I have always loved the folk tale of “Stone Soup” because in it a delicious soup is created from meager ingredients. I love the challenge of creating delicious food from not-so-obvious ingredients. Over one year ago I pledged to stop buying grocery store meat and this prompted me to start purchasing whole chickens at the farmers market about every other week. Left with the carcass of a roasted chicken each time, I have continuously felt compelled to make chicken stock. The upside of this is that homemade chicken stock is so much better than the prepared stuff you can buy in the store. The downside is that every other week I have had a big pot of chicken stock that I have to do something with. Each time the big pot of stock presents me with the challenge of creating my own “Stone Soup” (usually without the stone).
To make the stock, my husband first strips the carcass of meat which we then eat for the next few days. I place the carcass in a pot of water and add a couple bay leaves, a small onion roughly chopped, and maybe some carrots or potatoes (depending on what I can part with). I let the whole thing simmer for at least a couple hours, then cool, then strain out all the solids . Once strained, I chill the stock in the refrigerator overnight and then scrape as much fat off the surface as I can with a clean paper towel.
Usually I will freeze some of the stock, but with at least the half of this pot still full I turn to my cupboards and refrigerator to see what I can be thrown together with the stock to make a tasty soup. During the mid to late-winter months this becomes a greater challenge because my kitchen is not overflowing with fresh produce. At this time of year, I often open a can of beans, sometimes a can of chopped tomatoes, and occasionally boil up some pasta to add to the soup. What’s important to me is that I just start cooking and trust that as I go I will be able to bring together the right ingredients. I don’t start with a stone in the pot, but I do work with whatever I happen to have in the kitchen. Recently I created a soup that I thought was quite delicious.
RECIPE: Sweet Potato Lentil Soup
1 cup dried French lentils
one medium onion, chopped
two cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper (from a jar)
1 cup grated sweet potato
2 medium sized carrots, sliced in to discs
1/2 of a medium sized cabbage, chopped somewhat finely
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Gradually heat up the stock in a large pot. In a separate pan, boil and then simmer the lentils in 2 cups of water. While the lentils cook, saute the other ingredients in olive oil until they are softened, but not necessarily cooked all the way. As the lentils and vegetables are done slide them in to the warmed stock. I let the whole soup sit for about a half hour on low heat so the flavors kind of settle in to each other. Add the cilantro, salt and pepper toward the end. I don’t usually buy cilantro, but had it for a different recipe this week and I really liked the impact it had on the flavor of this soup, especially with the sweet potato. The next day we added pieces of chicken to this soup as we finished off the pot. I find it exciting that there are a nearly infinite number of ways you could alter this soup and yet every outcome would probably lead to satisfying results.