Curried Squash Soup
What's simmering in your kitchen? Whatever segment you call home, chances are there's a tall stockpot or two bubbling up with soup goodness.
Soup's popularity derives both from its flavorful diversity and because of its role as a classic comfort food. Think back to your own childhood or to a favorite time in your life and you're sure to reminisce about food flavors that soothe your soul or that you associate fondly with a family member or cherished event. Soups often play a major role in such memories.
Soup also appeals to a broad spectrum of palates, from those with "meat and potatoes" tastes to those who expect "gourmet" cuisine at every meal.
And though soup may be one of the most "homey" of dishes, it transcends boundaries both regional and economic. Every country has its traditional soup — think Italian Minestrone, Mexican Posole, Greek Avgolemono or Russian Borscht. This makes for a wonderful opportunity to feature classically prepared ethnic soups and satisfy customers— and customer's memories—from around the globe. Additionally, chefs can easily adapt their favorite soup to any situation, occasion or menu course.
Soup for health's sake
"Classic chicken noodle soup and chicken and rice soup are mainstays in our servery but we find soup inspirations in all walks of life," says Bruce Thomas, Manager at Geisinger Health System, in Danville, PA. "Most of our soups, about 75%, are made from scratch," notes Thomas, whose department regularly makes about 110-130 gallons per day.
At Geisinger, the staff are offered enticing soup and meal deals such as a bowl of soup with a choice of large homemade sandwiches like crabcake, blackened salmon or Mexican grilled fajita sandwiches. The Geisinger Cafè offers at least two soups a day, one always being a healthful vegetarian option.
Geisinger's soup repertoire includes about 60 recipes. For those with dietary restrictions, the cooks rely on one soup base for retail operations and a special one for patient menus. "Our patient customer soups and sauces are based on a special stock (or broth) that our dietitians thoroughly research, test—it's a cross between regular base and a low sodium base, explains Thomas.
"That helps us plan more flavorful patient menus that encourage them to eat more, which helps in the healing process," Thomas adds.
And speaking of healing...do you remember the first time you became sick while far from home? The food services staff at the University of Colorado at Boulder looks to help sick students ease their cold and flu symptoms when mom or another caretaker is far away.
"We work with Wardenburg Health Center on student wellness programs," says Robin Margolin, associate director of UMC Food Service at the university. "Cold care kits are distributed by the health center to students when they are ill that contain things like tissues and tea bags. Weprovide a coupon for a free bowl of hot soup at the Union or any of our six satellite operations," says Margolin. "The Alferd Packer Grill at the University Memorial Center (the Student Union of the University of Colorado) has a reputation on campus as the place to go when you want soup," she adds.
Additionally, students can learn to take kitchen matters into their own hands. "As part of the student wellness program we host cooking classes. Soup making — using some of our favorite recipes — is on the agenda," says Margolin."We feel this is one way to educate students about nutrition while also marketing our great products."
Classics with a twist
Full flavored soups are based on great stock. While scratch prep is the classic way to start, many ready-to-serve bases and soups offered in the market today are also made with high quality ingredients. They come in a veritable cornucopia of flavor profiles, including many that are appropriate for low or no sodium or restricted diets. Another advantage of going this route: many soup manufacturers provide programs to help you promote and merchandise soup offerings at point of sale.
Chefs with the luxury of making soup 100% from scratch (see sidebar below for some stock tips) can create and fine tune homespun recipes to appeal specifically to their customer base and dietary concerns. Many home-style recipes can be scaled up with relative ease and maintain their flavor and consistency when frozen.
Chef Frederic Przyborowski at the Roof Terrace Restaurant & Bar in the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, is a noncommercial chef who makes full use of his classical training. "I draw a lot from French cuisine," says Przyborowski. "I think that simplicty—meaning classic methods, clear flavors and seasonal ingredients—make the best flavored soups." Beyond his preference for traditional French cuisine, he also incorporates-other cultural influences, such as Mediterranean and Asian ingredients, and pays homage to his seaside upbringing by incorporating a lot of seafood in his dishes.
A bit of this and a bit of that
Consider his Shrimp Bisque recipe. The shrimp stock base is enriched with sauteed shrimp shells, carrots, onions and celery. It is bound by heavy cream and is enhanced with sherry and roasted peppers—a classic French soup with a whisper of Spanish influence.
One classic soup that always seems to get better with age (the chef's age and experience that is) is clam chowder. Chef Monte Drollinger, at Normandy Park Assisted Living in Washington State, serves staff and customers (those not on restricted diets) a sublime clam chowder enriched with cream and enhanced with subtle herb notes not generally found in other chowder recipes.
At Davidson College in North Carolina students can now enjoy soups year roundña soup plan just started this past Spring." I have cooks that really take the bull by the horns to come up with delicious soup creations," says Craig J. Mombert, executive chef with Davidson College Dining Services, Vail Commons in Davidson, NC.
First cook Susan Willyard stresses that structured research (cookbooks, internet) combined with sheer soup creativity ("a little bit of that, a little bit of this," she says) helps her produce a wider variety of soups for students and staff.
"Our bakers get in on the act, too, by creating mouthwatering soup sides like crusty rolls and sweet cornbread as accompaniments," she adds.
At the University of Colorado, students can choose from a soup and chili bar that features four homemade soups (at least one vegetarian option) and 2 homemade chilis (one meat and one vegetarian) daily. During the coldest months Dining Services makes about 200 gallons of soup a day. Even during the hottest summer months, the department produces 75-100 gallons a day.
"In addition to serving ethnic and regional soups such as Jamaican pumpkin and Matzoh ball, we also do extensive research to provide soups to coincide with many student cultural celebrations," says UMC Food Services Associate Director Margolin. Students may also submit family recipes that food services will scale."
"Our chef, Paul Romero, has a huge repertoire of delicious soups ranging from simple chicken noodle to his famous—I mean people just about riot if we skip a week—curried chicken soup," says Margolin. "Paul has been known to give personal soup making lessons to staff about to retire, adds Margolin. " They say one of the things they will miss most is the soup!"
For vegetable soup with meat stock:
The best soups start with a rich, flavorful stock. For operators making stock from scratch, here are a few essential tips.
Sources: CookWise, by Shirley O. Corriher and FM readers
In the fast-paced life of the noncommercial operator, making homemade chicken stock may be a luxury. Thankfully, there are some good commercial broths and stock bases to choose from.
To add even more oomph to your soups (sauces and gravies) you can also enhance prepared stock. Here are some techniques: