Soup it up

I could dine on soup alone and often I do …
BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Lewis Carroll

We revere soup as a great comfort food, a winter warmer, a real crowd pleaser. Whether a quick lunch or supper, the first course of a meal or the main event, soup is worthy of celebration. Yet this sits uncomfortably against images in the press of 2021 soup kitchen queues and underlines the nonsense behind inequalities that threaten our sense of living in a democracy. To those people standing in line, soup represents a last resort, a lifeline, not luxury at all.

Back in time for soup
It has been said that “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day and awakens and refines the appetite.” Auguste Escoffier

It also gives the maker plenty of creative scope to blend flavours and textures in different ways, depending on what is to hand.

In wartime, when rationing affected the supply of ingredients, soup played its part on the kitchen front in keeping the nation nourished and was often fashioned out of very little.

Soup has always been a great option for making a few simple ingredients go a long way or for using up this and that. It is a beneficial option because you eat everything including the nutrients that have leeched into the cooking liquid. Waste not, want not. It is satisfying and can be kept low-calorie unless served loaded with carbs and laced with cream! That’s allowed too and sometimes might be what is called for!

Family favourites
Perhaps soup is so comforting and soothing because it serves up an accompanying dose of nostalgia. Soup evokes many childhood memories for me: tomato soup from a flask in the car; chicken soup when ill; my mum scooping up a cup of beef tea from the weekend roasting tin and blowing it cool for me; a cup of soup from a new-fangled vending machine at the swimming baths tasting like the water we’d just been swimming in; a mug of soup returning home from school to “put me on ’til teatime”; asparagus soup as a special Christmas Day starter; brown soup served in a holiday guest house with white sliced bread; vol-au-vents filled with Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup at a 1970’s buffet.

Growing up, soup was usually from a convenient can or fettled from a dried soup mix. Batchelors’ Minestrone sticks in my mind mostly for the bullet peas and the tiny pieces of diced carrot that never quite re-constituted themselves but remained stubbornly rubbery. That was in the days before soup came into its own as a ready-made product in the chilled cabinet. I did a tour of a fresh soup factory some years ago and the production process was very like the home produced version – on a larger scale but generally with few additives or unnecessary ingredients.

Putting your own stamp on it
I still enjoy a ready-made soup from time to time. It is close to what you might achieve from scratch, but it is hard to beat the real thing – you can put more of yourself into it, is a quick meal option and it feels good to have a pan of soup on the go – you feel like you are doing something whether it’s for the war effort or doing your bit to eat seasonally using local produce.

And who doesn’t enjoy the rituals around soup – in particular, enquiring what the soup of the day is in a cafe or canteen. The very question conjures up the brilliant Victoria Wood’s “Two Soups” sketch which never fails to raise a smile. Ready to order?

Red Lentil and Tomato Soup
Flavours and ingredients change but home-made soup is the come-back kid when it comes to food trends.

My seasonal favourite is a Red Lentil and Tomato soup. I go for even more shades of red with the addition of red kidney beans. Pearl barley (another soup memory from childhood broths) also features in this robust recipe and is excellent for thickening – that’ll stick to yer ribs.

Soup is one of those dishes that is rarely the same made twice as it depends on available ingredients, but the following is a basic recipe which can be adapted to suit.

Sauté a large onion and 1-2 cloves crushed garlic and sauce until translucent. Add 2 x 5ml spoons garam masala or a mix of ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric if you like a warming soup. Chilli flakes and fresh ginger are also a good addition if you want to turn up the heat.
Add 2 stalks celery and 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped to the pan and stir to coat in oil.
In goes 100g red lentils and 5g barley or quinoa to the pan – or use a dried soup mix of lentils, split peas and barley.
Pour in 1 litre vegetable stock and a can of tomatoes.
I like to add a can of red kidney or haricot beans, but any type of bean works well for an extra protein pulse.
Simmer for 45-60 minutes adding more stock to your taste if necessary and stirring occasionally. Season and serve.
Makes a healthy and hearty pulsing meal topped with croutons or served with bread.

Things to natter about
What are your soup memories?
When and where have you had soupy moments to savour?

Do you have favourite recipes that have stood the test of time?

“I live on good soup, not on fine words.” said Moliere.
What would you say about soup in your own words?

What are your top soup choices:

  • canned or fresh?
  • with sliced bread or a roll?
  • served in a mug or bowl?
  • thick or thin?
  • herby or spicy?
  • toast or croutons anyone?

If you’ve enjoyed this take a look at other things to natter about …