I navel gaze far too often, sometimes to the point where I know it’s unhealthy and I must blare I Wanna Be Sedated at high volume to take my mind off the state of the world.
But instead of drowning my sorrows with some Joey Ramone, today I shall concentrate on something that I truly love: soup.
I don’t recall when my love affair with soup began. I must have been quite young and the soup at the time was Campbell’s. My favourites were golden mushroom and cream of chicken. With tomato or chicken noodle, I would break up about 20 saltines into a bowl, pour the hot soup over it then slurp down the resulting mush.
I used to swoon at the mulligatawny soup that they served at The Roses Cafe, an Indian restaurant in Ottawa. When the cumin hit my nose, well, it was the same feeling I got the first time I had super hot mustard on a sandwich from the Budapest Deli in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The flavoured heat shot right up my nose, making my eyes water in a most delicious way.
I don’t recall the first soup I ever made, but I do remember many of the soups I’ve created over the years and have at least tried to reproduce: cream of wild mushroom, lobster bisque, spicy tomato, clam chowder, pork with lemongrass, beef barley, butter chicken… I don’t like following rules in general, especially stupid rules or ones that don’t make any logical sense, so it’s no surprise that I dislike following recipes. Although this does mean that no two soups ever taste exactly the same, it does mean that I am always surprised by how things turn out.
Not having to follow a recipe (for most soups) is one of soup’s endearing qualities. You don’t need to be exact. If you understand the basics, you can pretty much treat soup as a blank canvas.
As is the case for many of my soups, this Potato-HAm-Broccoli soup (hence “Phab”) came into being because those were the ingredients I had on hand.
Using potatoes (or lentils) is an ideal way to make a creamy soup without having to use a lot of actual cream or cream-like substances. I have no personal aversion to fat—anyone who tries to deprive me of butter stands to lose a finger or two—but some people want to watch their calories or their cholesterol; others may be watching their pennies. Bacon, for example, is a ridiculous price these days.
This soup would be enough for two-three people, possibly with leftovers depending on the size of those people and how hungry they were.
What you’ll need for the basic stock:
1 tbsp fat (butter, bacon fat, or oil)
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped (or more or less; garlic intensity is a personal decision)
3-4 medium sized potatoes
Water / Stock
Salt & Pepper
Your favourite herbs & spices*
What you may want to add:
- Chopped green vegetables, e.g., spinach, kale, Swiss chard, wild greens, celery, leeks or broccoli stems (you can add the florets later in the process since they don’t take as long to cook as the stems do)
- Sour cream, plain yogurt, mayonnaise, cream, or milk/soy milk
- Cooked ham, chicken or tofu
- Broccoli florets, or other bright raw veggie for colour and nutrition
- Grated cheese
- Heat the fat in a pot, the same pot you’ll be making your soup in. Add the chopped onions and garlic and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Cook till the onions start to turn clear.
*At this stage I added in the herbs and spices, which need heat to release their oils. For this version, I used garlic powder, oregano and smoked paprika, but virtually any herbs and spices will do.
- While the onions are cooking, chop up the potatoes into small cubes—the smaller the chunks, the quicker they cook—and throw those and the bay leaf, on top of the cooked onions.
I added in about a cup of chopped greens at this stage. I had some frozen kale so I chopped that up, along with some of the goutweed that grows in my backyard. Goutweed is an invasive plant that tastes like celery.
- Pour enough water (or vegetable or chicken stock) over the potatoes and onions to cover them. Add in about 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp pepper. Good cooks season as they go, so you can always add more at a later stage.
- Raise the heat and boil the mixture for about 15 minutes.
I usually boil it for 10 minutes, put a lid on it and let the residual heat do the rest of the work (why pay for more electricity than you need?)
- When the potatoes are well cooked (you should be able to mash a piece of potato with a fork), turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes.
- In two or three batches, pour the entire mixture into a blender. If you don’t have a blender, a hand blender or immersion blender will work so long as the potatoes are soft enough. The benefit of a hand or immersion blender is that you don’t have to take everything out of the pot to whiz it up smooth.
I added in 2 tbsp of sour cream during the blending process, but you could leave it out or substitute it with yogurt or mayo.
- Pour the blended mixture back into the pot and heat over low. If the soup is too thick, add in some more water, stock, milk or cream, a bit at a time to the desired consistency.
- Taste it! You may need to add more salt, pepper or spices at this stage to reach the flavour you like.
- Once the taste is to your liking, add in the cooked meat and the raw vegetables and heat through until the vegetables are tender.
If you’re using ham, which has a lot of salt, go easy on extra salt.
Top with some grated cheese; any kind you like.
- Eat while listening to music. I suggest The End by the Fab Four, aka The Beatles. (You didn’t think you’d get through one of my posts without a bad pun, did you?)