By Barbara E. Ochterski
Soup. What images does this word conjure up? Maybe these names will make the image clearer: cyna, zupa, la minestra, soupe or pulmenti (Latin!). In any language, soup represents time, effort and the investment in a garden or time spent shopping. Soup is an easy and inexpensive meal packed with nutrition. What is not to like?
Is soup a food of the gods? Maybe an apple pie or homemade fudge better fills that bill, but hot soup is a strong contender. Soup is a work of love. Soup is a work of creativity. Soup is a work of richness, not poverty. Soup is what you do in Buffalo when the winds howl, the days are gray, and the snow falls. Soup fills a need, both for the cook who conjures up its flavor medley and for those who enjoy it. Soup is magical; it multiplies for as many as need to eat.
Think of the story of “Stone Soup.” This is an old folk story in which hungry strangers convince the people of a town to each share a small amount of their food in order to make a meal that everyone enjoys. The concoction starts with water and a stone. Just kidding about the stone!
But isn’t that how the story goes? Put a stone in water and wait for the rest of the ingredients to up the ante in flavor. Then come the additions: leftovers, a few vintage veggies from the refrigerator or remnants of a package of frozen vegetables; a can of broth. Add turkey, beef, sausage, tofu or seafood. The creation can be as elegant as French onion soup, savory as chili con carne, or as simple as clear broth.
Not everyone likes soup. It may be an acquired taste. Not many children or teens appreciate a good squash bisque or minestrone. Some families only like soup from a can. Actually, there is a lot to say in favor of Campbell’s chicken noodle when the flu hits. Chicken soup always wins out when you are ill. And can a person eat a grilled cheese sandwich without a tomato soup accompaniment? I think not.
Yes, it is possible to make a bad batch of soup. It is an unfortunate predicament which might have given rise to the phase “she landed in the soup.” Add the wrong vegetables, say beets – in other than borscht, and the eye is offended. Bland is a flavor you can correct for in soup, but if you add too much salt or any seasoning it is best to toss the mess.
In our family, the tastiest soups are a jumble of refrigerator emptying: the requisite veggies, broth stowed in the freezer, perhaps a small piece of bacon. The starch in the soup can be potatoes, rice or any type of bean. Chop the ingredients, toss in the liquid and a few spices, turn on the stove, then just let the soup simmer. Your nose and imagination will do the rest.
I once had a friend who would bake an onion in the oven when she got home late from tennis. The sweet cooking smell assured the family that food was on the way. It is the same thing with the sensory rush that happens when you open the front door and the pervasive scent of home-cooked soup has filled the house, supercharging your senses.
Hungry yet? Look in the fridge and get to simmering. Enjoy the comfort of a steaming bowl of soup paired with really good bread. And don’t forget that soup is for sharing. It is what we do in the City of Good Neighbors.
Barbara E. Ochterski, of East Aurora, finds making soup to be a magical undertaking.