Soup’s On

soup's onThere’s no mystery as to why we eat soup in January. It warms us from the inside. It provides nutrients our bodies need now more than ever (when days are darker, outside exercise is harder and little fresh is growing in the ground). Soups are simple to make and even create cozy in our homes from our crockpots or atop the stove. They jive with our need to slim down both bodily and budget-arily after a season of celebrating.

Plus, their variety is practically endless. From broth-based soups like Miso and French Onion to pureed soups like Carrot Ginger SoupSilken Turnip and Potato Soup and Thai Butternut Squash Soup. There are tomato-based soups (think Minestrone and many vegetable soups) as well as stews and chowders and chilis that feature meat or seafood.

For anyone with preserved garden bounty to eat, soup is the perfect place to collect these saved tastes of summer. Whether you canned, froze, dried or stored your veggies in your root cellar, to make soup, you simply toss them in the pot along with a bit of seasoning and a splash of stock.

It’s not just me singing soup’s praises, either. A glance at 2017 food trends reveals that soup is the new juice, the new smoothie, a new superfood, a darling of millenials. Who knew? Even if soup generally doesn’t turn out to be on every table this year, bone broth for sure is a current “it” food. Health and fitness trend-setters are suggesting we drink it straight, make sauces out of it — and of course, use it as a base for soup. (Here in Roanoke, M&K Food Shop on Grandin Road has done the hard work for you. Pick up a house-made pint from their refrigerator and go from there.)

With so many boxes and cans of ready-made soup on the shelves these days, it’s easy (and really fine) to reach for soup as a from-the-pantry dinner. But I’d like to suggest or remind that most soups and stews come together surprisingly easily. I think homemade soup always feels heartier and more filling than off-the-shelf. More like a meal. For a primer on how to make any soup, I love this guide from The New York Times.

My final thought on soup comes from local food guru, Michael Pollan. He is author of the award-winning book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and more recently, the wonderful Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which has been made into a Netflix documentary series. In Cooked, Pollan writes about how the soup pot is a symbol of the communal nature of food.

       A comfortable old pot like that one, filled with a thick stew still hatching bubbles from its surface, is a little like a kitchen in miniature, an enclosed pocket of space in which a hodgepodge of cold ingredients get transformed into the warm glow of a shared family meal. What more do you need? Like the kitchen, the pot bears the traces of all the meals that have been cooked in it, and there is a sense (even if it is only a superstition) in which all those past meals somehow inform and improve the current one. A good pot holds memories.

      It also holds us, or that’s the hope. To eat from the same pot is to share something more than a meal. “To eat out of the same cauldron” was, for the ancient Greeks, a trope for sharing the same fate: We’re all in this together. In the same way that the stew pot blends a great many different ingredients together, forging them into a single memorable flavor, it brings the family together as well…..

Thanks, Michael!

Last weekend, I attended an Open House for Roanoke’s first herbal store, Queenpin Herb Shop. It was exciting to see the shelves of dried herbs and taste the teas they’d brewed and talk to folks who’ve trained for years to learn the benefits of herbs on our health. But it was also invigorating to mingle with the rest of the open house attendees — so many creative, passionate, problem-solving people in one room! I love how food brings together chefs, farmers, community organizers, foodies, writers and health and fitness professionals. Food sits at the intersection of many worlds — which is what keeps it interesting….

If you’re a gardener or local food aficionado, January can seem like a break from the bustle (as I wrote about last week). But I was struck, as I ate and drank at the Open House, and then taught my well-attended class at the Roanoke Natural Food Co-op (Thanks, guys!) and later shopped in the crazily crowded Co-op, that the new year’s focus on healthy eating and improved habits turns what could be a down time into an energy-filled one, a time for learning and discussing and making plans. Seeing all that action gave me such a boost for the week!

Before I go, a quick thank you to fellow freelance writer and blogger Dan Smith for his lovely write-up of my website. And a reminder that if you find yourself looking for company and good eats this Saturday afternoon, I’m teaching a free class on cooking with local food sponsored by the Roanoke Community Garden Association at the LEAP for Local Food community kitchen, located just beside the West End Community Market space. Come eat some chili, check out the kitchen and commune with good folks!

Next week: Tips for trying new foods — and getting those you cook for to embrace your palate-expanding efforts!