A lot of people would say this is the perfect time of year for soup, it’s cold (ish) and dark so the thought of sitting down to a lovely warming bowl is most welcoming. Now I’m not disputing this, I totally agree that soup during the winter is a great idea, but that to me makes it seem like soup at other times of year would be unfavourable which I do throw my hands up in horror at. I will wait until spring time before I start sharing those delicious lighter recipes as the ingredients aren’t available at the moment (s’all about seasonal ya see) and the method for making them is slightly different to preserve those fresh, vibrant colours and flavours.
For now we have plenty to crack on with anyway.
I would say that I make at least one batch of soup a week (as an average) all year round. As well as it’s delicious comforting cuddley-ness, this soup-er (sorry it had to be done once) meal is the perfect way to sneak a huge variety of vegetables, herbs and spices into children and adults alike if they are less impressed by platefuls of the stuff.
Sadly for soup I know I’ve regularly lost sight of its brilliance and seen it as more of a fridge clearing exercise (although this is a truly brilliant aspect of soup – you can literally put anything in it!) Sometimes however I do make the extra effort and splash out (so to speak, they’re only vegetables….) and purchase specific ingredients for my favourite blends which are of course the ones I will be sharing today.
So what makes a great soup?
In my mind there’s a sort of trifecta that whether applied to a specifically chosen set of ingredients, or the remnants in the back of the salad drawer, should always (I say should as we all have those unsuccessful experiments) end in a delicious result. What is this terrific trident approach you ask? Read on and all shall be revealed…..
1. Pick your base veg: Now this can be a single vegetable or a themed group. For example you could go for a majority ‘Courgette Soup’ with accompanying friends, or if lacking in sufficient quantities of any single item opt for a ‘Green Blend’, this could also contain courgettes but might also have equal quantities of broccoli, peas and spinach in it.
At this point the path divides depending on whether you are using a starchier veg like squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, parsnips etc or softer varieties such as courgettes, peas and leafy things.
I personally think anything rooty is wonderfully amplified by roasting as the natural sugars will caramalise beautifully. Cauliflower also lands itself in this bracket with me despite its membership of the Brassica family rather than anything to do with rooty-ness. So if I have the time and inclination I will do this before adding to the stock with the other bits (making sure to wash out the roasting tin and scrape any crispy remnants into the saucepan of course, don’t miss out on those great tastey pieces!!) it is not entirely necessary however.
The softer things get a gentle sweat after the onions or leeks before becoming awash with stock, tomatoes or whatever other liquid I have chosen to dabble in for the day.
Mutual to all soup is that everything ends up all being cooked together. Now this is of great benefit because nothing is lost from the pan, certain nutrients don’t survive heating (Vitamin C and B Vitamins for example) and will be lost by cooking but that was going to happen anyway unless you happen to be transitioning from an entirely raw lifestyle. But other campers (such as Calcium) that leach from the veggies into the liquid remain present (one of the many reasons I don’t advocate boiling as you then throw this water away). Great stuff.
2. Choose your flavourings: This is where you can either lose the creative flair big time and all your soups end up seemingly just tasting the same or go super ingenious and take your staple soup to supersonic standard.
One of the big considerations to bear in mind is whether you are using a homemade stock/broth or a stock cube. Now this is not to say that using a stock cube is anything to be sniffed at, I regularly use the Kallo organic ones (and would recommend you do too as others contain some iffy ingredients, if you have checked and are happy with your current cupboard staple however far be it for me to tell you otherwise).
The consideration is due to the more delicate flavour of a homemade stock which I like to preserve and tend to go lighter on my additions, opting for a small amount of garlic and maybe some fresh herbs but steering clear of stronger spices such as turmeric or cumin. Also I always season with pepper but refrain from adding salt during the cooking process, if individuals wish to add it at point of slurping that is their prerogative.
Allowing things to develop over time especially where garlic, chilli and ginger are involved can also add an extra boost to your batch. I like to leave some soups to go cold before reheating to serve which lets everything permeate and intensify in potency.
Okay so my favourite additions are fresh garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric, cumin, fresh harder herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage (added during the cooking stage) and softer herbs including coriander, mint, parsley and dill (finely chopped and added once everything is blended or when serving).
3. Pick your creamer: What?! Cream in all your soup?! I thought you didn’t eat dairy?!
Never fear this is not at all what I mean, I’m talking about that final ingredient that gives soup that smooth, shiny blend.
White potatoes: Now I don’t tend to buy these as I have a small (*cough* absolutely massive) obsession with sweet potatoes but this is where they can be great. They do get a bit of a curled lip from some nutrition folk due to their comparatively lower antioxidant levels in combination with a higher starch content, so some would consider them a needless dietary addition (amongst other musings such as their relatively modern discovery making them a no-no for the Palaeo pack and such things).
The big consideration to bear in mind with them is actually the way they are prepared. When cooked in the absence of water, potatoes (sorry chips, roast potatoes and baked friends) develop a compound called Acrylamide (also found in burnt toast) which has been linked to an increased risk for a number of cancers. If boiled however this process doesn’t happen and if you then leave them to go cold the starch inside undergoes a bit of a transformation and becomes rather handy for your gut bacteria. Potatoes also actually contain decent quantities of Vitamin B6, Potassium, Vitamin C, Copper and other marvellous micronutrients so that curled lip should really start to be retracted somewhat.
The answer? Personally I won’t be rushing out to buy a 2kg sack but if you’ve got leftover boiled potatoes, chuck a couple of pieces in your soup and blend happy.
Beans: These are much more up my street. Beans provide a super creamy finish, a big punch of protein and some great fibre, this is adds up to a more filling soup that keeps you going for that bit longer. I also like to use them to add texture to a soup so will blend half the amount into the main soup and then add the remaining whole beans for some bite.
Grains: These follow on from the beans in much the same way although I blend them in less regularly and tend to just add a spoonful of any leftover rice/quinoa/amaranth/ millet/buckwheat etc to my bowl when serving. (Are you starting to become aware of my relentless recycling theme yet…?)
Lentils: I could have grouped these in with the beans but it depends on which variety you’re using as to how best to treat them. Red lentils for example can be blended in for a protein and fibre packed smooth finish, or they can be added later in the cooking process, gently simmered and left whole. Green and brown lentils can again be both blended or left whole but they need less care in the cooking process as they don’t break down as easily.
Basically we should all appreciate this fabulous foodstuff a bit more. It is not only cost effective, bursting with goodness and amazingly quick and simple to prepare, it is also the most forgiving of dishes which is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face whether it be tired and chilly or bouncy and freckled.
I hope you enjoy the following as much as I (and everyone I foist them upon) do, merry blending to you all.