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soupnancy on soup

Welcome the snow and bring on the soup. 

Now that we’ve gotten our first snow and the weather is officially colder, true to my monicker, I am finding myself inspired by soup. Because I have made so much damn soup in my life, I have had somewhat of a love-hate affair with soup over the years; I’m in, I’m out.

I have to admit, soup has made me many friends over the years, fixed many colds and squabbles. And I do have many great memories when it comes to soup. When you grow up in this climate, how can you not? Turkey soup was definitely a tasty highlight in my otherwise quite flavorless childhood (Sorry, Mom). I even fondly remember that brilliant hockey arena chicken drink with the parsley flecks. I remember spending my entire allowance on a soupe à l’oignon gratinée as a kid, my first real full service restaurant experience. In high school, Rachel’s mom used to make a dal soup that roused my taste buds. Tonkinese soup proved a revelation to me when I first moved to Montreal. So did Hot and Sour. I became interested in cooking as a waitress and malnourished student, while chowing down on Gaby’s great home-style soups at Grumpy’s: Cock-a-leekie, old fashioned pea, cream of mushroom. I learnt how interesting soup could be when I tasted gumbo at the Cajun house. As a young cook, I would use soup to show my colors, knowing that the chef might even let a beginner go with the soup; I proved I could be inventive and resourceful with soup. I learnt how important stock was. When pressed for a last minute soup du jour, there was always stratiatella: broth, eggs and parsley and lemon.

In my early soupnancy years, when I was making gallons of soup on a daily basis, there were moments when I was on the verge of souping out, but there was always some new soup to bring me back. I had my first luxury soup (as in 20US$) in NYC at Picholine featuring trumpet mushrooms, chestnut, squash, pork belly and truffle. Jon introduced me to chicken matzo ball soup. I also remember a delicious lentil soup with foie gras at Les Caprices. Many more years of making buckets of soup, on a time frame with limited resources, while secretly wishing I could be doing more noble things like rabbit three ways, eventually took their toll. After that, I went on to avoid soup for a couple of years, especially the purée/cream variety. I never bored of broths though. After some soup-free time playing with exotic things like game, foie gras and sea urchins, I cozied up to soup again. I think it was Jerusalem Artichoke soup at l’Eau à la Bouche that brought me back permanently.

Now, I relish eating and making all soup. I always enjoy a good wonton soup, especially as a midnight snack. My fetish soup of the moment is this Cambodian lemon chicken thing at the Thai place around the corner. I even made my own this week at home. Of course, I put a different soup on every menu at the table champêtre, so soup is a part of my daily routine. Even so, I still tend to forget about soups easily, and I take them for granted all the time.

This week, however, as I was making my leek soup, I found myself fixating on it. Often as a cook, you brush over the soup; it is the no-brainer thing you put on the stove while you carry out all your other more important mise en place. Today, it was different, I could not stop stirring and tasting my soup. I found it delicious and so important all of a sudden. Not only was I happy to make a dent in my endless supply of leeks, but I was reminded of how good leeks are, how good soup is. I decided it would be my star that night, I would dress it up so that everyone left that night remembering the soup, which seems to always be the underdog on a tasting type menu. Maybe some brioche croutons with boletus oil, or a sea spinach dumpling, maybe some bacon and wild herbs, maybe some Fétard (beer washed Quebec cheese)... Not that it needed anything really, but people don’t come here to eat soup like I would make it at home. They want fancypants, otherwise they feel cheated, like you’re serving them leftovers rather than serving them a real entrée. Nonetheless, if you bling it up some, I have found that you can really surprise people with the soup... This one would kick ass.

It did. But it wasn’t the accolades, it was the process: the chopping, the stirring, sniffing the aromas, the finishing... that made me find solace in that pot of soup. I had entered the kitchen in a blue, blah mood, and shortly after, all my troubles were washed away, and I was excited about soup and cooking and living all over again. That is the power of soup, so comforting, so simple, yet so satisfying.

