Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Schoolhouse Vegetable-Beef Soup

Soup is one of those things you cook that is all about *why*--once you know that, the what, when, and how much all fall into place, and you will never need a recipe. There are different members of the soup family--I've posted a recipe for cream soup before that it is infinitely changeable for any vegetable you might be hosting. Making a good vegetable soup is a little different, but once you have mastered the basic process, the world will be your oyster. Remember, it's not about a specific list of ingredients, and it's certainly not about going out and shopping for a bunch of exotic items you'll only use once. Get a feel for the process, and all will be well in your kitchen.

*Schoolhouse Vegetable-Beef Soup*

1. You want some meat to flavor your soup and lend it protein, so that you don't get hungry half an hour after the meal. So get a pound of frozen hamburger out and brown it, with a chopped onion. If it was fairly greasy, you might want to drain the grease off. This is your base.

2. Next you want a flavorful liquid to add volume and, well, flavor. Now, I was raised a storebought-stock snob. My mother never had it; she was above it. I have changed though. I have no problem at all with a nice box of chicken or beef stock from the grocery store waiting in my pantry. I do read labels and avoid brands with chemicals--but that aside, a box of stock in the hand is worth two pots of stock I haven't made yet. So put a box of stock in--chicken, beef, or vegetable. If it needs to be a big pot of soup, go ahead and put as much water in also. This is your liquid.

3. Now you want to think about flavoring the liquid. You are always going to want a can of tomatoes--diced if you don't mind pieces of tomato, crushed if there are children in your house good at picking things out and laying them aside. I use a 28-oz. can because I always need a lot of soup. Guess what? You can use tomatoes in *any* form. What do you have in the pantry or freezer? Tomato sauce? Stewed tomatoes? Rotel? V-8? It will work! Now get to work punching the flavor up a little. Salt? Check! Minced garlic or garlic powder? Yes! A big slosh of Worcerstershire sauce or pepper sauce or tamari sauce? Of course. Half a cup of wine? Why not! Bring it all to a boil.

4. Veggies next. Think about how long they need to cook. I like my soup veggies soft and forgiving. If they need a while to cook, they go in now (white or sweet potatoes, winter squash, frozen green beans, frozen lima beans, carrots, celery). I like to make sure I use at least five kinds of vegetables all together, and onions count, so that's just four more.

5. You made it to base camp. Now you get to simmer; aim for at least an hour. I also like to turn it off after awhile and just let it sit on the stove for a while--gives the flavors time to blend without beating the vegetables to a pulp.

6. Half an hour before dinner time, get out any fragile vegetables you're going to use--frozen or fresh corn, yellow squash or zucchini, fresh or frozen spinach. Give them ten minutes of simmer, then turn off the pot and put a lid on it to keep it hot. Taste and see if you need more salt, some pepper, some balsamic vinegar, etc. Serve.

Further notes:
1. Don't simmer broccoli or cauliflower; they're just too strong in a mixed soup.
2. Cook pasta or rice separately to add in; they will soak up all your tasty broth if you throw them in the pot.
3. Add fresh basil after turning the heat off.

See, you don't need a recipe. You can make a thousand different soups all your very own invention, and you will feel so smart. I do!


Anonymous said...

Delicious, you've inspired me to try it today :)

Jessica said...

Wonderful! I was already planning on making a chicken rice soup this weekend, so this was just in time.

I rarely use recipes for soups either...I enjoy having the flexibility to throw in whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

Randi said...

I have done this for a few years now and i have never been disappointed with how a soup turned out. The only thing is that I can't remember exactly how I made something previously! ;)

LawSchoolMom said...

Lovely! I'm off to the market for fresh ingredients for a hearty soup. We've got snow coming so your post is very timely!

Anonymous said...

I love this sort of good, old-fashioned, common sense cooking. In almost 29 years of marriage, I've never had the knack of making soup without a recipe. Your directions are so great, I feel silly for never seeing the simplicity of a great pot of soup. Thanks, Anna!

Anonymous said...

So true about the warning not to add pasta or rice UNCOOKED to the soup. Nearly twenty years ago when I was trying to impress my husband to be, I thought I'd make a homemade soup and invite him over for this "rare treat". Well, I added a couple handfuls of uncooked noodles, and voila! Rubbery, gray swill. I apologised left and right, and he asked for seconds... whatta guy. I knew he was MINE!

Anonymous said...

More, please! This is the best soup I've ever made, and I cleaned out my vegetable drawer to boot. `I agree with copper's wife, common sense cooking is wonderful.

elizabeth said...

Brilliant! This is my 1st visit to your blog & I thought I'd look around a bit. This post is EXACTLY what I've needed! I've been married 26 years & just keep hearing "oh it's so easy" when I ask how to make soup, but no real direction. I'm going to send this to my new daughter-in-law!!!

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