Saturday, October 10, 2009

Making the Most of What You Have

My weekly organic vegetable box was delivered to my doorstep Friday morning, and as I put away the beautiful treasures contained therein, I suddenly realised I still had some of the vegetables from last week’s box. We’ve been eating out a lot this week and I just didn’t get them used up. Most of them were still okay, but they were beginning to look a little wilted and sad. As we are out again Friday evening, I was at a bit of a loss about what to do with them, but I did not want to waste them. Then I had it – soup!

Soup is delicious, filling, economical and comforting - a great dish for these trying economic times. All you really need are the vegetables lurking on the bottom of your fridge plus some stock and a bit of milk or cream.

You really can use just about any vegetables in this soup, depending on what you have. I do like to include an onion (even if the soup involves leeks) as I think a good onion flavour is an asset to just about any soup. Purists might deride me , but I use stock concentrate, stock cubes or ready-made containers of stock, whatever I have to hand. Like most other people, I just do not have time to make stock from scratch these days. If you are making a vegetable soup for vegetarians obviously you need to use vegetable stock, but if not, I recommend chicken stock as it gives any soup just that little bit more flavour.

Seasonings are entirely up to you. Ready made stocks can be high in salt, so do check before you add any more. Pepper is a nice addition to any soup; just add it to taste. I often use oregano and thyme as it makes the vegetable flavours more intense. You could also use spice blends – like an Italian seasoning blend or herbes de Provence. It does not matter whether the herbs are fresh or dried, however you may find you need less if you use fresh, as their flavour is more intense. A bay leaf could be added if wanted to imbue your soup with a deeper flavour -. just remember to take it out before you puree!

If I am using carrots I like to grate them in because it helps them to cook more quickly. Potato can also be grated, but I tend to add it in small slices as it is quicker for me. I do like to include a potato, just to give the soup some extra body, but it is not vital. Other vegetables should be as finely chopped as possible, or use a food processor if that is easier for you. I don’t mind a bit of light chopping if I have the time, but if you do not feel as I do or you are rushed, then a food processor is definitely the best option.

This is the soup as I made it on Friday. The vegetables are literally what I had to hand. Feel free to be creative – with homemade soup just about anything goes!

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Easy Vegetable Soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 leeks, washed and finely sliced
4 – 6 stalks of celery, washed and finely sliced
1 potato, peeled, halved and sliced in thin slices
4 -5 carrots, washed, peeled and grated
1 to 1-1/2 litres of stock
salt and pepper to taste
spices to taste (I like to use about a teaspoon each of oregano and thyme)
water, milk or cream (roughly 100 to 200 ml)

Heat the butter and olive oil together in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook for two or three minutes, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften. Add the remaining vegetables, and stir so they get coated with the buttery oil. Cook with a lid on over low heat for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the stock, cover the pot and cook for another half hour over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the seasonings and herbs, tasting as you go. (Be careful, the soup will be very hot.)

Remove from heat and take off the lid. Allow the soup to cool a bit so that it does not damage your liquidiser/blender. Puree the soup in batches to your desired thickness. I like to leave it a little bit chunky so it has some texture, but if you prefer your soup very smooth, puree it just that little bit more. It is entirely up to you.

If you are going to serve the soup immediately, put the batches of pureed soup directly into a clean saucepan. Add more water, milk or cream to get the soup to your desired thickness and re-heat over medium heat until it is piping hot.

If you are making the soup ahead, put the batches of pureed soup in a container. Cool completely, refrigerating as soon as possible. The soup will keep (without added milk or cream) in the fridge for up to three days. You can then reheat the soup all at once, or a bit at a time as you need it, adding water, milk or cream to get it to your desired thickness. Be sure to heat the soup until it is piping hot.

This soup is lovely served with Maple Syrup, Pecan and Apple Loaf (made without the cinnamon sugar topping), recipe on my food blog which you can see by clicking here. Served spread with butter alongside a steaming hot bowl of this comforting soup, it makes for a gorgeous Autumn lunch.