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Principles of Soup!

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Monday, December 02, 2013

There are no hard and fast principles, of course.

I make a big pot of soup, generally on the weekend, and it's never the same from one week to the next. Then I nuke a bowlful of soup as soon as I get home from work: it's my standby supper every night of the week. Has been for over 10 years. And helps to stave off that stuffing my face at what is for me my lowest point of self-discipline of the day.

From the point of view of economy, the idea is to use up the vegetables which are left over from my salads, which have been my standby lunches every day of the week. Also for over 10 years.

When I buy my week's groceries on Saturday, I'm also acquiring new vegetables of course --and maybe one or more key soup ingredients for something I particularly have in mind. Maybe something a bit luxurious which elevates the leftovers -- the candy cane beets, for example, or a perfectly ripe avocado, or some oyster mushrooms.

On hand pretty much always: onion (often dehydrated), dried chili peppers, garlic, celery, carrots. And a large variety of spices and dried herbs and vinegars and soya sauce: so I can change it up from TexMex to Indian to Oriental to Italian . . .

But having said that, there are a couple of approaches that have evolved over the years that work for me:

1. As many different bright colours of veggies as possible. "The eye does half the eating", and a brown sludge won't be appealing by Wednesday. Plus: a variety of veggies provides all of those micronutrients that food scientists probably haven't even fully identified yet. Green, orange, red, yellow, purple.

2. Pretty much always some cruciferous veggie: a cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprout, broccoli variant. I recently acquired some purple Brussels sprouts. An orange cauliflower. The cruciferous veggies are apparently important for preventing cancer.

3. Nothing at all wrong with frozen veggies -- and they can save my (arthritic) hands some chopping too. Those big bags of Oriental mixed veggies are terrific.

4. Best quality broths: whether veggie or chicken or (rarely) beef. Because they really make a difference. Homemade turkey broth post Thanksgiving/Christmas really is worth the effort.

5. But: more generally, excess effort is highly overrated. Sure, peeling and chopping my "own" carrots is "better" than using up the last of the week's baby carrots and pre-grated carrots. Peeling and slicing my "own" onions is better than dehydrated onion in the bargain spice bags. Sometimes I do just that, when the onions or the carrots are the key ingredient for a particular soup. But: in general, this soup making is something I'm sustaining for my life time. And making it easier means I'm more likely to do it.

6. A lean source of protein. Most often chicken (skinless, boneless, frozen chicken breasts, partially defrosted in the microwave and chopped into generous chunks, maybe 3 per potful). Sometimes fish: frozen fillets of all types and maybe some shrimp or scallops for a chowder. Rarely, beef. But: gotta step up my heme iron intake so this may change.

7. Plus more protein from some kind of legume. Canned kidney beans or chick peas or lentils. Frozen edamame. Chopped peanuts at the end. Less frequently now, whole grain based protein: brown rice, wholewheat noodles, barley.

8. Speaking of "the end": sequencing matters for texture. Starting with the veggies that require the most cooking: the celery, the carrots. Finishing up with those that require least: the chopped bell peppers, the baby spinach, the fresh herbs just stirred in about the time the soup is coming off the heat. Retaining brightness. Some crunch.

Balancing the flavours. Something acidic. Something umami (savoury) -- meat does that but so too do mushrooms. Enough salt. Enough "heat" from spice.

And maybe most important of all? These soups are for me. I don't consult anyone else's taste. If someone else in residence wants a bowlful: I can share. But I'm not restraining myself within vegan parameters because DD eats only vegan. Or beefing it up for my unredeemed carnivore DH.

For many many years, I was in full press nurturing mode -- focused on the needs of others. Now I'm at an age and stage at which that's not necessary, even if it had became habitual. They can take care of themselves. When I ate with my kids and my DH. providing their
preferences and ignoring my own -- I weighed way too much.

I still stock the fridge with what others need. Steaks. Soy milk. But I prepare my soups for me.

Now I'm nurturing me. And this is what it takes.
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