No matter how long I cook, regardless of how many times I repeat the same kind of motions, everyday, I manage to find something different to marvel about. It might be some new ingredient to discover or some seasonal ingredient I am happy to be reaquainted with; it might be some forgotten about method or old recipe that I decide to dust off and try, or again a new technique I want to play with. Other times, it will be a random brainwave that makes you suddenly “get” something, a taste or a method or a dictum or something you once read. And occasionally, it is just a flash of clarity in the mundane, something you see everyday that suddenly startles you with its beauty and order. This time it was soup and leeks. I had rekindled my flame with soup and felt alligned. I made squash soup the next day and it felt just as good. Next week, who knows...maybe an old favorite, mushroom barley or something more sophisticated, maybe oysters with parsley root or sea parsley and boletus...hmm.

Because I am soupnancy, I can’t tell you how many people ask me about soup. Everyone loves soup and no one seems to take the time to make it. Most people don’t realize how easy it is. Once you’ve made a couple, you no longer think it’s a big deal, and you won’t need a recipe.

So here are my tips.

The problem is that in most cases, soup requires good stock, which is a pain to make. Well, not a pain, but you do need bones, a large stockpot, some time and not mind that the aromas will take over your house for days. Luckily, you can purchase good stock now, and even some packaged ones on the market today are less offensive, although they do need some help. If you have enough meat or vegetables, it will turn out fine, even if your stock is water. You can either use a good stock for your soup, or you can use a weak stock and pack it with stuff, your choice.

Basically, there are two types of soup: a broth with floaters or a purée/cream. Old style cream soups sometimes use flour (like a Béchamel puréed with vegetables) or plenty of cream. Nowadays, we generally make them with less cream and more stock or milk, with more vegetables, and either potato, rice, beans or roots to thicken.

Obviously, when it comes to a broth based soup, a good stock is essential, and then you add whatever you want, like with chicken noodle, beef barley and most asian soups. When it comes to a purée or cream, the process is always the same: you purée cooked vegetables with liquid and seasonings.

With this purée style soup, you always start with onions or a mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery). (Don’t forget, everything good starts with onions!) Then you can add leek and garlic if you want. At this point, you can add ginger, any spices you want. Then comes the main ingredient and the liquid. If it is leek, or potato, squash, tomato, brocoli or beans.., you add that, as well as your liquid. With a delicate vegetable like cauliflower or jerusalem artichoke, I might use half water and half stock. With squash, I choose a poultry stock. With mushrooms, it could be chicken, duck, beef, dashi, or just water and dried mushrooms. With caramelised onions, you want veal or beef, and with corn or artichokes, I might go for clam juice or mushroom or chicken broth. Often, for a mixed vegetable soup, a vegetable stock or water is fine, as long as you have tomatoes or tofu or miso or seaweed or beans or something. Vegetarian or not, you always need some umami for body, and to feel satisfied.

Back to the method. So, your vegetables are simmering in your broth. If you want to add some substance depending on how watery your vegetables are, then you can add some potatoes or cooked rice or bread. After a half hour or so, or when all is cooked and mushy, you blend it up, and adjust it to the consistency you desire with more stock or water or milk or cream. Basically, you want to make the soup on the thick side since it is easy to thin it down at the end. You can strain it if you want to be fancy. With most soups, it is not really necessary, unless you’re dealing with some fibrous vegetable like celery or asparagus. At the end of the soup making process, if I’m in an extravagant mood, I like to finish with a touch of cream and/or a pat of butter for mouthfeel.

The last step is tasting and rectifying. That is, adjusting the seasoning. For me, that means finding balance. Not just salt and pepper. A touch of something acidic like lemon or sherry vinegar, or rice wine vinegar or balsamic depending on the preparation. And a touch of something sweet if the vegetable isn’t already sweet, maybe some maple syrup or honey. Then maybe a touch of some spice in the form of Sriracha, sambal, chili or a couple of drops of Tabasco à la Anne.

