Brothless Soup: The Soup for Summer

Posted by    |  August 20, 2010  |  Filed under: Home, Technique

Question: When you’re feeling the need to eat something cleansing, healthy and nourishing, what food comes to mind first? I betcha most of you think of soup.

I spent last week on a canoeing and rock climbing trip with 55 nine- and ten- year olds. It was a great time in a crazy way. Nevertheless, four days of white bread, limited veggies and too much sugar had me yearning for food that is pure and nourishing. More practically, I needed to get my guts moving again.

But it’s 91 freakin’ degrees and 100% humidity here in Chicago! As wonderful as Minestrone sounds- with zucchini, carrots, tomatoes and basil so fresh this time of year- it’s just too darned hot for soup. No problem. I worked this out last spring: it’s called the brothless soup.

My mom had brought over the Easter hambone. It had a good amount of ham still attached to it. The obvious thing to do was split pea soup, but, alas, my legume drawer was empty of split peas. I did, however, find a bag of black-eyed-peas. A bunch of collards were waiting in my fridge. Soup still seemed like the obvious direction, but I’d just made a soup the day before. The idea was born: What would it be like to combine the ingredients for a soup without the broth?

That night we had a dish composed of black-eyed peas, diced ham, onions and chopped collard greens. It was delicious. Even more fun, I realized I’d fed my family for under $1 per person. I kept playing with this idea. It was so brilliant and so satisfying I felt like a fool for not thinking of it before. It really is as simple as thinking of your favorite soup and cooking and combining the ingredients into a sort of healthy- whatchamacalit.

It’s not a casserole because I think of casseroles as creamy or saucy. It isn’t a stew or a braise because there isn’t much liquid or meat. If you make it with lentils it would be called a “dal” in India. If you make it with corn and beans it is a succotash. What would a dish of tomatoes, summer squash, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, fresh basil and a bit of ditalini pasta be called? I called Kyle to see what he could come up with. Regrettably, we’re stuck at “brothless soup.” I wish I could come up with something with a bit more pizzazz.

Here are the building blocks of the brothless soup.
• One part cooked legume. One part cooked vegetables and (if desired) meat. One part carbohydrate- which can either be stirred in or used as a base over which you serve the brothless soup.
• Make the elements of uniform, small size. You want lots of different bits of things to combine their textures and flavors on your fork.
• Spices help “marry” the flavors.
• Herbs, citrus zest or even a bit of gently warmed fruit such as apples, raisins, or apricots can complete the flavor profile on a bright note.
• Finish the dish with a bit of fat. A high-quality olive oil works much of the time, but the richness of butter might work better in some dishes.
• Here’s the basic process. Cook the legumes separately. Sweat the aromatics with the spices. Sauté the vegetables while you cook the carbohydrate. Stir to combine carb and legume at the end.

It isn’t restaurant food. It isn’t dinner party food. The brothless soup is food that nourishes and satisfies.

Now you just have to decide: fork or spoon?

Tex-Mex Succotash

Curried Lentils with Summer Squash


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