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A sorry excuse for soup. December 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
Tags: , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Enjoying delightful 19-degree weather as we are now in scenic Pennsylvania, a nice bowl of hot, fragrant soup seems like the perfect antidote to the cold, the ideal human antifreeze. But only if it tastes good.

I was invited out recently to have lunch at a nice little local cafe with a friend. I’d been freezing in our cottage home all morning, where the thermostat is set at a warm and welcoming 55 degrees F. No amount of clothes could warm me up. By the time my friend and I reached the cafe, I was ecstatic to see that a vegetarian barley, carrot and celery soup was on the menu. Healthy, filling and warming. What more could a person want on a frigid December day?

Well, how about some flavor? The soup did have some body, thanks to the chewy barley, but it was about as flavorful as hot water. No amount of salt and pepper could save it. Yuck! How could this happen?!

Soup should be a no-brainer. This soup, especially. To save it, start with a generous dollop of extra-virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset Dutch ovens) or heavy stock pot. Sautee plenty of diced onion, minced garlic, and sliced mushrooms, along with Trocomare (seasoned salt) or your favorite salt (we like RealSalt), cracked black pepper or mixed ground peppercorns,  basil, oregano, thyme, and cilantro (or rosemary or bay or cumin, soups are very adaptable). Use a generous hand with all of the above. Add a splash of hot sauce (we love Pickapeppa and Tabasco Chipotle). For additional depth, you could add sliced leeks to your saute, and/or some miso or tamari sauce or shiitake mushroom concentrate. 

Once the onions and mushrooms have cooked down, add sliced carrots and celery and stir until the celery starts to clarify and the carrots begin to soften. Add a little water if needed to prevent sticking.

Now, it’s time for the veggie stock. Back in the day, making soup stock was a pain second to none, tossing the odds and ends of veggies and the carcasses of animals into stock pots with water and cooking them down for hours and hours. Thanks to modern technology, now we can just head to the soup aisle in our grocery and buy a box of stock. (Save those veggie scraps for the chickens or the compost pile.)  I don’t know about meat stocks, but I’ve tried every brand of veggie stock and they’re all good, so I say, go with whatever’s on sale. The important point is to use veggie stock instead of water as the soup base.

Here’s a great tip from our friend Delilah: She not only uses veggie stock in her vegetarian soups, she tosses in a couple of veggie bouillon cubes to punch up the flavor. (Mind you, I’m sure she makes her own stock from scratch.) 

Finally, add your (rinsed) barley and simmer until it’s cooked through and the soup’s flavors have had a chance to marry. For the perfect finish, top each individual bowl with some shredded Swiss cheese, or swirl in some plain Greek yogurt, before serving, and pass the cracked black pepper. Warm artisanal rye bread with fresh butter, or, if you’re in a decadent mood, a spread of softened butter and crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese, is a delicious complement to this soup. 

Aaaah. Now, that’s soup!

              ‘Til next time,




1. pixilated2 - December 14, 2011

Not that you can’t buy packaged broth, nor to say that there is anything wrong with it, but my preference is for homemade. IMHO: In this day and age it isn’t anymore of a chore than getting out the crockpot and tossing in your veggie bits. Walk away and come back at the end of the day to a well stewed broth! Strain it, give the leavings to your chickens (they will eat it), and if you have a *big* crockpot then can the rest for later. Just my .02 cents on the matter. 🙂
~ Lynda

Hi Lynda! People who make their own stock are very much in favor of it, so it must be delicious. My problem is that I’ve never tasted homemade stock, and am concerned that if I tried to make it from our odds and ends, it would taste off, unbalanced, maybe bitter or sulfurous or even worse. The beauty of boxed veggie stock is that it’s always balanced and delicious, the perfect base for any soup, and since it’s long-keeping and very reasonably priced, I’m willing to splurge on it rather than chancing a bad homemade stock. Buying canned beans is another of my indulgences in this regard; of course I could soak and cook dry beans and save money, but for less than a dollar I can buy a can of ready-to-use beans and save myself the time, so I do. (I do cook dried lentils, split peas, and other fast-cooking legumes that don’t require soaking and endless cooking.) I guess we all pick our culinary battles! And thanks for reminding me that I could be making better use of my Crock-Pot than I am right now.

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