Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Soup is way under-rated


She is the most recent addition to my tank at work, and unfortunately I have not gotten a good photo of her yet as she scoots around the aquarium very quickly and is shy. Nitro is short for Nitrogen, and she is a Pleco, an algae eater who keeps the tank spotless. Carbon was a little weary at first: he kept sneaking up behind Nitro to observe her and then dashing away when she moved. They seem to be settling in just all right.

On to more important things... like cooking!

Soup is way under-rated.

What do you think of when you think of Soup? Everytime I think of Soup, I think of The Classics: tomato soup, chicken soup, vegetable barley soup, and matzoh ball soup (if it's around Passover). The Classics have endured for good reason - they're simple to make, have very few ingredients and are guarenteed to warm the soul. Everytime I make Soup from scratch, it's always the same reliable recipe: a little onion, a little carrot, some mushrooms and potato. Vaula. Classic Soup A-La...a little dull.

Yet the amazing thing about Soup, given how ho-hum its obvious form tends to be, is that it is a type of food with amazing versitility. Here are my praises of soup:

1) It's cheap
2) It can be lunch, dinner, side dish or main dish
3) Cooking Soup be a long, slow process (like French Onion Soup), or it can be put together in less than 20 minutes (like today's Soup)
4) It's a vegetarian's dream come true: vegetables, protein and whole grains all in one pot
5) People will accept flavor and texture combinations that they would never ordinarily allow (case in point below)
6) Talk about healthy
7) I live on the East Coast and it's Winter

I've been itching to make some soup these past few days, ever since Greg surprised me with a wonderful Christmas gift: a Le Creuset enamel cast iron french oven. Enamel cast iron cookware pieces are designed to do one thing exceptionally well: slow caramelization of natural sugars. This talent can be applied to three things: meat, risotto and soup bases. The only problem is... we have to wait for the right color to come in to the store. Until then I'll have to fulfill my soup cravings with a normal pot, all the while dreaming of the depth of flavor I'll soon be able to make. This got me thinking about Soup, and suddenly Soup was all I could think about. I had to make it. This recipe started off with a dream about vegetarian French Onion, which morphed into a chickpea soup in a clear broth with grated onion, which suddenly became chickpea soup in a light tomato base with carrot and cellery... which then took an unexpected culinary twist.

Recently I've talked (typed?) quite a bit about flavors that I don't like (all-spice and chipotle being two such Normally Offensive Flavors). Ginger's the third flavor that I don't like in my food. It always reminds me of holiday sweets, and it's just too spicey for my taste. I will even go so far as to ignore a cookie if it has ginger in it. But as I was concocting this recipe, the broth was just lacking something. It was so blah. I added carrots, onion, cellery, tomato juice, garlic, potatos, garbanzo beans, and still... it was really, really boring, and I was getting irritated that I couldn't figure out the right flavor. Then I saw the ginger. Having been encouraged by my recent encounter with chipotle chilis, I figured, "what the heck", and I started experimenting.

All I can say is that the flavors of this soup exactly fit my craving for something flavorful, filling and healthful. Grated onion mellows the flavor substantially. Using tomato juice with water lightens the stock. Garbanzo beans, bulgar wheat and potatoes provide hearty depth, texture and a little starch to thicken up the base. Finally, the ginger balances everything out (you can't tell me I'm crazy until you try it yourself). I topped mine with ginger cream and toast sticks; Greg chose grilled cheese for dipping. No one flavor is overpowering, yet somehow this soup manages to have a full taste all the same.

Soup Base:
1/4 c olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
Juice reserved from a 32 oz can of whole tomatoes (save the tomatoes for something else)

2 md onions, grated
2 carrots, grated
2 cellery stalks, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed very well

Whole Grains:
1 cup bulgar wheat
2 red potatoes, cubed

Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cayanne
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp poultry seasoning (blend of rosemary, sage and other spices)
3 tbsp dried parsley

3 tbsp nonfat yogurt
1 tsp ground ginger

1. Combine the soup base ingredients and turn on the heat to medium
2. Add the vegetables/beans
3. Add the whole grains
4. Simmer for 20-30 minutes (meanwhile, toast the bread if you're me or grill the sandwich if you're Greg)
5. Add the spices and season to taste
6. Assemble and enjoy!


Jenifer said...

That recipe sounds wonderful. I'm making a huge list of stuff I want to cook my boyfriend when I move to Houston. Now I have ANOTHER recipe blog to choose from. Also, I would love to have a Le Cruset piece, what color do you want?

Rachael said...

Thank you for the comments by the way! I think red, which is so traditional, but it's really the only "normal" le creuset out there... my fiance picked up their new color, chestnut, which is a shaded brown color and what the store had in stock. It's nice, but it looks like it was made in 1970 and I kind of wanted something a little more bright. I'm so excited about the piece, though, that I might just start cooking with it!

I too am becoming addicted to food blogs. There are so many good ones out there to choose from! Too many recipes and too little time