What better month than January to celebrate National Soup Month! With much of the country experiencing a deep freeze, a steaming bowl of soup is the natural antidote. Soup is probably as old as cooking itself, warming and nourishing our ancestors for thousands of years, no matter what part of the world they are from. It is the universal comfort food and every mother’s answer to making a sick child feel better. What makes soup so appealing? Possibly it is just the sheer variety, simplicity, and accessibility of it, a humble food that does not intimidate anyone but rises to every occasion.
Most of us grew up eating soup that came in a can, with Campbell’s being the name most associated with soup. Many other brands and endless varieties now line the supermarket shelves making it one of the most affordable, filling, and nutritious foods to buy and serve, with virtually no preparation required. But long before there were cans, there was soup! Food historians say that soup has likely been around in some form since at least 20,000 BC. Waterproof, heatproof containers, that show signs of being used over a fire, have been found in caves in China. Other methods for ancient soups may have involved digging a pit, lining it with animal skin, and filling it with water and hot rocks. Basically soup is simply any combination of ingredients such as meats, fish, vegetables, and even grains, seasoned and cooked in a liquid. Every culture has its favorite soups that incorporate local ingredients and ethnic flavorings. We can thank France for providing the basis for many of the soups we eat today though it may be best known for French onion. Spain contributed gazpacho, Russia is known for borscht, Italy for minestrone, and China for egg drop soup, to name a few.
Making soup can be as simple as dumping whatever you have on hand into a pot of liquid and adding a few seasonings, or it can be a specific blend of ingredients decreed by a recipe. Variations abound; it can be pureed or chunky, creamed or in a simple broth, use just a few ingredients or many. Most are served hot, but some are served cold. It can be a meal unto itself or part of a larger meal. Next time you reach for a can of soup, dare to be more adventurous; making your own soup is both satisfying and easy, and can serve a crowd or just one person. There is no lack of recipes, videos, and websites to inspire you and soups are a great way to use up leftovers. Every good general cookbook has a section on soup and many cookbooks are devoted to soup alone. You don’t need a recipe though; chances are you have everything you need already. The basic rules for making soup are simple: choose a liquid base, vegetables, a fat (to sauté aromatic vegetables), and seasonings. Add cooked meat or fish if you like and combine all in a pot and simmer for an hour or two. Now enjoy!
For more information about soup and some great recipes, check out these links and our National Soup Month Pinterest board.