatoes. This lasted until he had a good soup.
The villagers agreed that indeed he had achieved a miracle with stones and water. And it was really delicious!
While you can make soup from almost anything, I wouldn’t recommend the stones. But put this column aside for a cold day when you think there is nothing good to eat. I guarantee the soup will be just what you need to make your mouth and mood happy.
The basis of the soup is basically a broth made from meat or vegetables. Or you can create a creamy soup with mashed potatoes, mashed vegetables, cream, yogurt, cheese, or other thickeners.
The cheaper cuts of beef make a great soup because you can simmer them for a few hours and end up with nice, tender pieces of meat, accompanied by a good broth. I like to use beef chuck or what could be labeled as beef stew. The texture tends to be chewy and tough unless it’s braised or simmered in a liquid. A little acid helps, such as canned diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, or leftover red wine.
Chicken or turkey also makes a great broth, especially if you’re using leftover roasting pan or roast bird. Simmer the bones, skin, wings and leftover meat for a few hours. Filter the bones and skin, leaving a rich base. Simmer with a lemon if you wish. Then squeeze the skin through a sieve into the broth.
Save your carrot shavings, leftover onions, beet leaves, tomatoes, potato peels, and other leftover vegetables. Then simmer for an hour or two, strain and use as a soup base. If desired, strain the vegetables through a sieve into the broth.
Add the goodies
Once you have a good base, add starch, veggies, beans, herbs, spices, and other good stuff. Here are some ideas:
Starches: Rice (white, wild, brown), barley, quinoa, pasta (especially smaller shapes), lentils (brown, green, yellow), split peas, beans (red, navy, white, lima, black, pinto, chickpeas), potatoes or yams (diced, mashed), couscous, etc.
Vegetables: Corn (whole grain, creamy, grilled), green beans, tomatoes (diced, sun-dried, sauce, paste), onions (white, yellow, pearl, chopped, grated, dried), celery, broccoli, asparagus, turnips, squash (butternut, zucchini, pumpkins), beets, leeks, kale, spinach, peppers, artichoke hearts, peas, chard, cabbage, etc.
Flavors: Lemon juice, wine (white, red), fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil, basil pesto, beer (ideal in cheese soup), salsa (red, green), hot pepper sauce, vinegar (wine, rice, balsamic)).
Herbs and Spices: Salt (a must if you want a flavorful soup), broth, pepper (black, white, chili), oregano, rosemary, curry, turmeric, parsley, sage, chives, thyme, store-bought spice mixes ( steak seasoning, Italian mix, taco seasoning, poultry seasoning, seafood mix), etc.
Toppings: Grated cheese, croutons, pesto, chopped fresh herbs, crushed corn chips, lemon zest, sliced green onion, sour cream, yogurt, chopped nuts, toasted seeds, etc. This gives a soup extra appeal to the eyes.
I usually cook some items separately before adding them to the soup if I’m planning on leftovers. These include rice, pasta, couscous, or anything else that might get mushy after a few hours. Otherwise, cook them in the soup for the last 10-20 minutes. Wild or brown rice will take longer. The couscous cooks almost immediately.
Thank you to all the readers who visited my Open Studios photography exhibit in Scotts Valley. It was heartwarming to meet you all in person!
TIP OF THE WEEK
Prevent fingerprints on stainless steel devices. First, clean the surface to remove the stains. Then apply an even coat of paste wax, the type for your car. Once dry, polish to shine.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
I love sweet and sour soup when I go to a Chinese restaurant. Somehow, the slightly thickened broth and tangy flavor hit the right places.
Sweet and sour soup
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
1 small piece of ginger, peeled, grated
8 ounces of small fresh white mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 pints (8 cups) chicken broth, preferably homemade
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
8 ounce can bamboo shoots, drained, cut into matchsticks
8 ounces firm tofu, drained, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons of cornstarch
3 tablespoons of cold water
1 large egg
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger, stirring so that they do not burn. Cook for about a minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and bamboo shoots.
2. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Gently fold in the tofu. Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl, then stir into soup. It will take a few minutes to thicken a bit.
3. In the same bowl, lightly beat the egg. Then slowly add it to the soup, stirring all the time so that it doesn’t clump together. Add most of the onion and sesame oil.
4. Serve hot with a pinch of the remaining green onion.