Soups for the Soul
After trekking to the foothills of the Great Pyrenees Mountains with my last soup recipe, I thought we’d stay close to home for this one. A simple form of it originates in my childhood and has great memories attached.
If you were to ask anybody in this area what the quintessential Waterloo County Mennonite foods are, you would hear a resounding “Schnippelde Grumbarra und Vascht” (sliced (and creamed) potatoes and sausage). The vascht may be served in various forms; farmer’s sausage, summer sausage or bag sausage. The Schnippelde Grumbarra may be sliced or shredded, with fried onions or without, but always, always imbued with heavy cream. On cold winter mornings, my mom would fry up a few onions, then add sliced potatoes and hot water, add some salt and cook them until they were tender. Meanwhile, she brought some Schneider’s Red Hots (wieners, for those who aren’t famiiar with this iconic tube steak) out of the freezer and heated them in boiling water. When the potatoes were soft, she added cream until the mixture had the consistency of a cream soup, and ladled it into our thermoses. She stuck the wiener into the middle of the potatoes and off we trotted to school, anticipating our homemade hot lunch. It was brilliant; the potatoes took on the distinctive taste of the wiener and we thought it was delicious. At noon the only question was whether to eat the wiener whole, or chop it with our spoons. Such a weighty decision for youngsters!
I have made this chowder many times over the years, remembering my childhood lunch delight with nostalgia. I would take a big crockpot of it to market on cold winter days and plug it into the back of our truck to heat for the morning. There was nothing that quite took the chill away for a little while at least, like a cup of hot soup and coffee. I have made it with ham, bacon, and chicken, but my all-time favourite meat addition is sausage. I always have home-canned sausage on hand, so it’s also very convenient. Plus, it uses lots of winter vegetables, including the lesser-known leeks. You can use less of one vegetable and more of another with no problem, as long as you have at least nine cups of chopped vegetables in total.
Leeks are a member of the onion family and look like a green onion on steroids. They have a mild sweet onion/leek flavour and the pale green rings add pretty colour to whatever dish they’re in. You want to wash them thoroughly, since they are grown under the soil like onions or carrots. Most often they are grown in raised beds, so that the plant can grow downwards further, thus producing a longer white stem. I use the white and pale green part, slicing until I start seeing dirt between the rings.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The recipes, views, and stories are my own.
*GF denotes gluten-free
Spud, Leek and Sausage Chowder
DirectionsMelt the butter, then put all the vegetables in the kettle. Saute for about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and basil. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer on low boil until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally. If you wish to brown your sausage slices, this is a good time to do that. It takes more time, but adds flavour. Add the sausage, then the milk. If you plan to thicken the soup, whisk the flour/potato starch into the sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk, and add to the soup once it’s hot, stirring gently. Taste and add desired amount of salt and pepper. Heat and stir gently until thickened. Do not boil it hard at this point or it will separate.
*GF denotes gluten-free
With this record cold snap upon us and holiday leftovers lurking in our fridges and freezers, it feels like January is a good month to feature soups. Not that I believe soups should only be left for those times when you clean out the fridge, although that is a great incentive. I am a great proponent of soups being made with intent.
In keeping with that conviction, when I roasted a chicken for our Christmas dinner with both of our parents, I slung the carcass back into the roaster after removing most of the meat, filled the roaster half full of hot water, added a few bouillon gel caps, salt and pepper, and roasted it again for another 2 hours. That makes a mighty tasty stock, let me tell you. I had added onions and some vegetables to the chicken earlier, so I figured I didn’t need to add more for the stock. My stock turned out a deep rich colour and flavour, and I stuck it in the freezer in anticipation of the Moment of Soup.
This week, with the Great Freeze upon us, I knew it was going to happen. The intense colour and rich flavour of the chicken stock reminded me of a dish I had in the tiny country of Andorra. Wee Andorra is tucked between France and Spain, at the foothills of the Pyrenees, and we had booked a chalet in the mountain. This was on a European trip with my sister and her husband for both of our 25th anniversaries. We had so much fun and made so many memories on that trip!
We were climbing and winding our way up to the chalet, faithfully following Ginny Penelope Sauder (What? Don’t you name your GPS?). All of a sudden, she said we had arrived at our destination. We stopped and looked around. There was a rundown little shack tucked in the ditch beside the road, but it certainly didn’t look like the kind of place I want to live in When I Arrive. We deliberated, consulted a map, consulted each other, consulted our Heavenly Father, drove this way and that, and laughed as another carload of obvious tourists drove up, stopped at the very same spot, got out and looked in bemusement at the shack, then piled back into the vehicle and kept on driving. We decide we would continue upwards and sure enough, there was our chalet at the very top, beyond the sphere of GPS Land! This was at the end of April, and there was quite a bit of snow up there, but the cherry trees were blooming. I’ve always wondered if they had a cherry crop that year. But I digress. The hosts were warmly welcoming, there was an inviting fire blazing in the hearth with beaten tin panels surrounding it, and the food was superb! I had a delicious chicken stew in which the meat perched atop a pile of vegetables in a pool of the most delicious broth. It must have been good; how often do you remember a broth five years later? I did, and when I saw a recipe for a Tuscan Chicken Soup, I knew that was a perfect way to showcase it.
