Nourishing Soup: History, Recipes, and More
Beautiful Soup so rich So green,
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for such dainties would not stoop.
Soup of the evening
Soup of the evening,
Beautiful Soup— The Mock Turtle, "Alice in Wonderland"
In the Beginning...
When was soup invented?
There is no way to come up with a definitive answer, but the advent of combining ingredients in a pot to create a nutritious, filling, easy-to-digest meal (“soup”) probably occurred some moments after the discovery of fire, or perhaps more precisely, when prehistoric man took that first step in learning how to cook—learning how to boil water.
In her book, Food in History, Raey Tannahill states that we knew about boiling water long before the invention of pottery (about 6,000 B.C.). She believes that prehistoric men used reptile shells or the stomachs of animals they had killed as vessels in which to boil liquid.
And, after learning to boil water, humans made another discovery. Boiling foods not only makes them taste better, it creates new flavors. Cereal grains and some root vegetables, when heated in water, break down, soften, and release starchy granules. These starches then thicken the cooking liquid, the flavors of the individual ingredients combine, and soup is created.
From "Sop" to "Soup"
"Sop" was the name given to the thick gruel which was made in that first cooking of grain or vegetables with meat and water. The “wealthy” made sop with broth poured on sliced bread.
In Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan the word is “sopa.” In France, it's "soupe"; for the Basque, it's "zopa." in Afrikaans you will ask for "sop"; in Estonia, it's "supp." Germans and Danes have "suppe," and in Latvia and Poland they eat a bowl of "zupa." And in English, of course, we have “soup.”
Many nations have soups they have claimed as their own—Spanish gazpacho, Scottish (mutton) broth with barley, and Russian cabbage soup. Each different soup was borne, not out of ethnic pride or a desire for individuality, but from a need for frugality and using local ingredients that could be easily obtained.
We no longer have those restrictions. Today, most ingredients for any type of soup are readily available. And that brings us to the real reason for this article.
Store-Bought vs. Homemade
Grocery store merchants recognize that our hurried lives crave the comfort and ease of preparing a pot of soup for dinner. The ubiquitous red-and-white-labeled cans of soup stand in line on store shelves (not unlike children posing for that first-day-of-school classroom portrait).
Canned soup is certainly a quick and easy fix and a better choice than fast food, but it too has its drawbacks. Canned soup is typically high in sodium and expensive if you are using it to feed the typical family of four.
Have you ever considered making your own soup? Perhaps you think that making soup is too difficult (those long lists of ingredients look frightening), or that cooking soup from scratch will require too much time.
This first recipe takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.
Great Northern Bean Soup
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 cup baby carrots, halved*
- 1 cup chopped onion*
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 7 ounces turkey kielbasa, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 2 15.8-ounce cans Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 6-ounce bag fresh baby spinach leaves
Note about carrots and onions: Peeled carrots and pre-chopped onions can be found in your produce section and will speed preparation of this meal, but will cost a bit more than preparing vegetables on your own. The choice of speed vs. economy is up to you.
- Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl to coat bottom of pan. Add carrots, onions, garlic, and kielbasa and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, cook 5 minutes.
- Add broth, oregano, pepper, and beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
- Place 2 cups of the soup in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return the pureed mixture to the pan. Simmer an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in the spinach; stir until spinach wilts.
- 1 medium (about 1 cup) onion, minced
- 2 stalks celery, finely diced
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 6 slices turkey bacon, finely diced
- 1 pound bay scallops
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and finely diced
- 1 1/2 cups half and half
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon dry cooking sherry
- chives to garnish, chopped
- Place onions, celery, and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook about 2 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften.
- Add turkey bacon and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until bacon begins to brown and becomes crisp. Remove bacon and vegetables from pot and set aside.
- Place one-half of the scallops in the stockpot and cook without stirring for one minute. Stir gently to loosen scallops from the bottom of the pan and cook 30 seconds more. Remove from pan. Repeat this process with the remainder of the scallops. Remove scallops from the pot and set aside.
- Add butter to the pan. As soon as it has melted, stir in the flour; whisk constantly. (Constant whisking ensures that there will be no lumps.)
- Add white wine and potatoes to the pot and simmer until the wine is almost evaporated. Stir in broth and continue to simmer until the potatoes are very tender.
- Stir in half and half. Return the vegetable/bacon mixture and the scallops to the pan; simmer until heated through. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Just before serving stir in cooking sherry. Sprinkle chopped chives on each serving.
Black Bean and Rice Soup
- 1 (15-oz) can petite diced tomatoes (do not drain)
- 2 cans black beans (do not drain)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 tsp. chili powder (or more if you want more heat)
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 cups medium-grain white rice, cooked
- 1 tsp. lime juice
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, optional
- Place the canned tomatoes, ONE can of the beans, the onion, and the spices (chili powder, oregano, cumin) in a large saucepan with a lid. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer about 1 hour or until the tomatoes and beans are very soft.
- Stir in the 2nd can of beans and the cooked rice. Simmer about 15 minutes more. Just before serving, stir in the lime juice and cilantro.
Creamy Spinach Soup
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. black pepper
- 2 cups Yukon gold potatoes, diced
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 6 cups fresh spinach
- grated nutmeg, optional
- 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese, optional
- sour cream garnish, optional
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
- Stir in potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Pour in broth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the potatoes are very soft, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in spinach and continue to simmer until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes more.
- Puree the soup with an immersion blender or regular blender (in batches), leaving it a little chunky if desired. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
- Serve the soup garnished with nutmeg and cheese or a swirl of sour cream if desired.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 leeks, halved, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
- 2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced (reserve a few slices for garnish if desired)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup long-grain white rice
- 3 1/4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 1/4 cups canned beef broth
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- minced tarragon for garnish (optional)
- Melt butter in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are soft and dry, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute.
- Stir in rice. Add chicken and beef broths to the pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is very tender, about 30 minutes.
- Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth.
- Return soup to pot. Stir in cream.
Yield: 8 servings
Cream of Garlic and Potato Soup
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 2 heads (no, that isn't a typo) of garlic (see notes below on how to prepare the heads of garlic for the soup)
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 4 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 cups (about 1 pound) red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- salt and pepper
- cooked crumbled bacon, for garnish (optional)
- Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened—about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Prepare garlic heads—wash, remove outer papery skins, and slice off (and discard) upper one-third of heads.
- Place prepared garlic heads in the Dutch oven with sautéed onions. Add broth. Partially cover the pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer until garlic heads are very tender, about 40 minutes. Add potatoes and continue to simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove garlic heads; using tongs or paper towels, squeeze garlic heads at root end until cloves slip out of their skins. Using a fork, mash garlic to smooth paste in the bowl.
- Stir cream, thyme, and half of the mashed garlic into soup; heat soup until hot, about 2 minutes. Taste and add remaining garlic paste if desired.
- Using an immersion blender, process soup until creamy.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish.
(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
Mama's Split Pea Soup
- 3 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups dry split peas
- 2 (14-ounce) cans white or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2/3 cup dry lentils
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
- 1 small stalk celery, no tops
- 3 vegetable bouillon cubes
- 1 medium potato, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
- 3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Place the water and split peas in the pot along with the next 6 ingredients.
- Stir gently, and allow to simmer for one hour. Stir in diced potato, tomatoes, and sage; cover and simmer 10 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste.
© 2015 Linda Lum