Monday, June 19, 2017


I know it’s mid-summer. And, yes, I’m preparing a hot, chunky soup. I LOVE home-made soup and always have. It's healthy. What's more, this kind of soup is not only filling but also helps make us sweat, thereby cooling the body. All tropical cultures, at least, the ones I know about, eat warm and often spicy foods to create a higher level of perspiration. It’s nature’s own cooling system. So, even though it’s the summer solstice, let’s talk soup –chunky-style, at that.

Now, for a bit of personal background lore…
Today, as I prepared what might be my 100th - or more - pot of lentil-based, veggie soup, I found myself a bit misty. Past memories came back to me of a time when chunky soups meant an awful lot in terms of nutrition and comfort. This reminiscence was the product of some Internet news I saw today about not one, but two, tropical storms that appear to be on a target course for Texas or some other Gulf destination.
And I remember a time when my husband, Enrique, his good friend, Bob, and I spent the better part of a month eating chunky soup almost every night. Imagine that, and we didn’t complain a bit, since we considered ourselves more than lucky to have all that soup. It was, back then, when Hurricane Wilma devastated a good part of South Florida, including our own condo and the entire building that we’d been living in for 5 years. Enrique’s friend, Bob, invited us to spend time with him in his condo - nearby - that was not so much affected by the storm. We thought it would be just for a few days or a couple of weeks. But it turned out to be more like eight weeks.

In the first week, we didn’t have electricity and our menus were made up of what Bob had in his pantry and the cans that we’d bought when we knew the storm was approaching. Luckily, Bob had a patio gas-run grill and we were able to heat up essential food and drinks on the grill. Main courses were a bit hard to come up with. Fortunately, we had plenty of cans of chunky soup. So, for that first week, we ate soup out of cans, just warmed over, along with crackers, olives and such in order to conserve cooking gas. Then, in the second week, the electricity came back on. Cooking, was then, less of a problem. Still, we decided to keep our food budget as low as possible, given the economic crunch that we found ourselves in when our work places did not reopen for several weeks. Our answer was to make chunky soup with the addition of white rice and garlic bread as our go-to menu for supper that month. I bought a lot of lentils and other quick-cook and canned legumes, and whatever fresh veggies I could find. The supermarkets, when they reopened, didn’t have a lot of fresh produce – and that lasted for several weeks.

My main productive role during that mostly quiet month was soup cook. I simmered chunky soup all day in the slow cooker. And, with the aid of a large rice cooker, I prepared enough white rice for three days at a time. Plain sandwich bread - the only bread available for some time - was toasted and spread with margarine and garlic salt. We enjoyed our meals and were grateful to be eating well –– or, at least, what we considered correctly – at a time when so many other people were having a hard time feeding their families. So much for reminisces.

Most recent chunky soup
There are a few tried and true soup-making tips that every cook should know. And remembering some of these tips, I've successfully once again made soup – and if I may say so - with great flavor (and as little effort as possible).

 - Sauté all the chopped vegetables to enhance the flavor. But, if you’re short on time, just skip the sauté and add all the vegetables and accompaniments to the pot.
- Use some aromatic vegetables –garlic, onion, leek, etc, among others, and add all the veggies directly into the pot for good flavor and no waste.
- Don’t be shy about using time-savers, including such things as canned beans and frozen veggies.
- Use a stock cube or some soy sauce or pesto to get more flavor into the soup. Any of these can make a big flavor difference.
- Don’t dilute the soup too much when you begin the cooking process. You can always a bit more water later if the soup appears too thick.
- Spices are your friends. Proper seasoning is a must for all dishes and especially so for veggie soups. Salt, pepper, a variety of your favorite spices – even a squeeze of lemon or vinegar - will give some zing to the final product. Just be sure to taste after putting in what seems to be just a little seasoning. Experience has shown that it’s not easy to overcome an over-salted or over-spiced soup.
- Last minute, soup toppings are great, too. A regular tasting soup gets a lift with toppings such as croutons, cut green onions, grated cheese, avocado slices or a few toasted nuts.

So, here’s the recipe for chunky soup that I improvised today, made with fresh veggies and pantry ingredients - no particular recipe consulted. I think this soup would be a winner any time of the year and in all sorts of climate, including hot, cold, stormy and post-stormy weather.

Chunky lentil-based soup, great in all kinds of weather...  (6 to 8 servings)

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves
4 small potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (18 ounce) can lentil soup
Enough water or broth for thinning
4 ounces of tomato sauce
1 ½ cups of red cabbage, cut up in slices
¾ cup of pasta noodles (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
Toppings: Parmesan cheese, cut green onions, or sunflower seeds

- In a large pot, heat olive oil and sauté carrots, cabbage, garlic, onions and potatoes for 5 minutes.

- Add the canned lentils and other ingredients to the pot.

- Bring the soup mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. Add noodles and cook for another 10 minutes.

- Serve immediately or reheat later with one or more toppings. Leftovers keep well for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. (Soup is always better the second day.)

I made this stove-top soup in less than sixty minutes but it cooks just as well in the crock pot. It might take 4 to 6 hours to slow-cook the soup.

Go veggie-crazy and add any of your favorites. Modifications of this kind of soup almost always taste great. You can also use up whatever veggies you find at the end of the week as a version of “refrigerator-stew”.

This lentil-based, chunky soup is perfect for quick everyday lunches and suppers. What's more, I’ve taken similar soups to covered-dish dinners. And it's always "just perfect" for all kinds of weather.

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