The term “Soup Kitchen” conjures up visions of big communal distribution centres that hand out hot nourishing food to those in need. It is a relatively modern term that has been around since the 18th century (at least according to Wikipedia) to characterise these kitchens set up by charitable organizations to serve the poor at minimal or no cost. However, the practice and the sentiment (the moral obligation to feed the poor and hungry) that underlies it has been around since ancient times, widespread among many cultures. As an ex-children’s librarian, it also reminds me of the well-loved story, Stone Soup, based on old traditional folk tales that tell of villagers’ communal efforts to make a soup to feed everyone, ensuring no one went hungry.
The modern reality of this humanitarian activity is at the forefront of many people’s minds here in Greece as waves of refugees sail in hazardous conditions from the Anatolian coast to the Greek islands, notably the larger islands of Samos and Lesvos. Many are escaping unspeakable conditions in their home countries, travelling to seek a better life. Both Greek and foreign aid groups have their hands full, ensuring (among other things) that no one goes hungry.
In the past month, S and I have been making a lot of soup in the kitchen here in Athens, not quite on the industrial scale as a Soup Kitchen (although the pumpkin soup came close in quantity) nor for the same altruistic purpose. However, soups are very practical as we have had a number of people passing through in this past month plus few major dinners were scheduled. It was convenient to have “tuppers” of soups in the freezer, not to mention a dozen or so sourdough baguettes. Our soups were made with basic, inexpensive vegetable ingredients, most common combinations – spinach and dill, carrot and ginger, potato and cheese. But, by puréeing them, sometimes adding a little bit of dairy product for a smooth creamy texture and adding a drizzle or garnish, they were transformed – the apearance of sophistication at a low cost. Always a very warming and soul satisfying meal available from our kitchen.
Spinach soup is actually made from frozen spinach for convenience and economy, but the leeks, spring onions and dill are fresh. Marscapone, a little bit of luxury, is the dairy of choice for this soup, making it very green and creamy.
The finished product is decorated with small amount of double cream.
Another favourite is carrot and ginger soup which has a few basic ingredients – carrots, ginger, onions, a little orange juice and vegetable stock. A small amount of cream is added at the end. More cream is used as a decoration in the same way as the spinach soup. One can play around with “marbled” designs by dragging the tip of a souvlaki stick through the cream. With one of the batches still in the freezer, I will need to try it with corander pesto, as mentioned by Francesca @ Almost Italian in her post championing the carrot.
One soup I make time and time again is a hearty Potato, Cheese and Dill soup. Over the years it has become one of my winter staples. My recipe’s origins have been lost along the way, but I had an inkling that it might have been listed in one of the Silver Palate books. However, paging through my cookbooks continues to prove fruitless and I simply make the soup from memory.
The soup gets its base colour mainly from the added carrots. Flecks of green dill add a bit of visual interest, not to mention taste. We often serve this soup informally in mugs, espically enjoyed while curled up on a comfy sofa in front of a good DVD on evenings we have to ourselves.
Last, but not least was the giant vat (12 litres) of pumpkin soup made for a big event.
The pumpkin is flavoured with a sage infused olive oil, rosemary, celery leaf and onion. The texture was smoothened with the addition of a few yams/sweet potatoes – no dairy needed here. Because both the pumpkin and yams tend to be sweet, the decorative drizzle was balsamic and the fried sage leaves (used to infuse the oil) were crumbled and sprinkled on top. These final additions elevated the soup from a prosaic potage to an elegant dish. I hope to post on this soup soon. Alas, the entire 12 litres was consumed and I did not have a chance to take a photo of an individual bowl of soup. However, the day after the event, I was faced with turning all the tops of the fennel leftover after making fennel gratin. Caramelised, I think, and turned into soup?
February has proved to be the coldest month here in Athens, so soups were most welcome. Good thing we have lots of freezer space. Soon, however, it will be time for the new greens and young spring vegetables, and perhaps exploring the world of cold soups.