in praise of soup
My friend, the late Zeffie Kathreptis [chef from Adelaide’s famed Mezez Restaurant] was a brilliant cook, a cook, that because of her tough, poor early childhood head learned to waste nothing. But, most importantly she understood taste and famously told the chef at the nursing home where she resided for three years until her death in 1921, “I can make something better than this slop with a potato and an onion.”
In her later years, darling Zeffie was quite deaf and to our delight, we loved her rather loud, when she thought she was whispering, critiques of the restaurants we visited. To no one’s surprise she became friends with this chef and much of her frugal simple delicious Greek cooking made its way onto the menus of the nursing home. It must be added to the delight of residents who were mainly Greek.
In my youth the restaurant soup was a work of art, the pride of the chef and I fail to understand why soup has not just dropped from favour but become so awful. I remember the exquisite consommés, the vegetables cut tiny with loving care, the smattering of parsley, sometimes tiny dumplings, where have they gone? So very elegant. Equally I remember the soups of my family…..hearty winter soups like pea and ham, chicken noodle and in enlightened days post Margaret Fulton’s early books my mother made and excellent Spinach and Gorgonzola soup.
POSTED 24 AUGUST, 2022 AO
The ubiquitous disgusting pumpkin soup found in so many cafés, is an anathema especially since pumpkin remains so cheap. Why are they so mean with the pumpkin and why don’t they roast it first. The same can be said for boiled sweet potato, absolutely disgusting when it can be so wonderful when it is roasted.
Our favourite pumpkin soup comes from South Africa referenced from the Time Life Cookbooks ‘Africa’ first published in 1971 ….the base pumpkin is tossed through vegetable or olive oil with a few drops of ‘good’ sesame oil and some roughly chopped shallots, roasted in a hot oven until it is a little bit caramelised. Ginger garlic start with some ghee, you don’t even need to have stock water will work, puréed, seasoned with salt and freshly ground white pepper and served with a teaspoon of Harissa, chopped roasted peanuts and coriander. More Harrissa is you want it. Our preference is to serve this soup with roti to groans of pleasure for a dish that is so simple and so easy and cheap to make.
After closing my own restaurant in 92 and working in hotels and restaurants we used to have a bucket in the cool room into which we tossed a lot of bits and pieces, often past their used by date for serving as a hero item. There might have been a couple of leeks, a bit of caramelised onion, a couple of turnips and carrots, some bashed around open mushrooms, and then there would be things that needed moving on, like a bit of poached chicken, oysters that had been opened the day before, maybe a bit of fish. The soup became the apprentice’s job and in a very short time, with some guidance they were making a soup special every couple of days that was looked for by regular guests as something not found elsewhere. Of course, the just baked bread roll did add to the pleasure.
In Winter, for everyday cooking, I still apply the same principle in my own kitchen to soup going through the fridge and pulling out ends and bits that need moving on or they’ll end up in the compost. They are hardly recipes but pull together in delicious and filling ways.
There are of course soups that are made from scratch as special treats like for instance the New Orleans Potato and Oyster Soup.