Soup is the epitome of a home-cooked meal. My fondest vivid food memories are of arriving home from school and being besieged by the aromas emanating from the kitchen. Powerless against the magnetizing pull, I would drop my book bag and head straight there. In the kitchen, there was Grandma standing over a large cauldron on the fire, her magically talented hands conjuring up another masterpiece for us to savor.
Soup, according to the dictionary, is a liquid food derived from meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, and fruit. However, that does not come close to encapsulating what a soup is or means to humans. The popularity of soups today may be due to the increased emphasis on healthy living. On the other hand, it could be due to myriad other reasons. There are countless types of soups, such as clear, thick, vegetarian, ethnic, broths, chowders, etc. Whatever the case, soups are going nowhere and acquiring the skills necessary for soup-making is of paramount importance to any aspiring chef. The cooking of soup is both straightforward and complex. Single out your main ingredient, cook it flawlessly, and adjust the thickness. Certainly, there are nuances, the add-on components can make or break your concept. Creams add texture, body, and silkiness, but they also mute flavors. Oils offer a finishing touch that can take soups to another division. Do you puree and strain? What garnishes to use? That’s why I feel there is something magical about soup conjuring.
If you like gazpacho, you will love the creation pictured above. Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho with Goat Cheese and Basil is the work of Silvia at Citron et Vanille. Perfect for the summer months when two seconds spent outside make you melt like an ice cream, this soup is a great study in balance and harmony. The inherent sweetness of the watermelon and tomatoes make a fine paring with balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, and hot chili powder. For best results serve this dish like you would revenge: dreadfully cold.
Denise at Quickies on the Dinner Table, an accomplished cookbook author, cook, and newest member of the Blogcritics family, charitably offers up another cold summer soup. I say charitably because if you read her recent blog post, The Devil, The Spice Trade, & Mr. Scoville , you would appreciate the need for something cooling. She is the queen of expressive, passionate fusion cooking. This simple and sublime dish pictured above is flawless. In this soup, yogurt is the star on the marquee. Please stick to real thing, no reduced-fat yogurt here. Actually, it is a thinned down version of Tzatziki, where mint is used in the place of dill. If Denise’s soup does not start a party in your mouth, check your pulse; you may be dead.
In mine own cauldron, I cooked up the Gandules and Asparagus soup pictured above. Gandules, or pigeon peas, are a staple of Caribbean cooking. This legume contains high levels of protein, along with amino acids. You can purchase them dried, canned, or frozen. The cooking of the soup is a bit involved, but worth the effort. First you want to create a strong flavor base of bacon, leeks, red peppers, onion, and shallots. Next we add a whole bottle of Albarino, an amazing white wine from Spain. Allow the wine to reduce until almost dry to intensify the imprint left on the soup. Add the pigeon peas and water and simmer away. I puree and strain this soup in order to achieve a truly silky, velvety mouth feel. The garnish for the soup is reserved gandules, pan-roasted asparagus tips, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Soup is an ancient food, and in my humble opinion an amazingly complex and wonderful culinary treat in a bowl. The countless different preparations and serving temperatures boggle the mind. The only limitation is the imagination and flair of the sorcerer working the cauldron.