A winter’s day and a steaming bowl of soup has been a winning combination dating back to Mesopotamian culture. Soup, or “sop” as it was known in the Middle Ages, is filling, frugal and tasty.
In essence, soup was a way to use leftovers. Oxtails, ham bones, skinny chickens past their laying prime and other animal parts that might otherwise go on the scrap pile were found to be useful in making broth. Add in some vegetables that were either overabundant or had been in storage for a while and a little salt, and boom – you have a meal. Variations on this theme evolved – adding milk or cream created bisques or “cream of” soups, adding legumes (peas, beans, lentils) or oats and you have a thick concoction known as “porridge.” For people who didn’t have a lot of resources, soup was a way to make the most out of what little they had. In today’s economy, what was old may again become new.
Soup shouldn’t always come from a can, and indeed, anyone on a salt-restricted or fat-restricted diet may choose to make his or her own soups for health reasons. Meat stocks can be made in bulk ahead of time and frozen; a Dutch oven or slow cooker makes this job a breeze. Skim off excess fat and strain through cheesecloth before storing, and the resulting broth will be nice and clear. Of course, soup stock is also available in cans or refrigerated containers, so no one has to be a total do-it-yourselfer in the kitchen to make soups. Another alternative is to use bouillon cubes as a starter.
What to add next is solely up to the cook. Some traditional seasoning materials include onion, celery, leeks, pepper, garlic, thyme and parsley. Pieces of meat (chicken, stew beef, ham or lamb), vegetables and rice or noodles make a hearty soup, and heavy cream or evaporated milk turn the soup into a decadent and luxurious dish.
Following is a simple recipe for chicken stock. This is a wonderful way to use those packages of mixed chicken parts that often go on sale.
4 lbs. chicken backs, necks and wings chopped into 2 inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 quarts water
2 bay leaves
salt to taste
In large saucepan, sauté onion in olive oil until soft and slightly colored; remove cooked onion to bowl. Add half of the chicken pieces to oil, and sauté until no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove to bowl containing onion. Sauté remaining chicken the same way.
Return all chicken and onion to pan, cover and lower heat to low. Simmer until chicken releases its juices, about 20 minutes.
Add water, bay leaves and salt to chicken pieces, and raise the temperature until water begins to simmer. Lower the temperature again, cover, and simmer mixture for another 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaves and strain out the solids. Broth is now ready to use as a base for soup or stew.
For more soup recipes, visit www.homemadesoup.org