Soup, comforting soup has been on my mind a lot in the past week as I’ve been recovering from the dual whammy of a broken wrist and the worst cold of the new millennium. Mostly I’ve been wishing I’d put more away in the freezer in January when I was on a soup-making kick.
Now, we don’t expect to be temporarily one-handed or to lose our magic cloak of invincibility and actually succumb to the bug that’s flattened everyone around us, but I’m proof these things can happen. From now on, I’ll make it my mission to ensure I have enough soup on hand to see us through at least six weeks of calamity (i.e., the minimum time that I’ll be in this cast). While its sleek black fibreglas styling is as chic as a little black dress (I considered putting a pearl bracelet on it one evening when I was going out), it’s a real dud in the kitchen. The thought of one-handed chopping makes me fear another trip to the emergency room, so I’ll just keep dreaming of all the soups I’ll be making as soon as I’m mended and can get safely back to work in the kitchen.
Among them will be this Caramelized Onion and Cabbage Soup. I made it earlier in the year, pre-calamity, and remember the Sunday morning well. January sunshine puddled the floor, and I set my 2-1/2 year old Little Miss on a chair so she could help me. While I was chopping the onions she sat, self-conscious with importance, holding the 3-1/2 pound cabbage on her lap. Later, she held my big soup pot while I poured in the olive oil until she was satisfied with the amount. We talked about the different ingredients and she inspected them with interest. She sampled some raw shredded cabbage, and quite liked it until she decided she didn’t like it anymore. And while Little Miss eventually wandered off to play, she would come back from time to time so I could hold her up to survey what was happening on the stove. When it was finally time to sample the soup, I heard her tell her mother, “It’s my soup,” proud of her culinary accomplishment.
As I was formulating my approach to this soup, I started with cabbage as the frugal star of the dish; no fancy Savoy, just a humble green cabbage with a pleasing heft, the other half of which I used for my Cabbage, Tomato and Quinoa Soup a week later. I was looking for a sweet flavour profile to complement the cabbage, so I decided to caramelize onions in the best supporting actor role. I let them cook down for about 15 minutes, low and slow, until they were golden; next time I may let them go even further, until deeply caramel. Chopped beefsteak tomato from my freezer added brightness of flavour and visual interest, but not enough tartness to overwhelm the sweetly complex mellowness of the broth. Lentil stock upped the nutrition level, as did some of my pre-cooked frozen chickpeas which also added texture.
Spices and herbs played a smaller supporting cast role here than in many of my soups. Dried marjoram and celery seed enhanced the sweetness of the onions and judicious use of fresh ground black pepper contributed subtle heat. At the very end, I found the soup a bit flat in character. Not having any white wine on hand, and judging lemon juice too over-the-top, I decided to add some cider vinegar, reasoning that apples and cabbage would be complementary. A scant tablespoon was enough to brighten and lift the flavour of the large pot of soup.
The soup turned out as I had hoped, especially after a day or so for the flavours to develop further. The broth was mellow and rich, with just the right touch of sweetness. The thinly shredded cabbage added substance and its distinctive comforting flavour, while the chickpeas contributed textural contrast. It froze well, and we enjoyed the occasional bowlful of it for several weeks. Sadly, the last container of this lovely soup left my freezer a couple of weeks ago.
So here I sit on the couch, remembering it, craving it. Soon, soon I will have more on hand.
Caramelized Onion and Cabbage Soup
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 to 4 large yellow onions, cut lengthwise, then thinly sliced
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1-1/2 to 2 lbs green cabbage (or about half of a large head), quartered, then thinly sliced (this avoids cabbage strips that are too long to eat without splashing all over your face; trust me, that’s less than elegant)
- 2 beefsteak tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups pre-cooked chickpeas
- 4 cups low sodium organic vegetable stock
- 2-3/4 cups lentil stock
- 1 tbsp dried marjoram
- 1 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the sliced onions and cook covered over medium low heat for about 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the onions have cooked down and turned a deep golden colour. (This is a good time to splash some cold water on your face to wash away your onion-induced tear tracks.) Near the end of the caramelization stage, stir in the garlic.
Add the small mountain of sliced cabbage, stir and cook down a few minutes to wilt it somewhat. Add the rest of the ingredients except the vinegar and stir well. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a good simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or so, or until the cabbage is tender. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if your taste buds so decree.
Adding the vinegar is the final step. Do this gradually. A little goes a long way, and you don’t want to overdo it. Add a couple of teaspoons, stir well and taste. If anyone’s watching, cock your head to one side, say “Hmmm,” and frown to convey the complex analytical process that’s occurring. Then add another teaspoon if you think it’s needed. I was surprised that a tablespoon was enough and was glad I didn’t start with more!