Week of Soup: Anything Goes

January 18, 2008 at 12:16 pm 21 comments

Tofu soup 

Wow, I can’t believe it’s Friday.  Know what that means?  We’ve reached the end of SFTF’s Week of Soup – already!  I have to say this has been one of my favorite weeks to date here on the blog.  I mean, how could it not be?  I love soup.  And many of you do too, it seems, from all your great feedback! 

Saute the onions and garlic

Back on Monday, when this whole affair started, I mentioned that I’d be ending the week with a little self-challenge to prove that making soup doesn’t require a fancy recipe as long as you have the basic blueprint for building your own.  While I observed that anything can go into soup from watching my mom, I really learned this basic soup blueprint from a wonderful woman named Mary.   About a decade back (gosh, writing that makes me feel old), I did a stint in Northern Ireland – Belfast to be exact.    I was studying at Queen’s University and just soaking up life in my favorite part of the world (I’d been there before and I’ve definitely been back since…there’s just nothing quite like it). 

Add carrots and celery to saute

Since renting a flat there wasn’t cheap and my savings were meager, I needed a job and set out looking for one right away at some of the cafes with “help wanted” signs in their front windows.  I guess my accent turned them off as I didn’t get a single bite.  Dejected, I walked the 20 or so blocks back home to save the cab fare.  Just across from the university’s campus where I’d be studying in a few weeks, I saw what I thought was a used book store.  Nothing, save for a good piece of chocolate cake, cheers me up like browsing the dusty shelves of a used book store.  I pushed open the heavy red door and entered a world that would, over the coming months, literally re-shape who I was. 

Add diced tomatoes and dried herbs

Bookfinders, as it turned out, was really a tiny bookstore in the front and a cave of a café in the back, presided over by Mary, a chain-smoking, outspoken, aged-beyond-her-years, passionate-as-heck cook/owner.   I sat down for a bowl of her Five Spice and Courgette Soup and, even though there was no sign in the window, immediately knew I had to work there to learn how to make that soup. 

Add stock and boil

Back then, I was a timid country mouse, not used to going after the things I wanted with the same bull-headedness I possess today.  I shyly approached Mary, who was obviously in charge, and hesitantly asked if she might be looking for some help.   I’m not sure why she hired me.  I came to find out she didn’t need the help.  I think she wanted to see what I was made of…to see if she could put some fire in my bones.   Or maybe it was just because she, unlike the rest of the Belfast population, enjoyed hearing the American accent. 

Little pasta noodles give soup body

Someday I’ll write the novel that my time at Bookfinders deserves, including its entire cast of characters – Jo (crazy Aussie trying to find her way home), Neil (ridiculously talented concert pianist gone slightly mad), Maeve (second-tier British royalty with the most lovely personality) and the other Mary (wizard behind finding the most obscure old books for the operations up front).   But all you really need to know about now is the way my time in the tiny kitchen in the back changed my cooking habits forever. 

Add noodles when stock is boiling

Remember that Five Spice and Courgette Soup that lured me in?  There was no recipe.  It just followed the blueprint, as did all of Mary’s other ridiculously addicting soups that brought our regulars back day after day.   So much of what Mary served just came from the heart – what was she in the mood for that day;  did she feel like running to the shops;  was Neil coming for a visit and would he be wanting one thing over another;  could she really be bothered to cook when it was so damn cold/hot out?  

Woops, forgot to add the frozen basil until I added the tofu

Each day we wrote out the ever-changeable menu on the chalk board and almost always sold out of everything.   By the end of my tenure there, I was practically running the kitchen while Mary was fluttering about, loving her customers and loving life.  See, she taught me how to cook with passion, instead of just following recipes, and that’s all I needed to know to duplicate her soups and more.  Well, that and the blueprint.   

Gorgeous pot of soup

The Blueprint
1. Heat your fat (oil or butter or lard) in a large soup pot
2. Sauté any combination of garlic and onions
3. Add pinches of salt and pepper with each addition of ingredients in order to build your flavor
4. Add any combination of vegetables and continue sautéing
5. Add your dried herbs and spices and continue sautéing
6. Add your stock, at least enough to let the vegetables swim freely
7. Bring to a boil
8. If you want any pastas or grains, add them now.
9. Reduce to a simmer and cook until everything’s soft and happy – usually about 30 minutes
10. Add fresh herbs during the last ten minutes of cooking
11. Blend if you want a smooth soup and/or add cream if you want
12. Taste and season with more salt and pepper
13. Taste again! 
14. If you wanted meat in there somewhere, depending on if it’s cooked or raw, add it in either step two (to brown beef), six (to cook chicken), or ten (for cooked anything)

Which brings us right back to the evening of January 17, 2008, and my challenge to myself:  No recipe.  No planning/shopping.  Make soup.   And darn good soup it turned out to be! 

Ingredients for my challenge soup


My Week of Soup Challenge: Herbed Tofu and Vegetable Soup
Definitely a Straight from the Farm Original

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small onions, chopped
1 c. chopped carrots
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 c. diced tomatoes (I used canned)
2 t. dried marjoram
1 t. dried oregano
1 T. frozen basil puree or 2 T. fresh chopped
4 c. vegetable stock
1 c. small noodles or other pasta
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 package of extra firm tofu, drained and diced
1 large scallion, sliced thin
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large heavy sauce or soup pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion.  Stir and add a pinch of salt.  Keep an eye on the onion and garlic while you chop the carrots and celery; when onion is translucent and garlic is browned, add the carrot and celery.  Stir and add a pinch of pepper this time.  Saute vegetables for about four minutes until they are beginning to soften.  Add the diced tomatoes, oregano, marjoram and basil (if using frozen, otherwise save any fresh herbs for later in the process), stir and cook for another minute or two.  Add another pinch of salt and pepper.

