When you live on a Southern Mediterranean island where ten degrees above spell terribly cold winter temperatures, you feel a sense of anticipation when the thermometer starts to drop below twenty degrees. Yes, I said 20. You begin to review your wardrobe, and you start to crave soup.
Soup is one of those dishes which can be so much, or so little. It can be naughty or guilt-free. It can be velvety or creamy, thick and dense, light and airy, comforting and familiar or tangy and unusual. It is so many things at the same time. Being that I mostly prefer to cook vegan soups, I have a list of cheap as chips favourite local ingredients that I like to use when they are in season. These include brown onions, marrows or courgettes, kohlrabi, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower, gourd and carrots. However, my tastes also extend to leeks, gorgeously full-flavoured celeriac (or celery sticks if I can’t find any), robust sweet potatoes, swede, parsnip and sweet bell peppers. Root vegetables are great in soups, especially if they’re cooked just enough to make them tender yet slightly firm to the bite. They make soups into more substantial dishes, so if you’re only accompanying your bowl of soup with a few slices of bread – or nothing at all – they’re absolutely wonderful. To ward off infections such as colds and nasty bouts of flu, I add fresh ginger and chilli pepper, usually jalapenos since not everyone likes their heat to be extreme. Tomatoes and mushrooms will add a different kind of texture, and elevate the dish’s flavour profile, as will fresh herbs such as parsley, sage and bay leaves. Kale, spinach and cabbage add that extra layer of green goodness, packed with vitamins as they are. Asparagus and dried porcini mushrooms add extra pizzazz to soup recipes, donating bite and savouriness to the dishes. Being obsessed with pulses, I usually also add red lentils or chickpeas, but anything you fancy can be made to match a soup recipe.
If you’re a meat fan, you can’t go wrong with good old chicken broth. I like it simple but filling, with chicken legs, hearts, livers and gizzard, all of which are given a helping hand by onion, courgettes, carrots, lovage, salt and pepper and a handful of long-grain rice. If, on the other hand, you’re more of a beef person, there are several recipes that will hold you in good stead over those cool, cold or downright freezing months, such as meatball soups containing tomato sauce as well as the eponymous meatballs (which you can make out of a mixture of pork and beef, if you prefer) topped with parmesan cheese. Then there are also a good number of dumpling soup recipes, where the key ingredient for the pastry case is normally pork, seasoned with or accompanied by a number of different ingredients depending on which part of the world the recipe hails from.
Fish recipes tend to incorporate the poorer, less fleshy specimens, such as bogues, different types of mackerel, and mullet, but these can be mixed in with shellfish, such as prawns and mussels, to create something tastier and more filling. A pinch of paprika will transport you to central Europe and light up your taste buds, while generous inclusions of garlic, fresh herbs and tomatoes liven up a moreish Mediterranean fish soup offering. I have to admit that one of my favourite recipes is as Nordic and wintry as they come, and is based on fresh salmon poached in milk, potatoes, leeks, chicken stock, white wine and parsley, with a dash of cream. Not quite what comes to mind when you think of southern shores, and it can only be made in the dead of winter here, but it is utterly delectable – or at least, I think so!