Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stone Soup


I'm sure you know the lovely tale of Stone Soup. If you don't, here's a quick summary: A stranger arrives in a village, and tries to find somewhere to eat and stay, but he is told by everyone that there is no food or shelter to be had. So he goes to the village square, and begins to build a fire, over which he places a large cauldron, and in goes a large, regular-looking stone and some water. Curious villagers come by, wondering what he is doing. His answer: he is making Stone Soup, which is lovely as is, but could use a little something extra. Each villager, previously so reluctant to offer shelter or food, were okay to contribute a pinch of this and a bit of that, and before anyone could say 'boo!', a delightful soup is made and shared amongst everyone.

There are countless versions of this tale, but all bear witness to the importance of cooperation and community. And soup! Soups are great for cleaning out the fridge, using up left-overs, and warming your cockles! On a more microcosmic way, soup is about the coming together of diverse elements into a cohesive whole. If you made the cabbage rolls I wrote about in the last post, you probably have a partially cooked cabbage core languishing in the refrigerator. It can obviously be used in any recipe calling for cooked cabbage, but one great way to make it disappear quickly is a hearty cabbage soup.


I can hear some of you groaning from here! But worry not, cabbage soup is delightful, and should cause little or no discomfort if you include most of the herbs and spices in the recipe (these flavourings are known to help digestion). Epazote is a bit of an obscure herb: it is most often used in Mexican recipes, especially with beans, as they are said to ease the digestion of legumes. It can be found in any  Latin-American shop, but you can leave it out altogether, or substitute with savory, a European herb used for similar reasons. Every other ingredient is completely optional, so you can add or subtract from the list, depending on what you happen to have on hand, you can even use a fresh cabbage, if you don't have a lonely, left-over core!

Cabbage Soup
Serves more or less four people

1 cabbage core
2 onions
1 leek
2 carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp epazote or winter/summer savory 
½ tsp thyme
butter and/ or oil
salt and pepper

Quarter the cabbage and remove the stem. Chop roughly, set aside.
Peel and chop the onions, carrots, leek and garlic cloves, making sure to wash the leek thoroughly.
Heat butter and oil in a large pot. Add all the herbs and spices.
When the aromas start rising, add the onions and leek to the pot. Sweat them out.
Add the garlic and carrots. When the onions are completely cooked, add the cabbage and sauté until it is wilted.
Add water or stock, enough to cover the vegetables by 2 cm (1"). Bring up to the boil.
When the soup comes to a rumbling boil, turn the heat down, so that it simmers gently, cover, and let cook for 15-20 minutes. The soup is more or less done after 10 minutes, but the longer it cooks, the more digestible the cabbage becomes.
The soup is ready to be blended when the carrots can easily be crushed with a fork. Blitz until smooth.
Check the seasoning: the herbs and spices contribute a lot of flavour, so go easy on the salt.
Serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt or sour cream, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley or scallions.

The soup tends to be pale in colour (unless you add more carrots to the base), so you can add extra colour by garnishing with diced cooked vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes and leeks. Like all cabbage-based recipe, this soup is very hearty, so go easy on the accompaniments: a hunk of bread, a few crackers, or a chunk of cheese is all you need to make a meal of it. If you happen to have a few beets on hands, their addition to the soup will result in a Russian-style borscht; beef stock and and few chips of left-over beef will make the soup more authentic.


Bon app'!



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