Cold days call for steaming mugs of warm, wholesome, homemade soup, preferably a flexible soup that calls for a few basic vegetables, a good stock or broth, and, if you are a meat eater, some stewing beef.
Just such a soup comes from Bill Nelson in Belfast who stocks root vegetables, keeps a supply of rich bouillon, reaches for a pound of beef, some barley and makes quarts of soup at a time which he freezes (in cottage cheese containers, he says) to thaw as needed. Lunch in a hurry, quick supper, homemade fast food.
What vegetables? Bill starts with “A hefty onion chopped and a bunch of garlic cloves finely sliced. A green pepper cut into bits works well. Also two or three celery stalks cut small.” He puts these directly into four quarts of water.
I’ve always softened these vegetables up in a little olive oil which I did when I made the soup. You can do either.
Then, he says, he adds the root vegetables, subscribing to “Noah’s idea [of] two of each, sliced or diced. None too large; the danger is in having more vegetables than the kettle can hold. Carrots, of course. Parsnips, yes, if available. Potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, beets (I like the solid red kind for their theatrics). Kohlrabi adds its inimitable touch.”
I didn’t have kohlrabi which I don’t grow, or parsnips which are still in the ground waiting for spring, and I grow rutabaga only in preference to turnips.
Beets: I grow red and yellows both, so I chose one of each, not being quite as enamored of red beet “theatrics” as Bill is.
You could stop right there if you are a vegan or vegetarian. For stock, Bill likes the Better Than Bouillon line of bouillon pastes, as I do, too, made in roasted garlic, mushroom, vegetable flavors, and meat and lobster flavors, too. They are a little pricey but if you don’t make your own stock, these are a good alternative. Bill uses the beef one and sometimes mushroom and adds it to the soup pot before the root veggies. I used a combination of vegetable and beef.
He browns his stewing beef before adding it. I had a handsome chunk of moose meat that I used. His seasoning choices are usually just bay leaves, salt and pepper. I added marjoram and thyme. A half cup of barley is a good idea, though you could try Israeli couscous or farro. And I also added a cup of red wine.
All soups are better for an overnight rest for flavors to become acquainted. The next day, Bill makes a roux of flour and butter and thins it with a little of the broth in the soup before adding it back into the pot.
Lovely. Ready for consumption right away, and/or freezing in meal-sized packages to thaw when needed.
Try not to get too hung up about precision here. Leave out vegetables you don’t like, and double up on the ones you do. An eight quart pot of soup may be simply too much for you to ponder, so feel free to halve the quantity. The main point is root vegetables, so just make sure they outnumber the meat.
Don’t use cabbage — that’s a different, super, but not-rooty, soup.
Yields a gallon and a half or so
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 green pepper, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
4 quarts of water to half-fill a large soup pot
3 tablespoons bouillon paste or several cubes, beef or vegetable flavored, or boxed stock
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 small turnips, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 small rutabagas, peeled and diced
2 beets, peeled and diced
2 kohlrabi, peeled and diced, optional
1 pound of stewing beef, cut up
½ cup barley
Salt and pepper
3-4 small bay leaves
2 teaspoons marjoram
2 teaspoons thyme
1 cup red wine, optional
1 stick of butter
½ cup flour
Put olive oil into a large, about 2 gallon capacity soup pot, over a medium heat, and add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery.
Cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetable become a little tender.
Add the water and bouillon, and all the vegetables.
Cook until the vegetables are tender.
Brown the beef and add it plus barley, herbs and wine, if used, to the pot. Simmer all together for at least 30 minutes, and set aside for a few hours or overnight.
Before serving time while the soup is reheating, melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the flour. Cook and stir the roux to brown the mixture.
Spoon some of the hot soup liquid into the roux and stir or whisk it in to thin it out, gradually adding liquid until it is pourable.
Add to the soup and stir to blend it in. Warm the soup to good and hot, then serve.