As I was running errands today, I couldn’t get home fast enough. I was hungry and overly eager to break into my quart-sized container of Matzoh Ball Soup from The General Muir.
So simple and satisfying. This bowl of pure chicken broth goodness, and that one imperfectly-shaped, fluffy, tender matzoh ball, brought back about a million memories and feelings of comfort. Soup has a way of doing that, yeah?
Let me riddle you this tale of the power of soup…
Last week, I had a soup attack prompted by an innocent customer service agent. After speaking with an AT&T representative on the phone for an hour, a medium-sized (read gigantic) bowl of Pho became a complete necessity. Phone billing debacle = Pho emergency??? Yes.
Well, my very sunny customer service representative happens to live in a part of South Mississippi that boasts a large Vietnamese community. He mentioned the word Pho and my mouth began to water. He went on and on telling me about how his friends make the traditional noodle soup for him all the time. And I couldn’t wait to get off the phone and into my car. After all, I don’t have 100 year old broth bubbling on my stove like the Pho masters do.
While I typically write about my affinity for the process of making soup, there’s something exhilarating about the whole process of eating a bowl of Pho. I always order mine like my friends taught me ten years ago- with the raw, thinly sliced steak on the side only. Then, I crack open my chopsticks, rubbing the frayed edges together to smooth out the splinters of wood. Next, I wait super impatiently for a whopping 3 – 5 minutes to get my fix on. Along with the huge bowl of noodles floating in piping hot broth, there is always a side plate piled high with lime wedges, crisp mung sprouts, sliced jalapenos, and Thai basil and/ or cilantro. I ceremoniously squeeze lime juice over the steak pieces, and they begin to “cook” from the acidity. Then, I wring out a couple more lime wedges into my steaming broth along with a squirt of garlic chili paste and hoisin sauce. Greedily, I slide in the mound of fresh herbs and sprouts and arm myself with my chopsticks and my deep plastic spoon. I take my first slurp of broth, elated, and inevitably add more chili sauce to the steaming bowl. The spiciness is intoxicatingly healing.
And then, madness ensues. I alternate between slurping from my spoon, delicately submerging pieces of steak into the broth for a few seconds before devouring them, and not-so-delicately shoving piles of long, windy rice noodles into my mouth. I find that once I start, I cannot be bothered to stop this Pho dance until I am practically sweating from the heat and from the glee.
That’s when I finally paused and took this photo. When I came up for air.
I think Pho is like the Matzoh Ball Soup of Vietnam. And I am so thankful that I can find it close to home whenever I have the hankering. Because nothing but Pho will do in that situation.
Soup naturally has healing qualities. Maybe it’s the warmth taking over the body. Maybe it’s a throwback to eating chicken soup with stars when we were little. Maybe it’s the fact that the broth alone provides nutritional sustenance, and then adding a variety of vegetables and meat (or tofu or beans or some kind of protein) creates a one-bowl-delivery-system of everything we need to thrive. I don’t have all the answers. But I do agree whole-heartedly with this notion:
(Post card found at The General Muir. I am in love with that place. I promptly pocketed this gem and then secured it on my wall below my “The World is my Porkchop” postcard. It took me ten years to find another card with a message so close to my heart. )
I’ll bet soup has saved the day for you a time or two, even when you’ve been down in the dumps or feeling awful. Soup is like a souper-hero of foods. Oh goodness, I better get to the recipe now.
Today, I offer you a cozying-up kind of soup. One that is perfect for a dreary, grey day. This luscious, creamy potato soup will certainly make any troubles or ailments seem far away- at least for the period of time spent slurping.
Creamy Potato Soup
5 – 6 thick cut pieces bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, diced
6 – 8 cloves garlic, minced
3 – 4 T flour- varies pending on amount of bacon fat rendered
3 Cups milk- I used 2%
6 Cups chicken broth
juice of half a lemon
8 – 10 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
Garnish with scallions, good shredded cheddar cheese, and cooked bacon crumbles
Start by chopping your bacon into chunks and placing them in a cold pot.
Turn the heat to medium and allow your bacon to cook, stirring occasionally,
until it is brown and crispy.
