Soup has been around since man could boil water. It can stretch a budget by making the most of limited ingredients and quantities. It can also showcase the bounty of a good harvest from either the ocean or the field. Soup can stand alone at the dinner table or become a tantalizing first course in a lavish meal.
During tough times, it's been a means of filling hungry bellies and fed hundreds of thousands during the Great Depression in makeshift cafeterias that were affectionately called soup kitchens.
In challenging economic times, soup is a good way to stretch your food dollar. Soup can be a hearty, nutritious meal. If you make it yourself, it can even be an opportunity to let your creative juices flow.
There are some things to keep in mind when making soup. Always start with flavorful stock. You may want to go with the convenience of canned stock, but there's nothing like making your own from scratch. For the best results, use bones simmered in water for four to six hours or overnight. Add aromatics like onions, carrots and celery. Herbs like thyme, bay leaf and parsley are good choices too. These ingredients will add complex, savory goodness to the broth and can be discarded later.
Imagine a big pot of soup cooking on the stove, filling the house with the aroma of chicken, tomato, or clams in a creamy sauce. Remember, when you make soup, you control the ingredients. Want less fat? Cool your broth overnight in the refrigerator, and skim the fat off the top the next morning. Want it thicker without adding flour? Try mashing some potato or beans. The starch will help thicken the broth.
If you're not comfortable with cooking soup from scratch, there are prepared mixes that will handle the spices and thickeners; you just add meat and water. And you can always use a condensed soup, like cream of mushroom or tomato, as a base for your soup creation.
Whether you use a mix, condensed canned preparation or create something wonderful yourself, soup is a traditional comfort food that's a foolproof winner at mealtime. Add some crusty bread, and you have a meal that has sustained families in good times and bad for centuries.
On the next page, we'll heat things up with a pot of chili.