I confess, while I love whipping up fancy multi-course meals for people I love, there is really nothing I enjoy as much as making a pot of homemade soup. I realize I am being bold here, but I really do make some of the best soup I have ever eaten. I can say this and not risk being too immodest, as most of my favorites are ‘hand-me-downs’ learned from my maternal grandmother. Chowder, bisque, borscht, broth, meat, fish, or fowl based, bean, grain, vegetarian or vegan, homemade soups have a starring role in my fall and winter menu planning. My father was a WWII Navy vet and he would make us his version of Navy bean soup on the weekends using smoked pork hocks and garnished with fried sage leaves. When I was a child, I thought that you could only eat this if you had somebody in your family that was in the Navy. Happily it can be enjoyed by all.
My paternal grandmother, Lucille, made a delicious chicken broth with herbed parsley dumplings. This concoction was made all the more flavorful by the addition of well-scrubbed chicken feet (to me grimly fascinating in a young -scientist -meets -Julia -Child sort of way) to the stock.
My father lived in the University District in Seattle and had many colorful friends from around the world. He sometimes threw themed dinner potlucks based on color or geographical local. I remember one all red meal which had borscht topped with pink-tinted sour cream , red wine ( I had Kool-Aide) and some not so successful looking or tasting pink baking powder biscuits. I did love the borscht with the tinted sour cream and tried to sell the food color tinting idea to my mother when I got home again. Unfortunately, she was not nearly as impressed with this novel idea as I was. Some culinary delights are best enjoyed in the moment with no worry about replicating them later.
In my early 20’s I lived in a Self Realization Fellowship commune near Olympia, WA.(Yes, really) During the eight months I lived there, I was in charge of the kitchen and a large part of the 1+ acre vegetable garden. I learned to make some amazing and pretty creative vegetable based soups that were inexpensive and filling. My started from scratch kidney bean based minestrone is terrific and the secret to this and other toothsome non-meat soups is to use a generous piece of the rind off of a chunk of Parmesan cheese. I still save them up in a bag in the freezer for using in soups. My mother would make elegant Shrimp Bisque for Christmas and very bacon-y Northwest clam chowder frequently for us during the cooler months of the year. Years ago, when razor clams were still abundant on the beaches of Washington State, we would head out clamming and dig our limits. We then fried the ‘windows’ and ground up the diggers to freeze for chowder later on. When my two daughters decided to try a vegetarian lifestyle, I took my mom’s chowder recipe and tweaked it into a hearty Potato-Vegetable Cheese Chowder, so they could continue to enjoy this creamy and comforting delight.
Grandma Fern’s Tomato Rice Soup is spoken of with almost hushed reverence in our home. I would beg my grandmother to make a double batch of this heaven-in-a-pot when she came to visit, no matter if it was a hot August day or a freezing February one. She would make it up one day ahead of the day she planned to serve it, so the flavors “could get to know each other better”, and my brother and I would wait as patiently as we could for lunchtime the following day. The year I turned twelve I requested it for my summer birthday dinner, and added that I thought it might be a good idea if the birthday girl got her own pot that she did not have to share with anyone(the’anyone’ being my younger brother). Well, I did get the soup, and I did share it with everyone and, best of all, my grandmother taught me to make it myself. Bliss.
I have actually wondered on occasion how many times I have made this soup since then. Probably hundreds of times. I would like to share the recipe with you and know that Fern would be tickled to know how many people she has enchanted with this soup.
Fern’s Tomato Rice Soup
2 lbs meaty beef short ribs (do not substitute)
64 OZ organic chicken broth (2 boxes or equal best quality canned)
2 C. water
1 15 OZ can, plus 1 28 OZ can diced tomatoes (and juice)
1 11 OZ can V8
1 large onion diced
2 cups organic celery, diced
2 large organic carrots, scraped and chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and ‘smashed’
1 tsp dried basil and dried parsley
1 1/2 C. uncooked white (or brown) rice *Basmati is nice
In a large heavy bottomed pot (I use cast iron) brown the short ribs in a wee bit of olive oil on all sides. Dump in chicken broth, water, both cans of tomatoes and juice, the V8, the onions, celery, carrots and garlic, plus the herbs if you are using them. Cook on a slow simmer on the top of the stove for about 2 1/2- 3 hours or until the meat is falling off of the bone. Scoop the meat and bones out of the broth and let them cool in another bowl. Turn heat up slightly and add in the raw rice (traditionally Fern always made this with white long grain rice, it is delicious that way OR with brown rice) Let simmer slowly until the rice is done. This will take about 25 minutes for white rice and 45-50 for brown. Do not cover the pot and be sure to stir often so the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot. When ribs are cool enough to handle, pick all of the meat off the bones and put back into the pot. When rice is done, check for needed additions of salt and pepper ( lemon pepper is great in this soup) and, after it comes to room temp, put it in the refrigerator overnight. Prior to serving, scoop off any fat which has risen to the surface. Reheat over med. heat, adding more broth if too thick. Keeps well in the refrigerator for 4-5 days if you can resist it. *By the way, the unwritten ingredient in all of these soups is LOVE.
I highly recommend Crescent Dragonwagon’s Soup and Bread Cookbook for those of you who enjoy reading cookbooks. Her Mushroom Barley Soup is the best I have ever had.
In case you were wondering what is on the menu at my house tonight, it is Split Pea with Barley and a fresh loaf of homemade Double Seed Bread.
Have some fun in the kitchen!
“Soup of the evening, beautiful soup…” Alice In Wonderland