I’m not sure where the past 2 weeks or so have disappeared to, but, in spite of my best intentions and many notes about the various dishes and meals I have cooked, I somehow failed to post anything on this blog. I hope (those intentions again) to rectify that over the next 2 or 3 days…
As a kid, I was never a fan of chunky soups – I preferred my soups thin and without too much “gunk” in them. There is probably a link there to my simultaneous dislike of all manner of cooked vegetables (excluding potatoes, of course, which I love in many forms – chips / fries, crisps, roasted, oven-baked, mashed, salad, gnocchi – you get the picture). Whilst I am still not a fan of cooked vegetables, I have come to appreciate heartier, chunkier soups.
Another recipe I acquired from B is what we call “Dave’s ‘vegetable’ soup” – based on the soup her father makes regularly and keeps in a plastic (Tupperware) container in the fridge. ‘Vegetable’ in quotes because, more often than not, it has some meat in it to add flavour. My version of it most certainly has meat in it – as well as “meat” stock cubes or powder – which may or may not have any form of animal product in them at all, if some of the recent press articles are to be believed.
I have been meaning to make soup for a while now, as the weather has got colder and I have looked for something decent and easy to eat for lunch. A day or so back I finally decided to do something about it, and stocked up at the supermarket:
- Some “soup meat” – beef or lamb shin works well, as the meat is full of flavour and the bones can go into the soup, too (see below) – not much is needed; for my latest batch, I bought 2 packs which each held 2 thin slices of beef shin
- Some veggies – cabbage (¼ head, max), carrots (2 or 3), celery (2 or 3 stalks), onion (1), potato (1 large), turnip (2)
- Lentils (red or black, or both), pearl barley – about a ⅓rd of a cup of each, or 1 cup in total
- Some herbs – oregano, thyme, bay leaves
- Stock – ideally some home-made stock that has been lurking in the freezer, but commercial cubes, powder or liquid will do (the equivalent of 2 or 3 cups or cubes)
I use a pressure cooker to make the soup, as it speeds up the cooking time – useful when you add lentils and barley to the mix, or tougher cuts of meat. Whenever I use it, however, those in the know (B and Kitty, mainly) tend to steer clear of the kitchen for fear of being engulfed in a domestic accident. Although we have quite a good brand or pressure cooker, it has a nasty habit, when used on the high pressure setting and being warmed up, to “pop a gasket” with a bang and a hiss, and to blow steam and boiling stock, soup or other fluid all over the stove (at which point B has been known to let rip with a scream as she exits the kitchen…). Once it has done that once, thankfully, the lid and the body seem to be aligned and it usually settles down to cooking as it is supposed to, and to relieve any excess pressure through the proper valves rather than via the pressure-relief slots around the edges of the lid.
The meat and the vegetables need to be cut into little pieces or shredded with a food processor. If you do everything manually, with a knife, as I like to do (I find it strangely therapeutic to have a large, well-balanced high quality kitchen knife in my hand, and to chop defenseless vegetables into little pieces…), it helps to cut everything in advance, before you start cooking. I find that a knife allows me to cut everything into similarly-sized little dice. The smarter way, of course, is to simply use a food processor with a shredding blade – the resulting soup tastes just the same, even if the pieces look slightly different!
I start by trimming the meat – I separate all the decent meat from the surrounding fat, sinews, bones, etc. I love my Wusthoff de-boning knife, which I keep razor-sharp for just this sort of activity. Being an “anal accountant”, as I have been both fondly and otherwise described, with smatterings of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (so I am told, similarly fondly and otherwise), I like to cut my meat into nice, regular little pieces so that it is nicely distributed across all the servings. Whilst I trim the meat, I lob the trimmings and bones into the pot or pressure cooker over a low heat, so that some of the fat can render out.
Once you have chopped the meat up (and the onions, carrots and celery), remove the bones, fat and other trimmings from the soup pot. Keep the bones, because they go back in later, but dispose of the trimmings (into the dog, if you have one, otherwise the bin…).
Fry the meat pieces in the hot fat, but quite quickly / briefly – enough to add colour, but not long enough to remove all the meat juices and make the pieces tough. Remove the meat pieces and keep them with the bones, to go back in later. Add the chopped vegetables, starting with the onions and celery, which can be sautéd in the juices and fat from the meat, then the carrots, turnips and potatoes. The fresh herbs and the shredded cabbage go in next.
I found several little containers of beef and lamb stock in my freezer – which, of course, I had made some time before, when I had bones or meat to use for stock. I defrosted those and put the stock into the soup, along with a stock cube or 2 (beef, lamb or vegetable – you choose). You need to taste the soup once it has cooked for a while to see if any more flavour needs to be added. Don’t add salt until the very end, however, as the stock will have lots of salt in it already.
Add the liquid stock, or soften the cubes / mix the stock powder in boiling water, and add that to the vegetables in the pot. The browned meat cubes and the bones can also go back in at this stage. Add the lentils and / or pearl barley, if you wish, and add more boiling / hot water (depending on how much fluid you want in your soup and on the capacity of your pot)
I don’t usually put fresh tomato into the soup, but you could certainly do so. What I did add to this batch of soup was some tomato paste, which lifted the flavour very nicely (thanks, Kitty, for the suggestion). If you want to add things like garlic or ginger, you should do so upfront, with the onions or the meat, to soften the harsh flavours.
Once all the ingredients are in the pot and you are happy with the volume of liquid, it is time to let it simmer away, or to put the lid on the pressure cooker and let it hiss away. I did not feel like battling the spitting monster cooker, so left it on the low pressure setting and just cooked for longer. 30 minutes on high should be fine (from when the valve pops up), but I gave this lot about 90 minutes on low.
Once cooked, turn the heat off, check and adjust the seasoning, and let things cool. If you threw in a handful of thyme (as I did), you’ll need to fish out the stalks, along with the bones. I put the whole pot into the fridge overnight, after which it was easy to skim off the fat that had risen to and solidified on the top of the mixture. This batch needed a little more depth, so it went back onto the stove to warm up, after which I added another stock cube and the tomato paste I mentioned earlier, and cooked it a while longer. All that remains now is to put it into plastic containers, some of which will be frozen for meals over the next few weeks, whilst the others will serve for lunch sometime this coming weekend.
The soup is delicious by itself, or with some fresh, crusty bread, or with croutons. I like to add a splash of chilli sauce – “Dave’s Devil Juice” – which is a recipe I also need to post this weekend.
UPDATES 30 APRIL 2017
I spent most of today making another batch of this soup – possibly for the first time in two years… Made 2 changes to the process:
- Instead of putting the browned bones back into the soup, I put them and the browned trimmings into a separate pot with a whole pile of vegetable trimmings and herbs, and made a new batch of stock. After straining and reducing it, I used that stock in the soup.
- I did not brown the meat cubes, but rather added them into the vegetables with the stock.