Soup often gets the thumbs down as a dinner option but you only have to look around the world to discover an array of amazing soups substantial enough to make the cut for an evening meal.
Think pho, for starters. This amazing Vietnamese noodle soup is based on a rich broth in which bones are simmered for about 6 hours, seasoned with star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. It's made with all kinds of meat (tripe and tendons for the die-hard fans). A bowl of cooked rice-stick noodles is topped with cooked meats, charred onions and sliced ginger. The broth is ladled over and a slew of herbs such as coriander, Thai basil and Vietnamese mint go on top, along with pile of bean sprouts and a good squeeze of lime juice.
It's not something you are going to whip up at home in a hurry, but definitely worth checking out at your favourite Vietnamese cafe.
Another soup I'm unlikely to attempt at home, due to the need for a really good pork stock that takes hours, or even days, to create, is a Japanese tonkatsu ramen.
However, laksa, a popular soup in Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand, and Indonesia is easy to make at home thanks to the availability of commercial spicy laksa paste (Charmaine Solomon's is a stand-out). I usually fry a couple of spoonfuls of laksa paste with some grated fresh ginger, add 2 cups chicken or fish stock and a can of coconut cream (or, for a Penang-style laksa, a spoon of tamarind paste). Once this has simmered for 10 or so minutes I add either raw sliced chicken, seafood or vegetables ( pumpkin and prawns are a great combo - add the prawns once the pumpkin is cooked), season with a good glug of fish sauce and leave to simmer gently until everything is cooked through.
This all gets ladled over soaked rice stick noodles. Like with pho, the essence of freshness is delivered with a salad-like topping of sliced cucumber, bean sprouts and fragrant Asian herbs. I always like to serve laksa with hard-boiled egg halves as part of the garnish.
So many of these delicious soups require a lot of time, ingredients and cultural immersion to master, which is why they are always worth having in authentic environments when you can.
Here are three fabulous soup recipes, simple enough for a speedy and nourishing dinner any day of the week.
Soba Miso Bowl
This is the perfect comfort meal for one - and is especially good when you are feeling a bit under the weather. The umami flavours work wonders to make you feel perky. Add a shredded poached chicken breast, poached salmon or diced silken tofu for an extra protein hit. Traditionally soba noodles are made from buckwheat, which means they're gluten-free but some contain wheat, so if this is important for you, check the packet to be sure. The recipe is easily scaled up for more servings.
Ready in 15 mins
90g dried soba noodles
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
½ cup dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 Tbsp miso paste or dashi
2 cups water
½ tsp rice vinegar
1 head gai lan, bok choy or greens of your choice, leaves separated
A small handful of enoki mushrooms (optional)
TO SERVE (optional)
½ shallot or spring onion, thinly sliced
½ long red chilli, thinly sliced
¼ cup coriander leaves
2 tsp chilli oil
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Cook soba noodles according to packet instructions. Drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water so they don't stick together. Drain again and place in a serving bowl.
While the noodles are cooking, heat sesame oil in a heavy-based pot over
a medium-low heat. Add ginger and gently fry for 30 seconds, taking care not to let it catch. Stir in shiitake mushrooms and miso paste or dashi. Add water, bring to a boil, then cook, covered, until mushrooms are rehydrated (about 5 minutes). Mix in rice vinegar, then add greens and enoki mushrooms, if using, and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove soup from heat, pour over noodles and garnish with shallot or spring onion, chilli, coriander, chilli oil and sesame seeds, if desired.
Chunky Smoked Seafood Chowder
I like the milder flavour of chicken stock but you can swap it for fish or vegetable stock if preferred.
Ready in 45 minutes
2 Tbsp butter
1 large leek, white part and half the green finely diced
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1 litre chicken or fish stock
2 bay leaves
2 tsp thyme leaves
300g deboned and flaked smoked fish or hot-smoked salmon
3 cups corn kernels
3 celery stalks, finely sliced
3 cups milk
2 Tbsp cornflour mixed to a paste with a little water
Salt and fine white pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp chopped parsley leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
TO SERVE (optional)
10-12 smoked mussels, coarsely chopped
½ cup cream
Melt butter in a large pot and cook leeks over a gentle heat until softened (8 minutes).
Add potatoes, stock, bay leaves and thyme and simmer until potatoes are soft (20 minutes).
Add smoked fish, corn, celery, milk and cornflour paste, stirring until lightly thickened. Season and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and stir in parsley and lemon juice. If desired, garnish with smoked mussels and/or a swirl of cream before serving.
Spicy Red Pepper Soup
When you want something light but deeply satisfying, this is such a good soup. We often eat it with crostini topped with smashed good quality canned sardines. It freezes well.
Ready in 40 minutes
Serves 4-6, makes 8 cups
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 red peppers, diced
Flesh of 4 large roasted, peeled red peppers, chopped (can use jarred)
½-1 tsp chilli paste or minced chillies
Pinch of cayenne
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh orange juice
Rind of 1 orange, finely grated
Salt and ground black pepper
Optional: handful of coriander or Italian parsley leaves, torn
Heat oil in a large, heavy soup pot over low heat. Add onions and diced fresh peppers and cook gently for 10 minutes, until softened but not browned, stirring occasionally.
Add chopped roast peppers, chillies, cayenne and stock and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in orange juice and rind, season to taste and simmer another 5 minutes.
Puree soup. At serving time mix through torn coriander or parsley leaves. Accompany with crusty bread or crostini topped with smashed sardines.
(Soba miso bowl)
You might see the picture of this soba miso bowl saying, "Who's ya Daddy?" but to me it's saying, "Come to Umami!" (geddit? "Yo' Mummy?") Not my best work I'll admit, however, this incredibly rich, savoury, Japanese-y concoction is elevated to Godzilla-like heights with a long, cold glass of the new Epic Hop Machine West Coast IPA ($10 440ml) It's the blend of Santium, Simcoe and Nelson sauvin hops that drive home enough resinous herbaceousness to hoon across this beautiful broth.
(Smoked seafood chowder)
There are two versions of alchemy. One's the medieval practice of faffing with converting base metals into gold and the other is fiddling with finding a universal elixir. The Mahi "Alchemy" Marlborough Chardonnay 2019 ($39.90), sourced from a small parcel in their "Badlands" vineyard, has neither faff or fiddle. It has grilled grapefruit, ripe peach, baked apple, roasted almonds and it's crammed full of buttered crumpet characters. It's all kinds of wild, fermented fabulousness.
(Red pepper soup)
Pair the saucy smokiness of this gum-numbingly good soup with a goblet of the pristinely perky Carrick Central Otago Pinot Blanc 2019 ($35). Pinot blanc is a white mutation of the pinot noir (hence "blanc") grown on their tiny, certified organic "Cairnmuir" block and is packed white peach, flecked with fennel and licked with lemon. Multi-layered and magical to drink, it has incredible texture with just the right amount of chew and cling. Love it!