Soup Season

Make a nice, easy soup out of a butternut squash, broth and whatever you find in the fridge.  Maybe add curry paste.

he doldrums. Depressed; dull and listless. For example, ‘Mother’s in the doldrums after Christmas’. 

This expression alludes to the maritime doldrums, a belt of calms and light winds north of the equator in which sailing ships were often becalmed. [Early 1800s].

We are that exactly. We’re becalmed. It’s January. We’ve rested on our laurels in the afterglow of Christmas. And then, ever so suddenly the afterglow has become after-burn. We’re on a diet.  Actually several. The culinary diet tends to conflict, rather, with the budgetary diet.  We’re off the holiday tomfoolery of dessert after every meal and “Why Not?” after every offer of another cookie or two. It’s all salads and tea for the foreseeable future. The kids are back to the grind of school. Men are just relieved that they have successfully passed another of life’s toll gates unscathed. Friends are not insistently pressing to “get together” for a rollicking good time. All we see is the backs of loved ones thrumming to the beats of their various drummers, marching off into the distance. 

Even charities seem to have lost their giddy-up.

The numbers on the scales are too high; the numbers in the bank account are too low. Inspirational messages on Facebook about how the “tough get going” are merely irritating. We are well and truly becalmed. 

The grocery store, so recently bristling with poinsettias and tootling jolly tunes, and wishes of merriment all round, is now a place to commiserate about the weather. “Yes, it may be nice now, but a storm is coming!  Did you see the warning on the weather channel?” Doom is just around the corner.  Even the salad greens look discouraged. We could stir up a bit of wind in our sails with a fine, yet sensible dinner, but the prices reflect the climate and the barbecue is lurking out there in the dark possibly harbouring creatures looking for a cozy berth in which to hibernate until spring. 

It’s time for soup!  We are in the Season of Soup!  The first jingling of this unsung Canadian season, is the turkey soup, last vestige of jollity. 

Soup season has advantages.  Soup, hot, cheap and easy, is the universal balm of the becalmed. It can’t get you out of the doldrums, but it can join you there and keep you good company. 

And the good news is that anyone can make soup. No can opener required. For some reason never understood by the rest of the world, in the dark days of North American cuisine, the fifties, soup came in cans. Ostensibly to make it easy. When, in fact, nothing is easier than soup. It is simply a combination of broth and some leftover odds and ends, simmered together until they taste good. A pinch of salt and hot pepper flakes can help it along. 

Every cuisine boasts a variety of soups from rich and hearty to light and ethereal.  They can even be cold: think vichyssoise, gazpacho or cool cucumber, but those are for a different season entirely.  Soup season demands the cozy comfort of heat. 

Every thrifty housewife knows the simplest soup recipe.  Broth.  Last night’s leftover meat bits, veg bits and starch bits, be it a diced potatoes, a bit of pasta or a handful of rice. (If you find that the canned variety always tastes better, just add salt.  That’s what the canning companies do). Now you’ve spent essentially no money, added precious few calories, and you’ve made a nice light meal, or if you have a crew of hearty eaters, at least a jolly good starter.  If you don’t spend time brewing up your own broth, (and since that Instant Pot is just sitting there, you really should), beef, chicken or vegetable concentrate is a handy shortcut 

Life for those with an Instant Pot just got easier.  One of the most beloved winter soups is butternut squash.  But those babies are such a pain to slaughter that we are tempted to pay extra to buy it peeled, cubed and entombed in a plastic clamshell. No more!  Simply put a cup of water in your Instant Pot and put the trivet inside, peel the sticker off of the squash, put your squash on the trivet, close your lid, set the vent to “sealing,” select pressure cook, high for – well, I had a small squash, so I chose 12 minutes, which was perfect.  (This trick works for any squash, including spaghetti squash). As you become comfortable with your pressure cooker, whatever the brand, you’ll get used to guessing low and adding a few more minutes, if required. Once done, it will peel easily with a vegetable peeler.  De-seed and chop. I kind of like the flavour of roasted vegetables in my soups, so I roast the squash with some chopped apple and sweet onion, should you have those around. I sprinkle that with a drizzle of olive oil, a rather generous amount of smoked paprika and a good pinch of dried pepper flakes. Those who make Nasi Goreng regularly will have Sambal Oelek on hand, so just a spoon of that to taste instead is lovely.  When roasted to a nice turn, put all with some broth or water, in the Pot, (add some garlic too, if you like it) set to pressure for half an hour on high. You can just eat it at this point. Some folks like to puree with a stick blender or food processor. I rather like a bit of texture, so I don’t. Some say that adding heavy cream at this point is essential. I never have but could be lured.  Some people like curry paste in their squash soup.  I’ll bet that’s good too. So you see? Whatever floats your boat. You can be efficient, creative, thrifty, nutritious and lean all in one go!  If that doesn’t get you out of the doldrums, at least you will have a lovely soup to enjoy while you’re there!