I am an old hippie – and while a lot of my cooking and baking skills were learned from my Grandmother and Mother, my most basic and useful skills were learned while living on a self-sufficient farm in the Black Hills of South Dakota with three other families. There we did not use “recipes” per se. Our meals were centered around whatever food was available at that time of year or what was in the root cellar. It was there that my true ability to “pantry cook” was developed – where I learned the basics of each type of food from which we build.
Many of us in my generation grew up reading a book called “Stone Soup” – which described how a wonderful, filling soup was created by everyone in a community just contributing whatever ingredient they had to a pot of boiling water. That is – in essence – how every soup I make is created.
So lets talk about the basic way I make a soup – split pea style.
This week I had bought split peas because I was craving some thick warm split pea soup and I had not had any in a long time. Split pea soup in recipes and in restaurants tend to be limited in their ingredients and I wanted a heartier soup.
The first thing I do when I am starting to make a soup is to go to the refrigerator and the pantry and start pulling out anything that I have that could go into it.
Today it was onions, carrots, pepper, celery, kale, sweet potato and garlic. While that would be enough to make it a great vegetarian soup, this time I decided to also add kielbasa to it – “Polish” it up a little. While ham is traditionally added to split pea soup, a smoked sausage will work just as well. Just make sure it is fully cooked before you add it to the soup.
For soup I chop the vegetables chunk size so they fit on the spoon better. I cover the bottom of the soup pot with oil . . .
and I start with the chopped onions.
While they are sauteeing, I chop my carrots and add them . . .
always going from the vegys which take the longest to cook to those which take less time. Next I add the chopped celery and pepper. . .
followed by the sweet potato and garlic. (I fully believe that celery was created for soups – and for cream cheese sprinkled with paprika.)
Continue to saute the vegetables until they are all starting to get soft. They don’t have to be fully cooked as they will have time simmering in the soup as we go along.
When I feel like the potatoes are starting to soften, I add the kielbasa – again chopped into chunks. This is an easy step to skip to make a great vegetarian soup.
Next I rinse my split peas in a mesh strainer . . .
and I add them to the pot. I don’t add the water yet. I let my grains saute a bit too while I am putting in the spices.
Aren’t the colors just amazing?!!
You will notice that my soup pot is about half full of vegetables and meat. These will cook down but I still want to know that my finished soup will have a lot of food in each spoonful, so I start off with a lot of good ingredients. You can be creative here. Depending on what type of soup you are making, there are lots of options. Frozen vegys that have been in the freezer too long, or those canned green beans that you were saving for the zombie apocalypse that never came can be added about 10 minutes before your soup is done. Canned organic beans are almost always included in soups and I pick them up whenever I see them on sale. Buy all different types of beans – you never know what you might want to try in a soup. (I would cook them from dry beans but I kind of have a reputation for “burning the beans again” so . . . . .) Canned diced tomatoes are good to have on hand too. Also, noodles, rice, pastas, potatoes – anything that could make your soup more filling – are all good to have when putting together a soup.
For the spices, again I just look at my spice rack and pull down what looks like it will go with what I am making. For this soup I added a couple of bay leaves, some thyme (I love thyme in my soups – rarely is it not included), some crushed rosemary, salt and I added some ground mustard since I was using kielbasa as my meat addition.
I rub in the spices, give it a stir, leave it on the heat for about a minute and then I add my fluid. I add at least 8 cups of fluid to start because I have to feed a large family and my amounts are based on that.
This time I had extra chicken broth at home so that was my fluid. You could just add water and the flavors would work into it – or you could do what I do a lot, which is keep a few vegetable bouillon cubes on hand to create a quick vegetable broth for extra flavor. There is a whole method for making and keeping great vegetable stocks, but if you are like me and don’t have the refrigerator room to store them, then this is a cheater’s way to get some of that flavor in your soups.
Then you let it cook at a simmer. I cover it because I don’t want all the fluid to cook out of it – I want the flavors to go into the broth and stay there. With split pea soup I know it will take anywhere from an hour to two hours for it to really cook to the point that the peas have broken down into that thick consistency that I love. Keep watching it and stirring periodically as you don’t want your vegys to settle and burn on the bottom (charred split pea soup – not so good). You also want to watch your fluid and add more water or broth as the splits soak it up.
If you are going to add frozen or canned vegys, add them about 10 – 15 minutes before you want your soup finished. I like to add kale and swiss chard to my soups so I will cut the leaves off of the spine, chop them coarsely and add them to the soup about 5 minutes before it is finished. I added kale to this soup. Kale and kielbasa – great combination – for future reference.
I made some homemade bread to go with this soup and the soup and bread made for a great – and filling – meal.
The family loved it – especially Christopher.
So the basics for stone soup are:
- start with sauteeing your fresh vegys
- add your pre-cooked meat to the pot if you are using that
- add your spices – stir them through for about a minute
- then add your fluid
- about 10-15 minutes before finishing your soup, add your pre-cooked additions that are not necessary to develop the flavors (like your pasta, rice, canned vegys., etc.)
- add your greens about 5 minutes before finishing the soup
- also consider if you want to sprinkle cheese on the top of the soup at the table and let it melt.
Obviously there are alterations and additions made if you are making a cream soup or a thin broth soup – but the basic ideas are the same. Recipes are great – I just want you to feel free to alter them to make the soup one you will love. Its kind of how us old hippies do it.
Next week I will tell you how we bake bread.
Onward and upward.