Soup is the easiest of meals to prepare and one of the most important: This fancy looking soup is simply celery root cooked with onion and milk, pureed, strained, and poured over some diced celery root for garnish. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Soup is the easiest of meals to prepare and one of the most important: This fancy-looking soup is simply celery root cooked with onion and milk, pureed, strained, and poured over some diced celery root for garnish. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Carri Thurman, baker and chef at Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska, asked to write about soup after what I can only say is a soup moment. It’s also a glimpse of a busy bakery and kitchen (and two delicious recipes for tomato soup and a seafood soup). —M.R.

The Magic of Soup

by Carri Thurman

I arrive at the bakery at 10 a.m to begin my day working the lunch and dinner kitchen shifts.

As I get out of my car, the roar of the waves breaking on the beach next door fills my ears and the stinging odor of salt water assaults my nose. As I get closer to the building the fishy smell of the ocean mingles with that of sweet warm sticky buns tinged with ham Danish that has been left in the toaster oven a little too long. The crashing sound of the surf is quickly replaced by the loud din of a busy kitchen, pans banging and the hissing of steam from the espresso machine. Baristas are yelling to be heard over the noise, “Would you like that for here or to go?”

It was nearly impossible to park and there is a large group of people trying to squeeze in the main entrance so I slip in the back door. The pastry girl is at the wooden rolling table, working her dough, cheeks smudged with flour. “It’s been crazy all morning, you might just want to turn around and run the other way.”

I drop my bags and wash my hands, drying them as I rush, head down toward the stove to quickly assess the situation. Looking up through the open kitchen I see the line of customers snaking out to the back porch; their faces look wide-eyed and curious. And hungry. I feel a little like an army doctor performing a triage. I’ve been out of the kitchen for a couple of days so I need to get up to speed, fast. “How much soup do we have for today?” I ask. One look from Ben, my lunch cook, and I know we have nothing.

As he gives me the status on the rest of the morning, I am already gathering what I need: onions, peeled garlic, a couple of big cans of diced tomatoes, cream cheese. I quickly get out my biggest soup pot, pour in a healthy dose of olive oil, and get it heating on the stove. I set up my cutting board and roughly chop the onions, throw them in the pot, after a minute or two add the garlic, don’t chop, just smash. I stir and sauté until the onions are translucent and deglaze the whole mess with a little white wine. While this is cooking, I open up the cans of tomatoes and set them aside for when I’m ready to pour them into the pot. I take the cream cheese and cut it into chunks so it will quickly warm when I put it in the soup. The smell of the onion and garlic in the air weave their magic and lull the crowd; people start to smile and ask “What are you cooking back there that smells so good?” I just grin back and say, “Soup!” Several minutes later, the soup is done, the spell complete: 4 gallons of Creamy Tomato Basil Soup in under 30 minutes.

That would be some ancient magic, too, according to a radio piece I recently heard on NPR. Apparently researchers believe that for at least 25,000 years we have been making soup. They point out the information from primatologist Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire, that cooking food, or quite possibly making soup is what actually allowed us to evolve into the humans we are. There, I said it. (I know Michael will agree with me because he all but says it too in this thoughtful post.)

Even with all that, people seem intimidated to make it from scratch these days and I believe one of the reasons is that they unnecessarily complicate the process. Really, it is a simple marriage of ingredients, cooked well, seasoned well, and served well, easy as that. To keep things as uncomplicated as possible I rarely use stock. I do like to make a quick stock for meat or fish soups by using the trim from the ingredients I’m prepping for the soup itself and then straining that mixture right into the pot after sautéing the vegetables. With all the dietary issues that have arisen for people lately, I never use prepared stocks or pastes at the bakery because I’m never sure what they contain.

Here I’d like to share the recipes for two of our most popular soups, the quick and simple tomato soup I describe above and a warm and spicy rockfish chowder, a great way to use any seafood you have available.

 

Tomato basil soup. Photo by Carri

Tomato basil soup. Photo by Carri Thurman.

Creamy Tomato Basil

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 large onion)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • Two 16-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Pinch sugar
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  1. Heat the oil in a 6-quart heavy-bottom pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent and the kitchen smells delicious, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, water, basil leaves, salt, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and tuck the chunks of cream cheese into the hot soup, being careful not to splash.
  5. Let sit off the heat for 5 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender.
  6. Garnish with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Makes about 1 quart or 4 bowls of soup.

Fish curry soup

Fish curry soup. Photo by Carri Thurman.

