If ever a weather pattern screamed “soup,” this is it. Chilly temps call for slurping a menu item that dates back to 20,000 B.C. Boiling was not a common cooking technique until the invention of waterproof containers (which probably came in the form of clay vessels). Animal hides and watertight baskets of bark or reeds were used before this. To boil the water hot rocks were used. This method was also used to cook acorns and other plants. The word soup comes from French soupe (“soup”, “broth”), which comes through Latin suppa (“bread soaked in broth”) from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word “sop,” a piece of bread used to soak up soup. The word restaurant (meaning “something restoring”) was first used in France in the 16th century, to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups. This prompted the use of the modern word restaurant for the eating establishments. And there you have it, something else to digest beside soup. Throw in a few acorns for good measure. We now travel from France to Poland to Mexico…
French Onion Soup ¼ cup olive or vegetable oil 5 cups thinly sliced onions 1 teaspoon minced garlic ½ cup brandy 6 cups beef or chicken broth, heated Sachet: 3 to 4 parsley stems, ½ teaspoon each dried thyme and tarragon and 1 bay leaf enclosed in a large tea ball or tied in a cheesecloth pouch Salt as needed Freshly ground pepper as needed 8 slices French bread 1 cup grated Gruyére cheese, or more as needed Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium low heat. Add the onions and cook without stirring until the onions begin to brown on the bottom. Raise the heat to medium, stir, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized (deep gold brown). The total cooking time will be 30 to 45 minutes. If onions begin to scorch, add a few tablespoons of water and continue cooking. Add the garlic and continue to cook for an additional minute. Add the brandy and simmer until the liquid is nearly evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth and sachet. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, skimming the surface as necessary and discarding the fat. Remove and discard the sachet. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When ready to serve the soup, preheat the broiler. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof soup crocks. Top each crock with a slice of bread and sprinkle with enough of the grated cheese to cover the bread completely, allowing cheese to touch the edge of the crock. Place the soup crocks in a large baking dish and broil until the soup is thoroughly heated and the cheese is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.
Goulash Soup 6 tablespoons minced salt pork, slab bacon or fatback 1 pound beef or veal chuck, cut into ½- inch cubes 2 ½ cups finely diced onion 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon hot paprika ¾ cup tomato puree 4 cups beef broth Sachet: 1 teaspoon each caraway seeds, dried marjoram and thyme, 4 parsley stems, 2 peeled garlic cloves and 1 bay leaf, enclosed in a large tea ball or tied in a cheesecloth pouch 2 cups yellow or white potatoes Salt as needed Freshly ground pepper as needed ¼ cup finely sliced scallion greens or chives Sauté the salt pork in a soup pot over medium heat until the bits of pork are crisp and fat has rendered, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cubed beef or veal and sauté in the fat until the meat begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the onion is translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until the liquid begins to reduce in volume, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the paprika, then the tomato puree and mix thoroughly; cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth and sachet. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until the meat is almost tender, about 30 minutes. Add the diced potatoes and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the sachet. Skim away any fat from the surface of the soup with a shallow spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls, garnished with sliced scallions or chives.
Dried Beef Soup Caldo de Carne Seca (um delicioso) 2 tablespoons olive oil or lard 1 ½ cups thinly sliced onion 1 teaspoon minced garlic ¾ pound carne seca (dried beef), diced or cut into strips (see note below) 2 cups chopped plum tomatoes, fresh or canned ½ cup chopped cilantro 8 cups beef broth 1 cup medium-dice potatoes ½ cup medium-dice carrots Salt as needed Freshly ground black pepper as needed Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil or lard. When the fat is shimmering, add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it is tender and a deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until aromatic, 30 to 40 seconds. Add the beef, tomatoes and cilantro, stir well to coat with the oil, and sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Add the broth, potatoes and carrots and bring the soup to a boil, skimming the surface, as needed. Reduce the heat slightly, and simmer the soup until the carrots are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the soup in heated bowls. Making carne seca: Trim a 3-pound boneless beef round to remove all surface fat. Use a slicer to cut the meat into thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick. (Frozen meat is easier to thinly slice.) Blend ¼ cup each of lime juice and soy sauce, and then add 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons onion powder and two teaspoons garlic powder to a bowl. Add the sliced beef and turn to coat evenly. Let meat marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven (use a convection oven if you have one) to 250 degrees. Arrange the meat slices in a single layer on racks set on baking sheets or pans. Dry the meat in the preheated oven until thoroughly dried and leathery, 1 to 2 hours (depending on the thickness of slices). Refrigerate until needed.