Soup for My Father

My dad’s teeth are falling out. Even the ones they put in to replace the ones that had already fallen out. He’s a few months shy of 87 — they’ve lasted a long time. (A friend was telling us recently that the one thing that annoyed his octogenarian mother more than anything was when people said things like, “Well, he lived a good long life,” or “Can’t be disappointed with that many years!”)

Salmon chowder, pumpkin soup and French onion soup (l to r)

This is not a cautionary tale about taking care of your teeth. I spend enough time on that with my children. Rather, it is a reflection on the one thing I could do for my father to help ease his burden: make soup.

Soup may be the most comforting of foods. Every culture has a trademark soup — or several — many of which also figure centrally in their medicine and folklore. I’ve waxed poetic about soup on many occasions before — the captured sunlight of a chilled gazpacho, the simple peasant perfection of Roman straciatella, the healing qualities of a Mexican pozolé or Chinese congee on a hungover Sunday morning… I’ve gone regional with Cape Cod clam chowder and New Orleans gumbo, and stepped into the past with the late great Scandia’s cold cucumber soup. In short, soup is an endless source of fascination and inspiration.

The first time my father’s teeth were falling out, and he was at my house lamenting the fact that he couldn’t eat much of anything except yogurt and ice cream, I whipped up a quick batch of gazpacho for him to take home. In addition to giving him something interesting and non-dairy to eat, he did seem comforted as he went his way. Then a couple days later I dropped down to his house with several freezer bags each of three different soups: Provençal fish soup, Spanish bread & garlic soup, and gumbo. He had the teeth replaced, and then the replacements fell out. So I made more soup: salmon and corn chowder, French onion soup, pureed pumpkin soup.

Making soup got me thinking about making soup. In three separate pots I had the same exact thing cooking — butter, onions and chicken broth. But the final result would be three very different soups. I realized this was useful information to share — that with the same basic ingredients, you could make a virtually unlimited diversity of soups. I’ve included instructions for the last three I made for Dad. From the same simple and humble beginnings you could make tomato soup, New England clam chowder, minestrone, Chinese hot & sour soup, bouillabaisse, Mexican meatball soup… any number of soups! Or you could get creative and come up with your own healthy, comforting soups. No teeth required!

*   *   *

Basic soup building blocks

2 tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped (sliced, in the case of French onion soup)
2 quarts chicken stock

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until wilted and golden, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Use to make:

French onion soup
serves 4-6

1 additional onion, thinly sliced
1 can beef stock
2 tbsp. cognac or other good brandy
4 thick slices French bread
4 oz. gruyere cheese

To the above building blocks recipe, add the additional onion to the sauté step. To the chicken stock, add the can of beef stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about an hour, until reduced by a third. Add cognac and cook another 10 minutes.

Place the gruyere on the slices of French bread. Now you will want to do one of two things: If you have rustic tureens to serve the soup in, you will ladle soup into four bowls, place a slice of bread topped with gruyere in each, let the soup soak the bread for a few minutes, then broil until the cheese becomes bubbly and golden. If you don’t have rustic tureens and plan on serving the soup in regular soup bowls, stick the bread with the gruyere in the toaster oven or oven and broil for about 3 minutes, until the bread is browning and the cheese is bubbly. Then place in your bowls and ladle the soup over the bread.

Serve with a dry white wine.

*   *   *

Salmon & corn chowder
serves 4-6

1 lb. salmon, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 ear corn, kernels removed (or 1 can of corn)
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup cream
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp. chopped parsley

To your building blocks recipe from above, add 1/3 of the salmon, the corn and the potatoes. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Strain soup, and take out all the salmon, as much onion as you can, half the corn and half the potatoes and place in a blender. Place 1 cup of broth in the blender with the salmon, corn and potatoes and puree. Return puree to pot with remainder of broth and heat over medium until simmering. Add remaining salmon and the remainder of the corn and potatoes. Stir in tomato paste, followed by cream.

Cook for 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper to taste, ladle to bowls and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with crusty bread and butter and a hoppy pale ale.

*   *   *

Pureed kabocha pumpkin soup
serves 4-6

1 kabocha pumpkin, 1.5 to 2 lbs., peeled and cubed
2 leeks, white parts only, chopped
1 small Idaho potato, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 cup cream
salt & pepper

Add kabocha cubes, leeks and potato cubes to the building blocks recipe above, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Strain out solids (kabocha, leeks, onion and potato) and place in the blender. Add 1 cup soup stock and puree. Return puree to soup pot with stock and cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, until thickened. Stir in brown sugar, then cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. monica
    Nov 04, 2011 @ 18:14:00

    I love salmon chowder! I love soup. Thank you for sharing. I will be making lots of soup this winter 🙂 Which was grandpa’s favorite?


  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 02:06:18

    MAIS OUI!!! Onions, butter and chicken broth and you learned THAT from your mother!!

    Shi just got his wisdom teeth pulled today…no hot, no solid, no crunchy, no nothing. Wish I could make him soup but NO HOT!

    So protein shakes, mashed potatoes. softly scrambled eggs, pudding, and lots of drugs. Long day 😉


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