I really loved all the chat about dinner time in your homes. Foodie information is one of my very favorite items to catch and give.
My cousins and I each have a share of my grandma’s recipe cards, her handwriting unmistakeable in it’s light touch and airy spacing. I think she hummed while she wrote. I call my mom to hear her speak Aunt Sally’s Bread recipe each time I make it, even though I have it written down. A few of my most cherished objects include Andy’s grandma’s rolling pin and my grandmother’s silver. I store all our food in old jars, imagining the history with each vessel.
Should we add some baking soda mama?
I think chopped carrots would be good in there! And some sage?
It is time to knead? I’ll get the flour ready.
This is how intuition is developed. It is not biological; it is inherited. Cooking confidence is gently handed from one person to another, a kitchen heirloom.
Developing intuition and an explorative approach in my kitchen comes from practice and curiosity. Every year I gain new tools, tips and tricks simply by reading, watching and asking questions. My kids too.
This begins a new series where I give you my secrets — where I share what has been shared with me. I hope to also share your secrets: to bring in guests who will tell how they learned to perfectly cut a grapefruit, cook beans over a campfire, clean cast iron or gracefully feed an army of after-school children.
For the inaugural installment, I’ll talk about soup. We make a lot of soup in our home, at least twice a week. It’s my favorite way to clean out the fridge and present a healthy, flavorful meal in 30 minutes or so.
I developed my soup expertise when I worked in a health food store in Red Lodge, Montana during the summer of 1997. The owner trusted me more than I deserved or felt comfortable with and within a few weeks of my hiring I was opening the store, balancing the till, placing bulk orders, planning the daily lunch menu and cooking all the food for the café.
No smart phones, no internet. Just me in a store full of wholesome food with people coming in for lunch in an hour.
We made a daily soup, informed by whatever produce was limp. Every day we made magic beginning with an onion and olive oil. From there, Shelley taught me to add what was there, tasting frequently and adjusting. Tasting and adjusting until it was great. Never from a recipe, always from inspiration and aroma. I may have only made minimum wage and may have felt taken advantage of more than once but the lessons I learned in soup-making have changed my culinary life. I can make an awesome soup in your kitchen right this minute.
Components of Soup:
- fat (olive oil or butter)
- liquid (stock or water or milk)
- guts (vegetables, grains, beans and/or meat)
- flavor (herbs, spices etc)
my awesome stash of wooden utensils, made by my friend at earlywood
Shelley always started with a healthy pour of olive oil or generous scoop of butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Then, she’d add a chopped onion. Always this for the start and usually without knowing what came next. To this day, this is how I begin dinner most nights.
From here I add vegetables in whatever combination I’ve got. I then immediately add water or stock. I cook until the vegetables are tender and decide if I will purée or leave chunky. I taste and add herbs and garlic and taste more. This is when I would add milk or cheese or beans or grains. We rarely eat meat but it would get added at the end, cooked or the beginning, raw. I always cook beans and grains in a separate pot to avoid overcooking in the soup. I add them last.
So. Soup, basically.
- Look in your fridge and pull out a vegetable or two or three. They will go beautifully together. Chop them and set aside.
- Decide if you want a bean* or grain and begin cooking in a separate pot.
- Over medium-high heat, add a few tablespoons of oil or butter and one whole chopped onion into a big pot.
- Once onion is soft and fragrant, add chopped vegetables. Add water or stock – enough to cover vegetables. Don’t worry about amount; you can add more later. Add tomato paste or sauce now if you want a tomato-based soup. Reduce heat.
- Cook until everything is barely soft. Add minced garlic.
- Add beans and/or grain. Purée if you’d like a totally smooth soup. Or purée vegetables and liquid before you add bean/grain for a different texture.
- Add spices and herbs. Try basil, dry mustard, sage, parsley, cumin, curry, oregano or celery salt. Begin with one or two. Allow yourself to develop a taste for combinations. Cook for a few more minutes to let flavors saturate food.
- Serve and marvel at the meal you invented that is completely wonderful.
* The flavor difference in fresh beans (versus canned) is extraordinary and totally worth the time. And they are more affordable to boot. We cook with this pressure cooker.
:: squash and spinach with rice (sage, salt, little bit of cream)
:: black olive, tomato, kale and white bean (basil, oregano, salt and cumin)
:: broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cheddar (celery salt, curry, cumin)
:: mushroom, carrot and celery with hearty grain like kamut, farro or barley (basil, salt, mustard)
:: tomato, corn, cabbage, pinto bean, rice, cilantro, toasted pine nut (cumin, salt, basil, chili powder)
:: tofu, mushroom, green onion (garlic salt, sage, parsley)
And on! Being brave in the kitchen is as simple as getting out of your own way. There will be a few fails that lead to great triumphs. Soup is the perfect place to begin with lassoing “instincts” and enjoying creativity.