I’m actually not a soup person, really. Well, maybe it turns out that I am, but only sometimes, and with certain soups. Most soups leave me unfulfilled, dissatisfied, disgruntled, unhappy, discontent. (Hello, you’ve reached the winter of our discontent). So many soups don’t have enough zing! Also, so many soups don’t leave me feeling full. Soup is not a meal, I say! Soup is a first course! Soup is a side dish! But I seem to have proven myself wrong, as of late. Soup can be a solid (liquid!) meal, and soup can have zing.
I don’t remember how it started. I think my renewed faith in soup started when I made this in September, and paired it with delicious grilled cheese sandwiches, rather than doing the cheddar lid thing. Then I thought my stone soup started when I had to provide 8 ladies with food for a book club meeting (Yes, I am a housewife in her 50s, what’s it to ya?) but then I remembered that wasn’t the first time I’d made this soup. The first time I made this soup was probably some late September Tuesday evening, when I got home after picking up my CSA and didn’t have much of an idea about what to make for dinner, so just threw some stuff in a pot and away we went. That’s what this is. But that night – a revelation – this soup was GOOD. While this soup is meant to be made with whatever veggies you have, and a bean or lentil to make it more of a complete meal, there are
three four things that elevate this soup to delicious, and I will share them with you here.
Start this soup like any soup – sauté some onions, carrots and throw in some garlic. If you have celery or celery root, all the better. If you have ginger, go for it. If you have a can of tomatoes you want to throw in, by all means. There are no rules, really. Then I usually throw in some combination potatoes, sweet potatoes, and/or squash, all cut into relatively small cubes so that they don’t take too long to cook. I through in a half cup or more of a lentil, and then make sure I add enough broth/water to give all those things enough moisture to cook. Simmer away. Now here’s where the tricks come in.
1) Roast a pepper in your oven. I personally only like roasted peppers when they are made at home, rather than coming from a jar. My method is that I cut the pepper in half, rip out the seedy parts and rub both sides with oil – I usually use olive oil, but I’ve been meaning to start using sunflower oil because it has a higher smoking point and that way I won’t set off my smoke detector anytime I roast a pepper. Place the pepper skin side down on a small baking sheet and put it in the oven at 400. When the skin starts to become blistered and black (10-12 minutes?) flip the pepper and put it back in for another 5-10 minutes until it is all soft and wrinkly and roasty and good. As always, oven times may vary, so keep an eye on that bad boy. When it is done roasting, chop it up into a few pieces and set it aside. I’ll let you know what to do with it soon.
2) When your potatoes/squash/whatever and your lentils or beans are fully cooked and softened, ladle out a bit less than half of the soup into a large glass measuring cup. Throw the roasted pepper into the soup that remains in the pot, and puree it with an immersion blender (I love my immersion blender so much!). Add the ladled-out soup back into the pot. Now you have a soup that is mostly smooth, but with some chunks still to give it texture! And also a roasted pepper is hiding in your soup!
3) Lemon juice. So much lemon juice. I don’t know an exact amount, because I just liberally glug it in until it tastes right, but I probably put almost 1/4 cup of lemon juice into a big pot of soup. Never underestimate the power of lemon juice. I didn’t go to culinary school, but I know people who did, and this is an age-old trick. They’ll tell you that it really “brightens” the flavours of your soup, and that is exactly what it does. Trust.
4) I just remembered a fourth trick, one that I only discovered on my most recent pot of soup, but it will now be part of my soup routine. Miso paste. Avoid seasoning your soup much while it is boiling all those veggies and lentils, and then dissolve a bunch of miso paste in some hot water or some of your broth, and mix it into your soup at the same time that you are adding your lemon juice. The miso adds quite a bit of salt and flavour (umami!) to the soup, so hold off on adding any salt (beyond what’s in your broth) until after you’ve done this. I still usually add some spices, but you may not need them.
And that is how you can turn an onion, carrots, garlic, lentils, a pepper and a bottle of lemon juice into dinner. That is stone soup, which I think is also one of the most beautiful folk tales that pretty much hits the nail right on the head when it comes to food security and building community. And if you want another way to build community, just walk around carrying something like what is pictured below. Strangers will talk to you, I promise.