I am a soup-making fiend. Thankfully, my mom is a soup eating fiend throughout all the four seasons of the year, but I've taken her lunches at work to a level a wee bit above the standard "can of whatever" she originally settled for mid-day. In addition to whipping up soups with whatever inspiration strikes me that day, I've gotten into the habit of making the bare bones of the meals as well - the stock.
I can't believe that in the daytime heat of these Summer days (though cooler now than a few weeks back!) I am still driven by some undefinable, indescribable urge to make stock. It's a therapeutic process for me - the rhythm of knife against cutting board, the first waft of bittersweet caramel coming from the oven as the vegetables and chicken bones roast to a rich brown, and watching nothing but simple water transform into an elixir that is full of possibility and promise. Of course, making my own stock is practical too - our household goes through a lot of vegetables, leaving us with a lot of peelings, odds and ends, so rather than fill up our "green bin" (which is always overflowing!) I stick the best of the bunch into a freezer bag that I've handily labeled "stock" (so someone doesn't throw it out) and shove it into the deep freeze. And since I'm in total and complete control of the elements I add to the stocks I make, I'm able to have completely salt-free concoctions at the ready for when I go about making things like soup, rice or couscous that are additionally seasoned. Even without the salt, the flavours that roasting the ingredients brings out are incredibly rich and intense, worthy of standing alone as a first course.
The other great thing stock making gives you is a ridiculous amount of vegetable matter (and meat if you're doing chicken or beef stock) that is perfectly edible. I never understood why recipe books would instruct cooks to throw away the flavouring elements after straining - other than the obvious detritus like bones and peels, all the ingredients are prime eating. Think of it this way - yes, they have been simmering and leaching their flavour into the stock for hours, but they have been cooking in that flavour bath for hours! They're soaking up an equal amount of flavour that turns their simple basal notes into something luxurious and complex. When you add them to a bowl of leftover rice or top a baked potato with them, it's one of those simple, yet delectable concoctions you can't help but love.
The other, somewhat spur-of-the-moment thing I have done with the stock and vegetables was to make a single-serving bowl of soup: having about half a bowl of vegetables and chicken scraps and a cup of double-strength chicken stock left over that I couldn't fit into freezer containers, I simply poured both of them into my food processor, added another half cup of water and pureed everything into a smooth, golden bowl of comfort. It is simplicity at it's finest!
Continuing on with the pureed soup theme I was following, I jumped at the chance to try out a recipe I had been casually writing for a while, adding and removing ingredients depending on my mood (and whatever I found while shopping that caught my eye) for a thick, curried soup filled with red lentils, carrots and rice. Having a small bag of nutritional yeast in the pantry as well, I added it for a hint of nutty flavour and a little colour too.
Flavour-wise, I knew my mom loved curry in small doses, and mulligatawny is one of her favourites, so I played to that and came up with the idea of adding a hint of fruit to the mixture as well. But I didn't want to go the "apple" route of traditional mulligatawny, since the rest of the dish really had nothing in common with that soup, and I wanted something that matched the orange hue of the carrots and lentils. Then I thought of one of the strangest ingredients for a savoury soup that had ever occurred to me - apricots. Technically one apricot, as I only wanted that "pop" of sweet-tart flavour, and the fruit was the perfect size for the job. I didn't say a word about it (or the nooch) to my mom when I made the soup, just asking her to taste it and give me her verdict. In her words, it was "incredible, and so rich, spicy and a little sweet". She even asked if I had used a little coconut milk to get the body of the soup as smooth as it was (thank you brown sushi rice!)! So I let on about the apricot - an idea she loved - but I'm not going anywhere near telling her about the yeast. She still thinks it's way too "hippie" for her tastes, but what you don't know can't hurt you!
Rich Roasted Vegetable Stock
Assorted vegetables (I happened to use onion, tomatoes, shallots, mushrooms, radishes, carrots, beets, buttercup squash, celery, garlic, bell peppers, hot peppers and zucchini), as many as will fill 3/4 of your largest stockpot
Vegetable peelings (onions, carrots, etc)
White wine (or water)
2-3 bay leaves
2 tsp whole peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Preheat oven to 400F.
Place vegetables (excepting green leafies, peels or delicate things like green onion) on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. If you are using garlic bulbs, slice the tops off and wrap in foil before placing on the sheet)
Roast for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Remove from the oven, pour the vegetables into a large pot and deglaze the roasting pan with a touch of white wine (if you like, or use water).
Pour the deglazed juices into the pot and add bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme.
Add enough water to the pot to cover the vegetables by 2".
Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook, covered, for 1 hour, then uncover and increase the heat to just under the boiling point.
Cook 1 hour longer.
Strain stock, discard (or keep) solids and store in the fridge or freeze.
Orange-Hued Curry Potage
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large, sweet onions, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3/4 lb carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp pepper
5 cups roasted vegetable stock (see above)
3 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 apricot, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups raw red lentils
1 cup raw, "sweet" (sushi) brown rice (or short-grain brown rice)
Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-low.
Add onions and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until they're beginning to caramelize - about 15 minutes.
Increase heat to medium and add celery, carrots, garlic and ginger.
Saute 5-6 minutes, until vegetables are beginning to colour and soften.
Stir in all the spices and mix to coat the vegetables well. Cook 1 minute, until fragrant.
Pour in stock and water, stir well and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and add nutritional yeast, apricot, bay leaves, pumpkin puree, lentils and rice.
Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours until the vegetables and apricot have disintegrated and the lentils and rice are mushy.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then in batches in a blender or with a stick blender, puree until smooth.
Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. This also freezes well!