Archive for the ‘Soups and Stews’ Category

Split Pea Soup: Just Under the Wire for National Soup Month

Monday, January 30th, 2023

January is National Soup Month. It was so designated in 1986 by the Campbell’s Soup Company as a promotional tool for its products.

I am not precisely thrilled about the origins of Soup Month, but I endorse the general idea. When temperatures turn cold outside, nothing beats soup to warm the cockles of the heart (and stomach).

Soup is one of humankind’s oldest foods.

The Food Timeline contends that the “act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digestible simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and traveling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids.”

Soup bowls are among the earliest receptacles found by archaeologists. The popularity of soups as restoratifs (foods that promoted health and digestive processes) made them street foods in France, eventually lending an adaptation of their name to the new word “restaurant” as their purveyors moved indoors.

The word “soup,” according to the lexicographer John Ayto, comes from Latin, German, and old English and was originally “sop,” a piece of bread soaked in liquid. Eventually, Ayto contends, people began eschewing the bread and serving the liquid on its own, and the word morphed into the one we use today.

Soup mixes of a sort were among Americans’ first convenience foods. People traveling in the American colonies carried what were called “pocket soups.” These cakes of dried animal juices were the precursor to today’s bouillon cubes.

The pocket soups were turned into a nourishing liquid with the addition of hot water. They were also known by the much less appetizing name “veal glue.”

When Meriweather Lewis and William Clark set off in 1804 to explore the Louisiana Purchase and find a way to the Pacific Ocean, they carried with them 193 pounds of commercial pocket soup to keep their troops going. The soup was valued at $289.50, according to biologist and historian Kenneth Walcheck.

I may not carry pocket soup on my travels, but I thrive on soup all through the year. It’s a versatile food and a handy conduit for leftovers.

When I make or buy the Indian dish known as dal—which always seems to come in large portions—I add vegetables, more spices, and vegetable or chicken stock to transform those lovely lentils into mulligatawny soup after a day or two.

Chicken bones are easily enriched with vegetables and boiled down into chicken stock. This can be eaten by itself as a warm, easy-to-digest liquid. Or it can form the base for any number of soups and stews.

In the summer I use produce of all sorts—corn, tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, and more—to make soups that are sometimes warm and sometimes cold. At this time of year, however, I embrace warm soup most of all.

Most recently, I countered extremely cold weather outside with split-pea soup. My family had enjoyed a ham dinner over the holidays, and we had to do something with the end of the ham, as well as the little pieces of meat adhering to it that were too small to eat on their own or in a sandwich.

The thick split-pea soup with which we ended up helped us fend off the freezing temperatures and lasted through a couple of meals. It was, in short, perfect for January.

I had to force myself to write down the ingredients as I added them in order to include the recipe in this paper: this is one of the soups I usually make without worrying about a recipe. There really isn’t any way to mess up pea soup, unless you forget to stir the soup from time to time and the split peas burn.

I decided to make our soup a little more complex than usual by adding celery and a bay leaf; I don’t usually use those when I make the soup. I may do so in future, however, as they gave it additional flavor and texture. Additional herbs and spices are an option, but I like my pea soup relatively plain.

I recently read that it’s possible to mimic the smoky flavor of the ham with smoked paprika. I may try that soon. I still have split peas, but I’m out of ham! And although soup month is about to leave us, the icky weather will be around for a while.

Your Basic Split-Pea Soup

Ingredients:

1 pound split peas
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
8 cups water
1 ham end, preferably with some nice bits of meat adhering to it
1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
salt to taste (start with 1 teaspoon or less; the ham bone will be salty)
pepper to taste
1 bay leaf

Instructions:

Rinse the split peas and drain them in a fine sieve.

In a soup pot, heat the butter and oil until the butter melts. Stir in the onion and the celery, and sauté them for a couple of minutes. Stir in the drained peas, followed by the water, the ham piece, and the remaining ingredients.

(If you want to minimize fat, don’t bother to sauté the onion and the celery; just add them when you add the other ingredients, and skip the butter and the oil.)

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the soup, partly covered, until the peas soften and enough liquid has boiled off to give you just the flavor you want. This will take at least an hour and possibly up to two. Stir the soup from time to time during the simmering process.

Remove the bay leaf and the ham bone; then cut any meat you can off the bone and add it to the soup. Discard the bone and the additional fat on it. Serve warm. Serves 6 to 8.

