Today is a special day for me because I’m going to be “guest chef” for Soup Sisters.
I’ll help organize 24 people to make four kinds of soup. We also package and label it for delivery to The Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. The soups we make today will serve as the lunch program for the next month for the women and families in need of the shelter’s services.
Soup Sisters was organized in 2009 by Calgarian Sharon Hapton. It’s nice when a great idea spreads like wildfire and Soup Sisters which now has 15 events each month in 9 cities across Canada was just the spark to set this soupapalooza blaze afire. (2014 Update – Soup Sisters is in 20 cities in Canada and just started up in Los Angeles).
Read on to learn more about Soup Sisters and for a few of my favourite soup recipes.
Soup Sisters founder Sharon Hapton saw how much her occasional gift of soup meant to her friends going through a rough spot and thought about how much that might mean to people in even greater need. She was right. Each bowl is a sign of love, caring and encouragement to women and men (there’s also Broth Brothers which supports homeless youth in transition from street culture to mainstream) who haven’t always felt that.
I participated in a Broth Brothers event with my book club when they first started, contributed a super easy recipe and am thrilled to be coming back to Soup Sisters as a guest chef (apologies to my chef friends – I’m really just a really good home cook and food lover extraordinaire). But my relationship with soup goes much deeper then helping out a great cause. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln; you are your habits.
Soup is a deeply ingrained habit in my life.
Every day of my childhood school years, I walked eight blocks to and from home for lunch and we almost always had soup and a sandwich waiting for us. Mom usually made a homemade chowder or vegetable soup but as often as not the soup might have been from a can bearing a familiar, now vintage, red and white label. It didn’t matter. It was warm, ready and nourishing. You had to slow down to eat it. It wasn’t fussy, but it was always good.
I’ve always loved making soup but a few years ago when I was looking for a culinary challenge to spur myself onward in the kitchen, I decided to start a “Soup of the Week” habit. Every week for a year I made a new soup. My family and I enjoyed the habit so much, that I have just kept on going and the “Soup of the Week” heading has become a strong thread holding the fabric of my daily cooking journal together. I am not a trained chef but I believe all good soup starts with mirepoix and good broth.
Mirepoix is a mix of vegetables – usually carrots, celery and onion – used to enhance the flavour of meats, sauces and soups. Sometimes, I’ll substitute or only use leaks or shallots for the onions in this important base. Whatever vegetables I use, they are sautéed till tender in good oil and/or butter (sometimes bacon and its fat) so they can impart their flavours. The trio of carrots, celery and onion are sometimes referred to as the three jewels of cooking. They are always in my pantry.
Making my own broth is one of the most frugal things I do. You only have to do it a few times to realize this for yourself. I have included my version for Chicken Broth below. I confess I don’t always make beef broth but instead, I’ll buy a good organic brand and have it on hand in the pantry. Where we always cut the meat off a chicken carcass my family tends to gnaw the meat off prime rib bones and I don’t really feel it hygienic to use them for broth after such carnivorous enjoyment has been had with them.
With a good mirepoix flavour base and broth, each week’s soup is as varied as what I find in my fridge and pantry shelves. It is never the same twice. A bit of leftover beef becomes beef and barley. My husband loves both my curried broccoli and my family recipe for seafood chowder. My nieces who lived with us awhile loved my “January Soup” which satisfied and nourished them without adding undue calories to their glorious figures. My in-laws love it when I take a ham bone and deliver a chunky pea soup to them a few days later. My dear friend and Indian cooking mentor Noorbanu Nimji showed me how to make her chicken soup with turmeric and it’s become my cure for the common cold as she so sweetly advised it would. My personal favourite was the double smoked oyster chowder I whipped up in an RV while we were touring Alaska in 2010. Leftover corn on the cob and a big head of cauliflower became my son’s new favourite – a corn and cauliflower chowder with lots of red pepper dice and herbs for colour.
I’ve started teaching my son to make soup. We roasted some tomatoes, red peppers, garlic and onions on some parchment paper in the oven. When they were nicely charred, we threw the whole works in the Vitamix blender, added a few squeezes of harissa, umami #5 paste, salt, pepper and a little cream and herbs and he was thrilled with his results. He’s also mastered minestrone and with his grilled cheese repertoire he’s becoming quite proud of himself. I love seeing the next generation of soup happy people stepping up to the ladle.
I’ve also had the opportunity to use my soup making skills in an even bigger way than Soup Sisters as every frigid Alberta February for the past 5 years I’ve volunteered to make 45 gallons of soup for 700 skiers and volunteers in the great outdoors at the Annual Foothills Nordic Ski Club’s Kananaskis Ski Marathon. We keep things real simple in the tent kitchen we erect but we strive for maximum flavour and made from scratch at the same time. The reward for our efforts is the hundreds of smiles and thanks we receive when the chilled racers from age 5 to 93 show up for their reviving bowl of soup post race. I’ve seen the restorative power of soup firsthand on a large scale.
Soup means so much to me.
It’s become a major creative outlet and a chance to share, to give, to pass on skills, to promote health, to show community spirit and to connect to my roots in a warm and loving family upbringing. Soup is one of the ways I savour it all.
January Recovery Soup
This is a good soup to make the first week of January when you have to get back on track after all the holiday feasting. The daikon, a large white member of the radish family, has few calories (38 calories for 3 ounces) but as it has the consistency of potato it makes one feel full. The soup itself has loads of flavour and when served piping hot as a snack throughout the day you’ll find it nourishing and warming in the depth of winter.
1 Tablespoon organic canola oil
1 Tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon ginger, minced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon Chili flakes
1 litre chicken stock
1 whole daikon, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cups Savoy cabbage, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 cup brown mushrooms, chopped
4 cups bean sprouts
Squeeze key lime juice
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Heat a large stockpot and add the oil, garlic and ginger.
Cook for about 15 – 30 seconds on medium heat until the garlic and ginger become fragrant.
Add the green onions and chili flakes and stir, cooking until they are soft.
Add the stock and all the daikon, cabbage, broccoli and mushrooms.
Cook for about 5 – 10 minutes or until these vegetables are hot and tender but not mushy.
Season with salt to taste.
Serve with about ¼ cup of bean sprouts and a wedge of lime for each bowl.
Top each bowl with cilantro.
Karen’s Chicken Stock
I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer. My recipe produces about 16 cups for the cost of a few veggies and herbs. I keep two plastic bags in my freezer. One is for saving chicken carcass bones and the other is for vegetable bits left over from my chopping board. I collect carrot ends, celery hearts, leeks, scallions, and onion skins. When I have about two to five pounds of bones I am ready to make stock.
2- 5 lbs chicken bones
enough cold water to cover the bones (use cold as warm or hot water can seal the bones and lock the flavor inside them)
3 pieces celery
3 carrots, whole but peeled
2 onions, halved and any extra onion skins you have collected (they add a nice brown color)
1 apple, halved
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs of parsley
6 sprigs of thyme
Kosher salt to taste
Put the chicken in a large stockpot and cover with cold water.
Add the celery, carrots, onions and apple.
Tie the peppercorns and herbs in a cheese cloth bag or place in a tea ball.
Bring the water to a slow boil and skim any gray scum as necessary.
Reduce and simmer for at least 2-4 hours (Avoid a rolling boil as it will cause cloudy stock).
Strain the broth through cheese cloth and discard any solids.
Return the broth to simmer for an additional 30 minutes if you desire a more intense flavor.
Add salt to taste or do as I do and leave it unsalted so that you can season each dish individually.
Keep it in 1 – 2 cup containers in the freezer and thaw as you need them.