Vegetable Soup

VEGETABLE SOUP

Vegetable soup has many variants as anyone who has ever eaten soup knows. I grew up on vegetable soup my mother made, which had ground beef in it, making less vegetably, plus okra and lots of butterbeans, which are what we called lima beans, and other ingredients which ended up being very good. But more of a concoction resembling something between Brunswick stew(My mother was born in Brunswick, GA.), which is fantastic stuff but not for the novice cook with little time on their hands, and a beef stew/vegetable soup/gumbo. I have all her recipes, and I haven’t seen one for it, so it likely was something she learned to make from trial and error or her mother or my other grandmother Virginia, who was the best cook in the entire family, taught her. That was back when every kitchen, in the South at least, had a big vat of Crisco handy for frying your chicken, okra, fish, hushpuppies, fritters, green tomatoes, crabs, oysters, and pretty much everything when you grew up in South Carolina near the ocean.

Point being, there are as many ways to make vegetable soup as there are vegetables. But I’ve zeroed in on a way to make it that’s pretty easy, and a big hit with my daughter makes a lot and is cheap. It’s hearty, too and perfect for when the weather starts dipping. I use my crock-pot which makes it a no-brainer. Those criteria are what I base a lot of my cooking on these days. That hasn’t always been the case whatsoever, so I’ve learned how to cook a lot of stuff, which makes cooking easier and easier. It’s learning science and how to combine tastes, over many years, is all. I’ve made everything from stuffed whole squid, cut into rings, tentacles fried as an appetizer, to chateaubriand, and everything in between. Learning to cook is an invaluable skill, and it keeps you healthy because it makes you think and know exactly what you’re putting into your body. It makes you shy away from fast food garbage and processed and refined foods that aren’t natural. I’m not a health-food nut like some trendy Californian that only eats grain-fed organic blah-de-blah. But I know how to read labels and understand what is good and what to avoid. And the cooking method is essential as well. The less damage you do to the cells of your ingredients, the better. Boiling is violent, for example. Frying isn’t that bad for you appropriately done. Most people don’t keep their frying medium at a constant temperature as necessary, which is where things go wrong. I don’t fry much because to do it right involves a lot of dishes that have to be washed and stations and is an operation that’s out of scale for just myself, or me and my daughter. And I don’t want her to think frying everything is the right path, because it certainly isn’t. But one of my favorite foods is fried chicken. I rarely eat it, though. I probably eat more lobster than fried chicken.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a cooking lesson or an introduction to my personal diet, but if you’re making vegetable soup, it’s good to use whole, fresh vegetables if possible. Flash-frozen is also fine. Canned is starting to get into the oversalted and nutrition-loss territory. And then you need to have some excellent knife skills to prep your vegetables. It all comes with time and practice, I guess. I’ve been doing it for a long time now. And I plan on teaching my daughter everything I know, and she seems eager to learn, which is terrific, I think. That will make her healthy, independent, and of higher worth as a wife and family member for sure. As long as your family cares about staying healthy, and eating well, which I’ve learned the hard way, not everyone cares about. They’ll say they do, but then buy frozen-quick-fix one-pot meals or head to White Castle and behave much differently from what they say. I witness it. I choose not to do that, which I’m positive will be meaningful in how our bodies age and maintain health and cells. Diet was the reason my sweet dog Annie lived so long and healthily. I made sure I fed her well and not Alpo, which is what most Americans eat, and why most Americans are morbidly obese and out of shape. And probably why we’re now starting to not live as long despite medical breakthroughs occurring all the time and technology are allowing us to live longer if we choose. You can’t feed yourself a diet of garbage between 20 years old and 80 years old and expect your body to be running like it was back at 20, though. The fuel we use is essential.

I’ll get off my soapbox and back to the kitchen now. There are no real hard lines with this type of recipe. It’s adding more of what you like, less of what you don’t, but remember everything here has a purpose beyond taste. Here’s what I use as a basis for my vegetable soup:

Combine it all in a slow-cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Don’t overcook it, or it’ll be mushy, which is gross.

Beyond that, I add whatever I have around. My daughter said she loved tomato juice one day, so I bought some for her. She took one sip and decided she hated it(go figure). So I’ll add a can of tomato juice when/if the soup gets too thick. I’ll also add chicken broth if tomato juice isn’t available, which it usually isn’t. Can of peas? Toss them in. A bag of frozen corn, okra, or butterbeans? Go for it. Note that Okra tends to act as a thickening agent, so you’ll want to loosen up your soup some with the above-stated juice or broth or below-stated stock. Cabbage is good too but I tend to leave out Fall vegetables like squashes. Chopped cauliflower, yes. Chopped broccoli? You choose.

Another variation is I’ll add shredded chicken to it. I’ll either buy a cooked bird from the grocery store and pick it apart to put on there, or cook one myself in the crockpot or bake it, which is cheaper, avoids some additives, and you can buy a good quality bird, versus who knows what the grocery store used. They usually don’t tell you. You also can boil a chicken for about an hour with herbs, but that presents a tossup. You render out a lot of fat, but you also boil out a lot of flavor and juices and are left with pretty dry “boiled meat.” So I tend to avoid boiling chickens if I can. Baking them and cooking them in a crockpot is easy and not too messy if you know what you’re doing, and it yields some stock you can later use. It allows you to use some vegetables past their prime or the parts you usually toss out as aromatics. I try not to waste anything at all, and do a pretty good job, which is another reason learning to cook pays off. It’s thrifty.

If you want to add beans, like black beans, it’s perfect, too. But I rinse my canned beans, because the juice, which contains most of the sugars the beans leach off, is what’s responsible for the gassy aftereffects associated with eating beans. You can avoid that issue by rinsing the sugars off your beans well. If you use dried beans, good for you, but messing with dried beans and legumes is another worthwhile post. They’re healthy things that humans should embrace more of. We’ve lost the time and desire it seems when Facebook and TikTok and Fortnite awaits.

I let it cool to a temperature that’s above the danger zone for bacteria and put it in reheatable containers that are good portions for myself and my little girl, so all I have to do is reheat it in the microwave, put it in a bowl and serve. It goes very fast, so I never even have to freeze it.