Every so often, though, I decide to challenge myself in the kitchen, and over the past year I've been challenging myself to make my own soup stock. It's not much of a challenge, really. It's time-consuming, yes, because you have to let the stuff simmer for a long time (the longer the better), but it's incredibly easy. What got me started? Well, besides realizing that for years I've been making great turkey soup with the leftover Thanksgiving carcass my in-laws were always happy to give me (so, in essence, I already sort of knew how to make stock), I decided to explore a little Amish health food store here in Lancaster County I'd never been in and discovered that they sold soup bones in their meat case along with all their other meat. Yes, I am that person who was always too intimidated to walk into a grocery store and ask the butcher for soup bones. Not anymore. I happily did so last summer at a little market in Maine that I frequent.
I began exploring with beef stock and found I loved it. I don't make much that requires beef stock, though, so it wasn't long before I began experimenting with vegetable stock. Are you like me? Do you wander around the Farmer's Market on a Saturday, see all kinds of things that will help you meet your "5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables" a day, load your cart, promise yourself you're going to go home, wash and chop them all up, so they can conveniently be turned into stir-fries, crudites, omelette enhancers, etc? Then, you get home, and your friends call to invite you to go hiking, so you throw everything in the fridge, and go. Hiking turns into a girls' night out. Sunday, you're exhausted (and maybe a little hung-over) and eat sandwiches and order pizza. Monday, you have a wretched day at work. You come home and eat crackers and cheese and ice cream for dinner. You get the picture. By Thursday, all those vegetables you bought with such high hopes are wilted and beginning to shrivel. Don't throw them away! Save them till Saturday, and make vegetable stock, which can then be used to make some very simple soups (ones you can even make when hung-over) during the course of the week.
Before I get started, I'll tell you one more great thing about making soup stock. I read an article in "O" magazine not long ago about how parts of the vegetable that we typically throw away (onion skins, garlic skins, etc.) are actually very healthy. The best way to get their benefits is to use them in soup stock, because, you know, who wants to eat onion skins? I read that article with glee. For all intents and purposes, it means you can just throw a bunch of vegetables in a pot with very little prep and make a great soup.
Here's one of my basic recipes. I say "one" because you can experiment with just about any kinds of vegetables. I mean, if you bought brussels sprouts thinking maybe you could learn to cook them in some way that makes them palatable and never did, you can substitute them for the cabbage (putting them in stock definitely makes them palatable). I didn't have carrots the day I wrote down this version, so I didn't use them. When I have them, I do. It's pretty damn difficult to ruin vegetable stock, which is why it's so laughable that I avoided making it for so many years.
Basic Vegetable Stock
1 2" piece of ginger, unpeeled
1/4 of a small green cabbage, cutup
1 large onion with the skin, quartered
3 stalks of celery, with their leaves
3 cloves of garlic, with their skins, split in half lengthwise
6 stems of parsley (I'm partial to the curly kind and always buy it. Don't know why)
1 T sea salt
8 cups of water
1. Put everything in a large soup pot.
2. Cover and cook on high until it begins to boil.
3. Reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer at least two hours or up to six.
4. Pour the stock through a colander to strain the cooked vegetables, which can now be composted or thrown away and store the stock in the fridge (you can also freeze it).
This makes about a half gallon of soup stock (or about 4 cans).
Now you've made your stock, which is a lovely thing all on its own, poured into a mug and served with, say, a grilled cheese sandwich, but here's another lovely thing you can do with it:
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
1 T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 onion, sliced
4 stems of fresh parsley
2 dried hot peppers, split (optional. If you stick with my cooking, you will discover I love spicy foods and will add hot peppers all over the place. If you don't like spicy, everything can be made without them)
1 16-oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained (I've also made this soup, when they're in season, with fresh peppers that I roasted, but it's great either way, and this is less time-consuming)
1 16-oz can of whole tomatoes, drained (I'm lucky enough to be able to buy home-made canned tomatoes in jars from a local Amish market all year-round)
1 14 1/2 oz. can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 14 1/2 oz. can of light coconut milk
2 cups of vegetable stock (of course, you can also used canned broth)
Ground black pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of a soup pot until hot.
2. Add the garlic, hot pepper, onion, and parsley and stir and heat until onions and garlic are soft and golden.
3. Add the peppers and cook and stir until heated.
4. Add the tomatoes, chick peas, and water.
5. Cover and turn the heat up to high. Bring the soup to a boil.
6. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes.
7. Remove the soup from the heat and let it cool a bit.
8. Puree it either in a blender, food processor, or with a hand-held blender.
9. Return to the stove on medium heat and stir in the coconut milk.
10. Add ground black pepper.
11. Heat gently until thoroughly hot (about 5-10 minutes) and serve
This makes about 6 1-cup servings. You can garnish it with grated cheese, chopped cilantro, chopped pecans, a dab of sour cream, etc. It's delicious served with thick slices of sour dough bread and a side salad of lettuce, onions, chopped apples, chopped pecans, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.