It’s Autumn and with falling leaves and a chill in the air, I always turn to making hearty soups, you know, the kind that makes a great meal with your favorite bread – mine is sour dough. And with the COVID thing, we’re all shut down with extra time on our hands. Great time to revisit some of my favorites, as well as delve into some new adventures.
So let’s start with my favorites. Top of my list is beef bourguignonne, which we made last week to share with a friend who just lost his partner of over 70 years. The great thing about this recipe is, one starts with a very inexpensive cut of beef, but slow cook for four to eight hours to remove the toughness of the meat. It also calls for a cup (or more) of inexpensive red wine (three bucks Chuck??), lots of vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes, etc. I won’t go into the details of my recipe, as each time, there are variations, depending on what I find in our cupboard and fridge. I usually google to look for opportunities for a new variation. For you fish lovers, my favorites are chowders or Cioppino. Again, many different variations and also dependent on what kinds of fresh fish and shellfish are readily available at the local store. I often go to Kleins on South Grant, as they have the largest variety of fresh fish. I also discovered the difference between Manhattan Clam Chowder and Rhode Island – both are tomato based but the Manhattan version calls for other vegetables such as celery and carrots. And Cioppino, especially San Francisco style with Dungeness crabs ( I usually substitute snow crabs; I even used soft shell crabs once, as Dungeness aren’t available, locally). We serve this in a bowl and consume the broth by sopping it up with a crusty (San Francisco sour dough, if you can find it) bread instead of a spoon. Sometimes, we may even pour it over pasta.
Now let’s turn to Asia. Again, hot and hearty are the key ingredients. Last February, wife and I decide to pretend like Anthony Bourdain and visit Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand, chasing Pho, the popular noodle soup. Again, many different variations but the key ingredient is the bone broth, which is extremely tedious to make but it is now readily available, just like other flavored broth like beef, chicken and vegetable. The other key is fresh vegetables, especially sprouts and spinach. The locals typically eat this with beef or chicken but I would think shellfish would also be an interesting option (I haven’t tried yet). One thing we learned – the proper pronunciation of this dish: it’s not Fo as most of us pronounce it but more like Fwah, according to the locals. As for Japanese, we turn to Nabeyaki udon (Udon is the wheat flour based, thick Japanese noodle). This is the dish that really warms you up on a cold wintery day. It is served piping hot, the broth bubbling as it comes to your plate. It is made with fish base, often called Dashi with spinach, shrimp, Kamaboko – a Japanese specialty item made from processed fish, scallions, a raw egg (which cooks in the broth) and other vegetables one might find in the fridge. These are my “go – to” soups for the cold nights. Again, I suggest you google the recipes and pick the ones that tickle your fancy by looking at the specific ingredients. One last thing, picking the right kind of noodle is also a key, especially for the Asian flavors. For the Pho, it’s rice noodles/vermicelli and for the Udon, I suggest you use fresh or frozen ones rather than the dried ones – here, fatter the better.
Now let me share a recent, new experience – a Mexican soup. We had a bumper crop of peppers of all variations from our garden this year. The really hot one – habaneros and Cayenne to the milder variety like Anaheim and Poblanos. We usually use Poblanos for chili rellanos so I was delighted to find a recipe for Poblano and Corn chowder, which I decided to attempt. It turned out to be an extremely time-consuming challenge but effectively managed while watching the Browns win over the Bengals, a real nail biter – actually, too busy to bite any nails while I tended to my soup. The recipe called to roast the Poblanos and fresh corn (not canned or frozen). The broth was made separately, basically with chicken broth, onions cooked in bacon fat, then pureed with potatoes, bacon bits and stewed tomatoes. Seasoning, besides the regular salt and pepper to taste, included ground cumin, a basic flavor for most Mexican dishes. The end product was served over broken tortillas chips, garnished with cilantro leaves and laced with your favorite salsa to a degree of heat to your liking. It was pretty good but I probably wouldn’t repeat the effort, unless I had a reason, like what to do with my poblano peppers.
In closing, I would share that like anything else, one has to find his/her own comfort zone with your unique twist or creation that best excites your taste buds. Mine is to find shortcuts that result in the tedious processes, often cited in recipes. Maybe the saying, “Thrill is in the hunt” may be appropriate her. I rely on broth stocks – recently I discovered a product called “Better than Bouillon”, made by company called Southeaster Mills in Georgia. They originally had just the beef flavored but I notice they’ve come out with five new flavors – chicken, fish, vegetarian, non-chicken. For fish dishes, I still favor the Japanese Dashi. If you’re interested, you may want to visit the website https://usa.kayanoya.com/
So there you have it, my Autumn lineup of soups that warm not just the tummy, your whole body. Enjoy!!
Bill Melver – West Akron Kiwanis