Friday, April 8, 2011

Homemade Soup ~ Made Easy

Lately, I've been inspired to make soup. In fact, I've been making two big pots of soup every week over the past few weeks – it makes for tasty, healthy and easy lunches, and a small cup staves off my appetite if I'm starving while cooking dinner. Soup is also a wonderful way to warm up a casual evening with friends. It's unpretentious, non-messy and popular.

There's no reason not to have homemade soup on-hand for any occasion. Canned soup may appeal to our urge to buy pre-made, convenient items, but it is just as easy to portion out your homemade soups into recycled to-go containers and reheat as needed. Besides, I like the fact that my soups are made with healthy, natural ingredients that are low in fat and sodium.

All my soups contain fresh vegetables – it doesn't matter whether it's bean, beef and barley, tomato, cream or clear broth.  The following is just my basic soup-making method. Use this as your starter and once you've got the basics down, feel free to use your imagination and try a new varieties to spice things up.

Basic Soup Recipe

2 tbsp olive oil, cold pressed or extra virgin
1/2 lb baby carrots
4 large stalks of celery
1 medium onion
1 qt of low sodium stock (vegetable, chicken or beef)
1 qt of water
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

I like to use baby carrots because I can just toss them right in the pot (versus peeling and chopping whole carrots). It's a convenience factor and in most markets today baby carrots are reasonably priced when compared to whole carrots.

Place all the vegetables in a food processor and pulse until your mixture of vegetables is coarse. This is a technique you'll need to perfect for personal texture preference. I find that if your vegetables are processed too much, they disintegrate and disappear in the cooking process. On the other hand, if they are left too large it is difficult to saute them gently down to size. After a few soups you'll have figured out the right amount of processing. After the vegetables have been sauteing in the pot for a few minutes, add the water, and the prepared stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on a low heat for two hours and...Voila! You're done.

Remember that this is only a basic soup – it might be rather plain for many.  But it's only offered as a 'starter'. When you're ready, use the recipe below for one of my slightly more complex and very popular soups.

Tomato Lentil Soup Recipe

2 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
1/2 lb baby carrots
4 large stalks of celery
1 medium onion
1 qt of low sodium vegetable stock 
2 qt of water
1/2 pound lentils
1/3 pound pearl barley
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 small can tomato paste

Dice or process vegetables into coarse-sized pieces, place in soup pot with olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the veggies for two to four minutes to soften them. Add stock and water to pot, cover and bring to a boil.  Once the base ingredients are boiling, add the lentils, barley, herbs and spices. Reduce to low heat and simmer covered for approximately two hours. Then uncover and add tomato paste, give it a good stir to evenly distribute the paste and continue to simmer the soup uncovered for one more hour.  Cooking the soup longer with the pot uncovered will cause some of the liquid to evaporate, which will make the soup thicker in texture.

When it's ready, enjoy a bowl and, after the left-overs in the pot have cooled, store your soup in plastic serving containers. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week, or in the freezer indefinitely.

Come back next week for my Italian Wedding Soup recipe!

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