Monday, January 07, 2008

Soup's On

I love soup. Nothing opens up congested sinuses like hot, spicy soup. Soup seems so basic, so run-of-the-mill, but one of the best meals I've ever had (God bless New York City) featured a lobster bisque that was so velvety and rich it was practically gravy. I love good clam chowder, too, and chili with wagon wheel pasta (which might be a regional thing, since everybody from out of state looks at me like I'm nuts when I say that), and especially Grandma's divine beef stew with vegetables and barley or rice (or whatever she saw fit to toss in), which Mom replicates in a most satisfying way.

Perhaps it's the season, too, because how nice is it to zip home at lunch on a cold day and have a cup of hot, salty, hearty soup? Or maybe it's my lifestyle as a single gal with limited counter space. I can make a 6-quart pot of main dish soup, something with meat and vegetables and maybe pasta or beans that counts as a whole meal (so I don't have to prepare anything else unless I really want corn bread or muffins, which are also easy to whip up, or a salad, because how else would I reach my annual quota of Ranch dressing?) and freeze half of it. Maybe soup simply suits my fairly hands-off cooking style: chop some things up, put them in a pot, spice it with pinches right out of the bottles, and dirty pretty much only one dish and a knife and spoon, plus the Tupperware or Rubbermaid storage containers. I nuke soup in mugs or one of my half-dozen little mismatched Portuguese porcelain bowls because I'm afraid to microwave food in plastic anymore. I know I can't escape exposure to all carcinogens, but considering the prominence of cancer in my family history, I'm doing what I can.

Let me just say, though, that canned soup is the devil's spongy, slimy, lethally salty, metallic, tainted substance of doom. I don't mind it so much if I'm using it as an add-in or base for a soup with otherwise fresh ingredients, but it's perfectly evil on its own. I'll add canned tomatoes or corn or beans to soups, too. I'm not a snob. And for some reason, canned tomato soup also gets a pass this time, but only if made with milk. Bekah does something to tomato soup that makes it taste like pizza, which is genius. Tomato soup is magically enhanced by an hour or two in a thermos, too. One taste of tomato soup and I'm back at the kitchen table on Topaz, ten years old, my purple toes defrosting and Grandma fussing because I didn't wear a hat to go skating. Sure, she was right about the hat, but the woman would have dressed me six layers deep in August if I had let her.

Lately I've done chicken soup with lentils and thyme, beef and barley soup with tomatoes and onion, and ground turkey chili with dried cherries and fire roasted tomatoes. I like pureed vegetable soups like butternut squash (an excellent version of which the restaurant at the golf club serves) and any type of creamy bisque, seafood or not. I want to try a peanut and chicken stew that is apparently a staple in Morocco; I found it in a magazine, and I have to hunt down the recipe. There's no shortage of soup recipes in the world. I suppose it just depends on what ingredients are available to you and how elaborate you want to be. Generally I prefer simpler soups with around five ingredients and a few spices, like M's excellent and accidental vegetable chowder that uses frozen vegetables, potatoes, and oh, potatoes. I love potato soups perhaps most of all, whether they're chunky or smooth, creamy or thick and pasty. I don't even mind if they're made from frozen hash browns or boxed potato flakes; if there are potatoes in any incarnation, I'm in.

I love restaurant soup, too, especially egg drop, French onion, Thai soups with coconut milk and lemongrass, and Vietnamese pho with beef. There must be an almost infinite array of fine ethnic soups out there. Think of Latin soups like albondigas (with meatballs the size of submarines) and gazpacho (I, for one, am willing to forget that menudo even exists, however), all those spicy Asian soups and complex curry soups from India, Russian ukha and borscht, Slovenian jota (although I'm not much for sauerkraut, which is probably one of the reasons why we didn't have this growing up). I'm snowed in in Evanston right now, but when I get out of this #$&%*@ place (more on that later) I intend to explore the vast landscape of ethnic soups indefinitely. I'll let you know how it goes.

The head cold is waning, although if mine follows the course Brent's has taken, I still have a week or two of hacking and sniffling in store. We got eight inches of snow in the last few days, so we're floundering around in that mess, and who knows when it will be warm enough to melt off. I'm waiting for the roads to clear so I can go simmer in my favorite hot springs in Utah (hot springs are infinitely more fun in the winter). I probably won't make it back down to Park City to shop before the avalanche of freaks descends for Sundance, but considering the fact that I bought a $360 ivory angora and wool Calvin Klein coat (on sale for $129!) last time I went, I'm better off anyway. For someone who detests winter as much as I do, I sure have a lot of coats.

I'm rambling. It's the decongestant. My soup is ready.

5 Comments:

Anonymous bekah said...

you want the recipe for the peanut chicken soup? i have it. tempted aren't you?! what will you give me for it??

when chad and i were in mexico we had this wonderful chicken lime soup! we have been trying to figure out how to recreate it, but with no success so far. have you tried chad's squash soup? that is also fabulous!

January 7, 2008 at 8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go here immediately:

http://jv-foodie.typepad.com/foodie/2008/01/french-onion-so.html

January 7, 2008 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

We're soup lovers too. Tuffy P made a fabulous French Onion the other day, in fact.

I hope you recover quickly from your cold!

January 8, 2008 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger A said...

Yes, Bekah, and I will give you my cold if you don't give me the recipe NOW!

French onion is one of my favorite soups (probably because of the cheesy bread, although I'm a beef and onion fan, too) and Jenny's looks like a great recipe. I think my sister needs a mandoline.

What is rumored to be the best restaurant in Evanston, a steak house called Bon Rico, serves French onion soup with whatever you order, whether you want it or not, and I've never heard anybody knock it. Tuffy's looked fantastic, Mr. Anchovy. I was going to ask if the things on top were peppers or bay leaves or what?

January 8, 2008 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

they were sage leaves, along with the toast and cheese.

January 11, 2008 at 8:13 PM  

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