As usual, I added and changed this and that, and this is what came out of my pot. I was pretty pleased with it. We have dried beans at our store and I actually soaked them and used them for the first time ever! We Canadians don’t take our beans as seriously as our US neighbours do, generally speaking, although they are gradually making inroads into our fair country. And I still had a butternut squash here, so I chopped it into the soup as well. It added that special extra touch to the soup, I thought. I tossed a handful or three of fresh spinach into the pot at the very end, just to pretty it up and add more vitamins.
We have a great assortment of locally grown winter and greenhouse vegetables at Martins, as well as dried beans. My husband Steve does a great job of stocking our shelves with high quality produce to supplement our apples, pears and cider.
I didn’t like beans as a child and would always pick them out and gift my sister with them. I have learned to like eating them in moderation and am intrigued by the many varieties. These are called Jacob’s Cattle after the biblical account where Jacob asked his conniving father-in-law for all the black, striped and spotted sheep, goats and cattle as his wages after working fourteen years for his bride Rachel. They are pretty and I liked the texture of them.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The recipes, views, and stories are my own.
Tuscan Chicken, Bean, and Squash Soup
DirectionsIn a large kettle, simmer broth, water, celery, carrots, onions, potatoes garlic, beans and all the seasonings. Add the squash cubes and tomatoes after about half an hour. Simmer at a low boil until the vegetables are soft but not mushy. Add chicken and spinach and heat for about 10 minutes more. Test for salt. As with most soups, it is even better the next day. Chase that chill away!
One of the first sets of cookbooks I began collecting as a young girl was the Company’s Coming set, produced by Jean Paré. She had great, easy-to-follow recipes, beautiful pictures, and easy conversation throughout. A lot of my first masterpieces date back to this collection, and certainly my love of trying new recipes grew through it.
This is my collection. I won’t show you all the cookbooks below and above it, or in my drawers. Does anyone else read cookbooks like novels, from cover to cover?
One of my first books within the set was Soups and Sandwiches and I think my favourite recipe in the book was, and still is the Cauliflower Cheese Soup. It slides so easily down the gullet, it’s soothing, yet has a wonderfully full flavour. The toasted bread cubes on top add a delightful contrasting crunch. One day last week, one of my sisters was asking how to make it, and as mom and I were telling her how, our own hunger for it grew as well. I knew we still had some lovely heads of cauliflower at Martin’s, so I went home and quickly cobbled the soup together. The cauliflower is done now, but you can use frozen as well, and we still have tasty Bright’s cheese and Eby Manor milk, as well as the root vegetables, pears and apples. Remember this soup recipe next year when it’s cauliflower season and come on in to Martin’s!
Mom got her last little box of soup out of the freezer, and my sister made it too. So all three of us enjoyed it that night. As my husband was eating it, he commented three times (I was counting) on how good it was. Three things help to make this soup exceptional. A. The cauliflower is cooked in the chicken broth = Hello, flavour! B. You need to use a good quality medium or even sharp cheddar. More equals less with cheese; the sharper the flavour, the less quantity you need. C. The bread cubes on top. They lift this soup waaay beyond the ordinary. If you have homemade chicken stock, it hits the soup right out of the ballpark into the neighbour’s lawn. I didn’t have any this time, but it was still really good.
Cauliflower is in the cabbage family. It is generally started inside from seed, then the seedlings are transplanted outside after the danger of frost is over. After the heads begin forming, the plant leaves are tied around the head to promote “blanching” or whitening of the heads. To keep cauliflower white while cooking, do not add salt until it is done.
Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until clear and fragrant. Mix in flour, salt and pepper. Whisk in milk by degrees, and stir until smooth. Heat on medium heat until it begins to boil, stirring frequently. You can be browning the bread cubes in butter either in a 350° F oven or in a skillet while this is thickening. Turn heat to low. Add cauliflower, stir, then add cheese and stir again. Heat just until hot but not boiling. Ladle into bowls and top with a little sprinkle of cheese, fresh chopped parsley, and the buttered toasted bread cubes. Be comforted and well.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup
Directions Cook cauliflower in chicken broth until tender. Do not drain. Cool a bit, then run through blender or use immersion blender in the pot to your desired smoothness. We like a few chunks in ours. I love my immersion blender for things like this.
Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until clear and fragrant. Mix in flour, salt and pepper. Whisk in milk by degrees, and stir until smooth. Heat on medium heat until it begins to boil, stirring frequently. You can be browning the bread cubes in butter either in a 350° F oven or in a skillet while this is thickening.
Turn heat to low. Add cauliflower, stir, then add cheese and stir again. Heat just until hot but not boiling. Ladle into bowls and top with a little sprinkle of cheese, fresh chopped parsley, and the buttered toasted bread cubes. Be comforted and well.