Today I want to talk about a tradition that started many years ago for me. It was the day after Christmas and I was left with a huge turkey carcass and some left over meat. I remember my mum making home-made turkey soup and thought - how hard can this be. It actually was amazingly simple. You cover the bones with water and simmer them for a few hours to create a nice broth, then throw the bones away. Saute some onion, celery and carrots that have been diced fairly small and add them to the pot along with any left over turkey meat. A bit of salt, pepper and some cooked elbow macaroni (I prefer to cook it separate and add it at the last minute) usually do the trick. If you need a little more flavour you can use a package of instant broth. Fini! Such a simple meal from leftovers and there is something extra comforting about this type of home cooking. To fill out the meal a nice batch of cornmeal muffins or some quick bread like my Brethren's Cheese Bread rounds out the meal nicely.
From that humble tradition I began to free form what went into the pot. There are just so many combinations possible and it's such a great way to use up all those leftovers floating around. My daughter has picked up the tradition now and started to create her own from scratch. Again, this is not a process to create a high-end gourmet soup - this is home cooking at it's best. Let's begin -
Stock Pot - You really need a very large soup pot and some containers to store the leftovers in. I always start thinking I'll only make a little, but by the time I add it all in, it's a meal fit for a crowd. I tend to use my 7 quart crockpot as it has a warm setting that will let the soup keep for several hours.
Broth - Oh the choices you have. I dealt with how to use bones above and that process can be used for Ham bones, etc., just as well. So let's think about ease! You can now purchase Beef, Chicken and Vegetable soup stocks in 1 liter tetra-style packs. They also come in low-fat, low salt and no salt varieties. I like these better than the little cans of condensed broth. One addition I like to flavour this is cans of diced tomatos - plan or flavoured. You just dump the entire can into your broth including the juice and let it simmer to soften the tomates.
Saute - There are several standard ingredients to add that should be sauteed first either in a very small amount of good quality oil or in a non-stick pan. Onions (Yellow, White, Sweet, Leeks and Shallots), minced garlic, ginger, sliced mushrooms and diced vegetables such as celery and carrots that can take the longer cooking time. Chop them small and saute until soft, then add to the broth above.
Simmer - At this point you want to simmer it on very low for awhile to develop the flavours. This is where I leave it to do it's thing unattended in my super large crockpot. Up to you the amount of time you can give it. While the flavour doesn't develop as much, you really can move right onto the next step if you're in a hurry. There is no right or wrong here.
Vegetable, Beans, Meat, Tofu, Herbs and More - About 30 minutes before you are going to serve it is the time to add any fresh or frozen vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, peas, corn, cabbage, potatos, etc.), canned beans that have been rinsed and drained, leftover meat (or quick cooking things like shrimp), cubes of tofu - anything that only needs just reheating or a very short cooking time. Give the broth a quick taste after a few minutes as it will change with the additions. Add a small amount of herbs if you like, touch up the salt and pepper and you can add a package of instant bouillon if you feel the stock needs it.
Toppers - This is a new area for me and the lists are endless - Parmesan cheese, crispy fried tortilla strips, croutons, salad toppers such as fried onion or wonton strips, grated swiss or cheddars, etc. They aren't really needed, but can add a whole new dimensions if used sparingly and wisely.
So there you go. Put the cookbook down, open up your fridge and see what needs to be used. Then it's time to experiment. If you want to read more, you might enjoy the article I found at a blog called Simple Bites.