Monday, November 05, 2007

Asking "Why?"

“Be careful, Kiddo, you are going to fall.”


“Because you are leaning head first off the couch.”


“Uh, gravity … you see … uh … oh. Because I said so.”


I try to navigate all the whys at least until I run out of answers a nearly-three-year-old can grasp. I can usually go six rounds before I give up and latch on the “said so” standby. I persevere because I respect “why.” I get it. It’s one of the most important questions that can and should be asked. It is going to be hell raising a child who is encouraged to question everything, like some kind of mutiny against myself.

Asking why is what got me started down the path of making my own recipes. Of questioning the food supply and where my food comes from, of how food is produced, and of understanding how a few of my past cooking attempts have gone so horribly awry.

See, once you know the "why" you can look in the CSA bag or at the farmers market that day and cook with what is fresh and what is there. This knowledge frees you up from the less authentic process of finding a recipe, then going wherever you have to go (megamart) to get the listed ingredients.

Recipe for a vegetable soup follows, but first I am going to give you some of the whys. Who knows, you may never even scroll down to the recipes because you’ll be busy writing your own. I hope so. Post a link.

Mirepoix (mir-uh-pwah) is a mixture most commonly of 2 parts onion, one part carrot and one part celery by weight. It's added to things like soup stock to give the stock more depth in flavor and aroma. Mirepoix is the first step in many soup recipes, with the vegetables being sweated in a bit of oil over low heat to get them to give up their moisture, but not brown. Now, Alton Brown would advise to add a bit of salt here to encourage the sweating, but I say no, unless you made your own stock and it has no salt. Nearly all commercial stocks canned, bouillion, soup base all have salt and plenty of it. Salting early then adding these products will ruin the soup.

Once you have done the starter step of mirepoix, the next step is to add the broth, seasonings, and the other meat and vegetables in their cooking order from longest time (meats) to shortest for things like greens or corn kernels.

If you are doing a cheese soup, then the last step will be to make a roux by browning butter and flour, then adding cream which makes bechamel, one of the five primary sauces of French cooking. Then add the cheese to melt it evenly. Puree the soup, then add the cheese sauce to the soup. Cream of soups are also often made with a different type of sauce called veloute, pureed, then finished with cream just before serving. I will post a recipe for a cauliflower-cheese soup with fresh greens next.

I had a ton of fresh vegetables from the last market day. Fall weather allows for a second round of the cool crops from early spring. Things like fresh greens, cauliflower, broccoli, as well as the tail end of tomatoes and green beans. I scored big at the market with the flowering bok choy and baby bok choy I first discovered back in May. The recipe makes about 6 quarts of the vegetable soup since it freezes well.

Vegetable Soup
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Parmesan rinds. The secret to a rich flavor in nearly any soup. Save them as you use up a wedge of cheese and place wrapped in the freezer. The rind will melt a bit and tiny bits of the Parmesan incorporate into the soup, adding a layer of depth and richness. Incredible. Now, if you happen to have frozen some pesto as well, have that thawed to garnish the final soup.

Make substitutions to the vegetable mix based on what you have, what's in season, and what tastes good together. Here are your basic steps for any broth-based soup.

Five Easy Steps for Basic Broth-based Soup Steps:
1. Sweat your mirepoix and veggies with long cooking times
2. Add stock or broth, bring to a simmer
3. Add seasonings
4. Add the next ingredients from longest cooking to shortest at the right interval
5. Simmer the soup, allowing flavors to blend


Carina said...

The why's will drive you nuts. You have a few more years of them. Your first mistake is in trying to make your answer comprehensible to a three year old. Skip that. Go straight to scientific explanations for everything. They usually blink a few times, absorb a bit of it (and you'll be surprised where it'll come out of their mouths next!), and stop with the why (for that particular thing). We've gotten down to quantum physics level with our kids fairly often...

Carina (aussieyank from MT's)

Carina said...

ps: Thanks for the reminder of why I always answer the "why's". They are important.

Rachel said...

thanks for the recipe. I was just contimplating a veg soup tomorrow - it's organic market Wednesday! I've never heard of mirepoix, so I'm very excited to try it.

(BTW, hey, Carina. Shout out from the East Coast of Australia!)

The Expatriate Chef said...

I'll have to try the quantum physics approach. Maybe a bit of Taoism and Buddhism philosophy as well. That ought to wreak havoc by the time she hits kindergarten. Thanks!

Jenni said...

I also value the "Why?"s and try to answer them all. When I'm tapped, I fall back on "What do you think?" That used to be answered by "I don't know tell me," but now usually gets an answer and an end to the "Why?" cycle.

- Jenni