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It's freaking cold out, and I've decided that it's time for more soup to become part of my daily diet. Why? Because soup is cheap (quite important)l, filling, and delicious. Best part is that it's a great use for leftovers. You can generally sort out soup fairly quickly and easily WITHOUT making a stock. Add enough spices and herbs to your dish, and you won't need stock. 

Basic Flavourful Soup Starter Thingy

So you want to do a soup, but you're not too sure how to get started with a base to which you can add any leftovers, so you go online, and the bloody thing tells you to buy stock, or even worse (:shudder:) stock cubes. UGH. No thanks. Here's how you get started. I am deliberately being vague about the veg, because you can use anything you have. 

 

1 TB oil (canola, vegetable, or olive will do)

1 large onion, diced roughly

2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp thyme (yes, thyme specifically)

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 lb veggies of your choice, cooked already

Fresh parsley, basil, or other herb of your choice

3 TB flour (optional)

Water

Salt and pepper (or red chile flakes) to taste

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil, onion, and garlic at the same time over medium high. The reason you add the onion, garlic, and oil at the same time is so that you can reduce the amount of fat you're adding. If you heat up the oil first, you will find yourself needing more and more oil. This way, the onions naturally leak out a fair bit of liquid, making your soup much easier to manage. 

Once you hear a loud sizzling sound coming from the onions and garlic, add the thyme, bay leaf, and turmeric. What this does is get the essential oils from the herbs and the flavours of the turmeric to develop enough that they flavour the whole soup. The reason I specify thyme is because it's got this earthy backdrop of flavour that gets things going quite nicely. The turmeric itself gives a very nice colour to your soup, and makes everything smell fantastic. If you don't have turmeric, just use curry powder. It'll get you there.

By this point, your onions should be softened. Add your cooked veg, and sprinkle in the flour or cornstarch, and stir well. Cook the flour with the veg until the veggies begin to stick to the pot, and get the flour browned. Add just enough water to cover the veg, and bring the water to a full boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and let it simmer about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

 

Suppose you want to make a smooth, creamy soup? Skip the herbs, and use just the ground spices of your choice, and go to town. Suppose you prefer a more hearty stew? Add some cooked beans, and you're golden.

The point is not to follow a recipe strictly, and then hope it comes out. It's to improvise with what you've got in the house, based on a couple of staple ingredients, and sort out your food on your own. If you'd like, I can also share some recipes for butternut squash soup, vichyssoise, South Indian soups, etc. For now, I hope this inspires you to try things out on your own, and report back with details! 

I purposely kept this recipe very basic. You're not supposed to stop here. Please add more flavourings of your choice, and tell me what you did. If I keep suggesting my own ideas, you won't be inspired enough to try your own. 

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Nice!!

please share!

I find that I get hung up on following recipes, and don't even start if I don't have every ingredient. I like your approach - I have lots of odds and ends - even a box of veggie stock :) that don't match any specific recipe. This is inspirational. Thanks!

Thanks, Lisa! Let me know if the soup compels you at any point. :P

Hey Billy! Thanks for the kind words. 

Y'see, stock does have its uses. For example, if you're making a gravy, it's much easier to use a bit of stock than it is to create a flavourful liquid from scratch. If you're making risotto, you kind of need stock (and wine) to make the final 'do taste good. Aside from that, you want to save your stock for emergency soups, where you are so pressed for time that simmering for any amount of time is a non-option, and you want something five minutes ago. 

Even then however, I'd contend that your soup will be awfully bland if you don't sauté some aromatics (garlic, onions, etc) at the beginning. And if you're going to do that in any case, what's to stop you from going forward with a few spices/herbs anyway, right? 

Basic Beans, American Style

You may use tinned beans for this if you like, but please don't add any salt while cooking if you do decide to use tinned. Tinned beans are frequently loaded with salt. I made the mistake of salting my hummus that I used tinned chickpeas for. It was so oversalted that I couldn't eat it, or save it at all. I had to pitch the lot of it. What a mess! 

My reason for sharing this one is so that y'all stop thinking of beans as just beans all by their lonesome. They go extremely well with veg of any kind, and can be dolled up with all kinds of spices. Please try the variations for some extra fun! 

Beans. Soak overnight:

2 - 4 cups of beans, depending on how many people you've got. Two cups will generally feed two hungry people, or four people if they're eating the beans as an accompaniment with bread, a side salad, or other grain. Four cups should feed about ten people. You end up with enormous quantities of soup. Yes, it freezes extremely well.

