Friday, May 15, 2015
SS & F's guide to making great veggie soup
At Smoke Salt and Fire we may be meat eaters but that doesn't mean we don't appreciate a healthy hearty veggie soup. A good vegetable soup can be one of the worlds great comfort foods and the best part is it's cheap to make because veggies cost way less then meat.
The real trick to making a delicious, filling, satisfying vegetable soup is to build up a strong umami flavour. If you aren't familiar with the term umami it refers to a savory taste often found in meat and fish but also present in some vegetables like tomato and eggplant.
You're going to need a large pot to get started, once you have that we can start building our flavours. We'll begin by adding some oil to the bottom of our pot, you can really use any cooking oil here, like olive oil, canola oil or butter, but my favorite oil for starting a soup is sesame oil. Sesame oil adds a strong umami base to the start of our soup that I feel adds depth to the final flavour of the dish. Once you've added oil and heated it to a medium heat you're going to want to add some onion and garlic flavours to the dish, throw in some finely chopped garlic and onions or scallions or shallots or leeks or any combo there of. Let the onions and garlic saute in the bottom of the pot until they start to become translucent.
While the onions and garlic are sauteing chop up your other vegetables, you should start with carrots and celery as those are going to be the next thing we throw in. Toss in your carrots and celery and let them saute with the onions and garlic for a bit, you'll know it's time to add more ingredients when the carrots and celery start to sweat. If you want to add potatoes to your soup you should throw those in next because they take a while to cook, cut potatoes up fairly small when cooking for soup, large chunks of potato can take too long to cook. If you're not using potatoes or you've already added them it's time to start adding your other ingredients, you can really add any veggies you like at this stage. I usually add sweet peppers next, my favorite are Sheppard Peppers, a sweet red pepper with a little more flavour then standard bell peppers.
Now you're starting to build a nice flavour profile it's time to pump up that umami flavour. There are lots of vegetables that can add a nice umami flavour to a veggie dish, I can hear the mushroom fans chanting shitaki now, you can also use some types of squash, but my personal favs are tomato and eggplant so we'll chop some of those up and throw them in the pot, I'm also adding some yellow zucchini, for not better reason then I like zucchini.
By this point you're probably starting to see some nice veggie juices in the bottom of the pot, stir your ingredients a bit to make sure they cook nice and even. Once your veggies start to soften you're going to need to add some liquid, you can use water, or vegetable stock but I like to use white wine or sometimes beer, depending on the flavour I'm going for. If you're going for more of an Asian flavour you may want to consider saki or soju.
If you're using wine to cook with it's okay to use cheap wine but make sure you choose one you'd want to drink, stay away from anything that says cooking wine on the label. There are 2 reasons for this, first whatever flavours are in the wine are going to be intensified when you cook with it, also when cooking with wine you're a fool not to have a glass, so try and pick something cheap you'll enjoy and that matches the flavour profile you're trying to create.
Once you've added your liquid, whether wine, soup stock, water or something else leave the heat at medium until it starts to bubble; then turn it down to low and allow to simmer for about 20 minute. While you're veggies are simmering you can start to think about spice and seasoning, I tend to leave salt for last because many seasonings contain some level of salt and you don't want to over do it. I usually like to start by throwing in some finely chopped fresh dill, parsley and cilantro, if I have it handy fresh chives can be nice also. If I'm going for an asian feel I might add soy sauce or another asian style sauce. I sometimes like to add Old Bay seasoning, this Southern favorite tastes great in soups, white or black pepper can also add some zing to a soup, as can smoke paprika. If you're looking for more heat then that get some hot peppers, I like those little red chillies from Thailand, but you can use any chillies you really like here depending on the heat level you're looking for.
Finally we need to think about salt, before you add any salt taste your stock so far, some vegetables contain a fair amount of salt also if you've use soy sauce, vegetable stock or Old Bay seasoning those will have added their own salt. Now add salt in small amounts, stir in thoroughly and taste again before adding more salt until you're satisfied with the flavour. Now let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes, at this point you have a terrific veggie stew, with a nice broth and you can happily serve it just like that, but what I like to do at this stage is grab my blender. Blending will bring all your flavours together and make every bite a filling delicious mix. I find it usually take 3 to 5 minutes of blending to get the consistency I like, but your results may vary depending on your blender and whether you want to blend it smooth or you want it a little chunky.
After that it's just a matter of of serving, once you get you soup in a bowl you may want to do a little something to finish the dish, if you're serving vegans I suggest some finely chopped parsley or cilantro, for others maybe some cheese or even a few bacon bits or if you're me all of the above.
This isn't the only way to make a great veggie soup of course and there are lot's of great variation, but this guide should get you started on the road to some great soups, I hope some of you will be inspired to come up with your own great soups.
Tell us in comments about you favorite soups and recipe creation.