When you stop to think about it, soup is one of the most versatile foods throughout the world. If you don't learn to cook anything else, learning to make soup will let you feed yourself well, and with endless seasonal variety.
A formal definition of soup is "a liquid dish, typically made by boiling meat, fish, or vegetables, etc., in stock or water." While accurate, it leaves out the mouthwatering enormity of soup diversity.
Soup can be as simple as a delicate stock or bouillon. A stock is a flavorful and nourishing liquid that you can either drink by itself (especially good when you're feeling under the weather) or can use as a base for other soups instead of water.
At the other end of the soup continuum are hearty soups full of chunky ingredients using lots of herbs and spices for robust flavor. Spicy chili, minestrone, and meaty soups fall in this category.
Soup flavors encompass savory, such as the recipe below, and sweet, such as chilled fruit soups. Some have only a few ingredients, while others combine dozens.
Making soup is a great way to use leftovers, as well as parts of vegetables you might not normally serve. For example, save those broccoli stems, kale stems, celery leaves, cauliflower stems, etc. All of those contribute a lot of flavor and nutrition to homemade soups.
What follows is a description of the simple process I used for creating today's recipe. I hope it will give you a good template for creating your own soups using stock (or water) as the base.
First, I always gather the ingredients. I often start with something I have in abundance or need to use soon because it's been in storage for awhile. For the soup below, I had a lot of leeks, and some potatoes that looked like they wanted to start sprouting.
Potatoes and leeks are a classic soup combination, but I wanted to ramp up the flavors a bit. I searched my refrigerator and discovered an "indecision" basket from Cascadia Mushrooms (Bellingham) - a combination pack of several kinds of mushrooms for those of us who have trouble picking just one kind to purchase. This particular pack included lion's mane and oyster mushrooms. Pan roasted a bit, I knew those would add a nice earthy flavor to combine well with the potatoes and leeks.
I also found a large shallot. Shallots have a sharper onion flavor than the mild leeks, so again I thought it would add flavor depth without competing with the other ingredients.
Garlic is ubiquitous in my cooking, and I knew a couple of carrots would add nutrition and a slight sweetness.
It's winter and I favor rich, warm soups when the weather is cold, so I also set aside some cream to add at the end. From my herb rack I would use salt, of course, and I decided dill would be the perfect herbal complement all by itself.
Now it was time to start chopping. First I had to decide if I wanted a chunky soup or a smooth soup. I was planning a creamed soup, so I opted for a smooth texture. Instead of a chunkier chop, I cut to a small dice that would cook quickly and be easy to blend into a homogeneous thickness.
As I chopped the ingredients, I considered how each would need to be cooked, and organized them into groups. For a savory soup, I always start by sautéing anything in the onion family, as well as minced garlic. Those require some cooking to take the sharp edge off of their raw flavors. For this soup, that would include the shallot, the leeks and the garlic.
I also like to pan roast mushrooms before adding them in with liquids. Pan roasting releases a lot of flavor and fragrance.
Once those ingredients are softened, I add vegetables, which require longer to cook and are usually boiled rather than sautéed. For this recipe, the carrots and potatoes would be added at the same time as the liquid chicken stock.
Woodier herbs can be added with the liquid, but I keep more delicate ones out until the last 5 to 10 minutes. By that time the soup is thicker and will retain more of the herb taste until serving time. Because dill is a delicate flavor, I decided to add it near the end of the cooking time.
Cream is generally not cooked at all but is added after the soup has been removed from the heat. Stirring it into the hot soup is enough to warm it through.
WINTER LOCAVORE CREAM SOUP RECIPE
3 tablespoons butter (homemade with cream from Silver Springs Creamery, Lynden)
1 large shallot, chopped (Terra Verde Farm, Everson)
4 large leeks, sliced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1/2 pint "Indecision Basket" of mushrooms, chopped (Cascadia Mushrooms, Bellingham)
3 cloves garlic, minced (Alm Hill Gardens, Bellingham)
2 carrots, diced (Hopewell Farm, Everson)
1 pound red potatoes, diced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
5 cups chicken stock (homemade with chicken from Cedarville Farm, Everson)
1 teaspoon dried dill (Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 cup of cream (Silver Springs Creamery, Lynden)
In a large stockpot, melt butter over medium-high heat.
Add the chopped shallot, leeks and chopped mushrooms. Sauté until vegetables are soft and mushrooms are fragrant, about 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
Add diced carrots, diced potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook until vegetables have softened, about 20 minutes.
Add the dill and salt, adjusting to taste. Let simmer another 5-10 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, or regular blender in small batches, blend the finished soup to a uniform texture. If the soup is too thick, add more hot stock or water. If it's too watery, simmer longer until it thickens.
When done, remove from heat and stir in the desired amount of cream.
Makes 2-3 quarts.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.