Add vegetable stock, raise heat and bring soup to a boil.  Add pasta and turn down heat to medium again.  After pasta begins to soften up (about 2 minutes), add the tofu, white parts of the scallion, and rosemary (if using fresh basil, add now too).  Allow soup to simmer for about 10 minutes so the flavors meld.  Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.   Serve garnished with the green slices of scallion.

(serves 3-4)

Soup at the end of it all



Entry filed under: Recipes, Soup. Tags: , , , , , .

Week of Soup: Zesty Zinger Buck Up

21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. taylor  |  January 18, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Excellent week! I failed at the challenge – only because I haven’t made soup this week. I do love noodles or rice thrown in soup,though.

  • 2. Jennie  |  January 18, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks, Taylor! 🙂

  • 3. fallenangel65  |  January 18, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Soup is really one of my most favorite things to eat, be it summer or winter and I am so happy I stumbled upon your blog and got to see these really great recipes to try.

  • 4. Mellissa  |  January 18, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Those are beautiful pictures. I really love them.

  • 5. Mo  |  January 19, 2008 at 12:28 am

    I’ve never made soup before (still a new cook so everything’s a little scary) but I’ve always wanted to as every kind just seems to taste so good and hit the spot. (Can’t go wrong with soup!) I love the basic blueprint you offer in this entry…I’m inspired to give it a try now! 🙂

  • 6. Jennie  |  January 19, 2008 at 9:13 am

    FallenAngel65 – Welcome! So glad you stopped by and are enjoying the Week of Soup!

    Melissa – Thanks! 🙂

  • 7. Jennie  |  January 19, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Mo – It’s so exciting to hear you are a new cook eager to learn all you can! I’m glad you found the blueprint…it really does work! Just remember to taste the soup fairly regularly as you are cooking since soup is all about the flavor (most food is but soup moreso as you are bringing together several things in on pot with the mission to get the most flavor out of them. Otherwise you’d just cook everything seperately.) If you ever have any questions about a recipe or technique you are having trouble with, feel free to stop by the blog and ask. 🙂 As you said, you can never go wrong with soup! 🙂

  • 8. justopia  |  January 19, 2008 at 10:52 am


    I’ll be waiting for the announcement of the novel’s publication. Expat life with a food twist, — a perfect read! 🙂

  • 9. appltart  |  January 19, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    We just feasted, that was amazing soup. :oD!!

  • 10. Jennie  |  January 19, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Justopia – After writing this post, I was starting to feel like I really had no choice but to continue writing the novel… perhaps someday sooner than I was planning. 🙂 Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  • 11. Jennie  |  January 19, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Appltart – So glad you made it and enjoyed it so much!! I love hearing how my recipes turned out for others. 🙂

  • 12. monica  |  January 22, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Amazing! This soup ended up being so tasty-which is quite a success for me. I’m not a very good scratch cooker-I did modify the recipe slightly by using only 1/2 the tofu and 2xs the stock b/c I like real brothy soups. Cannot wait to eat this again tommorow!

  • 13. Jennie  |  January 22, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Monica – Excellent to hear of your success! I like your modifications…that’s the best part about getting comfortable with making soup from scratch. You can really adjust anything and everything to your personal tastes! Thanks for reporting back to us about the recipe! 🙂

  • 14. Mango Power Girl  |  January 25, 2008 at 1:05 am

    That soup looks delicious…love your blog and more so the concept behind it. I am about to link to you!

  • 15. Jennie  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Thanks, Mango Power Girl! What an awesome name! 🙂

  • 16. emma leigh  |  March 9, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    since i’m back here for the fourth or fifth time using this blueprint, i wanted to say: thank you for sharing! this is amazing. i’m on a budget, so just knowing what order to throw things in a pot is so helpful, and i haven’t gone wrong yet. =)

  • 17. Jennie  |  March 12, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Emma – Woohoo! I’m so glad you here this blueprint has been so useful for you! 🙂 Soup is a great budget booster, isn’t it?

  • 18. Ashish M  |  March 23, 2008 at 1:25 am

    This afternoon I planted my first ever herb garden (well, herb pot, but who’s counting), then improvised my first ever soup, and to top it off, just stumbled upon the Blueprint. What a great day for food it has been … thanks!

  • 19. Jennie  |  March 24, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Ashish – That does sound like a wonderful day! So glad I could be a part of it in some small way. 🙂

  • 20. Roasted Root Vegetable Stew « Straight from the Farm  |  January 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    […] I won’t bore you with a tired line like “winter’s the perfect season to snuggle up with a bowl of soup”.  You know that already.  What you might not think about though is making soup out of whatever is lying around your kitchen, rather than trooping off to the store to buy ingredients, or – gasp! – a can.  Before we get to discussing today’s recipe for Roasted Root Vegetable Stew, I’m going to take the liberty to reprint here the soup “blueprint” I posted last January.   […]

  • 21. Recipes that use lots of veggies! | Small Farms CSA  |  October 4, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    […] a link to the post (and I provided the recipe’s Blueprint below): Anything […]


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