Comfort Food at Its Best

Friday, April 30th, 2021

This column appeared in our local paper, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with a wider audience!

Sometimes when recipe inspiration doesn’t strike me, I call on friends (or friends of friends) who are good home cooks. Recently, I contacted writer and scholar Martha Ackmann.

I knew Martha would come up with something tasty. I also knew she would be fun to talk to. It didn’t occur to me that she would offer me a recipe from Dolly Parton … but when she did I was thrilled.

Martha is working on a book about Parton. I asked her, “Why Dolly?”

She replied, “My niche is women who’ve changed America.”

Her previous books have chronicled the lives of the Mercury 13, a group of women in the 1960s who were secretly tested as potential U.S. astronauts; Toni Stone, a pioneering player in baseball’s Negro League; and Emily Dickinson.

Martha explained that she has been interested in Dolly Parton since the singer’s early days performing on The Porter Wagoner Show.

“I want to take her seriously,” Martha said of Parton. “I love her music. I think it’s joyous and heartwarming, and it makes me feel better. Even the things she calls her ‘sad-ass songs.’”

“I’ve been spending a lot of the lockdown just doing the basic research, and boy is there a lot of it!” Martha added.

As a former resident of East Tennessee (my friend Bill played in the Sevierville County High School Marching Band with Parton), I, too, am a long-time Dolly fan. I believe Martha is the perfect person to write about this complex public personality.’

“I have always been impressed by her seriousness,” Martha told me.

She noted that Parton’s history has been entwined with food from the start of the star’s life. Martha cited Parton’s origin story, which recounts that father Robert Lee Parton didn’t have the funds to pay the doctor who brought the child into the world and ended up paying for the birth with a sack of cornmeal.

Food production was important throughout Parton’s time growing up poor with a passel of brothers and sisters, Martha informed me.

“Dolly’s family grew their own food not to sell but to sustain their large family,” she explained. “They had a big kettle for cooking hominy and stews, a ‘tater hole’ for storing potatoes and turnips. The walls of their kitchen were covered with nails for drying fruits, peppers, garlic, dill, onions, and beans.

“They grew asparagus behind the woodshed. Had both red and black raspberries. A smoke house for salted pork, ham, bacon. There were cardboard boxes in the cupboard for dried shellie beans, corn, black-eyed peas; and sacks of walnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts, beechnuts.

“A large garden, of course (tomatoes, okra, lettuce). Chickens, hogs, cows. They also ate a lot of game,” Martha concluded.

She argued that in some ways food has also helped shape Parton’s music. “As a child, Dolly always listened to the rhythm around her: birds chirping, the creak of a rocking chair. She also remembers hearing her mother snapping beans. The rhythm of those snaps sounded like music to her. Food equals music.”

Martha describes herself as “a good, solid, not flashy, evolving Midwestern cook.”

Like Parton, Martha’s Missouri family had rural roots. She recalls her country-born grandparents butchering their own meat in their tiny backyard in St. Louis. Martha is the designated cook in her own household. She was eager to try one of Parton’s signature recipes when I asked her for a dish.

Together, Martha and I selected Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings, a perfect recipe for our recent cool weather. Like any good home cook, Martha adapted the recipe a bit … and she admitted that she might adapt it even more next time she makes it.

She is considering more vegetables (leeks, beans) and perhaps some herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf) to the stock. She told me that the dish was satisfying as it was, however, and that it epitomized comfort.

“The dumplings were easy to make,” she elaborated, “and preparing them gave me an occasion to use my great aunt’s rolling pin! (Beulah Clementine Snook Erdel. Isn’t that a noble name?)

“All the time I was making the dumplings, I thought about Dolly’s mother feeding 11 hungry kids and the Missouri farm women in my own family rolling out countless pie crusts, biscuits, and dumplings. This is a good recipe for remembering hard-working women.” Here is Martha’s recipe. Listen to a little Dolly Parton music as you make and eat it.

Martha with the Rolling Pin (courtesy of Ann Romberger)

Dolly’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplin’s

(Adapted by Martha Ackmann)

Ingredients:

for the stock and the chicken:

1 3-pound chicken, cut up, or 3 pounds of chicken parts
2 teaspoons salt
pepper to taste
1 onion, peeled but left whole
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
chopped carrots and celery to taste

for the dumplings:

2 cups flour, plus additional flour for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup milk

for assembly:
a little parsley for garnish

Instructions:

In a Dutch oven, combine the chicken and the salt with 2 quarts of water. Cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium. Toss in the pepper, onion, and celery leaves. Simmer the chicken, covered, until the meat comes off the bones. (This took Martha about 45 minutes.)

