Soup is magic, as the fable of “Stone Soup” tells us. Making soup is a kind of alchemy, in which disparate ingredients combine to make a whole that is much greater than its parts. Soup can be simple, warm and comforting. It can also be chilled, or spiced, or made into a gourmet creation. Soup is at once a staple and a delicacy, especially when you make it yourself.
If you grew up on canned soup—as most of us did—making your own soup might seem impossible. In truth, it’s one of the simplest dishes you can make. At its heart, soup is simply food simmered in water until the desired consistency is reached. And anyone with a stove (or a fire, for that matter) can boil water.
Soup is a classic way to extend limited ingredients into a nourishing meal. It’s a great way to use up wilted vegetables and things that are too often considered scrap, like carrot tops and bones. One recipe for soup goes like this: take everything left in your refrigerator, chop as necessary, and throw it in a stockpot with enough water to cover.
Soups and broths are also a good way to extract nutrients from food, especially useful for those having stomach pains or trouble digesting their food. The heat does some of the work of digestion, breaking down the tough fiber and protein in food. Boiling vegetables and throwing the water away is a good way to waste vitamins and minerals; keeping the water, in a soup or as a broth, is a great way to conserve vitamins and minerals.
Making soup involves a lot of down time; once the ingredients are in the water, and the water has come to a boil, the simmering can last from thirty minutes to four hours. There isn’t much to do, though you can’t go too far away from a simmering pot, and it needs to be stirred every so often. This is what I call “between time”—time in which we are forced to stay in one place. It’s a good time to breathe, to meditate on the alchemy of cooking. It’s a great time to let your muse out—write something, draw a little, find a new melody, plan a new project. You can’t run errands while the soup’s on, can you? But it’s a perfect time to think about art.
I work quite a bit with people who are having trouble digesting their food. I recommend broths for a simple, inexpensive way to take in the nutrients that are so vital to healing. Bieler Broth is a very adaptable recipe that is a great favorite among naturopaths. It’s easy to make, even for those who are depleted from lack of appetite or difficulty eating, and can be made in any quantity, and refrigerated or frozen for storage. This broth isn’t bland at all, but full of vibrant greenness.
Bieler Broth (yields 2-3 bowls)
- 2 medium zucchini
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 cup green beans
- 3 cups water
- Chopped parsley
- 1-2 cloves garlic (optional)
Chop zucchini, green beans, and celery. Steam them in the water until soft, about 10 minutes (use a steamer if you’ve got one; if you don’t, steam with a little bit of water in the bottom of the pan and a lid on top). Place steamed veggies, the steaming water, and a handful of chopped parsley in a blender and blend until smooth (about 1-2 minutes). If you like garlic, a clove or two may be added as you blend to help stimulate the immune system.
Here’s the soup that inspired this article, though I admit I haven’t made it yet. It comes from one of my favorite herbal books, Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise, by Susun Weed:
Spring Song Soup (serves 4)
- 2 cups/500 ml nettle tops
- 1 cup/250 ml yellow dock leaves
- ½ cup/125 ml dandelion leaves
- 2 cups/500 ml water
- 1 large onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons/30 ml olive oil
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 turnips, diced
- 6 cups/1500 ml water
- 3 Tbs/45 ml brown miso
Wash greens; chop, and cook until tender in water in a large pot. Meanwhile, sauté onion in oil until golden. Add onion, carrots, and turnips to nettles. Add water and a pinch of salt and simmer for at least thirty minutes. Thin miso and add just before serving. Garnish with pansy blossoms.
Preparation time: 90 minutes counting picking, cleaning, and chopping greens and vegetables, unless, of course, the day is full of sunshine and birdsong and the greens picking just goes on and on and on.
You may have to ask a local farmer or herbalist to help you find the nettles, yellow dock, and dandelion leaves. You could also substitute any number of wild or domesticated early spring greens. As written, this soup collects all the wild green essence of spring in one nourishing bowl. Yum!
And just in case you’re thinking that I only like green soups, here is a recipe that is easy to make and has been a big hit for me at family gatherings. If you need a source for chamomile flowers, just drop me a line!
Chamomile Cauliflower Soup
- 3 cups pure water
- 6 tsp Chamomile flowers (or 6 Chamomile tea bags)
- 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into 3″ pieces
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 Tbs. butter
- salt & pepper to taste
Boil the water & herb in a large saucepan for 5 minutes. Strain the herb out of the water. Add the cauliflower to the saucepan. Cover & boil for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain the cauliflower, reserving 1 cup of the liquid for later.
In a small frying pan, sauté onions & celery in butter until the onions are clear. Put into a blender along with the cooked cauliflower, salt & pepper, and the 1 cup of reserved liquid. Blend until smooth then serve. For thinner soup, reserve and add more liquid. For thicker soup, reserve and add less.
If you have questions about soup, please contact me.
©2009 Stephanie J. Draus. All rights reserved.