Soup is perfect on cold winter nights but we don't have much of a tradition in our region, a restorative shorba for invalids being an exception. Perhaps because of the climate, the West has a rich soup-making history - and lexicon. Western food historians say the word "soup" derives from the old French words sope and soupe.
The root "sop" underpinning the word soup is the Latin word for soaking. But a "sop" is not the soup; it was primarily a piece of bread or toast soaked in a nutritious liquid (what we think of as soup) or on to which a liquid had been poured. The bread or toast was crucial to this dish, a means by which one could consume the liquid efficiently by sopping it up - an effective alternative to a spoon. So soups consisted of nutritious liquid plus the means to eat it. The sop had a vital place in the evening meal, usually the lighter of the two meals of the day. In fact the term "supper" or "souper" for the last meal of the day evolved because it usually was a sop.
Most of us have a limited repertoire of soups - tomato, spinach, or, for the more adventurous among us, "sweet-corn chicken". Learning and mastering one or two basic recipes is enough to understand the concept of delicious, nutritious soups, after which it's easy to experiment with ingredients and flavours. This hot and sour prawn noodle soup and the mulligatawny, while quite straightforward and easy to make, are really complete meals in themselves.
It's a good idea to make stock once in a while and freeze it, and then thaw as much as required. Stock is the basis of all meat sauces, soups, and purees. It is really the juice of meat (or, now, vegetables), extracted by long and gentle simmering, with the aim of drawing the goodness out of the materials. Pressure cookers had probably not been invented when this recipe was devised. A "stock" - or "bouillon" "cube" is a convenient substitute - you just add a cup of boiling water to a crumbled cube and stir.
For Basic Meat Stock, boil 1 kg mutton (or chicken) bones for an hour (30 minutes for chicken) with water (4-5 cups) and flavourings - an onion, 4-5 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp roughly chopped ginger, salt, about 10 whole black peppers, 2-3 cloves, a one-inch stick of cinnamon. Strain and refrigerate overnight. Skim off the frozen fat in the morning before freezing the stock.
HERBED SPINACH SOUP
--2 tbsp + 2tsp extra-virgin olive oil
--1 cup chopped onion
--1 large potato, peeled, thinly sliced
--4 large garlic cloves, peeled
--2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
--2 spring onions, chopped
--500g spinach, blanched, drained and chopped, about 1 cup after cooking
--1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or sweet basil leaves, divided
--1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
--1 tsp Deghi red chilli powder (or paprika)
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onion; saute until tender but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add potato and garlic; saute 5 minutes. Add broth and green onions; bring to a boil. Close pressure cooker, cook until pressure builds to the maximum and turn off heat. When pressure falls, open and add spinach, mint/basil, and coriander. Simmer soup 1 minute. Puree soup in blender in batches; return to heat. Thin with broth or milk if necessary. Season soup with salt and pepper. Heat remaining 2 tsp oil in small skillet over low heat. Remove from heat, stir in red chilli powder. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with chilli oil.
r This soup can be made 1-2 days ahead and refrigerated. It should be reheated and, just before serving, chilli oil added on top. The smoky flavour works well with the green garden bouquet of the soup
ROASTED TOMATO SOUP WITH BLACK OLIVE CREAM
--8 firm, ripe tomatoes
--1 tbsp olive oil or butter
--1 small onion, chopped fine
--4 cloves of garlic
--3 cups meat or vegetable stock
--1 tbsp black olives
--2 tbsp cream
--1/2 tsp sugar
--1 tbsp snipped chives
Roast the tomatoes on a wire rack over a flame. When they blacken and the skin starts splitting, remove and cool. Peel off blackened skin and mash tomatoes roughly with a fork.
Heat oil and saute garlic and onion until transparent. Do not brown. Add tomatoes and stock and salt. Pressure cook for one whistle, or simmer in saucepan until tomatoes are tender.
Meanwhile prepare black olive-cream. Chop olives very fine and fold into well beaten, slightly stiff cream. Refrigerate.
Liquidise soup in blender. Add sugar and taste and adjust seasoning. Reheat and portion into individual soup bowls. Grind pepper over, sprinkle chives. Serve with black olive pesto cream and croutons on the side.
-- The same soup, but with a more conservative flavour, can be made with unroasted tomatoes
-- The soup, minus the cream, can be frozen for weeks
-- The stock can be vegetarian or otherwise. If unavailable, crumble and dissolve one stock cube per cup of water
-- To make croutons, trim edges off 2 slices of white bread and cut into desired size and shape. Fry in one tbsp vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan until crisp and golden
HOT AND SOUR PRAWN NOODLE SOUP
--500g large prawns (why not use an easier unit like cup or pound?)
--1 tbsp vegetable oil
--2 spring onions, chopped
--1 tsp chopped ginger
--1-2 fresh red or green chillies, chopped (optional)
--2 lemon grass stalks, chopped
--1 litre chicken stock
--2 tbsp lime juice
--75g fine rice noodles
--125g mushrooms, quartered
--Coriander sprigs to garnish
Peel, devein and rinse prawns. Reserve shells. Heat oil and saute spring onions, ginger and chillies. Do not brown. Add prawn shells and cook for 1-2 minutes, then the lemon grass and lime juice. Bring to the boil and lower heat, simmering for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the noodles and drain. (Rice noodles sometimes need to be soaked and not cooked: follow package directions.) When the stock is done, strain and add salt and lime juice to taste. Heat again until boiling, add the prawns and cook over medium heat until prawns turn opaque. Add the noodles and heat through. Divide mushrooms between soup bowl and pour hot soup over. Garnish with coriander sprigs.
-- Bruise the lemon grass stalks before chopping to release flavour
-- Regular wheat flour noodles can be substituted for fine rice noodles
Vasundhara Chauhan is a food writer based in
New Delhi. Email: email@example.com
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
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