Strain the mixture, discarding the vegetables but saving the broth and chicken.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones. Cut it into bite-size pieces. Set it aside. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the stock to a boil. Toss the carrots and celery into the liquid.

While the stock is boiling, begin to work on the dumplings. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Cut in the shortening with knives or a pastry blender. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until the dough is moist. Turn it onto a floured board, and knead it for 5 minutes.

Roll the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Cut it into 1-1/2-inch squares. Drop the squares into the boiling stock. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring gently from time to time.

Return the chicken to the pot. Stir it and heat it until it is thoroughly warm, about 8 minutes.

To serve, place 3 or so dumplings in a shallow soup dish, place chicken to taste on top, and ladle on some stock with carrots and celery. Serve warm, garnished with parsley. Serves 4 to 5.

Courtesy of Christina Barber-Just

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover is coming. I’ll be making my grandmother’s matzo-ball soup this week on Mass Appeal and talking about her on our local public-radio station, New England Public Radio. Here’s the simple recipe, associated with Jewish grandmothers the world over. Happy Spring!

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, soda water, oil, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the matzo meal. Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Simmer the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and place the balls in it. Simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Easy Comfort Food

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

As we start planning and cooking for Thanksgiving, I’m serving my family simple dishes that don’t take a lot of work. I figure we’ll have plenty of work in the kitchen this coming Thursday.

This dish, featured in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook, is one of my mother’s standbys when she wanted an easy, warming meal. Make it with the best ingredients you can, and enjoy the way the dill and the sour cream go together with the meat and vegetables.

I made it recently on Mass Appeal, and it was a big hit.

Happy Thanksgiving! I wish you joy … and delicious dishes along with your turkey like cranberry chutney, biscuits, Brussels sprouts salad, and harvest salad.

Hamburger Stroganoff

Ingredients:

1 cup minced onion
1 clove minced garlic
a dab of sweet butter
1 pound ground beef
1/4 pound mushrooms, sautéed in sweet butter (or a lot more!)
1 can (6 ounces) ripe olives
a generous splash of chicken broth or stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup sour cream, plus a little more if needed
a sprinkle of fresh or dried dill

Instructions:

Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter. Stir in the beef and brown it. Drain off the fat if it looks excessive. Add the mushrooms, olives, and stock (the latter should pretty much cover the mixture), plus the salt and pepper.

Partially cover and cook for 20 minutes to half an hour, until the liquid has almost evaporated. Stir in the sour cream and heat but do not boil. Sprinkle dill over the Stroganoff and serve over rice or noodles. Serves 4.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

 

Here in Western Massachusetts we are still enjoying my favorite vegetable in the entire world, ASPARAGUS.

Mostly I just steam, roast, or boil it to eat plain or put in salads. But on my last television appearance I decided to make soup. It was lovely and green and oh, so asparagus-y.

If you want a lighter soup, omit the potato. It does make the soup heartier, however. My neighbors came over to finish up the leftovers and left very happy indeed.

On TV (and for the neighbors) I followed up with Fannie Farmer’s peanut butter cookies. The perfect meal.

The Soup

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped relatively but not obsessively small
3 cups asparagus pieces (about 1 pound; be sure to break off the tough ends before cutting—and if you want stronger asparagus flavor feel free to add more of it!)
1 medium baking potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
chopped fresh chives or dill

Instructions:

Combine the butter and oil over low heat in a 4-quart saucepan. When the butter melts, add the onion pieces and cook them until they become golden, stirring constantly. (This should take a little under 10 minutes.)

Add the asparagus and potato pieces. Toss lightly; then stir in the stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, partly covered, until the vegetables become tender, about 15 minutes.

Cool the soup for a couple of minutes; then puree it in a blender. (Or use an immersion blender.) At this stage you may refrigerate the soup if you don’t want to use it right away. Just be sure to reheat it before going to the next step.

Add salt and pepper as desired to the warm soup, and add the cream. Heat the soup a little longer to make sure the cream is warm as well. Garnish with the herbs. Serves 4.

I’m not giving you the cookie recipe, because if you don’t have a copy of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, you should buy one IMMEDIATELY and seek it out there.

Happy almost summer!

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Cream of Asparagus Soup

Tinky Makes Peanut-Butter Cookies