It’s a Sunday, so I’m making soup.
The first thing I do is grab my bag and head out the door — I don’t have any celery or carrots. Maybe I’ve suffered from too many sad crudités platters over the years, but I have fallen slightly out of love with these two staple vegetables, so they rarely take up residence in my crisper. Once home, I begin the meditative process of washing, peeling, and chopping.
I love food prep. I find it very romantic. I love getting out my large wooden cutting board, sliding a damp towel underneath, and sharpening my completely un-fancy knives before I chop, chop, chop. The sound of the knife as it slices cleanly through any vegetable is just delightful. Sometimes I chop to the sounds of old-school Fiona Apple or something with an equally good beat that my knife and I can really get down to. Either that or I put on a movie I’ve seen a thousand times and let the comfort of a well-known script help me set the tone for a cozy afternoon in front of the stove. Since I live alone, I rarely make soup with others, but I’m starting to think it would be an excellent date activity. Note to self: update Bumble profile.
After I peel the crinkly yellow onion skin, I chop and cry on repeat, and then and move over to the celery and carrots. I think to myself, “Could soup be the most universal food?” It’s all getting very philosophical up in my tiny kitchen. Fewer foods are more widely known and loved as soup. Ever since someone figured out that bones can be roasted, onions can be sweated, spices can be toasted, and most meat, fish, or veg can be thrown in, soup has always been on the menu. Just add water.
Soup also shows up everywhere in the world. It’s on a family table in a remote village. It’s delicately sitting beneath a perfectly poached piece of fish at a Michelin-starred restaurant. You can also find it in cans, jars, pots, bowls, mugs, tureens, chafing dishes, and clear plastic deli containers. Soup is found pretty much anywhere else you find food and people who need it. I’ve even seen it stored in bags. Seinfeld joked about it, Warhol painted it, and we all just love it so much, we continue to make it, eat it, and serve it. Soup will be here long after we’re all gone.
Soup is also steeped in emotion and nostalgia. It can bring back a moment that you thought was gone forever with a simple taste. As you sip it, slurp it, drink it, and inhale its aroma, soup can bring you back to your childhood, a past relationship, a family memory, or a time you wish you could forget.
One of my earliest food memories is enjoying a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup with grilled cheese while I watched The Flintstones over my at-home lunch break during elementary school. There’s something about the tangy-sweetness of that particular soup paired with the cheesy, buttery, crispy, triangle of cheese-on-bread that just makes a person smile. Dare I say, “Mmm, mmm, good”?
When I was a teenager, I made a chilled cucumber soup for my parents’ 25th anniversary. It was part of a 4-course meal I made for them that I’m sure was barely palatable, but they ate it. Soup is love.
Last week I made a soup that had so many leeks in it that while they cooked, their scent traveled to my bathroom hand towel and my pillowcases. I enjoyed the soup. My linens, not so much.
The onions have now come to a full sweat, so I add the carrots, celery, herbs, and spices. I break out the wooden spoon and stir. Once the fragrance of the seasoned vegetables and aromatics have filled the room, I add the stock, the other staple ingredients (in this case, potatoes and chickpeas), and bring the soup to a boil. After a few minutes, I bring it down to a simmer and wait.
Contrary to what Tom Petty says, the waiting is the best part.
As I wait for the flavours to swim together to create this beautiful pot of liquid goodness, I can now finally do all the things I’ve been putting off for weeks, like go through my inbox and unsubscribe from marketing emails, hang the photos on my walls that have been propped up for a year since I moved in, and organize my closet while contemplating throwing out my “someday” jeans.
While I wait, I continue to consider this elixir of life called soup.
It really is universal — and it’s adaptable. Sometimes it takes hours to simmer on the stove, other times it’s quick and blended. Most soups are hot, some are cold. A soup can be a clear consommé, a chunky chowder, or a silky butternut squash puree. Some soups are served in humble earthenware bowls, while others are presented in ‘80s-style glass shooters on trays at weddings. Soup really does contain multitudes.
There are also a lot of really great soup words: bisque, borscht, gazpacho, bouillabaisse, vichyssoise, miso, cioppino, dashi, gumbo. Sometimes while I’m waiting for my soup flavours to develop, I’ll recite these words aloud. Did I mention I live alone?
The pondering continues as I ask myself, Is stew considered soup? Is chili a form of soup? I pull out my phone, open up a time-wasting app and start flicking my phone screen up, up, up. A video appears, asking the question, “Is cereal soup?” and I start to think that soup as a concept may have officially jumped the shark. But then I see Costanza in his puffy coat, “shifting into soup mode”, and all seems right again.
My soup smells like it’s ready, so I add some greens and let them wilt. Then I take the pot off the heat and ladle the soup into my new favourite bowl. I add a little salt and pepper and a drizzle of some good quality olive oil, and I grab my spoon. I’m already starting to feel good.
Soup heals. It’s there for us when we’re sick, depressed, cold, lonely, or grieving. It can be the perfect warm bowl of nourishment or a fresh, chilled treat on a summer day. It’s a family meal, a vehicle for leftovers, and a complex dish full of deep flavours. It’s something to be shared.
Lately on Sundays when I’ve been making soup, I’ve been thinking about my Dad. Semi-retired, he took up soup-making as a hobby during the pandemic. As the weeks and months ticked by, the mason jars started showing up at my door: squash soup, tortilla soup, potato and parsnip soup, sweet potato soup, Tuscan bean soup. Did I mention soup is love? Soup is also a great excuse to eat a big hunk of crusty bread. Or a fantastic justification to spend way too much money on a fancy Le Creuset pot.
My soup bowl is empty now but my spirit is full. Before I get up to wash the dishes and put the rest of my soup in jars for tomorrow and the next day, all I can think is, I’m grateful.