In preparation for this blog post, I took the farm-store ham-hock out of the freezer. After assuaging my soft heart with the knowledge that the pig in question lived a happy life except for one day, I set my mind on bean soup.
I am no gourmet by any means. My grown children are happy to laugh about memories of meals gone wrong. My own fondest memory … in 1993, my middle-school aged son called me at work when he got home from school, his voice trembling with terror. “Mom! Mom! The whole house smells like piss.” My reply, “Don’t worry honey. That’s dinner in the crock pot.”
You see, I did not come upon soup skills on my own. In 2010, I was fortunate to host Suzanne Arms, author of Immaculate Deception, when she was in town to speak about her organization, Birthing the Future. While making some soup in my kitchen, she told me, “The secret to soup is sautéing some onions.” That, dear readers, is the key to my soup success. Sometimes I start with the onions, other times I sauté them and add them to the already simmering pot or crockpot.
My second soup secret is the broth. All summer long, I snatch up every stalk, leaf, and other vegetable scraps, submerge them in a large pot of water, and simmer all day long. Because we are CSA members, currently with Visser Farms, I concoct tasty broths with kale stalks, wilted lettuce, cabbage cores, green onion and leek tops, celery leaves, and anything else not quite ready for the compost pile. I also love adding celeriac (celery root). When the broth’s done simmering, I cut it up and add it to the soup. During the growing season, I freeze enough broth to last almost all year long. I love observing the pricy organic broth at the grocery store knowing mine cost practically nothing.
Of course, I’ll make a fresh broth from the ham hock, simmering it with an onion cut in parts (skin on for color), a few cloves of garlic, and a carrot or two. Whole chickens make a nice bone broth as well.
The ham hock broth will transform, under my husband Eddie’s direction, into a flavorful bean soup. He uses a mix of dried beans, carrots, garlic, and greens, if we happen to have any on hand. “On hand” is what guides me in choosing the kind of soup to make. If we have kale and potatoes or leeks and broccoli, we make a tasty creamed soup (I add some almond milk. If the soup seems thin, I will make a little white sauce of it.) If we have sweet potatoes, carrots, peanut butter, and some form of tomato in the house, I’ll cook up some West African peanut soup. Eddie’s favorite involves winter squash and corn. Lentils inspire me to add turmeric, cumin, coriander and maybe a little cinnamon. I’ve found that with a little imagination, a good broth and whatever I find in the fridge or freezer can transform into a good soup. Sometimes I’ll google a recipe for ideas on ingredients and spices that combine well together.
The bottom line is, if I can cook a good soup, you can, too. Don’t be fooled by marketing messages that have convinced us that cooking from scratch is difficult and takes too much time. If you are tempted to buy ready-made soup, read the label. Do you really want to feed your family that? (I haven’t been able to find a tomato soup without added sugar.)
So simple, soups can simmer on the stove-top or in a crockpot. Best of all, you can make enough to last two or three meals. I’m writing this on Sunday. That means we won’t have to cook dinner again until Wednesday.
In closing, let me share one more benefit of simmering soup—the aroma. Mm-mmm, my house smells good right now. It’s making me hungry for some home-made soup.
People’s Food Coop of Ann Arbor West African Peanut Soup
- ½ T olive oil
- 1 ½ C Spanish onion peeled and chopped
- ¼ T minced fresh ginger
- ½ t sea salt
- ¼ t cayenne to taste
- 1 ½ C sweet potatoes, chopped
- 2 ½ C veggie broth (may need more)
- ¾ C creamy peanut butter
- ¾ C tomato juice
Sautee onions in oil until transparent. Add carrots and spices. Continue sautéing about 5 minutes more.
Add sweet potatoes and broth. Simmer until veggies are cooked through.
Remove from heat. Add tomato juice and peanut butter. Process until smooth. Adjust consistency with more broth or tomato juice.
Soup will thicken as it cools.
A freelance writer and editor, Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness, and the arts. She regularly contributes to Second Wave Michigan, is Development News Editor for Rapid Growth Media, Communications Manager for Our Kitchen Table, and chairs The Tree Amigos, City of Wyoming Tree Commission. Her finest accomplishment is her five amazing adult children. You can contact Estelle at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.