by Kathy Humphrey
Back when we all had hearths, these hearths were actually used for things other than a place for decorative gourds, large vases, and extra guests to perch when the comfy chairs were all occupied. Cooks would have things simmering, all day long, infusing the whole house with mouth-watering smells, and thriftily using up odd bits and leftovers at the same time. Soups, stews, potages, ragouts, pot-au-feus, goulashes, and broths all spring from the same root: the need to feed a group of people using what is at hand, with as little waste or cost as possible.
Rare is the home nowadays with a functional hearth, rarer still the home with someone there who can spend their days simmering various disparate pieces into a perfectly melded and delectable whole. This lack of time and necessity—Ma Ingalls had to make her cheese, and did it well, but most of us no longer face this demand—mean that some of the fruits of the simmering may seem unattainable.
The time constraints that fully-scheduled families face can make scrambling an egg seem impossible to fit in, let alone creating a homemade soup. Dedicating a day off to start a stock, and then judiciously using the freezer to keep it until needed, can make homemade soup achievable. It’s as easy to make a lot as it is to make a little, and the leavings from the stock creation are almost an entire soup in themselves. Stock up, and enjoy!
Basic Chicken Stock
(adaptable and flexible)
1 chicken carcass (can use the leavings of a roast chicken, a package of chicken backs from the butcher, or even an entire, uncooked, bird)
1 onion, cut into quarters
3-4 cloves garlic, mostly peeled and left whole
2-3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
1-2 Tbsp salt
2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup parsley
Place chicken into large stockpot. Add water almost to the top of the pot (more if it’s a meatier bit, less if not). Toss in other ingredients. Bring to a boil. Turn to a bare simmer at once, and leave for an hour or two, until it smells like soup, and the broth has a goldenish colour. Turn heat off, let cool, and strain. Use immediately, or freeze until needed.
stock (as above)
carrots and celery, salvaged from stock preparation
chicken pieces, held back from stock
1/2 package rice noodles
1 bunch fresh spinach, well rinsed and roughly chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, diced (optional)
Bring stock to boil; stir in carrots, celery, and chicken. Add rice noodles, and cook according to package directions. Reduce to simmer. Stir in spinach and tomatoes, and cook until spinach is wilted.
Coconut Yam Chowder
4 cups chicken stock
1 tin coconut milk
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, slivered
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 tsp Thai red curry paste (to taste)
juice of 1 lime
1 yam, cut into 1 inch dice
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup fresh salmon, cut into 1 inch chunks (optional)
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
In large heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until transparent (about 5 minutes). Stir in curry paste, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add red pepper, sauté until tender. Pour chicken stock in, stirring well. Add yam and corn, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until yam is tender. Slowly add coconut milk. Stir. If making this a salmon chowder, add salmon at this point, and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until salmon is cooked (becoming pinker and opaque). Stir in lime juice. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Just before serving, stir in cilantro.
Lentil Vegetable Soup
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups water
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 potato (well scrubbed and diced)
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 bunch fresh spinach, well washed and chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
Combine lentils with water and pinch of salt. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1 hour or so (until lentils are tender). In separate pot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant and golden. Stir in potato, carrots, celery, oregano and thyme, mixing well to combine flavours. Add stock, bring to boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add tomatoes and spinach. Simmer until wilted (about 3 minutes). Serve with good bread.
Kathy Humphrey lives in Victoria with her husband and two children. She tries to see cooking for a family not as a chore but as a creative outlet.