The next morning, drain the beans, and rinse them off well. Set them in a slow cooker to cook on low for 6 - 8 hours. OR, set them in a pressure cooker, and cook at full pressure for 25 minutes. OR, put the drained and rinsed beans in the fridge until you get home that night. When you get home, the second you walk in the door, set a pot of water with 6x's the amount of beans (for 2 cups, you'll want 12 cups of water; for four, you'll want 24 cups)  on the boil.

Dump the beans in (and leave the pot uncovered), and go do what you'd normally do to "come home" (take off your coat, put away your bag, say hello to your loved ones, etc). About 1 hour later, your beans should be cooked through. You now have cooked beans. You may save some to use for a bean salad, or other application, or cook all of 'em into bean soup, American style.

Aromatics. Dice roughly (these amounts work for 2 cups of beans. Increase as needed. You may use any combination of one, two, three, or all of the following): 

1 rib of celery

1 medium onion

3 medium carrots

1 bell pepper

1 leek

3 cloves of garlic

3 scallions




The cooking:

1 - 3 TB of oil (adjust up or down, depending on your comfort with using fat in your cooking)

Any combination of aromatics that you chopped up

Any combination of cooked beans you have

1 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp sage 

Salt, to taste

Water (either fresh water or bean cooking water; the choice is yours!) enough to cover the beans

In a large stock pot, combine the oil, aromatics, thyme, bay leaf, sage, and a few pinches of salt (if you're using your own beans). Throw everything in at once, so that you don't need quite so much fat. Crank the heat up to high heat, and cook the veg until they're softened. Add the beans, and just enough water to cover them. Let the whole thing come up to a full rushing boil, and turn down the heat to a simmer. Ladle out about two cups of the liquid and blend it with a blender or stick blender to make it into a puree (this is an optional step). Pour the bean puree back into the soup, and stir through. Now you've made the soup creamy, without adding extra fat! 

 

Variations:

Add 1 TB of hickory salt to the cooked soup. It'll give it a smoky flavour.

Add 1 TB of cumin powder along with the cooking aromatics for an earthy, smoky flavour. 

Add 1/2 tsp turmeric to get the cooking liquid a tempting orangey-yellow colour and very nice taste. 

Add 1 bunch of finely chopped parsley at the end of cooking. It'll make the dish a bit brighter. 

Add the zest and juice of a lemon, just before serving. It brightens things up considerably. 

Finish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, or chile oil for a totally different taste each time. The finishing oils aren't cooked, so you'll smell their aroma as soon as you stir them through your bowl.

Basic Daal

3 cups of quick cooking beans (lentils, split peas, red lentils, black eyed peas, small white beans)

12 cups of water

1 TB oil

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp turmeric

3 medium onions, diced 

5 plum tomatoes, diced (use tinned crushed tomatoes if tomato isn't in season)

Salt, to taste

 

In a large pot, combine the beans and water, and set to a full, rushing boil. Let them continue to boil until they're tender (20 minutes for red lentils, 35 minutes for split peas, 45 minutes for lentils, and 50 minutes for black eyed peas and small white beans). When the beans are cooked, SAVE THE WATER and drain the beans. You want to save the water, because you'll be adjusting the liquid to your liking. 

In a separate pot (you'll just need one big enough for the tomatoes and onions), heat the oil over highest heat. When the oil gets very hot, add the cumin and coriander seeds, and move the pot off of the heat, so that the spluttering of the seeds doesn't get too violent.

When the seeds stop popping, put them back on heat, and add the turmeric, and onion. Cook until the onions are softened. Add plum tomato. When the tomato has cooked down to a gravy (about 10 minutes), add the spice mix to the cooked beans. Pour in some of the cooking liquid, and stir to combine all the ingredients. Add more of the cooking liquid as it pleases your fancy. 

Variations:

Use cooked chickpeas or red beans in stead of the quick cooking beans, if that's what you have in your house.

Add about 1 tsp of garam masala at the end of cooking. The reason you don't add it in the beginning, is because garam masala has cinnamon, which doesn't do well with high cooking temps. It turns gross and slimy. Ew.

Add 1 tsp of curry powder along with the cooking aromatics (onions, in this case).

To really bump up the flavour, add (along with the tomatoes) about 3 cloves of minced garlic, and a 3-inch knob of ginger that you've grated finely. The reason you don't want to cook the ginger and garlic in the fat is because you want them to taste strongly. You may, of course, cook them with the onion if you wish, but that's strictly up to your tastes. 

When cooking the onions, add in 1 jalapeño or Thai bird chile (chopped fine) either with or without seats, so that it adds a hot and spicy kick. 

Stir through a bunch of chopped cilantro at the end of cooking.

Add curry leaves along with the onions, if you can find them. 

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