We’ve been sick around here, passing around viruses between family and friends like they were Christmas cards. Nobody feels like eating much and certainly, no one wants to cook either. It’s Soup Days, comfort food of the highest order, light or hearty, filling and full of the goodness of summer herbs and vegetables and home-grown meat. I was shocked to be discussing soup at a town gathering to hear a young woman confess that she would never bother making soup from scratch as it was so easy to pop open a can and heat it up in the microwave.
Say it ain’t so!!! Home-made soup is too hard? Really? Soup basics should be in every cook’s repertoire. It stretches meat and budgets when times are tough. It fills your body with just the right good food when we need it the most.
Even picky eaters will often consume vegetables that they would otherwise turn their noses up at. It uses up those dehydrated and canned vegetables that might otherwise be hard to fit into a meal plan.
The hands-on time is minimal and left-overs are better the next day and the one after that. Soup uses the heat from a wood stove that is probably warming your home. What’s not to love?
I start with aromatics. Onions and celery always and sometimes carrots, all chopped and set to soften in some fat. I use my home-rendered lard often or a combination of butter and olive oil. The only thing to watch is that they brown slowly and don’t burn.
Take the aromatics from the pan when brown, and add the meat to brown it. No matter if you’re using beef or chicken, the protein should be browned slowly. It’s the browning that provides the deep flavor and color that separates home-made from the insipid canned stuff.
Once everything is nicely colored add together to a large stock pot. I hope you canned some stock the last time you had leftover bones and a freezer full of vegetable bits and pieces. If not, there are lots of good canned and boxed stocks. Go for the low salt, organic variety if possible. Now everything goes in to simmer. It takes a while to get tougher meats really tender but the stove does the work and your house will smell amazing.
And what to add at the end? Carrot coins and potatoes, simmered until soft, cabbage and onions, it depends on the soup and your palate. I almost always add kale, dried last fall as well as some herbs that seem to suit.
Some soups beg to be stretched with rice or noodles or topped with dumplings. If you add a thickener you have a stew. More thickener and a crumb topping makes a casserole. If unexpected guests arrive, another quart of stock and some extra vegetables and dinner is served. If tummies rumble, strain out the solids and serve the vitamin-rich broth.
We don’t often have leftovers but on those occasion that I make enough for an army, I can freeze or can the extras and have my own version of fast food.
Your mother was right. Chicken soup is good for you when you’re sick!