There is nothing that warms the soul like the enticing aroma and taste of a piping hot bowl of soup when the wind is howling outside and the snowflakes are tumbling down like old man winter’s confetti. From those first aromatic whiffs within the steam that swirls up from the simmering pot to that last spoonful from your dinner bowl, soup has the ability to envelope us in warmth.
Soup is essentially liquid, such as stock, in which vegetables are cooked, sometimes with meat or seafood, sometimes with pasta or rice. The combination is ladled into bowls and often served with toppings such as croutons, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc. Soup is often served as a first course, but can also stand in as a main entrée accompanied by a salad and/or bread.
A soup can be served in its basic form of liquid with the vegetables and other ingredients free-floating. It can also be pureed in a blender for a thick consistency. Some soups are silky smooth, such as bisques which are typically pureed seafood with cream. Other soups are very chunky, such as chowders http://cattroianoathomeinthekitchen.blogspot.com/2011/10/chowder-house-rules.html While most soups are served hot and best enjoyed on a bleak winter’s day, some variations are served cold and can be a refreshing summer repast. Examples of chilled soups include vichyssoise, a French style thick creamy potato and leek soup, and gazpacho, a chunky Spanish tomato-based vegetable soup.
There are probably as many soup recipes as there are mouths to feed; every nation around the world celebrates their specialty. The French have bouillabaisse, a fish soup originating in Marseille; and also that favorite made with beef broth and caramelized onions, served over bread and topped with melted gruyere cheese. The Italians have their vegetable soup that we all know as minestrone, as well as ribollita, and my personal favorite from Tuscany: the garlicky cannellini bean and escarole soup ladled over toasty bread. Callaloo is savored in the Caribbean, as gumbo is a favorite Creole soup; the Russians serve their borscht and the Hungarians partake in goulash. When dining on sushi, we often commence the meal with a bowl of Japanese miso soup. Mulligatawny is an Indian-influenced curried soup, often made with lentils. The northeastern United States makes the most of their coastal bounty with clam chowders and Maryland crab soup. Thai restaurants feature tom yum, and who hasn’t ordered wonton soup when Chinese food is the order of the day? I have only begun to scratch the surface here, as there are many, many more. An even greater plethora of variety can stem from your very own kitchen. All you need to start with is a stock, and then what gets added to that stock is only as limited as your imagination.
Soup is perhaps the most forgiving, and therefore easiest, concoction to create. I cannot fathom why anyone would pause at the canned soup aisle of the supermarket. Once I made a few homemade soups, I tried to sample a once-upon-a-time favorite canned soup and was disgusted. The flavor was so artificial, what little flavor I could detect beyond the saltiness. Canned soups rarely taste like the flavors boasted on the labels, as the excess of added salt and monosodium glutamate overwhelm the small percentage of vegetables or garlic that are actually contained, leaving a very over-processed flavor that’s really not so comforting. While making your own stock is best when preparing a pot of soup, using a quality store-bought carton of stock is perfectly acceptable if time is not on your side. I like Kitchen Basics brand stock because its all-natural ingredient list contains only what you would likely use if you made stock yourself, and nothing that you wouldn’t. So if you have a little downtime on a Sunday afternoon, make a big pot of soup and then refrigerate it once it cools. You will have soup for later in the week when you come home from the daily grind in need of some winter comfort fare, without needing the time then to prepare it.
Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant Soup
2 medium eggplants, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red onion, peeled, cut into eighths
6 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper*
½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
1 15-ounce can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 32-ounce carton vegetable stock
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the eggplant, red pepper, onion and garlic cloves in a single layer over a cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle vegetables with salt, pepper and cayenne. Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, tossing once halfway through roasting time, or until the vegetables have started to brown and are soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Transfer the roasted vegetables and any accumulated juices to a blender. Add the lemon juice, half of the chick peas and the stock. Puree ingredients until thick and well blended. Pour into a pot over medium heat and warm through, stirring in the remainder of the chick peas. Serves 2-3.
I recommend serving this soup with pita chips; and a light sprinkling of crumbled imported feta cheese, or a dollop of sour cream, on top will make it special.
* Brian and I love spicy food – really spicy food. If you’re squeamish with the spice, I would recommend cutting back the cayenne pepper to ¼ teaspoon.