Ask someone about his or her favorite food when the temperatures drop and the flurries threaten to fly, and chances are good that a lot of them are going to say soup. When you're chilled to the bone (and if you live in a snowy climate, you know what that phrase means), there's nothing like a bowl of hot soup to warm the body and spirit.
A pot of soup or stew simmering on top of the stove brings steamy warmth to the kitchen, disperses delicious aromas throughout the house, and provides a splash of color to a season that can often get a little dreary.
Many of us include soups in our weekly menus, with recipes reflecting personal tastes and preferences, nutritional values, and even family culture and heritage. We all have our favorites, but when it comes to these stovetop concoctions, there's great advice to be followed in the classic children's French folktale, "Stone Soup." In this story, a hungry traveler tells a village of peasants (who have related that there is nothing to eat) that he will make a delicious soup from nothing but stones and share it with them. Water is added to a kettle with a stone, and then, one by one, the villagers make seemingly insignificant contributions — a carrot, a little meat, and other ingredients — in response to the traveler's comments that the items will make this Stone Soup the best ever. In the end, of course, they all share a delicious pot of soup. There are two great lessons about cooking soup to take from this story: one, that when it comes to soup-making, anything goes—and two, soup always seems to taste better when enjoyed with others.
There's a soup for every occasion and every taste. Whether it's a light consommé served as the first course of a special meal, or a hearty stew in the midst of a snowstorm, soup fits the bill. And when you make your own soup you can customize—chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, light on onions, heavy on garlic, hot or cold, and, of course, seasoned to perfection.
Soups offer a tasty meal packed with nutrition for all members of the family. For the younger set, vegetables are often more palatable in soup or stew than when served by themselves on a dinner plate. Soups are also easy to concoct for special diets, such as vegetarians or vegans, or those watching their salt intake. Decreasing—or even eliminating — salt is easy with the help of herbs and spices.
Soup's wealth of nutrition and flavor comes without a lot of expense, too. A beef roast that would typically feed the family for one or two meals can be stretched to provide several meals when used as an ingredient in soup. The grains, beans, pasta and vegetables in your soup recipes are relatively inexpensive ingredients that help you create healthy meals, even on a tight budget. And, of course, soup is the perfect solution for myriad leftovers, such as turkey, cooked rice, and any assortment of vegetables.
Be sure to make more than you'll need, while you're at it, and freeze the rest for a quick meal at a later date. First chill the soup in the refrigerator, and then place in freezer containers. (Because liquids expand when they freeze, you'll want to leave about 1/4-inch headspace at the top.) Though many will last a few months, most soups are best when served within a month of freezing. When ready to serve, thaw soup in the refrigerator and then reheat. If your cream soup has separated during freezing, simply whisk after defrosting.
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