With your simple soup, you can do so much. You can just sip it as a tonic, freeze some, or use it in a myriad of ways! With a variety of garnishes, you can make it a meal, or dress it up for company...

soupnancy says.. “Get out your soup pot and get cooking!” Go with your inspiration, with what’s in your fridge, or pick up a cookbook... I've listed a couple of my basic recipes below (take a look at the possible garnishes to spur you on) and there are a few more in the Recipes archives  http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/recipe-archives/.  And feel free to ask me for a specific soup recipe.


Leek soup

4 L

½ onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, minced

3 leeks, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1c white wine

1 tsp thyme

3 L chicken or vegetable stock

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 c cream

2 Tbsp fresh dill

s.q. salt, pepper

s.q. lemon

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

Sweat onion and celery in oil over low heat until translucent. Add leek and garlic and sweat slowly for 10 minutes. Deglaze with white wine, reduce down. Add potatoes, thyme and stock. Cook 20-30 minutes until potatoes are soft. Add dill and cream, cook 10 more minutes, blend and season, finish with butter. Thin to desired consistency with milk. Serve and top with garnish of choice.

Garnish with:

Fresh herbs like chives or parsley or dill.

Cooked seafood, steamed clams or mussels (add juice), or smoked salmon.

Stewed leeks.

Truffle oil.


Squash soup

4 L

2 L squash chunks (Hubbard, butternut, sweet mama or potiron)

1 onion, minced

2 carrots, minced

1 stalk celery, minced

2 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp minced ginger

pinch curry powder

pinch chili

1 c cider or white wine

2 L chicken stock

2 c milk

2 Tbsp maple syrup

1 Tbsp lemon juice

s.q. salt

1 Tbsp butter

s.q. olive oil

Toss squash pieces with a bit of oil and roast on a baking sheet at 400F for 30-45 min. Meanwhile, sweat mirepoix in a bit of oil until soft. Add garlic, ginger and spices, stir-fry, deglaze with wine, reduce. Add stock and simmer.

When squash is caramelised and somewhat tender, remove and add to soup.

When everything is cooked through, blend, season, thin with milk to desired consistency and finish with butter. Top with desired garnish.


Crisp squash and fresh herbs.

Cooked bacon, ham or smoked duck.

Soft goat cheese or parm.

Mushrooms or mushroom oil.

Toasted coconut and sesame oil, coriander or basil.

Garlic Soup

I like to make this soup with day old bread à l’Espagnole, but I have found that it is more widely appreciated thickened with potato.

4 L

1 leek or onion, chopped

30 garlic cloves (5 bulbs)

1 tsp dry chilli powder (ancho or pasilla or any)

2 c white wine or sherry

3 L meat stock (chicken, beef, duck...)

1 tsp thyme

½ tsp rosemary or sage

2 c dried bread cubes or cubed potato

1 c cream

s.q. tabasco, worcestershire

s.q. lemon

s.q. salt, pepper

s.q. water

pinch nutmeg

s.q. olive oil

s.q. butter

Sweat the onion or leek in a bit of olive oil over low heat with smashed garlic cloves slowly for 20 min. Deglaze with wine or sherry, reduce down. Add herbs, stock, and potato if you’re using potato. Simmer for 30-45 min. Add dried bread and cream, simmer 5 minutes, blend. Finish with a pat of butter or extra virgin olive oil, thin with water or milk to desired consistency and rectify seasoning.


Chorizo. Or any sausage.

A strong tasting cheese like an old cheddar, a blue, or a goat cheese.

A chopped bitter green (watercress, arugula, endive..)

Caramelized onions.


Posted on Tuesday, December 5, 2006 at 08:04PM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton in | Comments1 Comment | References1 Reference

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Reader Comments (1)

This is a great recipe! I gave it a shot and did pretty well with it, I think I need to add a touch more nutmeg next time. Thanks for the tips!
March 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChiropractor San Diego

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