Well, here we are. I believe this is the nadir of the garden season because I have almost nothing to report. The onion seedlings are doing great.
I thought instead I’d talk about recipe designing; in this case, soup. I grew up with vegetable soup being made all around me, and never once stopped and wondered how to make it. My mother, my aunts, my grandmother, folks I’d visit all made vegetable soups.
I did however wonder often why some were really amazingly good and some were … not.
Lately I’ve been working on my own vegetable soup recipe. Let me start straight off and say that vegetable soup does not have to be vegetarian. One of my grandmothers would put a squirrel in her vegetable soup, but overall it was primarily vegetables, so it wasn’t called squirrel soup. If you want to make a good squirrel soup — I’ll discuss that another day. A lot of vegetable soups use meat stocks, so that disqualifies the soup from being “vegetarian” right away as well.
A good soup base can just be carrots, celery, and onions in water. I’m going to start with this no matter what else I add later. I’m going to sweat half the onions with a little butter for 20 minutes on the skillet at low heat (covered) until they caramelize a bit and reduce in size. The rest I’ll add raw and rough sliced. Carrots and celery go into the pot chopped rough. Bring to a boil, then lower it to a simmer and put a lid on it. Season with salt. When you have them, chopped celery leaves are just as good as celery.
We have shrimp stock, fish stock, chicken stock in our freezer right now. You could also make some pork broth or beef stock. Many people would add a ham hock when I was a child to the vegetable soup.
Depending on which stock you use, you can alter the character of the soup. For my soup I plan to add some chicken stock; it has flavor and character, but it will not dominate the flavor of the vegetable broth I’m making or the vegetables I’m putting in it.
Now we have to decide what vegetables to put in the soup. The ones I’m most used to are:
Onions, Carrots, Celery (check)
Potatoes, Corn, Green Pepper, Summer Squash, Cabbage, Mushrooms, Butter beans, Cauliflower, Green Beans, and Beans.
Potatoes don’t freeze well. If you’re going to freeze your vegetable soup for later, I’d recommend leaving out the potatoes. If you’re not going to freeze any, then potatoes are a staple. I plan on freezing some of this, so if I add potatoes it will be on the day I’m going to serve it. I will do this by boiling some potatoes (with some vinegar added), then chopping them up and tossing them in as the soup defrosts.
I’m going to leave out the cabbage and the mushrooms; there are too many other soups I like to make that I put those into. I’m gonna throw the cauliflower out of my basic recipe as well and add it in the winter sometimes.
Beans. There are a lot of beans in the world. I’m not making bean soup today, so I’m going to leave out all the beans. Except for the butter beans and by butter beans I don’t mean big ole dried lima beans. I mean nice soft fresh, frozen, or canned baby lima beans that are green and small and tender. Think of them as a green vegetable rather than a dried bean.
Tomatoes are wonderful, tomatoes are great. They provide flavor and color and the main thing to remember about the tomatoes is to add them to the soup last. The other thing you have to decide is in what form are you adding them? Tomatoes come in a lot of ways. I’d like to use fresh tomatoes, so I’m going to buy some paste tomatoes, then chop them and throw them in. Canned tomatoes come in a plethora of types: whole, diced, crushed, chopped, stewed, etc. You could even just add some tomato paste if you just want some tomato flavor and color without the tomato flesh. In fact, while I’m adding the fresh chopped tomatoes I’m going to squeeze in some tomato paste out of a tube.
Seasonings. Salt and black pepper, paprika (lots of paprika). Ground thyme is a must, as is parsley. A little sage and oregano, or maybe marjoram instead of oregano.
And there I think we have it. Let’s summarize:
1/2 lb of carrots, chopped
8 oz of celery, chopped, or celery leaves, chopped fine.
2 large onions. Sweat one with butter, rough slice the other and put it in raw.
2 quarts of water, add more as needed to cover the vegetables completely
2 quarts of chicken stock.
1 pint corn (off the cob)
1 pint green beans (chopped)
1 pint butter beans
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow summer squash, chopped
1 pint of chopped paste tomatoes
2 tbl, tomato paste
Salt, pepper, sweet paprika, ground thyme, parsley (fresh, chopped), ground sage, marjoram.
Bring basic soup stock to a boil (carrots, onions, celery, water, salt), then immediately lower to a simmer (lid on). Simmer for 45 minutes, then add chicken stock and all the other vegetables and seasonings except for tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring back to a boil, then Simmer for 45 minutes, then add tomatoes and tomato paste. Add some more paprika (because honestly until the soup is really really red you can add some more: not hot or smoked paprika, but sweet paprika). Simmer until ready to serve. Add more liquid as needed as you go along, it’s bad to not have enough soup liquid to cover the vegetables (very very basic, but very very true).
I haven’t cooked a thing yet. This is all just me talking. I’ll go out and make this sometime in the next month and then I’ll report back on how it went. I *expect* it to be good. But if I’m really lucky it will be some kind of platonic jungian archetypical vegetable soup, which is ultimately what I’m aiming for.