Piping hot soup on a cold winter evening – the words themselves conjure up images of warmth, coziness, comfort… Soup is so much more than just a dish – it is a nourishment for the body and the soul – something that instantly makes you feel that everything is alright with the world….
With the plethora of cookery shows and cookbooks, not to mention the fact that one can “Google” anything, it is so simple to access any recipe from all around the world and whip up any delicious dish that takes your fancy!
But the best dishes are often the ones where the recipe is not followed to the “t”, the ingredients used are strictly subject to availability and the preparation is improvised on the go!!
And this is so possible with soups! Look up a basic recipe, add an ingredient, substitute and improvise as per season and taste, and you have plenty of variations to choose from!
And they can be paired with all kinds of food! A very fond childhood memory I have is of my mum making tomato soup with simple khichadi on rainy evenings. What a thoroughly soul-satisfying meal it used to be! Growing up in the 70s/80s in India, our generation never really saw any exotic foods served at the dinner table. Daily fare was strictly local, and as weekend variations we were over the moon if we had idly sambar or chole. Paneer and rajma were strangers till I went to study in Delhi. But the soup was ubiquitous throughout our growing-up years. Tomato, sweet corn and chicken were the varieties available and Eddie’s Kitchen or Kamling in Camp were the go-to restaurants for exotic oriental soups!
Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup
But all that changed in the 90s. The cable TV was I think the first to introduce us to and familiarise us with foods from all over the world. As food and cookery shows slowly started gaining popularity, we went wild with the food repertoire and started talking of paneer and panini, besan ka chila and barbecued chicken and daal chawal and risottos in the same breath! What a transition!
But coming back to soups…
A few basic ingredients, used in different combinations, can churn up so many varieties with distinctly different flavours to suit any palette!
So make a quick, regular tomato soup, or add a hint of mint and basil and some bulgur wheat to it to make it more interesting. A basic clear vegetable stock with chicken shreds is so continental; add some cabbage or Bok Choy, a piece of ginger and a dash of lime and fish sauce to it and voila! You have a Southeast Asian delicacy! Make a borscht out of beetroot or add that beetroot to the tomato soup for enhanced colour and flavour! Sieve an egg into a corn soup for those thin, noodelly egg strings, or make a tiny omelette out of the egg to go on top of the French onion soup!
And the variety…. Thick chowders with seafood or potatoes or corn – protein, carbohydrates and satiation in one go! Almost a meal in themselves!!
Thin broths made with a basic veg/non-veg stock and then the hundreds of add-ons that you can use – chicken, fish, seasonal veggies, croutons – satisfying, but not filling enough to make you lose your appetite… Making you look forward instead to the delectable courses that will follow…
Soups made with thickeners and taste-enhancers – cornflour, coconut milk, milk, cream, yogurt, tomato purée, nut meal – so many possibilities!
I recently had two soups which were thinned down versions of main dishes – one was a Malabar stew soup and another a Burmese Khow Suey soup – interesting variations of the main dishes served as appetisers, and yet leaving enough space to eat a main course too.
Puréed soups where no part of the vegetables goes waste… An excellent way to get all the goodness of the veggies into your food and straight to your soul… So much better than the packaged, often synthetically flavoured ready-to-eat ones, which brazenly declare “packed with the goodness of fresh vegetables… Ting, ting”!! Alas, they more often than not have nothing to show except for a few peas, a couple of miniscule pieces of carrot and a few beans which can probably be located with a microscope!!
Spinach Broccoli Soup
And the Indian varieties… Rasams, shorbas, lentil soups… Its a wonder how much difference to the taste the use of spices instead of herbs can make!!
And need one talk of the therapeutic wonders of soups… A spicy bowlful can soothe a sore throat, or clear the nose; a mild bowlful can soothe the nerves and bandage a bruised heart; a hearty bowlful can satisfy a whole day’s hunger; a midnight bowlful can stave off that unholy craving for carbs; a colourful bowlful can encourage a nit-picky eater to actually enjoy good, wholesome food! I think soup has to figure pretty high up on the evolution of food, given the simple yet refined nature of the various preparations, the sublime taste and the superior nutritive value!! Nature’s way to make us consume her finest produce in a minimally processed form! At a restaurant my preference always goes to a soup over a drink. For me soup is food and I go to a restaurant to savour the food there – alcohol does not fit into that category!
And just as we think of the words associated with soup – cold, winter, steaming, hearty, nourishing etc, etc, there are certain soups which I associate with summers too.
Nothing like a cold gazpacho or a chilled cucumber soup to start off a light summer lunch or dinner. While winter soups warm and nourish and spread cheer, summer soups relax and refresh!! A spa for the tastebuds and the well-being, if you please!!
The pictures of some of the soups that I made over the last few days. Though winters are not quite here yet this year, but come November and my family starts craving soups; and this is one craving that I never fail to indulge!!