A Tale of Two Soups

I am finding it increasing odd that the calendar says one thing – i.e. it is December and should be winter – and the weather is telling me another thing – i.e. it is still relatively warm, more autumnal. I say relatively, as many of my Greek friends would claim it is cold – a truth backed up by wooly scarves and puffy winter coats I see people wearing here in Athens while I am still content with only a light cardigan. But, whatever my internal themostat says, it is cool enough for a good warming soup.

Both S and I have recently been active in the kitchen, making use of the stock pots – both of us producing something superficially similar, but our approach (or perhaps I should say, philosophy) is different. First mine is simply a scrounger’s herb broth – made up on the spot – and S’s is a set recipe from the traditional Greek repertoire.

tale_of_two_soups

For my broth, I harvested bits and bobs from my herb garden (oregano and thyme) and added ingredients readily to hand in the pantry or refrigerator (bay leaf, onion, passata, garlic and a few stalks of leaf celery). I “invented” this type of broth one cool(ish) Sunday when we really wanted a nice bowl of soup for supper, but the shops were closed and I could not find a stock cube in the cupboards. Necessity (or possibly desperation in this case) is truly the mother of invention.

herb_broth

Tomato Herb Broth
This is an ad hoc soup stock. Add whatever fresh herbs you have to hand that would make a nice combination. I would have added sage and/or parsley if my baby plants in the herb garden had been big enough to crop. I consciously did not add rosemary (one of my all time favourite herbs) because I felt it would overpower the other herbs, but feel free to add if you like. The amount made is enough for 2.

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 stalks of celery leaf (or 1 stalk of celery)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a bunch of fresh arromatic herbs – I used sprigs of thyme and fresh oregano cuttings. The amount depends on what you have available, but don’t be stingy.
  • 1 litre of water
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato passata or 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil in a stock pot and add the roughly chopped onion and the smashed garlic clove. Cover and let the vegetables “sweat” over low heat until soft. Add the celery leaf (roughly chopped), the herbs, water, tomato passata and the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. Simmer for about an hour and a half. Strain the stock, pressing to remove all the liquid and discard the solids. You should have about 1 litre of stock or slightly less, but a little more water can be added at this point. The broth is now ready to use.

I have used this broth for the basis of a caramalised onion soup (using my stashes of lipig or “onion marmalade”) with a large bread crouton covered in melted cheese. Not quite a traditional French onion soup, but delicious nonetheless. Or, my favouite soup using this stock is cooked chickpeas, a handful of vermicelli or orzo pasta and more fresh chopped herbs or “greens”, sometimes adding a little more tomato passata to the final soup and sprinkling a good amount of freshly ground Parmesan on top of each serving. After one of our events, there were a dozen or so of small meatballs (keftadakia) left over, so I added these in place of the chickpeas plus a few sliced kohlrabi greens from the garden. Very nice! 

meatball_soup

I would think it would also make a good basis for a chunky vegetable soup. I may even experiment, using this stock, with fish. In addition it occured to me that adding a few Parmesan rinds that I keep in the freezer for just such a purpose would add to the stock flavour. As you can see, a very versitile broth, making any number of changeable soups based on what is to hand.

On the other end of the spectrum is a good Greek soup for winter (that is, other than the ubiquitous lentil soup), a simple white bean soup called fasoulada (φασολάδα). Unlike my spontaneous tomato herb broth above, this basic bean soup has a set recipe enshrined in tradition, of course, with some “wiggle room” for variations. S made this batch with me watching and recording the process.

fasoulia

Fasoulada (Bean Soup)
Below is S’s version of this classic soup, similar to Italian winter style minestrone.

  • 250g haricot (navy) bean – known as φασόλι in Greece
  • water to cover
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 4 medium-sized carrots
  • a bunch celery leaf
  • 1 large onion
  • 100ml good green extra virgin olive oil
  • 150ml tomato passata
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 pepperoncini (or 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper)

The night before, soak the dried beans in cold water. Next day, drain the beans and rinse.

In a stockpot put the soaked beans and with enough water to cover by a few centemeters. Add the mustard and bring it to a boil. Mustard apparently will help reduce flatulence. Lightly boil until the beans are tender – about 45 minutes to one hour, but time will depend on the age of the beans (the older, the longer they need to cook). Drain the cooked beans.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and celery leaf. Finely slice the carrots into little rounds. Chop the pepperonci and set this aside.

In the stock pot on medium-low heat, put the olive oil, the chopped vegetables – first the onion, then the carrot and the celery leaf last. Turn the vegetables over in the warm oil until slightly softened, then add the tomato passata. Mix and add the cooked beans plus boiling water to cover (about 1 liter), again covering the beans and vegetables by a few centemeters. More water can be added as the soup cooks. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat a little, putting the lid ajar and not firmly covering the pot. The soup should cook for at least half an hour to make sure the vegetables soften. Add the hot pepper flakes about 5 minutes before the end. The soup should be thick, but still soupy.

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22 comments

  1. The mustard is an unusual ingredient to find in a Greek soup.Is this powder or the seed or the leaf?
    I like your simple broth- a good base for our summer vegetables.

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    • I expect that come summer and it is well into the 30s degrees C (not to mention the dreaded 40s) that I will be thinking of cold soups. I get a kick out of reading posts from the Southern hemisphere in winter (your summer) and summer (your winter) to remind me to think ahead when the appropriate season rolls around.

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    • John, You are right – no need to buy stock cubes if you have a few veg (an onion, for sure) and a handful of fresh herbs. I read somewhere that grating the vegetables increases the flavour in the resulting stock. I expect there is more surface area exposed to the water, and it is quicker, too.

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    • Lisa, let me know if the mustard really works. I am still not 100% convinced. I tend to boil the beans for a few minutes and discard this liquid before retuning the beans to a pot with fresh water – this is the way I was taught to reduce the gassiness!

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  2. I’m a big soup fan for the colder months, ad lib all the way is my motto. Both soups look delicious and I personally love tiny meatballs. I was served a soup in Turkey that had meatballs so tiny they looked exactly like chick peas. That was my first encounter with mint in a hearty soup

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  3. Beautiful broth and wonderful suggestions on how to use what you have on hand to create different soups… chickpeas and orzo, leftover meatballs, and my favorite idea- using onion marmalade with crostini for a quick onion soup! So smart!!!

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  4. Enjoy your autumnal weather, we’re snowed in out here in Northern Arizona! Do you save your veggie compost in the winter to make veggie stock? It’s my favorite!

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    • Will need to look into this veggie compost, although I think it is just the bits and bobs from preparing vegetables that would normally be put on the compost heap. If so, I do this (on occasion), not not regularly. Should probably discipline myself to do so! Enjoy your snow! I’m told that it sometimes snows here in Athens – a sight to see.

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      • Guess you’re lucky and can compost all year, ours freezes over this time so instead of wasting I always save the little bits then make my grains with the stock. Best wishes on snow in Athens!!

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    • Hmm… perogies in Greek cuisine. I know there are stuffed pastas called manti, but these are also Turkish. And, of course there are all sorts of stuffed vegetables, vine and cabbage leaves. I expect there are more perogie like things in Northern Greek regional foods since they share many Balkan food characteristics.

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