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Three Secrets of the World's Best Soup

by: Steve Fussell

Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 01:11:03 AM EST

There are three secrets to making the world's best soup. Once you know them, anything you put into your soup will be the best anyone ever tasted. Even dirty socks.

Secret #1:

Go to the grocery store fresh produce section. Just past the showy fruits, look for the leafy greens. Poke around until you find yourself some parsley, cilantro and basil. Parsley and cilantro are usually bundled in four-ounce bouquets.

italianparsley.jpgDon't get the bright green round-leaf parsley---the kind they put on your breakfast plate in some restaurants to take the place of vitamins. Get the flat-leafed Italian Parsley (left) with the dark, Sherwood Forest green color---a bundle of stems should be about as big around as your finger.

cilantro.jpgGrab a bundle of Cilantro (right) a/k/a Chinese Parsley. It should be close by. Cilantro is a robust, tasty herb that's been popular for so many centuries no one knows exactly where it came from. Ancient Greeks and Romans used it. In India, it's said to aid digestion. They use it to calm the nerves and cure insomnia in the Middle East. It's one of the most common ingredients in Spanish foods---it's not spicy at all, kind of mellow, and very savory.

If you don't like cilantro, try fresh coriander instead, though it's harder to find.

basil.jpgFresh basil (left) is way over-priced. Enough basil for a pot of soup costs almost as much as a whole plant (often available at the same grocer).

Basil is simple to grow in a medium-sized flower pot, so it shouldn't be so pricey. Thing is, a little fresh basil goes a long way, and basil leaves tend to lose their flavor quickly, so there's a lot of packing and handling for just an ounce or two of yummy. 

Parsley, Cilantro and Basil are the first secret. Chop them finely, stems and all.  

Secret #2:

It's not in the Bible word for word, but Intelligent Design theory leads inevitably to the proposition that God probably created garlic first and the rest of the universe later. So maybe garlic should be Secret #1.

You'll want it finely chopped, and the stuff that comes in a jar is fine. Dump a big spoonful into a light frying pan with a little olive oil, turn on the heat and keep stirring until it starts to sizzle and turn brown. Add a cup or two of water and keep stirring until you bring it to a boil. Add the finely-chopped Italian Parsley, Cilantro and Basil, bring it to a boil again and let it roil for 3-5 minutes.

Secret #3:

This one's easy: peppers and onions. Chop them into dime-sized pieces and add them to your soup. Add more water.

Now, Make the Soup

Anything you add---chicken, fish, shellfish or meat, potatoes, beans, corn, squash, carrots, broccoli---will get rave reviews at your table, just like they get at ours. You can mix in a can of tomato paste if you like a thicker red  base, or some chicken stock if you want a heavier flavor.

Here's another secret, an added bonus: cook the soup slowly. Better to let it simmer all day than boil it up fast. Crock pots were made for this. 

Serve with some biscuits, crackers, rye toast, or flatbreads, and don't be afraid to experiment.

But lay off the spices

Stay away from the spice rack. Those little bottles of dried-out and ground seeds, leaves and flowers are expensive. Dried spices were invented to travel long distances for sale, and to provide a semblance of their fresh flavor during winter months. That was a big deal 1,000 years ago. Fresh herbs are way, way better, better for you, and easy to find. 

And stay away from the salt box. Fresh herbs and vegetables have plenty of taste, and some of them---celery for instance---have all the sodium you need to 'taste up' any soup. 

Steve Fussell :: Three Secrets of the World's Best Soup
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