It is probably fair to say that at least the majority of us – if not the vast majority – have a favourite soup recipe or favourite type of soup recalled from childhood. It was probably made either by our mothers or one of our grandmothers, typifying what we may class as soul food. Were we fed it when we were feeling unwell? Were we given it to heat us up on cold Winters’ days? Whatever the case may be, our memories of it are likely to be as warm as those bowls of long ago soup once were themselves.
So what is so special about soup in general? Why does it have such an excellent reputation for health giving properties, not only in a nutritional sense, but as being a remedy sometimes for just about everything and anything that ails us, be said ailments either physical or emotional? Perhaps we should begin to answer these questions by looking at precisely what soup is and how we can best define it.
I once heard soup described as all of nature’s goodness in a bowl. While I would have to agree that this certainly can be the case, I most certainly would never apply this description to any of those horrendous and chemically enhanced canned soups. If we are to take this definition as a benchmark, therefore, I submit that we have to define any healthy and beneficial soups as being exclusively of the homemade variety.
So what types of soup can we have? How long have we got to make a list! Commonly, we have vegetable soups of endless varieties, chicken soups, ham soups, beef broths and even fish soups. They each start off as a simple stock – homemade of course – to which we add a bit of this and a bit of that. In this way, the soup takes on the identity of the cook, perhaps never quite made the same way twice, and this is where we see the personality of the person shining through.
Soups are extremely cost effective to make in that there is little or virtually no waste. To use chicken soup as an example, we would use either the whole chicken or the carcass of same to make our stock. We then add vegetables of our choice, perhaps some rice, and a herb such as parsley, which goes well of course in the vast majority of soups. Our soup, bar for some further cooking time, is essentially ready, with nothing further to be drained off or discarded.
Progressing naturally onwards from the cost effectiveness of soups, we also have the situation where we are not discarding any of the nutritional value as we would when, for example, draining boiled vegetables. Even when we are careful not to overcook the vegetables in this way, there will always be a certain amount of the nutrition drains away with the water they were boiled in.
The convenience of soup is another big factor in its favour. It is the definitive one pot meal. It requires virtually no attention once all the ingredients have been added. It can simply be left to its own devices to simmer gently away, with only an occasional check and perhaps a stir or two in order. Equally, if we don’t use it all on that first day, it is just as good – if not actually better! – re-heated on day two.
The majority of soups also freeze very well so it may be that we wish to make a considerably larger batch than is immediately required, allow it to cool and freeze it in handy, one-meal portions. It can simply be taken straight from the deep freeze at a later date and gently thawed and heated in a saucepan. I’m sure there are many of us who would be grateful for this extremely healthy convenience food option after certain days at the workplace.
In all of these ways and more, we can see that soup is convenient, nutritious, economical – and perhaps above all else, heart-warming.