Soup Is Number One!

Soup Is Number One!

My mother is one of the world’s greatest teachers.  She taught me to drive.  She taught my son how to read.  She patiently showed me the basics of old-school graphic design, using Letraset, mechanical pencils, rubber cement and other such tools to lay out “book covers” for 4th grade class projects (I got an “A”!). Although it may have been in violation of child labor laws, under her tutelage, I developed photographs, in a basement darkroom, all by my lonesome to earn some extra cash.  She taught me the order of classical Greek columns — Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, BTW.  She also taught me the basics of cooking, starting with home-made whipped cream, moving on to omelettes, and finally into pasta sauces and other more complicated endeavours. One of the most helpful of her culinary lessons was teaching me how to make soup.  It  has served me well, allowing me the ability to feed myself and my family healthy, delicious meals even in times of depleted funds.

Look back to Walker Evans iconic WPA photos of Depression Era rural poor.  What you see are rangy, weather-worn people — hardship etched into their visages.  What you don’t see is obesity.  During those lean Depression years, the rural poor survived eating what they grew and what they foraged.  It was not a picture of starvation, it was the picture of people who ate vegetables and stretched out their proteins. Basically people who ate soup.  Flash forward to the present and those same rural poor, in the same areas, dealing with the same economic hardship have some of the highest rates of obesity and attendant diseases (diabetes, heart disease, liver problems) in the nation. Where the rural poor once stewed a variety of greens, grains, potatoes and perhaps a bit of chicken or game meat they are now consuming vast amounts of cheap fast food and heavily processed meat, soda and snack foods.  The economic reasons for this are vast, ranging from corn subsidies to the increase in GMO crops to the multi-national, corporate take-over of the meat-packing industry; more importantly, these obesity issues are a stark reflection of the US’s utter (and economically short-sighted) failure to holistically integrate our welfare and food stamp programs with broader public health and home economic initiatives. It is hard to argue with a single mother of four to ignore the fact that the BK dollar menu will feed her children for almost the same (or less) amount of money as a home-cooked meal.  But, the reality is that while there is more food on the table (and certainly more beef), it is not doing wonders for the physical health of the nation.

My mother’s soup lessons were simple.  The base of all soups is a mirepoix (typically carrots, onion and celery diced small and sautéed in butter or oil) and broth.  If you are wise and thrifty, you constantly make broth, from bones, meat scraps and the ugly bits of vegetables (the ends of onions, carrot stems, celery leaves, etc.). You can always use canned broth, and in reality if you are down-in-the-dumps, you can use plain water and use lots of herbs and spices to create proper seasoning. From there, you can really add anything. Throw in a bunch of veggies — zucchini, cabbage, tomatoes, collards, potatoes, corn — and some herbs and spices, and you have a delicious meal. Use stale bread in soups! Go an extra step and add some dried beans (prepared properly in advance of course) and you have 2 or 3 days worth of food!   Start with some bacon and use a bit of dairy and bam — you got chowder! Get nutty with a blender or my favorite tool, the immersion blender, and you can take all the veggies you have including tough broccoli stems, the ends of asparagus, limp lettuce about to go bad, and after a couple of pulses (and the addition of some white pepper, cumin, sea salt, thyme, chili powder and garlic) you will have a delicious green soup that, served with some yogurt , will make you the envy of the neighborhood.

One of my family’s favorite things that I cook is a Chickpea and rosemary soup.  Everyone loves this soup.  I have brought it to potlucks.  I have brought it to my friends with newborns, so that in those early days of no sleep, they wouldn’t have to worry about preparing a meal.  People bug out on this soup and it makes me feel a bit like a fraud, because it is the simplest and cheapest thing to make:

Start with four cloves of garlic minced fine (see, no mirepoix even! So simple!).  Sautee in olive oil until just turning golden.  Add one of the big cans of whole, Italian tomatoes.  Break those tomatoes up with the heat on high until they start bubbling.  Add a couple of cups of broth, bring to a boil and reduce the heat until you get a lazy simmer.  Add 2 cup or so of chickpeas (if you are using canned chickpeas, make sure they are properly drained). Add ALOT of fresh rosemary. Measurements ain’t my forte, but think three or four sprigs — leaves only — and discard the stems. Let it simmer a bit and then hit it with the immersion blender.  Blend until relatively smooth, but still retaining some texture.  Don’t worry about the couple of renegade chick peas that avoided the blades — they are kind of like a bonus when you eat them.  Let it simmer for a bit and taste for seasoning — salt, white and black pepper.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and perhaps a sprinkle of parmesan.  It is a super healthy, delicious meal that can easily feed four to five people at a cost of about $5.

I don’t really know why I am sharing this.  This isn’t Freeman’s Thrifty Kitchen after all.  But, I love you (my readers!) and I love my mom and want everyone to be healthy and economically fit!  I only know small ways to make the world better, to make yourself feel better for that matter, and one of those ways is making a big, delicious, soul-satisfying pot of soup.  Go Soup!!

6 Replies to “Soup Is Number One!”

  1. Love your blogs Jeremy! great tribute to your super Mom!
    I will certainly try this soup and look forward to some Japanese soup recipes. xLynnie

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