Winter soup

I love soup.  Sam, not so much.  But the weather has been downright frigid for north Georgia this past week or so and soup just sounded like the tastiest, and warmest thing we could eat.  I remember one particularly warming bowl of soup I had on our trip to Scotland several years ago.  The day was cold and windy, and there was a bit of mist in the air.  We had taken a bus up to Loch Ness and had spent the morning exploring the ruins of Urquhart Castle.  We were chilled to the bone and in need of something more than just a cup of tea to get our blood pumping again.  The little cafeteria at the tourist center had started their lunch service and they had a steamy crock filled with rich, dark Scotch Broth.  From the first whiff we knew that was just the thing to make us feel human again – after all, the highlanders didn’t become such sturdy people because they ate minestrone!

As I contemplated my own bowl of soup for this winter’s day, I knew I didn’t want to make the traditional vegetable soup or chicken noodle or even tomato soup, so I scoured my pantry for something a bit more hearty.  What I found was a jar of mixed lentils, peas, beans, rice, and pearled barley.  Now I know this jar had been in my pantry for at least four years.  It is one of those ‘pretties’ I have sitting on an antique pantry cupboard in an old canning jar with a glass lid.  Something that is colorful and eye-catching, but I never had any intention of using it.  Well, all that changed this weekend.  I wanted soup, and soup I would have!

I pulled the jar off the shelf, dumped about half of it into a colander and rinsed it well.  I then threw it in a big pot with a bunch of water and boiled it for about an hour.  I strained off the water and added in about three cups of frozen chicken stock I’d made up this summer, a couple of frozen chicken breasts (straight from the freezer, which were frozen into one big ‘lump’) and let it come back to a simmer.  Once the chicken stock was nice and bubbly and the frozen breasts had thawed out enough to remove and roughly chop up (and then add back into the bubbling pot), I poured in a quart sized bag of frozen blitzed tomatoes from our garden, a couple of roughly chopped onions, a few stocks of chopped celery, and  a tea ball filled with fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme from our kitchen herb garden, and brought the whole mixture to a good slow boil for two hours.

Now the night was wearin’ on at this point and we wanted to watch a movie before going to bed, so I took out my trusty crockpot and poured the whole soup concoction in and set the timer for low.  It had become obvious to me by this point in the evening that the soup wasn’t gonna be ready to eat right away so I figured we’d let the crockpot do all the watchin’ for me!  If I’d been smart about it all, I would have used the crockpot to begin with, but in case you’ve never cooked with dried legumes, lentils, and dried peas (which I haven’t done much of lately), they really do take quite a while to soften up properly – longer than one would think, considering their size and all – they’re not really one of those ‘quick fix’ kinda meals.

The next morning my house smelled like heaven, well, soup heaven anyway.  The dried mixture had puffed up and the starch from the rice and barley had made the soup into more of a stew consistency.  The chicken chunks were meaty and tender, and the tomatoes and fresh herbs added enough acidity and kick to it to not be confused with some plain-jane tomato or vegetable soup.  I had soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day, and there was enough for Sam to take some to work for his lunch as well.

If there’s any good thing about wintertime it is the freedom we cooks feel to throw a bunch of tasty ingredients into a big stock pot, add in some liquids and some herbs, and let it simmer away for a while.  The whole house smells good and the yummy broth warms us all the way down to our hearts.

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