Saturday, September 12, 2009

The weather's right for making soup

It's a soup kind of day in San Francisco: cloudy and cool, some rain. Perfect weather for filling the house with the aroma of soup on the stove.

My mom and my tias made fresh soup for lunch several days a week, even in the blaze of Tucson summers. Somehow, despite the heat, it worked, probably because of the fresh ingredients and the home-cooking style that they always brought to it.

That's why I always start my soup with a fresh -- not store-bought -- vegetable stock. To make, put 4 quarts of water in a stock pot, add 1 chopped white or yellow onion, 2-3 cloves of diced garlic, 2 peeled and chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery stalks including leaves, a sprig or two of fresh thyme, 1 chopped turnip (if available), 1 chopped leek (if available), 1 teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper. The more kinds of aromatic vegetables you use, the richer the stock will be. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer for 90 minutes.

Strain the stock into a bowl and discard the vegetables. Do so even if planning a vegetable soup; the stock veggies have given their life for the stock, so use fresh vegetables for the soup itself.

My plan today is for arroz con pollo, chicken and rice soup. For that, use a stock pot; 8 cups of strained vegetable stock; 2 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded and diced; 1 carrot, peeled and diced; 1 pound of chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes. Bring to a boil; turn to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add 1 cup brown rice and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Simmer another 45 minutes. Check and adjust seasoning. Garnish with a spoonful of chopped cilantro. Serve with hot gordita tortillas or corn tortillas.

That's a slight alteration of how my mom made arroz con pollo. As good as it turns out when I make it, it never tastes as hers did.

A couple of side notes about stock:

* Many soup recipes call for beef stock, chicken stock or fish to match the protein going into the soup. Make them the same as vegetable stock, with the addition of course of beef bones or a chicken carcass or fish heads and bones. Even for beef and chicken soups, I prefer using vegetable stock, because it provides a good background flavor; for a fish soup, I make fish stock.

* When making stock, always make enough to save some for use later in the week, to make another pot of soup. Or, for a great flavor kick, use it instead of water when making rice.

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