Red Curry Rockfish Chowder

  • 2 cups diced yellow onion (about 1 large onion)
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Pinch sugar
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ⅓ cup flour
  • 6 cups fish stock or water
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 pound rockfish, cut into dime-sized chunks (or any fish really, salmon works great!)
  • 12 ounces coconut milk
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • Cilantro or scallion for garnish
  1. Make a quick stock by placing the fish bones and discarded pieces in a medium pot with the scraps from your vegetables, cover with cool water … about 6½ cups. Bring to just under a simmer and cook while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Chop all your vegetables and assemble the rest of the ingredients near the stove where you will be working.
  3. Heat a 6-quart soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the carrots, celery, ginger, garlic, curry paste, salt, and sugar and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes until onion is translucent and your husband comes in and asks what smells so good.
  5. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and cook off almost all of the liquid, about 1 minute.
  6. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables in the pan and stir thoroughly to coat.
  7. Strain the fish stock through a sieve right into your soup pot, stirring well to incorporate and keeping the flour from sticking to the bottom.
  8. Add the potatoes, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook, stirring very frequently, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add a little water if it gets too thick.
  9. Into the simmering soup carefully add the rockfish and return the soup to a light simmer for 5 minutes to thoroughly cook the fish.
  10. Finish with the coconut milk, add a squeeze from half a lime, and top with a handful of fresh cilantro or scallion.

Makes about 2.5 quarts or 8 big bowls of soup.

If you liked this post, you might be interested in these links:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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21 Wonderful responses to “The Humanizing Impact of Soup”

  • Baydog

    Knob celery has got to be one of the most under-appreciated vegetables. I can taste that soup now…

  • Allen

    Soup.
    My favorite meal for midweek lunch for cooler months.
    The most efficient means of distributing flavors and nutrients.
    You can’t cheat by watering down a concentrated version, it is a process. Commingling I believe it’s called.
    Soul satisfying to make and eat.

  • arod

    The best food – peasant food. Leftovers and water, the only things not in short supply!

  • Patrick

    The tomato soup from this recipe is on the stove right now. Not sure where “2.5 quarts” came from; I only got 1.

  • Jennie M

    There are often times when, even with all the restaurant options available to us and my love of cooking, I’m inconsolable when it comes to dinnertime. On those nights, I always turn to soup….and I’m always happy.

    Excited to try that celery root soup!

  • Miss Kim

    I agree. Soup is super easy to make, but can intimidate people to try making. As long as you got the basic methods down of soup making, your creativity is your only limit to what sorts of brilliance that can be cooked up. Tomato basil soup is one of my favorites! Our chef at work LOVES tomatoes and its versatility. When I made a tomato basil soup, he loved it!

    Btw, Michael..I had no idea who you were a few years ago. I was at Borders searching for books regarding culinary school. I came across your book, “The Making of a Chef,” and picked up a copy without hesitation. It seemed like it would have all the valuable insights and stories I was looking for. And it was definitely what I was seeking and more. Through your writing, I felt the frustrations, joy, struggles, and growth that you were going through as a culinary student.

    And when culinary school started (about a month after reading the book), the same emotions that I felt through your writing were revisited. And I felt like I had a heads up on a lot of the kitchen lingo, cooking methods, and the constant strive for excellence that grows in budding chefs. So thank you. Currently, I just picked up a copy of “The Reach of a Chef.” I just started reading it. And as always, brilliant writing!

  • Jules

    I always have soup on the weekly menu somewhere. It’s fast and easy and makes me look like a better cook than I am, especially if it’s paired with a crusty loaf of bread :-d

  • Wilma de Soto

    Soup warms the cockles of my heart. I make it a lot, but all my friends, who love my soups, tell me, “I can’t make soup; it comes out tasting like water!” Cannot stress enough good seasoning.

    Next soup: Rockfish Red Curry Chowder!-Thanks.

    • Carri

      It’s true, Wilma! Spice and salt are the key, whenever I get asked to fix a soup, it is usually lacking in salt. The other thing people forget is to add an acid for balance. Sheila Lukins’ Around the World Cookbook has a wonderful chart of soup ingredients and seasonings broken down by regions of the world. So useful! Have fun with the chowder!

  • eema.gray

    Soup is magic. :-) Like many professional kitchens, I always have a 2 gallon pot of bones and veg scraps on the back burner. With hot stock always at hand, soup is almost never more than 20 minutes away.

  • Victoria

    I find it hard not to eat too much soup when it’s homemade because it is soooo good.

    These look great, especially the tomato soup because it sounds delicious and easy.

  • allen

    Tonights soup is ice cold gin & olives. Friday every day this week for me. Compliments calamari salad & sashimi. Pre happy Friday all.

  • Milwaukee Dan

    I feel like a dummy asking this but what exactly is a rockfish? And is there any chance I could find it in Milwaukee?

    • Carri

      Rockfish is a pacific red snapper. You may find it in Milwaukee, but any firm fish will do. Salmon, shrimp, scallops, even bass would work!

  • Caroline

    This post drew me in. I’ve got a thing for soup! ;) An afternoon in the kitchen making a big pot of soup is like meditating for a couple of hours…except you get something yummy at the end!

    • Carri

      I started making soup as a way to sell my bread and, as with most things, the rest is history!