Tahlequah Daily Press

January 14, 2014

Soups perfect ‘comfort food’

Enjoy a bowl of warmth for National Soup Month

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — When Mother Nature doles out the cold weather, sometimes the best revenge is a steaming bowl of homemade soup or stew.

It’s little wonder, then, that January is National Soup Month. From thick, creamy, calorie-laden soups known as bisques or chowders, to water-based and healthier broths or consommés, to vegetable-laden chilies and stews, almost every country around the world has its own special recipe.

According to foodtimeline.org, food historians believe soups are probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients that work well together  - flavor profiles - in a large pot to create nutritious and filling food was inevitable.

Soups are easily digested, and are often prescribed for invalids and have been since ancient times. The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Restoratifs, from which the word “restaurant” comes, were the first items served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris. Classic French cuisine generated many of the soups known today.

Deana Franke, owner of Oasis Health Foods, is a soup maker, and her favorite is her German grandmother’s chicken soup.

“It has chicken, preferably leftover bones with a little meat on them, celery, bay leaves, onions, pickling spices, tomatoes, salt and pepper,” said Franke. “Boil the ingredients for hours, at least six, strain and use the broth for noodles or rice, and top with cinnamon. It makes you feel better if you’re not feeling up to par and tastes wonderful.

Local resident Cherokee Lowe has been on a soup-making binge lately.

“My two rules for soup are to use chicken stock, and it can contain bacon and heavy cream, it will,” said Lowe. “My favorite is a five-ingredient corn chowder that we simply call ‘the soup.’”

“[For beef stew], I put whatever I decide sounds good in for vegetables, which usually includes corn, green beans, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and sometimes peas,” said Cott. “I used to put lima beans in, but [my husband] Dan hates them, so not anymore.”

To add depth to her stew, Cott also makes her own stock.

“I make beef broth and add various herbs and spices, again whatever sounds good, but always basil, oregano, and garlic,” she said. “[To finish out the stew,] I put in a can of tomato sauce and salt and pepper it to taste.”

Cott traditionally employed an electric slow-cooker for stews, but recently received a cast-iron Dutch oven, which she’s been using lately.

“It is different than when it’s slow-cooked,” said Cott. My former-bachelor husband said, ‘It’s even better than Dinty Moore,’ the first time I made it. It only took 10 stitches to close his head wound.”

Beef stew is Cott’s go-to meal in a pot, for a variety of reasons.

“Mostly, though, it gives you a comfortable, home-warm-and-safe, we’re-lucky feeling when you smell it cooking,” said Cott.

When it comes to one-dish meals, local educator Jim Bynum prefers food from the bayou.

“I love gumbo,” said Bynum. “Gumbo with shrimp, chicken, or andouille or all of the above. The rue is the secret to a good gumbo, along with okra used as a thickener. The complexity of flavors, as well as the deep spice of the cayenne pepper, combined with all the veggies and meats are to die for.”

Local resident Patti Gulager, a nurse, likes to have soup all year-round.

“[We’ll have] cold soup in the summer and hot soup in the winter,” said Gulager. “My favorite is the barley soup recipe on the back of the Quaker quick barley box. This is so heart-healthy and you can season with your favorite Mrs. Dash or just salt and pepper. It’s easy, and you can do chicken instead of the really lean ground beef. Families in the north central part of the country eat a lot of barley. Not so much here, I think.”

Franke said gumbo is her family’s favorite, and they routinely enjoy soups and stews.

“I also make a yummy butternut squash curry soup,” said Franke. “I make gumbo gluten-free, along with vegetable beef soup. We eat almost every kind of bean soup regularly. Soup warms your body and feels like home.”

LaRhonda McBrayer said her family’s favorite soup is potato, but it might better be named cheese soup with some potatoes in it.

“We like to put a lot of cheese in it,” said McBrayer. “I use Knorr’s leek soup mix as a base, onion, chicken boullion, milk, salt, pepper, garlic, clery or celery salt, and any cheese you care to use.”

McBrayer said her husband, Boyd, like to put Louisiana Hot Sauce in his soupl.

“I like to put a bit of American or Velveeta in mine for creaminess,” said McBrayer. “We like the potatoes chunky, not shredded. We love its texture, and it’s so creamy and just makes you feel homey inside.”