Written by Patty Rasmussen Wednesday, February 01 2012I love to cook. It’s one of the great forms of relaxation to me and nothing expresses that more than making a big pot of soup.
Soup-making began for me out of sheer necessity. With three hungry children, including two sons whose appetites seemed endless, soup was an economical and generally healthy way to fill them up. But the more I made soup, the more I realized that it didn’t just nourish my tummy. Making it nourished my spirit.
I remember making my first pot of vegetable beef soup – to be honest, I didn’t even chop all the vegetables myself. I was tentative, not working from a recipe but from instinct. I browned lean chunks of beef in vegetable oil, tossed in some chopped onions, sprinkled in garlic powder since I didn’t have fresh garlic and then added a can of tomatoes. I broke up the tomatoes between my fingers, loving the spurt of juice and the feel of breaking down the vegetables with my hands. I emptied in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, thinking that the frozen vegetables would add a little water to the mix as they thawed while cooking. Then I added a little more water to make it look a little soupier.
Now for the spices; drawing on the way I flavored other beef recipes like pot roast or beef stew, I chose ground allspice and chili powder. Allspice added a warm, sweet note under the hearty beef and potato flavors, while the ground chiles in all-purpose chili powder brought a kick of heat. I tossed in a bay leaf or two just because it seemed like the right thing to do. Now the broth looked the way I expected, a reddish brown that would darken with heat and time. I tasted it—bland. How could I forget salt? But I went easy on the salt. After all, one of the purposes of making my own soup was to cut out the extreme amounts of sodium found in canned soup. A couple teaspoons of salt were sufficient; any more could be added later.
I turned up the heat to bring my creation to a bubble then turned down the flame letting the soup simmer gently for a while. How long? I didn’t know. Until the meat was tender, the vegetables soft, the broth dark and rich—until it looked and tasted like soup.
A couple hours later, I peered into the pot. It looked like soup. I dipped in a spoon, blowing on the broth to cool it. It tasted like soup. I ladled it into a bowl. I spooned it into my mouth where, with barely a bite, the meat and vegetables melted into each other. The broth was rich and flavorful.
What a moment! It’s one thing to follow the instructions on the back of a box, but it’s quite another to blend water, vegetables, meat and spices, and come up with a complete meal in a bowl. I remember feeling as if I’d accomplished something extraordinary. And I still feel that way today, 20-plus years later, as I whip up batches of turkey and brown rice soup, my granddaughter’s favorite chicken noodle soup and my old standby vegetable soup.
Making soup doesn’t require a huge time commitment. Even using fresh vegetables that I chop, my vegetable soup usually takes just 20 to 30 minutes to put together. Leave it to simmer while you work in your home office, play with your kids or tackle a project. You’ll be rewarded with a meal that will satisfy your hunger and your desire to create something special.
I’m listing the vegetables I like to use. Typically I use fresh vegetables whenever possible. This is a meat-free vegetable soup. You can add meat to it by browning a pound of stew meat, cut into smaller chunks, with the onion and garlic. You can also add a couple smoked turkey wings/legs after you add the vegetables. Then put in the tomatoes, broth and water. Once the meat is tender on the bone, lift the wings/legs out, cool, put the meat into the pot and discard the bones and tendons.
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
2 carrots, sliced in rounds
1 zucchini, halved and sliced. If small, cut into rounds
1 yellow squash, halved and sliced. If small, cut into rounds
Corn from 2 ears corn
½ pound green beans, snapped into 1 inch pieces
½ head of cabbage, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and diced, ½ inch
1 large can (28 ounces) of petite diced tomatoes
1 container (32 ounces) of low sodium beef broth or vegetable broth
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. chili powder
1 or 2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large stock pot, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil. Add onion and garlic, stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the carrots, stirring for two minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables. Pour in the tomatoes and broth. If the vegetables are not completely covered, fill the tomato can with water and gradually add until the vegetables are covered.
Add allspice and chili powder, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil then turn down the heat to med-low, a simmer. Cover and let simmer several hours, two to three or even longer. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Patty Rasmussen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. She spent 12 years covering the Atlanta Braves for ChopTalk Magazine and has written for Major League Baseball publications, Georgia Trend magazine, WebMD, and Blue Ridge Country.