Southern Vegetable Soup

Southern Vegetable Soup, Just getting Started

Here’s an old family recipe, created out of the necessity of eating only vegetables. As it so happens, it turns out to be, and I am actually understating this here, unbelievably good. Our vegetables play well together.

I have Died, and Gone to Vegetable Heaven

Create your own version out of whatever you have, but this is ours. Using what you got is the secret to good food. Quantities are based on how much you have.

Ingredients

Chicken Stock

1 Vidalia Onion, diced

Butter Beans

Field Peas

Tomatoes

Okra. sliced

Sweet Corn, cut from the cob

Salt and Pepper

Except for the seasoning, ingredients are cooked in that order. This is truly a dish of high summer, when all these things are in season at once. I now mill my tomatoes in a food mill, so the okra seeds get to be the star. The kicker is when all this is cooked, add:

Wide Egg Noodles

The extra starch does some magical something or other, and adds a little who knows what. Wait, that’s called flavor. Ideally, serve with a hot piece of:

Corn Bread

We’re talking a real melting pot here, Southern Cucina Povera. We freeze some for the winter, and days when you think it will never be warm again. Freeze it without the noodles, and add those only when you cook it. This soup is the boss, the mac daddy, and the kiss my butt on twentieth street shut your mouth cheap talk at the table stopper. That last one is something of a Birmingham thing.

Brick Oven: Building and Maintaining a Fire

Fire Walk with Me–Twin Peaks

There actually is a process involved in building and maintaining a fire in a brick oven. Begin with completely dry soft wood, and then add hardwood if you want to build up a bed of hot coals. Here I start with yellow pine, and then go to a pine/oak mixture. We might as well start at the beginning.

More than Fahrenheit 451

Aristotle said a good plot had a beginning, a middle, and an end, in his Poetics; a good brick oven fire begins in the front, is pushed to middle, and then to the back. This is especially true for all applications involving cooking meat or pizza.

TV chefs will bring out something dramatic to light a fire, like a propane blow torch. I use two cardboard egg cartons and one match. The results are the same–fire.

All this with just One Match

Time for a break now that the fire has been pushed to the middle of the oven. This tool keeps me in firewood.

Sometimes Technology is Good

That’s a 24 volt electric chainsaw. I liked it so much I bought a 24 volt weed whacker, and a 60 volt lawnmower to go with it. I charge up the batteries with a solar generator, which is in turn charged by a single 100 watt solar panel. I’m inching toward sustainability, and did I mention the thirty percent tax credit on solar panels and batteries?

Mmmm. Vidalia Onions

Push the fire to the back, and sweep and mop for pizza. A pie with sliced Vidalia onions makes all the work worth it. And I get to play with matches, and a chainsaw.

Veg and Fruit

Farmers of the World Unite

 “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, & that, not as an aliment so much as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.”–Thomas Jefferson

Salad Dressing Maison

“Here We are in Our Summer Years, Living on Ice Cream and Chocolate Kisses”– Billy Bragg

I’m always amazed that people actually buy salad dressing, as it takes less than a minute to make a really good one. Here’s my latest creation. By the way, all that title means is “House Salad Dressing.” Once again, everything sounds better in French.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard (Most of the mustard seed actually comes from Canada)

2 tablespoons Catsup

2 tablespoons Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Sweet Pickle Relish

Salt

Honey to taste

Chipotle Hot Sauce to taste.

The last two are the kickers. This stuff is delicious. Some Romaine lettuce, Cucumbers, and Tomatoes are going to disappear tonight.

Leek and Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier)

A certain Monsieur Parmentier helped popularize the potato in France, and there was no trick that he wouldn’t use to do so. He had potato themed dinners with famous guests, like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His best trick was to convince people that his potatoes were so valuable that they needed to be guarded by French troops. Then all the troops would leave at night, and he let peasants steal the potatoes. This famous soup is named in honor of the particularly clever Frenchman, and this is my version.

Ingredients

Butter

2 medium Leeks, trimmed

1 Shallot or Onion

1 clove Garlic

2 medium Potatoes, diced

2 cups Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Cream (optional)

Using the green parts of the leek keeps your soup from looking like toothpaste

Split, carefully wash, and chop the leeks, including the green parts. Saute the chopped leek, onion, and garlic in butter until soft. Add the potatoes and chicken stock and simmer for forty five minutes to an hour, tasting occasionally for seasoning. Add water if needed. Cream is traditional but optional.

Soup simmering

Now for some nomenclature. Potage is just the French word for soup: this soup served unprocessed and usually without cream is called Potage Parisien. Run through a food mill, blended, or just hit with a potato masher, it becomes Potage Parmentier (I personally am a potato masher guy). Processed with cream, and served chilled, it gets the fancy sounding name of Vichyssoise. French names allow restaurants to charge ten bucks for what is essentially a bowl of Potato Soup.

Creole Onion Soup

Be Warm on the Inside, when it’s Cold on the Outside

Cold weather in the South is particularly nasty, because it isn’t that common. Today will be around freezing, which is just the excuse needed to make our favorite winter meal–Creole Onion Soup. Every cook has their own version, but my wife Melanie Jane has condescended to share her’s, which is pictured above. She also provided the photos.

Creole Onion Soup

Three or Four Onions, sliced thinly

Three Tablespoons Butter

Three Tablespoons Flour

Four Cups Poultry Stock (Chicken, Duck, or Turkey)

Thyme, Oregano, and Basil

Soy Sauce

Worcestershire Sauce

Tabasco Sauce to Taste

Creole French Bread

Grated Cheese–Swiss, Cheddar, or Parmesan, or some combination thereof

“I believe in starts …”

Porcelain lined cast iron makes the best soup pot, and the best are still made in France. This one is six quarts. At any rate, slowly cook the sliced onions in the butter. This should be the result:

Not Caramelized!

Remove the cooked onions and add the flour. It’s roux time! This time stir until there is a “blonde” roux. It should look like this:

Blonde Roux

More butter can be added to achieve the desired consistency. Now it’s time to make soup. Add the stock, cooked onions, soy and worcestershire sauces, and herbs. Simmer for thirty minutes and add the Tabasco, which makes this really Creole, along with the next addition.

Now it’s time to serve. Use a good heat-resistant soup bowl (that’s a handmade Jerry Brown bowl in the picture at the beginning). Top with slices of Creole French Bread, for which I will have to supply a recipe in the future, but it’s really just French Bread with olive oil (or some other fat) added to the dough. Top that with the grated cheese of your choice, and throw under a broiler. When the cheese begins to toast, it’s time to burn your tongue on some smoking hot soup.

Melanie Jane’s hair is about the color of that roux, and she responded to a blonde joke from some fool once by saying, “I guess you graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the best History department in the country, like I did.” Her best put down was of an obnoxious college Dean at a party, who asked her how he looked in his Trucker’s cap. Her response was, “You look like pig farmer.” Good times and hot soup!