She had a list of “soup weather” creations that we could always count on. From her minced vegetable soup and subtle homemade potato to her atomic bomb soup (yes, there is a reason for this name), we were always lured into the heart of her kitchen by the soul-permeating smells and the knowledge that once we shed our gloves and boots, a steaming bowl of comfort would be waiting to give us the lift we needed to get back to the snow.
I have kept my soup pot going the last few weeks. Whatever lurks in the refrigerator usually will find a home on the stove. Roasted chickens lose their bones to homemade broth, and that lone turnip makes its way to the carrot soup for an added flavor. Those leftover meatballs that stare at me each time I open the refrigerator door take a plunge into the latest minestrone creation.
I like to imagine that soups have “always been.” According to NPR radio, the art of soup making is probably much older than we originally believed. It was once thought that water wasn’t boiled until about 5,000 years ago. However, new proof points to the fact that 20,000-year-old pottery found in a Chinese cave showed burn marks from heating. In addition, Neanderthal teeth have shown evidence of embedded cooked starch grains, which shows that they were boiling something 46,000 years ago! I like to think that our ancient ancestors derived pleasure and warmth from soups, too.
And speaking about deriving pleasure and warmth, it is time once again to gather at the Great Winter Soup Cook Off on Feb. 10 at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. This soul-warming community event is celebrating its fifth year by gathering chefs and culinary experts in our area to showcase their talents.
Do you have a favorite family soup that was handed down from Great Aunt Rosie? Have you developed your own unique recipe that knocks the socks off of your family and friends? Does your restaurant or catering business have a trademark soup that people rave about? If the answer is yes to any of the above, you need to join in the fun by ladling soup for a great cause.
Both professional and amateur entries are accepted, and there are cash prizes — plus a People’s Choice Award for the crowd’s favorite and Showmanship Award for best booth. It’s the perfect time to market your business to the folks in our area. Last year over 500 people attended the event and enjoyed sampling 45 different soups.
The event also features a Cook Off Café complete with vendors who will be offering samples of a wonderful array of gourmet products and wine. Free cooking demos as well as wonderful door prizes are added perks. The event will be hosted by WJHL’s “Daytime Tri Cities” Chris Macintosh and WFHG talk show hostess Kristi Slaughter. Tickets are available at www.swcenter.edu/cooking for this souper bowl event.
We have never had a “loser soup” during the cook offs. All of the soup masters and mistresses are winners every year. I would like to share some recipes from two of our kitchen maestros that will warm you up until the spring thaw. I gave them the secret ingredient of coconut milk for this article, and they came up with entirely different and delicious recipes and presentations. You be the judge. You can visit their booths on Feb. 10 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to see what they have chosen to stir up.
Nicole Dyer, owner of White Birch Juice Company in historic Abingdon, Va., has shared this unique and delicious soup from her chef, Joe Fugo. Both Nicole and Joe are past winners of the Great Winter Soup Cook Off and will be there again with one of their special recipes. Of course, White Birch specializes in all kinds of juices as well as fresh pressed almond milk, frozen bone broths and vegetable stocks that will make this recipe perfect. They choose to use 100 percent locally raised meats, eggs and cheese as well as seasonal vegetables.
Carrot Coconut Curry Bisque
1/3 cup olive oil
3 T. chopped garlic
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cups diced carrot
1 T. yellow curry powder (more if desired)
1/3 cup white wine (Chardonnay, suggested)
1 qt. chicken bone broth (White Birch Juice Company, of course)
1 qt. heavy cream
1 12-oz. can coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
½ cup toasted coconut flakes
½ cup fresh cilantro chopped
In your favorite soup pot, sauté garlic, carrots and onion with the olive oil and curry powder until soft. Deglaze with the white wine and be sure to cook off the alcohol. Then add the bone broth, heavy cream and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and reduce by about one-third or until liquid coats the back of your spoon. During this process, stir frequently so it doesn’t boil over or scorch.
Once you have reached your desired consistency, remove from stove, cool down a bit and puree in blender or food processor in small batches. Be careful to secure the top of the blender. If the soup is hot, it may pop the top off. (Sometimes putting a clean towel over the top of blender will prevent splatters.) Pour pureed soup through a fine mesh strainer to take out all the lumps. You can try to puree again if it is not smooth enough for your liking. Add salt and pepper and ladle into bowls.
Garnish with toasted pecan pieces, toasted coconut and chopped cilantro.
To make this vegetarian, substitute veggie stock for chicken stock. For vegan, use veggie stock and substitute almond milk for heavy cream.
Sheridan Nice of Mona Lisa’s in Johnson City is a soup genius. People drive from miles to warm up in her cozy café. Here is one of her favorite soups that uses coconut milk to tie the flavors all together. Every day you can find more than five soups on her menu at Mona Lisa’s. This is one of my favorites.
Lemon Grass Lentil
2 T. sunflower oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
1 bird’s eye chili, seeded and finely sliced (These are very hot. If you can’t find them, a good substitute is dried chili flakes or whole dried cayenne peppers which may not be as hot.)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lemon grass stalk, outer layers removed and inside finely sliced
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. paprika
14 oz or 1 2/3 cups of coconut milk
3¾ cups water
Juice of 1 lime
3 spring onions, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large pan and add onions, chili, garlic and lemon grass. Cook for five minutes or until the onions have softened, but not browned.
Add the lentils and spices. Pour in the coconut milk and water and stir. Bring to boil, stirring and reduce the heat and simmer 40 to 45 minutes until lentils are soft and mushy.
Stir in the lime juice and add the spring onions and fresh cilantro, reserving a little of each for garnish. Season and ladle into heated bowls. Top with garnish.
Jennifer King Ferreira grew up in Kingsport, where she received her first cooking experiences from her grandmother, Genevieve Shivell. She is the past owner of the Abingdon General Store and Plum Alley Eatery, a gourmet store and restaurant in Abingdon, Va., and serves as marketing and public relations specialist for the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center and the Cooking Along the Crooked Road Culinary Program.