True Story: this evening while shopping for my dinner I overheard a young soldier ask the woman next to him “What should I be looking for in a mango?” This being Colorado Springs, he might as well have asked the floor, and, not surprisingly, she gave him a “beats me” kind of shrug. Being a former Boy Scout and a personable chef it was my duty to assist him. I introduced myself, gave him a card and helped him pick a ripe one. In retrospect I probably should have told him how to cut it up; which is definitely trickier than buying one. Mark, if you are reading this, check out this link from “the National Mango Board”??? http://www.mango.org/en/retailers/mango-messages/how-to-cut-a-mango.aspx , who knew there was a National Mango Board???. It will be helpful.
A few minutes later he approached me again and asked me for some ideas to change up his chicken soup. Honestly, this surprised me a bit. It has been so many years since I looked at a soup recipe that nothing immediately popped into my head. I started in on the basics…onions, celery, carrots; sautéed until soft, stock (he won’t use bouillon) but he already knew all this. I suggested a dollop of Greek yogurt but that was ruled out by dietary needs. I think I only gave him 2 decent suggestions: first, thyme; he had never used that before (I hope he doesn’t use too much), and second, a splash of red wine vinegar at the end to brighten the flavor (again, not too much.)
To me soup is a living entity. I never know what it will be until it is done and I can never hope to make the same one again. It begins with a mood, is changed by the market, and finds its special place in the world from the stuff hanging out in my cupboards and refrigerator. Wow… I sound like a hippie. My fellow chef James Davis reminded me of a recipe for Lime Tortilla Soup that I wrote for the Blue Star cookbook. Apparently, it is a bit difficult. I wrote it at a time when I had not yet grasped that food is simple, and that soup is just soup.
So here is how I make chicken soup these days. Roast a chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Pull all the meat and skin off the chicken. Put the bones in a big pot with a couple of onions, a couple of carrots, some celery, a bay leaf and a couple of peppercorns. Simmer this for a few hours, strain, save the liquid, toss the solids (do you eat the teabag?). Sautee another onion, a few more carrots and a bit more celery until everything is soft. Splash a bit of white wine in the pan and let it evaporate for a minute. Add the stock and some dried herbs (your choice) and let it simmer for at least ½ an hour. Bring to a boil and add some pasta, just before the pasta is cooked add the chicken meat. Season with salt and pepper and maybe a splash of something sour… vinegar, yogurt, lemon juice…
Mark, sorry I wasn’t more help in the store, but you are on the right track… add something different to every soup you make from here on out… If it sucks: don’t use it again, toss the soup, and order take-out. Seriously, it is just soup.