The Philosophy of Soup
How to turn any vegetable into soup
I’m not sure I trust people who don’t like soup. There are so many types and varieties of soup that if you can’t find at least some you like there is probably something not quite right with you. I mean, it doesn’t even need to be served hot!
The type of soups I like the most are what the French call a potage. Potage, or the more English pottage) was a staple food of the European peasants. It quite literally means “food from the pot” and the earliest versions were more porridge than soup. Sometimes the pots would sit on the fire and be replenished more than finished, creating a perpetual stew.
Now, we probably aren’t planning an endeavor quite like that, but one thing we do have (in perpetuity, no less) are bits and pieces of vegetables and other ingredients, leftovers, scraps, and perhaps an overabundance of something seasonal. These are sometimes the best inspiration for your soup pot and, much like their culinary ancestors, are never the same twice.
And I’m going to let you in on a secret. Many of the best soups don’t require stock, broth, cubes, or the like. And even more intriguing, they can be vegan/plant-based without any compromise and I think they are, in fact, better this way.
A word about gear. This is a blended soup technique, so at the very least you need a hand-cranked food mill or an immersion (stick) blender. For the smoothest and silkiest soups you’ll need a high-speed blender. The price of these tools has come down quite a bit in recent years and there are many more brands to choose from. They can be pricy to be sure, but if you are in the market for a blender try to get the most horsepower for your budget - you won’t be sorry.
For this soup I am starting with the main ingredient already roasted. You can start with all raw vegetables and you will still have excellent soup, but it will be a little different and will take a bit longer. Winter squashes, beets, and most of the other root veggies benefit from roasting to bring out their sweeter flavours. But you do what works for you.
I’m making a bit of a departure from my usual style. I’m going to walk you through the soup I made last night and explain the method and thought process along the way. There is no exact formula or ratio to follow, but you’ll catch on in no time.
I roasted some beets earlier this week, but ended up with far too many leftovers. This is about a pound and a half (680grams) cooked weight. These will make an excellent (and very pretty) soup.
Some carrots and onion. Not perfectly cut carrot because some of them are leftover carrot sticks from kiddo’s lunch. No celery in this mirepoix because I don’t have any.
I think I’ll keep this plant-based if possible, so I’ll start sweating the carrot and onion in some olive oil. Sprinkle of salt. No hurry here, just gentle and slow until onions are melting and translucent. Give it a solid 10 minutes.
Hey Google, what flavours go with beets? Curry powder? I have that. Add about 2 teaspoons to the pot, allowing the heat to bloom the fat-soluble flavour compounds in the spices.
Toss in the beets, and add water just to the level of the beets. You could add stock or broth here if you want, but you don’t need to.
Bring to a simmer while I dig around in the fridge.
Look, an handful of boiled red-skinned potatoes. In they go. A few more pinches of salt.
Once all the vegetables are very soft (which isn’t long), I’m dumping in a can of coconut milk. I like coconut milk because it adds creamy texture, subtle sweetness, is suitable for vegans, and sits on the pantry shelf without going sour.
Time to blend. Let the soup cool just a little, and follow blender safety precautions (seriously, read this first!) Proceed in batches, pouring soup into a clean pot. Woah… look at that colour!
Taste time. This needs something…. a bit more salt for sure, but what else? Something a bit sweet (these are very earthy beets) and a little acidic.
I have too many oranges. Added the juice of half an orange. That does the trick.
And you have soup! I created a flavour base (carrot and onion), add a complementary flavour (curry), a main star (beets), and adjusted the balance with sweetness and acid (orange). Easy!
It needed a garnish, so I added a little more orange juice to some yogurt (so it’s not totally plant-based anymore), poured it into a cheap squeeze bottle, and drew a heart, because I love soup.
Beets do make for stunning colour, but so do squash, carrots, greens, and even purple cabbage! If you are going for presentation as much as flavour be mindful of the colour combinations - carrots will added an off-colour to a lighter colored soup like cauliflower, but spices like turmeric and paprika enhance the colour of orange vegetables.
Add salt in stages along the way to minimize the risk of overdoing it at the end. And, if you can, keep the flavours in your garnishes related (or at least complementary) to the flavours in your dish. If I had some cilantro I might have put a sprig or two on top because it hearkens to the coriander in the curry. But I wasn’t going to run out and buy any - it’s not that kind of thing.
If you’re a regular reader here you’re probably getting to be a pretty good cook, and were likely one even before you signed up. You know it’s about learning technique and how to use technique to work with the ingredients you have. Cooking well is about learning to trust yourself, even if you can’t trust people who don’t like soup.
I'm a rough camp-level cook and soups are fun to cook. Any chance you would like to contribute this column to the winter edition of the Back in the Bay magazine? Mostly about North Bay and Callander nostalgia but this issue has an eight-page Healthy Life section. Just a thought, excellent writing.
Timely as the cooler weather is upon us.