What I learned from making a Soup?
By Mirna Santana
Soup for the soul: Fond memories of food and sharing recipes
I learned to play a bit with a recipe and my creativity. I learned that people like me, who enjoy cooking, also have a strong tendency to be rebels. When I was confronted with the already ‘fool proof’ recipe from the book, I had a strong desire to change it. The desire to change the original scheme was so big that I needed to fight it! I was not very successful, you’ll see.
But what else can be learned from cooking a soup? First, I learned to be flexible. After reading the recipe in ‘1000 vegetarian recipes’, I was not sure I had all the ingredients. I did not know what a vegetable bouillon was. I know it sounds silly, but the word ‘bouillon’ was not in my vocabulary. I had a word ‘cubitos’—Spanish for ‘ little cubes’. My recipe called for a cup of milk, but oh wait…I don’t drink milk. Would almond milk work? It had to, because my mind was already set up for that soup and I was not going to go out to the grocery store. This reminded me that flexibility and resourcefulness are key ingredients for an enjoyable cooking experience.
You may wonder why I did not have all the ingredients for that recipe. The short answer is that I did not have the recipe when I was at the grocery store. I bought the squash because there were many at the market, and they looked great. And also because I had been thinking of cooking peanut butter-pumpkin soup or squash soup for a while.
I started by imagining my end product. It puts me in the mood of cooking! I portrayed a smooth, delicious and beautiful soup, already served in a nice plate. I can even smell it, and feel it. The idea made me happy. Why is that?
As you may know, food has a strong connection to memories and feelings. It is no different for me. This yellow silky soup has always been a messenger of the gods for me. Pumpkin soup will always remind me of home. Back home, I called it ‘sopa de zapallo’ or ‘sopa de ullama.’ I grew up having a traditional dish, called ‘guisao’, which I won’t describe here in details, but it was a dish served only on Good Fridays. Guisao is made of small pieces of pumpkin, cassava, fresh spices and fish. That dish, in itself, represents an encounter of cultures indigenous Mesoamericans and Spaniards.
As much as I love guisao, the flavor of a smooth pumpkin soup is another thing. It makes me travel to places, and convey memories, good memories. Memories of when I was a naturalist guide, who was treated to the buffet inside cruise ships passing through the Panama Canal. Memories of when I was in love with a gentleman who cooked an award winning peanut butter-pumpkin soup. I now wonder if the ‘being in love’ part affected my fondness of that soup. As I recall it most of his friends liked it as much as me though .
Old and new memories are contained in a soup - taste, smell or even color. Squash soup was the first dish one of my now close friends gave me. Though, by now I have tasted some of his other wonderful dishes, I still remember that first squash soup. Perhaps, it is because it was New Year Eve. Or perhaps, it is because, though I was then a stranger, he took the time to put a little sour cream or yogurt, a touch of lime, and some beautiful fresh basil leaves for decoration on my plate. He took the time to explain the recipe to me, when I inquired. Thus perhaps, that soup has something to do with us becoming good friends. It was a great welcoming. It was an act of kindness that I haven’t forgotten. It was the only meatless option. But more than that, it was the sweetest touch.
I like most humans, seek meaning in everyday events. And I believe that there is a lot of meaning one can associate to the sharing of meals. Sharing food at its best is an act of love. Sharing food creates bonds that keep people together by the power of memories—even when they have grown apart. Whole cultures and families are bound by memories of food.
In honor of all those good memories, I decided to use the recipe only as a framework for the soup. I made my own creation in which ‘the memories’ were the main ingredients. I thus selected ingredients from the guisao, the peanut butter-pumpkin soup, and my friend’s squash soup. The memories as ingredients are not to be trusted to the heart. Memories are patchy so was my soup at the beginning. But when all the pieces were together, the end product was as I expected, a smooth silky and tasty soup that brought a smile to my face.
Here is the recipe: it is a vegan soup. Please feel free to modify it to accommodate your own memories. You could use pumpkin or spaghetti squash for this recipe.
Start with a 2 lb spaghetti squash, cook it in the oven for about 20 min and peel it. Refrigerate. The baked spaghetti squash could be stored for 2-3 days. You could also start from scratch peeling the squash, and cutting it in small pieces.
What else you need?
Half an onion finely chopped
Two garlic cloves finely chopped or crushed
Vegetable bouillon. I actually made my own combination (three peppers mix and sugar, crushed coriander seeds, tumeric, dry basil)
Two slices of fresh ginger. You can also use grated or dried ginger
Half a lime or one tablespoon of limejuice
2 bay leaves
2 spoons of peanut butter (optional)
1 cup of almond milk (or milk)
1 cup of water (or enough to make the mix fluid like a paste)
If you start from scratch, add two cups of water to the squash pieces and cook until it is soft. Let it cool a little. Then mix the squash with the milk and the spices in a blender until the mix is smooth. Strain if necessary. Finally cook the mix again at low temperature during15 min.
If you start with a baked squash, smash it to eliminate big chunks. Then add one cup of almond milk, and one cup of water. Add all other ingredients and stir. Cook slowly at low heat for about 15 min. Blend it until it is smooth.
For ornaments and additional flavor, you can add chopped shives or fresh basil and heavy cream or plain yogurt. I added a colorful mix of peppers, see picture. This is a mild soup. If you so desire, you can add more pepper and limejuice for extra flavor.
I am learning that sharing what I learn, even something as simple as a yellow soup, makes me happy. I hope you enjoy a silky smooth soup!