Get the idea: Soup basics
Soup, to most of us, is the quintessential winter dish, although there are many examples round the world of refreshing chilled soups, often with a sweet and sour flavour, perfect for hot weather, (Spanish gazpacho, which is almost like a liquid salad, was my first experience of such cold soups.)
There are also soups from hot countries like Thailand. As a child winter to me meant a pot of soup continually bubbling on my mother’s stove. It was our preferred after school snack when the weather was cold. It was usually made with “soup mix”, a bought mixture of filling cereals and pulses (you can still buy it in the supermarket), chopped vegetables- whatever was to hand, and a bacon hock — thrifty and delicious.
It wasn’t until I became a chef and had to come up with menu ideas for “soup du jour” that I started to explore the variety of soups that are to be found in most cuisines. The range is staggeringly huge and soup is very versatile.
It can be a snack, a first course or the meal itself, depending on how hearty it is. It is something easily reheated so it is perfect to make in advance to have on hand and will freeze for future use. The following are a few ideas for this satisfying soul food.
For an easy borscht-like sweet and sour Russian-style soup, slow-fry diced, smoked bacon, chopped onion, diced carrots, garlic, lemon zest and peeled and diced potatoes with chopped dill in extra-virgin olive oil until the onions are soft. Add lots of grated beetroot, thinly sliced savoy cabbage and enough chicken stock to make it soupy. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Season with red wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper so that it is pleasantly sweet and sour and serve with sour cream and more chopped dill.
Slow-fry a chopped onion, garlic, chilli flakes and toasted cumin seeds in extra-virgin olive oil, add a couple of sliced chargrilled red capsicums, a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes in juice, peeled diced pumpkin, and enough vegetable or chicken stock to make a soup. Simmer 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Puree in a food processor, taste, season and serve with chopped avocado, sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, grated cheese and with warm flour tortillas on the side.
Simmer lots of sliced leeks, diced peeled agria potatoes, chopped garlic and lemon zest in chicken stock until the potatoes are soft. Puree, taste and season. Serve sprinkled with coarsely chopped parsley and chervil and a dollop of plain, unsweetened yoghurt.
Slow-fry diced bacon, the holy trinity of chopped onion, diced carrots and sliced celery, lemon zest and lots of chopped parsley and coriander in extra virgin olive oil until the onion is soft. Add diced and peeled kumara, boiled green or brown lentils and vegetable stock to cover. Simmer until the kumara is soft, mash coarsely with a potato masher, taste, season and serve.
For a Nordic chowder effect, fry lots of finely chopped onion, garlic and diced carrots until the onion is soft. Add peeled diced agria potatoes and parsnips, cover with fish or chicken stock and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree the mixture then add skinned boned, flaked smoked fish, cream, chopped curly parsley and lemon zest. Bring back to the boil, taste, season and serve with crusty bread.
Enjoy some Thai flavours. Put about a litre of chicken stock in a saucepan, add some sliced galangal, thinly sliced shallots, a crushed bulb of lemongrass, a few kaffir lime leaves, chopped coriander root, dried red chillies, and thinly sliced chicken breast. Simmer 10 minutes then add sliced button mushrooms and plenty of coconut milk and bring back to the boil. Simmer 3 minutes, then add enough fish sauce and fresh lime juice to make it salty and sour. Serve sprinkled with coriander leaves.
The Portuguese classic soup “caldo verde” is a great winter soup. Fry a chopped onion, a bay leaf and plenty of chopped garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. Add plenty of peeled 2cm diced agria potatoes then cover well with vegetable stock. Simmer until the potato is soft. Puree about ¾ of the soup and add it back to the unpureed soup then add thin sliced blanched curly kale or I like blanched savoy cabbage, and plenty of thinly sliced fried chorizo sausages . Taste, season and serve.
Puree minced pork, ginger, garlic, salt, an egg white and chopped coriander in a food processor. Stir in thinly sliced raw peeled prawns and form into walnut-sized balls. Bring a saucepan of chicken stock to the boil and add the meatballs. Simmer 6 minutes or until cooked through. Add plenty of baby bok choy quartered lengthways and sliced spring onions. Simmer 2-3 minutes, taste and season with naturally brewed Japanese soy sauce. Serve over egg noodles with chilli sauce on the side.
Steam some well-scrubbed live mussels and chopped garlic in a little white wine until they open. Remove, strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Pull the brown tongue and white root out of each mussel and discard. Thinly slice the mussels. Bring a litre of chicken, fish or vegetable stock to the boil. Add the reserved cooking liquid, plenty of diced skinned and boned white fish, thawed frozen peas, lemon zest and baby spinach leaves. Bring back to the boil, simmer until the fish is cooked then add the reserved mussels and some cream. Bring back to the boil, taste, season and serve.
For a superior baby food-style French vegetable puree, peel, deseed and cut pumpkin into 3cm chunks. Place in a saucepan with a finely chopped onion, sliced carrot and a large diced peeled agria potato. Cover with chicken or beef stock and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter and puree. Serve sprinkled with fried bacon and grated cheese.