Is there anything better than a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day?
The answer for most of us is probably not, and that the way it’s been for centuries - for this simple dish in all its myriad variations is as old as the history of cooking. A staple of the poor when times where scarce, a dish that uses mainly scraps and water yet, nevertheless, often creates something so roundly satisfying its just as frequently enjoyed by the wealthiest in society.
From cabbage broth to lobster bisque, from Russian borscht to Italian minestone, there’s a soup out there representing every class and culture, and according to a YouGov survey on (believe it or not) the habits of British soup eaters, the UK is one of the world’s most enthusiastic soup consumers.
In fact, of all the Brits surveyed, only 4% said they didn’t like soup. There’s no doubt that hearty, homemade soup makes a welcome addition to any restaurant menu in the chillier months, and despite the recent popularity of more exotic variations, this survey clearly proves that the old favourites still remain our most popular choices.
Coming in at number three on the public’s list of favoured flavours is chicken (16%), the soup so versatile that virtually every nation has a version, and so revered that many consider it properly medicinal. Filling second place, quite literally, comes good old leek and potato (17%), one of the most simple, inexpensive and utterly satisfying combinations. Meanwhile, the UK’s number one remains classic tomato (37%). Both nourishing and comforting, it’s no surprise that on celebrating a century of sales in 2010, Heinz Cream of Tomato had recorded sales of 8 billion cans.
Stirring It Up
Although the survey proves these classic flavours remain perennial crowd-pleasers, it’s also worth acknowledging they’re hardly likely to set anyone’s menu alight, which is why we decided to search out some exiting takes on the nation’s top trio of favourites.
Spicy Indian Tomato Soup (Rasam)
In India, Rasam is a traditional warm tomato broth so piquant and moreish it’s also often used cold as a dip. The addition of classic Indian spices, such as cumin, coriander and black onion seeds to roughly pureed tomato, creates a soup with many satisfying levels of warmth. The secret ingredient here is Amchoor, a spice powder made from dried unripe mangos, which imbues the broth with a subtle citrus base layer.
INGREDIENTS (serves 6)
3 pounds plump, ripe tomatoes roughly puréed
8 curry leaves
1 green chilli, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of amchoor Pinch of asafoetida
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds, ground
1/2 teaspoon of black onion seeds
2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of dark brown or raw sugar, optional
3 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil
1: Heat your soup pot on medium-high. Separate your spices into three groups that can be added to the pot easily: mustard seeds, ‘wet’ spices curry leaves, chilli, and garlic), and the dry spices (reserving a teaspoon of the amchoor for later).
2: Add the ghee or oil and let it heat till it shimmers and a cumin seed cracks instantly. Then add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.
3: When the mustard seeds are popping everywhere, add the wet spices and stir to coat with oil. A few seconds later, add the dry spices, and stir to coat again. When the pot is intensely aromatic, add the tomatoes. It's important to do this quickly, so the spices get just toasted, but don't start to burn.
4: Bring the soup to a boil then reduce to a moderate simmer. Let it cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, tasting often to add seasoning, any necessary sugar (which can make a huge difference in tomato dishes), and any additional water (I added about 2 cups towards the end of simmering). The broth should be quite thin but still flavourful. After 20 to 30 minutes, the spices should have married well together. Shortly before serving stir in the remaining amchoor. Garnish with sprigs of coriander.
Potato, Leek and Tahini Soup
This classic pairing has been enjoyed a million times over, and off all the additions you might think of to give it a more novel twist, tahini was likely not at the top of the list. However, the addition of this strongly flavoured middle-eastern staple, along with chickpeas, gives the soup a deep earthy, nutty layer that actually makes it all the more rich and comforting.
INGREDIENTS (serves 6)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large leeks, dark green parts removed, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups vegetable broth
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup double cream
salt and black pepper
1: Melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Once melted, add the leeks, celery, and dried thyme. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Add the garlic and potatoes, cook for 2 minutes before stirring in the vegetable broth. Bring the soup to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.
2: After 2 minutes, stir in the garbanzo beans and tahini. Simmer for 5 more minutes until the beans are warm and the tahini is fully incorporated.
3: Taking an immersion blender (or transfer to a regular blender), blend the soup until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, and then add the heavy cream. Cook for 5 more minutes before serving, until nice and warmed through.
Chicken and Roast Garlic Soup
This version of chicken soup, the Jewish cure-all, comes with the extra antibiotic properties of garlic, making a warming, healthy and hail soup that’s perfect for the time of year. The secret to this soup is to use the best homemade stock, suffused with mirepoix (classic French cuisine’s holy trinity of finely diced carrot, celery and onion), all rounded out with a sweet smoky flavour from bulbs of garlic toasted whole.
INGREDIENTS (serves 6)
3 garlic bulbs whole
2 tbsp olive oil Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter 1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
4 cups fresh chicken stock
1/2 cup double cream 1½ lbs cooked chicken thighs or breasts cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
METHOD 1: Preheat oven to 180C/350F and place garlic bulbs (whole and unpeeled) in a shallow baking dish. Add olive oil, salt and pepper, toss to coat then roast for 35 minutes (or until garlic bulbs are golden brown.
2: Allow to cool, then squeeze out garlic with fingers into a small bowl.
3: In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add mirepoix (onions, carrot and celery) and cook until soft, about 6 minutes.
4: Add roasted garlic paste and thyme, cook for a further 2-3 minutes (until fragrant) then add chicken stock and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.
5: Puree using a blender or immersion blender. Stir in cream and cooked chicken and season with salt and pepper. Warm through and serve.