Sunday, October 05, 2008

How to Make Cabbage Soup

Note: The below started as a letter to a friend who wanted to know my cabbage soup recipe. It became a two-page dissertation. I offer it here in it's original format for the education of others.

Faith’s Cabbage Soup -- The Opus

I don’t have a set recipe for my cabbage soup. It is generally sweet and sour. One common theme in my soup is what looks good in the store or what is beginning to look a bit past its prime in the fridge.

The key to my soups is the layers of flavors I get by mixing cooking techniques and how I add ingredients. This is very important since the flavor of the soup is dependent on the vegetables and not fat.

Start with your aromatics. I generally use chopped onions (usually a whole small yellow onion), leeks (if available) and garlic (at least two cloves). I spray the bottom of my soup pot with an olive oil spray or drizzle a little olive or grape seed oil on the bottom, swirling the warmed pan around so it coats the bottom.

Add onions and leeks and sauté a few minutes to soften, then add the garlic. If I am using a little chopped fresh ginger I’ll add it now as well as red pepper flakes. If I am going with a smoky hot flavor, I’ll add some chopped chipolte pepper and bit of the sauce they are packed in.

Continue sautéing until lightly browned. If the vegetables begin to stick add a bit of water, stock or wine. Stirring often will help prevent sticking and burning.

Now add your harder vegetables cut into a smallish dice or thin rounds. Here is where I’ll add my carrots (the more you add the sweeter the soup), celery or fennel bulb, potato, turnip (adds a nice peppery taste to the pot), kohlrabi or whatever I have in the house. (Again add a bit of water or stock if it sticks or starts to burn. Periodically scrape up all the little brown bits on the bottom of the pan. It is those bits and the browned vegetables that help give this virtually fat-free soup its deep taste.)

After that has browned and softened a bit I add bell peppers, again cut into a soup spoon friendly size. I like to use red and yellow. I find the taste of the green ones a bit grassy, but they’ll work, too. Cut-up green beans go into the pot now, too. If I’m using eggplant, that goes in now as well. I don’t bother peeling or salting the eggplant; I just cut it into small cubes and toss in. Also good are chopped mushrooms. I like the cremini (small brown) ones. Portobello are good, too, but I slice off the dark gills before I cut them up. Those gills will turn any broth very dark brown and muddy looking and your soup will lose a lot of its visual appeal. Try shitake mushrooms for Asian-influenced soups. Add zucchini after the other vegetables have softened since it needs less time to cook.

I brown that a bit then add in any spices I might be using. Some suggested mixtures:

• French provencal seasoning (my favorite all purpose mix with dried basil, rosemary, lavender and fennel)
• Cumin seed, caraway seed, fennel seed, ground ginger
• Curry seasoning, ground ginger, ground cumin, cumin seed

Italian seasoning mixes also work well.
I can’t really tell you quantities. Be bold, the soup will dilute the intensity as you add stock. You’ll get a chance to correct the seasonings later when you taste your creation.

Let the spices heat up a bit to release the maximum flavor. Next add your tomatoes (if using – pretty typical for sweet and sour style). I usually use a large can of diced tomatoes. I’ve also used dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes softened in hot water and chopped. It adds a complex note to the tomato taste.

Now comes the stock. For stock you can use plain water, water with a bouillon cube (I like the expensive European veggie ones best), vegetable, chicken or beef stock. How much to put in? I can’t say, it should be about double the amount of the veggies you use in total, but you can always cook down or add more later.

I recommend you don’t use plain water. Any form of broth will add to your depth of flavor. Look for low sodium and fat free boullion cubes or stock.

Next come the cabbage and other greens. I usually use about half-to-a-whole of a medium head of green cabbage. You could use more or less or try some of the other types of cabbage (Napa, Savoy, etc.) Especially if I am making the curry variation, I’ll use spinach or Swiss chard instead or in addition. Try some of the exotic Asian greens or perhaps escarole or frisee.

Chop or chiffonade the greens into bite size pieces or silvers and add to the pot.

After those have softened a bit you could add cooked beans. White beans are nice with the more European seasonings; chickpeas are nice with the more Asian. You could also add cooked barley, rice, small pasta or bite-sized bits of smoked sausage, cooked chicken or meat at this stage. (Because I try to keep my soups low in fat and calories, I will often keep these additions on the side and add them to the soup bowl as wanted/needed rather than the pot.) If you want to use raw meat products, you'll need to make sure they are cooked through.

Keep cooking until vegetables are cooked through and it tastes like soup. Taste and adjust seasonings as need be (salt, pepper, hot sauce, curry powder, ground ginger, soy sauce, etc.) If you used a prepared broth or bouillon cube, taste carefully since these ingredients add a lot of salt to begin with.

Now is the time to adjust the seasonings you put in earlier. If you’ve over seasoned, add a bit more stock. If you’ve under seasoned add a bit more of your earlier spice mixture. (If the soup is too salty it can be remedied by putting half of a peeled potato in the soup and cooking it. Remove it before serving. It will have absorbed the excess salt.) If the soup is a bit thin or you’d like more of a tomato taste, add in some tomato paste.

If you intend to make a sweet and sour soup, add about a quarter cup of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar (my favorite) or Chinese rice vinegar. (I like the Chinese black rice vinegar for the Asian soups.) Taste. Want more punch? Add more and taste again. Need to soften the acidity? Add a teaspoon of brown sugar. Taste and adjust to your palette.

If you are going for a smoky flavor instead of sweet and sour, besides the chipolte pepper, you could sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika in when you correct the seasonings toward the end or you could add a bit of liquid smoke or even a tablespoon or two of a smoky barbecue sauce. Smoked sausage, tempeh or tofu would make nice add ins to complement this flavor. Again, taste and adjust to your palette.

Add your minced fresh herbs --- such as basil, Italian parsley, fennel leaves, cilantro (only if not using basil and fennel!) and green onions (especially good for Asian variations).

To really add punch to the soup, just before finishing and serving, swirl in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (for the Asian variation, try sesame oil and for a curry soup try Indian mustard oil.)

I know this is a lot of information. It really is easy to make this soup as simple or complex as you like. I hope this inspires you to create your own cabbage soup tradition. To see my recipes for cabbage and other types of soup, click here.

1 comment:

Kitt said...

Wow! Great detail. It sounds delicious.