Drain your bacon over paper towels and then, put it out of your sight. If you’re anything like me, that plate of bacon will be gone in no time flat when left within arm’s reach.
Next, I like to know how much fat I’m dealing with, so I kind of eyeball the situation in the bottom of the pot. I had between 3 and 4 Tablespoons of fat, which let me know how much flour I’d need. It’s a one to one ratio. If you’re skipping the bacon and just want to use butter, go ‘head! Use 3 T butter and 3 T flour.
Then, add your onions and a small pinch of salt. Let them soften for about 5 minutes.
At this point, I often add a few stalks of diced celery and yellow bell pepper, letting them sweat with the onions for a few minutes. It adds to the flavor profile and veggie content. But, for this batch, I kept it very simple.
Next, I smashed my garlic and removed the skins before slicing it.
and mincing it.
Before you add the garlic to the pot, be sure you have a few things handy: flour and Tablespoon, heated milk, and an awesome whisk (I love my roux whisk.).
Add garlic and turn heat up to about medium high. Once you can smell the garlic, add the flour. I added 3 heaping Tablespoons.
And stir for one full minute. This part is awkward. The veggies get coated in the flour and create a big lump of stickiness.
If this happens, you’re on the right track.
Next, begin adding your milk a little bit at a time.
As you stir constantly, your bursts of milk will become one with the flour, sort of becoming a thick slurry . That’s how you know it’s okay to add more liquid. After you’ve added about half to three quarters of the milk, it will be okay to add larger streams at a time.
Once all the milk is in your pot, allow it to come up just to a boil, still stirring often. Once it begins to bubble, stir in your broth and lemon juice.
And bring that mixture up to a boil. At this point, turn the heat down to medium low, season with salt and pepper, and allow the pot to simmer for about 20 minutes. You can certainly use this time to peel
and cut your potatoes.
You can place cut potatoes in a bowl of water until you’re ready to add them to the soup.
Upon adding your chunks of potatoes, add another serious sprinkling of salt and pepper. You know a potato loves salt, and you want your soup to have flavor.
Sometimes, I’ll float a bouquet of herbs in the soup while it simmers. You could add bay leaf as well.
Let your soup hang out. For a while. The liquid needs to reduce and your potatoes need to soften. I’d say, give it at least 30 minutes, but longer if possible. Stir it now and again as it bubbles.
This is a perfect time to chop a few scallions and shred some sharp cheddar cheese.
Mmmmm. Cheese mound.
After the soup has had time to simma down, grab your handy immersion blender and get to pureeing. (If you’ve added bay leaves or stemmed herbs, pull those out first.)
If you don’t have one of these handy kitchen tools, you can use a food processor to blend the soup in batches. Be careful, it will be hot!
Taste your smooth, creamy soup and adjust seasoning to your liking. Bear in mind that you will be topping each lucky bowl with a smattering of crisp, salty bacon. If you are pleased with the thickness of your soup, then you’re all set! If you’d like the soup to be a bit thicker, place the pot back over a medium low burner and let it cook a little longer. Be sure to stir now and again, so the starchiness doesn’t stick and burn on the bottom of the pot.
Top your beautiful soup with a healthy handful of cheese, a flourish of bacon crumbles, and a pinch of scallions. And ennnnnnnnnnjoy!!!!
Or pour your soup into a sturdy container and bring it over to a friend who needs cheering up. This soup is very share-friendly. No one is going to be mad if you pop by with luscious, soul-warming, stick-to-your-bones potato soup. It’s a crowd pleaser.
When I made this soup for my couch-ridden friend, there happened to have been too much soup to fit into the container. So, Adam and I HAD to split a bowl. Mmmm mmm mm. Delectable. A real spoon-licker of a soup. All potato. With a hint of bacon. : ) Those Yukon Golds are the best for mashing and souping. It helped that they were harvested nearby and full of flavor.
Well, friends, I am outta here. Time to grill up a flank steak, roast brussel sprouts with bacon, and mash some of these very same potatoes ala client request. Sounds like a delicious dinner to me.
I hope that you are smiling and feeling wonderful right this moment, despite these many grey days we’ve been having. Put some soup into your body. You’ll feel better, I promise.
Happy cooking and eating to you,