Category Archives: Soup
I have so many cookbooks weighing down my bookshelf that in recent years, I have decided to save a few trees and take a hiatus from buying any new ones. Overall, there have not been too many negative repercussions from this decision – I have continued to come up with some pretty good things to cook, and certainly nobody has starved.
Recently, however, my sister broke my book-buying fast by giving me a new cookbook called Whitewater Cooks: Pure, Simple and Real Creations from the Fresh Tracks Cafe. And I am so glad she did. The book is full of really tasty, slightly (but not outrageously) out of the ordinary stuff that regular-skilled cooks with real lives (i.e., lives that don’t allow them to spend all day in the kitchen) can produce. The Hungarian Mushroom Barley soup recipe below is a good example – very creamy, rich flavours and…barley! Mushroom soup is one of my husband’s favourites, so I made it initially with him in mind – but quickly fell in love with it myself.
I love the savoury, rich flavours of Indian cuisine. Admittedly, however, the repertoire of Indian cuisine that I can handle is limited by the fact that I am simply no good with spice. When I was growing up, I thought black pepper was spicy. And it turns out, at least in my case, that if you don’t get used to spicy food as a kid, you cannot really fix that as an adult. (Trust me, I’ve tried – but both my Korean mother-in-law and I have seen me suffer through enough of her spicy cooking to accept that this particular change is not going to happen.)
So, no vindaloo for me. True connoisseurs of Indian cuisine will no doubt say that I am missing the essence of the culture by not eating the hot stuff. They may well be right. But no matter. There are plenty of non-spicy Indian specialties that my palate can handle, and that I enjoy immensely. One of my most favourite among them is mulligatawny soup.
When I was around five years old, one of my aunts was dating an Italian fellow named Dominic. One day, Dominic asked me the unusual question, “What is your favourite kind of soup?” To which I replied without hesitation, “Minestrone”. Which was true, it really was my favourite, even if I had only ever tasted the canned variety. My answer got a good laugh – in truth, I think it was a set-up. What, a five-year-old can’t have sophisticated soup preferences?
Since then, I have been lucky enough to try a wide variety of delicious soups that were not readily available to me in childhood, and this makes it pretty difficult to choose only one as my absolute favourite. Minestrone is right up there in the fray, however, and always will be. The recipe below is an amalgamation of various recipes I have seen over the years, with some personal tweaks.
The last time I cooked this, my daughter loved it so much she practically climbed right in the bowl, and refused to eat anything else I had prepared for dinner. Apparently some apples do not fall far from the tree…
My son never fails to say “is that my favourite soup?” when he comes home from school and smells this cooking. It is a traditional chicken soup crossed with influences I have borrowed from Tonkinese soup, a Vietnamese specialty (thanks to my husband for searching out that part of the recipe). It is the perfect meal on a cold day or when someone is feeling under the weather – nourishing, fragrant and easy to digest, and there are so many ingredients contributing to the complex flavor that if you are missing a two or three, it still comes out great. Hands-on prep time is minimal, though it does need to simmer for a good part of the day.
Hope you enjoy it as much as my son.
16 cups water, roughly
2 medium onions, peeled, whole
3 celery sticks chopped in half, or a baseball-sized chunk of root celery
2 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
5 whole cloves
handful fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
Other fresh herbs if on hand: oregano, sage, rosemary
salt to taste
6 chicken drumsticks, fresh or frozen
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced in circles
One large package rice noodles
Fish sauce (for seasoning or serving)
White vinegar (for serving)
Starting today, this blog will feature a Soup Column, offering belly-warming recipes to fill your house with good smells. I look forward to sharing some of my favourites with you, as well as passing on a few that are new to me, vouched for by friends and family.
The first and biggest reason to have a column dedicated to soup is pretty simple: I really like soup. It is by far my favourite comfort food, and something I always feel good about feeding to my kids, especially when it’s home-cooked. Having a venue for sharing something I enjoy that much is simply too hard for me to resist.
Of course, I am a literature graduate, and the symbolic value of having a soup column on a blog about life did not escape me either. At the very least, it’s a handy coincidence.
So for reasons both simple and lofty, I hereby launch The Soup Column. Stay tuned to have your taste buds turned on.