Finding comfort in a bowl of soup
Two weeks before helping to open what will be Vancouver’s largest vegetarian restaurant, Heirloom executive chef Georgia Morley is short on time when it comes to making meals for her family. So on Sunday nights, Morley roasts a trayful of fresh vegetables, which she plans to turn into soups, stews, and simple fall dishes during the busy week ahead.
“Last night, I roasted a whole red kuri squash, a whole spaghetti squash, a whole array of organic beets, a whole bunch of fingerling potatoes and yams, and a whole head of cauliflower in the oven all at once,” Morley tells the Georgia Straight by phone on a Monday morning. “I drizzle it with some grapeseed oil and lightly season with some fleur de sel, sea salt, and grey salt. I’m a salt fanatic, so I use a multitude of salts, depending on what I’m making.…Then I just roast them until they get golden and crispy.”
Morley, who has worked as a chef for 20 years—for such local heavyweights as lululemon founder Chip Wilson and Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin—begins to rattle off half a dozen or so dishes she intends to make: braised red-kuri–squash soup with miso and hon dashi, puréed cauliflower and onion soup, curried yam and cauliflower soup…
A mention of beans only triggers more recipe ideas from Morley.
“Fall soups and stews to me are all about the legume,” she says. “I would say that I always start with a legume of sorts, whether that’s a mung bean, white bean, kidney bean, black bean…even a lentil. From that, I add some root vegetables—parsnips and carrots would be a great addition to a white-bean stew with fresh rosemary and garlic.”
With winter on the horizon, Alana Peckham, executive chef at Burnaby’s Hart House restaurant, also looks forward to making vegetable-based soups—even though she isn’t a vegetarian.
“I personally love making butternut-squash soup or any squash soup, really, when it comes to the kind of weather we’re having now,” Peckham says when reached at home. “I like to use kabocha squash or a red kuri squash. Kabocha squash is the one that looks like a miniature green pumpkin, and the red kuri one you’ll be able to find at most farmers markets.”
Luckily for home cooks, Peckham says that squash soups are simple to prepare. Start by cutting the squash in half, removing the seeds, and roasting the squash halves in the oven at 375°F with salt and olive oil until soft.
“What you’ll get is some nice caramelization on the cut side of the squash,” she says. “Scoop the flesh out of the skin. You can’t use the skin because it will be tough.”
Then, in a pot on the stove, sauté mirepoix—a combination of diced onions, carrots, and celery that forms the base of many soups and stews—before adding the squash and covering all of the ingredients with vegetable stock.
“I prefer to use vegetable stock as opposed to chicken stock because a squash is a vegetable,” Peckham says. “It’s not about dietary restrictions or anything. For me, it’s purely flavour.”
Once all of the vegetables are tender, the only thing left to do is to puree the mixture using a hand blender and push it through a strainer so that the soup is smooth and creamy.
Omnivores wanting to make a meat-based soup should look no further than their Thanksgiving leftovers. Peckham suggests making stock from ham or turkey bones and using it to make various soups and stews.
“Cover it [the bones] with cold water, and…allow it to simmer for a couple hours. What that slow simmer does is it extracts all the flavour from the ham,” Peckham instructs. “You can add any types of spices or herbs that you like. Traditionally, for myself, I would just do thyme, bay leaf, [and] black peppercorn, but if you wanted to add a certain spice to it that you like yourself, there’s no right or wrong.”
Once you’ve made ham stock, a ham-and-split-pea soup isn’t far behind. Jean-Philippe Bedard, head chef at Granville Island’s Stock Market, considers split-pea soup to be the easiest, most rewarding soup to make.
“It’s very filling, with a minimum number of ingredients and a minimum amount of preparation to have something that’s very hearty,” Bedard says. “For split-pea soup, the basic ingredients that you want to have are split peas, water, salt—that would be the bare minimum. Anything after would be to make it nicer to the way you like it.”
At Stock Market, most of the soups are based on French cooking traditions, so for split-pea soup, Bedard usually includes mirepoix, leeks, thyme, bay leaves, and pepper.
“My tip here is to think about the cooking time of the different items you’re going to be utilizing in the soup, and…start with the longest-cooking item,” Bedard says. “If I’m using a fresh herb in the soup, like thyme, I’ll want to use it in the beginning so it has time to soften and mingle its flavour all around, but if I want to finish the soup with a fresh parsley, I might just want to toss it right on top of the soup at serving time and preserve the freshness of the ingredient.”
Turkey stock, on the other hand, will yield a nourishing turkey stew. Paul Haldane, executive chef for the Heather Hospitality Group—which owns the Irish Heather GastroPub and seven other Gastown restaurants—says to remove all the remaining meat from the bones after boiling the whole turkey carcass for around two hours.
“I’d make a roux in a pot.…Slowly add the stock, ladle it, and whisk until it’s smooth,” Haldane tells the Straight. “Then you just put all your meat and veggies back in it, and you’ve got a lovely turkey pot-pie filling or straight-up turkey stew.”
If turkey isn’t your meat of choice, perhaps Haldane’s favourite stew—steak and kidney—will pique your interest.
“Kidneys are cheap as chips but very nutritious,” Haldane says. “One whole beef kidney or veal kidney probably weighs two pounds but is two or three dollars, so you get a lot of meat and they’re full of iron and really, really good for you.”
Cooking kidney may sound daunting, but the process is no different than for creating a beef stew. First, cut the kidney in half and clean out any fat or sinew. Then dice the meat into bite-sized pieces and sear them in a hot pan. The same goes for the steak.
“Put them straight in, sear them off in a pan, get good colour on them, and then take them out,” Haldane says. “Put your veg in and sweat them, and then put your meat back into it, your gravy, and you’d be good to go. That would be a tasty stew.”