Tuesday, July 07, 2009

soup-making: the true test of a cook

If you want to see how good a cook's skills are, have her make you some soup. It's industry wisdom that it takes a savvy cook to layer the depth of flavor and seasoning that will meld the ingredients of a soup into something you can get excited about. And it's true. Try it.

Me, I like making simple vegetarian soups. I make them mostly with water-based stocks, as you'll see Michael Ruhlman suggest many a time (and if you haven't read Ruhlman on soups and stocks, why not?) though I do have a pile of turkey stock cubes in the freezer from last Thanksgiving's carcass. (I tend to forget they're there).

Today's soup was a yellow split pea, inspired by Heidi's recipe at 101cookbooks. I found the peas took a lot longer to cook, maybe almost an hour but I wasn't keeping track of time. That's another soup lesson: time is kinda irrelevant. When the peas were halfway done, I sauteed an onion until lightly browned, then slid the onion into the soup to let the flavors meld. I added salt, the juice of half a lemon, and rooted through my cupboard for the sumac because I knew I'd want a little touch of acid.

I did not have any olives on hand--they're too expensive for my budget--but I did whip up a nice tsatziki with some leftover yogurt.

The soup came out great, once I got the peas properly cooked. I actually didn't puree it at all, just kept adding liquid to get the peas cooked and then a little more to thin it out. I made some cheesy toast and had a full meal and felt refreshed and full as only soup can make you.

I love how the raw garlic in the tsatziki contributed its own flavor, much more pungent than cooked garlic. I think I put a little more sauce then I would have wanted, because too much yogurt cut the delicate flavor of the soup, but then that's the beauty of soup. It is what you make of it altogether. I could spread my tsatziki on something else entirely and roast some heirloom tomatoes tomorrow and pop them into my soup.

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