When I was little we had a record called “Danny Kaye Tells 6 Stories from Faraway Places.” On it he read the tale of “Nail Broth,” otherwise known as Stone Soup. While the story has many versions from all over Europe, this is how I remember it:
A traveler arrives in a village suffering from hard times. They slam their doors, not offering him hospitality. Even when he begs for a crust of bread to eat, they won’t share anything with him.
So he takes a stone (or nail) out of his pocket, telling a passing villager that he has plans to make an incredible magic recipe from it, and all he needs is a large pot and water. The villager is curious and provides what the traveler needs, so he can heat up the water. With some fanfare he plops the stone into the pot.
This attracts the villagers’ attention. They peer at him from behind their shutters or venture out to watch. He declares that, after all, the absolute best Stone Soup becomes even more scrumptious with a bit of salt and pepper. An intrigued villager runs to get salt and pepper, which he uses with aplomb. Then he muses aloud that a little bit of carrot and onion also takes this magnificent soup to the next level. Two other townsfolk begrudgingly share a little of what they have in their pantries.
More people gather to watch this magical soup cook. When he makes a show of stirring the pot, he suggests that a bit of beef actually adds just the right touch to perfect this wondrous soup. Naturally, someone spares a little beef. And so on with potatoes, etc., as you can imagine.
And voila! He makes such great soup (with only a stone! Amazing!) that the villagers are really impressed, and they all share in the wonderful concoction.
I always thought the villagers were really stupid and gullible, and I didn’t understand why they were fooled by this con man who just wanted their food. When I shared the tale with friends, my friend David said it was a great story about community, showing what people can accomplish when they work together.
I must admit, I like the less cynical interpretation!
And it brings me to how much I am enjoying adding a bit of this and that to my soups this week!
A recipe for Indian Mulligatawny Soup from thewanderlustkitchen.com caught my eye. I like lentils, and I thought the Indian flavors sounded great. Mulligatawny is actually a British version of an Indian soup. Mulligatawny recipes I saw online varied a great deal, sometimes including potatoes, sometimes chicken for protein.
The protein in this recipe comes from red lentils, which are not actually red but more pink:
It’s a vegetarian recipe, and can be vegan if you use olive or canola oil instead of butter, and vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
As usual, I didn’t have all the right ingredients, but I didn’t want to go to the store. (You are probably wondering why I hate shopping so much!) I used fresh cup-up tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes. I didn’t have ginger root, so I used powdered ginger. I only had one apple, but it was pretty big, and I skipped the jalapeno because I’m a spice wimp. The apple added a nice hint of sweetness.
Overall, the seasonings were rich and varied. Apart from the cooked onion, garlic and ginger, you add curry powder, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, turmeric, ground black pepper, dried thyme and salt to taste. The recipe also asks for cardamom, but I didn’t have any so I used nutmeg instead. The coconut milk added at the end provided a pleasing richness, making me wish I’d added more.
The results were outstanding. The house smelled so good while it was cooking (and for hours afterward), and the soup was very flavorful without being overly spicy.
The recipe called for some of the soup to be pureed using an immersion blender or scooping some into a blender (“immersion blender” is now on my holiday wish list) and then pouring back into the soup pot. That way, some chunks of the vegetables and apple were left, which made for a nice texture. I did not have cashews or scallions for garnish so just served it plain. I did really wish I had some naan to eat with it, instead of ordinary wheat bread. I ate it up so fast I almost forgot to take a picture of it in the cup. It was nice and hearty for a cold night!
It was so good there were no leftovers.
The other soup I made this week was a way of using a lot of the things I had already bought but had no specific plans for. One item was acorn squash.
I also had sweet Italian turkey sausage in the freezer, and potatoes. So I searched online for “soup recipes using acorn squash, sausage, and potatoes” (it’s amazing that you can do this — and find a recipe for whatever you’ve got!). I found this Sausage, Potato, and Squash Soup recipe on thenourishinggourmet.com.
One thing I’m learning as I cook more frequently is to do what chefs call (in French, naturally) “mise en place” first. Meaning “set in place,” the idea is to prep and cut up all your ingredients before you begin to cook, so everything’s ready to go.
One advantage of course is that it forces you to read through the recipe carefully. The other is that your vegetables are cut and peeled so that when you suddenly have to add them to a pan in the middle of cooking on your stove top, you don’t risk something burning while you cut up something else!
My “mise en place:” Cut-up garlic, acorn squash, Italian sausage, potatoes and onions
I’ve found that it’s much easier to cut up sausage when it’s nearly frozen. Sometimes I freeze it a bit before cutting, or in this case I cut it up before it was fully thawed. I also realize that I have no knife skills, and crap knives as well, so most things don’t end up being cut into very even or regular sizes. Something to work towards!
While I didn’t have any carrots or celery, I did have leftover button mushrooms and cut-up tomatoes, so I added those instead, towards the end of the cooking time. I’d read somewhere that mushrooms have better flavor and texture if you saute them first, so I sauteed them with the sausage before adding to the soup.
The primary seasoning besides the onion, garlic, salt and pepper in this soup is cumin, which I am really getting to like. The recipe uses two teaspoons, and it really makes for a delicious flavor.
The mushrooms tend to float to the top
I served the finished soup with a little fresh parsley on top. It was even more flavorful when I heated some up for lunch two days later.
I’m excited to try more soup recipes this month — let me know if you have any favorite recipes! Maybe one day I’ll start with a stone and a pot of water, and ask friends to bring things to add . . .