Soup means different things to different people. To me, it's a religious and nostalgic experience. Whenever I eat my favorite chicken and matzo ball soup, I get transported back to my childhood during traditional holidays and celebrations. To others soup is a healing food for colds and flus. Soups also herald in different seasons - hearty stews, chowders, bisques and goulashes are comfort foods in the winter months, while chilled veggie and fruit soups like gazpacho, sour cream cucumber and watermelon mint are summertime refreshers.
Soups have been adapted to cultural traditions and regional foods since ancient times. Lentil soup, a popular Middle Eastern dish, was even mentioned in the Bible when Esau was willing to barter his birthright for a fragrant pot of red lentil soup that his brother Jacob had cooked. Today lentil soup is a good source of fiber, protein, iron and an immune booster.
Russians spawned beet and cabbage borschts; Italians created minestrone, pasta e fazoul and the "wedding soup"; the French gave the world vichyssoise, French onion soup and consomme; from Spain came gazpacho; the Chinese concocted won ton and hot and sour soups; miso comes from Japan; Mulligatawny from India; tortilla soup from Mexico; French Canadian pea from my motherland; and then there's American regional specialties from coast to coast. Manhattan clam chowder has a tomato base while New England's version is creamy. Texas gave us chili; Louisiana gumbo; and California imported seafood cioppino from northern Italy.
Accompanying soup is a special etiquette and list of rules. I've also thrown in some culinary damage control suggestions:
- Although hot soups should be served hot and cold ones cold, refrain from extreme temperatures so the delicate mucous membranes of the mouth and throat are not scolded or frozen.
- When including seafood or other items that have hard shells or seeds you must be extra vigilant to filter out these fragments so as not to crack a tooth or lacerate any part of the gastrointestinal tract.
- When seasoning your soups, be generous with the herbs and spices, frugal with the salt. You can always adjust salt and pepper to individual tastes. If you went a little heavy handed on the sodium, throw a raw potato into the pot to absorb the excess salt.
- Soups can be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for days. In fact, they usually improve their flavor with time. Most soups also freeze well. For individual portions, pour soup into ice cube trays before freezing.
- If your soup is too thick, thin it down with some vegetable or chicken broth. If it's too thin, add a carbohydrate like barley or pasta to beef it up.
- Soup should be seen and not heard. To paraphrase publisher Bennett Cerf, "Good manners is the noise you don't make when you're eating soup." And when blowing on a spoonful to cool it, etiquette gurus advise soup blowers to do so gently and library quiet.
- If soup is served in a two-handled cup, it is perfectly acceptable to drink from the cup sans the spoon. Miso soup is traditionally sipped from the cup.
- When finished with your soup, place the spoon on the plate below, not in the bowl.
- Whether you are eating hot or cold soup, savor every last drop.
In honor of National Soup Month, here is one of my family's favorites - a hearty, savory wild mushroom barley soup to warm the cockles of your heart.
Wild Mushroom Barley Soup
- 7 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup of pearled barley
- 1/2 onion, minced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 broccoli stalk, chopped
- 1/2 red pepper, diced
- 8 ounces of wild mushrooms, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a heavy saucepan, saute the vegetables in the olive oil until tender. Add the broth, barley and seasonings. Bring to a boil and simmer covered for about 1 hour until the barley is tender.