Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stone soup

There is a popular fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that tells of a soldier, on his way home from war, who stops in a village and asks the townspeople for a bite to eat. They all refuse to share anything with him though they clearly have plenty. He is a wily man, so in his desperation he finds an old pot, builds a fire in the middle of the town square and heats the pot filled only with water and a stone. One by one the townspeople who had refused him come by to see what he’s doing; he tells them he’s making stone soup, the most delicious soup in the world. None of them want to admit they’ve never heard of it so all agree that yes, stone soup is exquisite. For every visitor who agrees with him he then sighs and says that his stone soup would be better still if only he had some carrots. Or cabbage. Or onions. Or… And one by one each of the villagers says that they have carrots. Or cabbage. Or onions. Or… They run back to home to fetch their ingredients for the pot. By the end the whole village has collaborated and made a pot of delicious soup that feeds not only the hungry soldier, but the entire community.

My family and I start every soup with a stone. We routinely host stone soup parties, where we provide the pot, water and stone while our guests each bring an ingredient. At worst, the soup is interesting; it is usually delicious. And whoever ends up with the stone in their bowl gets to make a wish.

While most of my soups vary considerably based on what I have in the larder, I have a basic recipe that is pretty much no-fail. This is a great recipe to cook with kids so they can experiment with their palate, tryng new ingredients in new combinations. They can also pretend to be different villagers as they add each ingredient to the soup.

Stone Soup
(all amounts are approximate, of course)
  • 1 soup stone (see below for some thoughts about selecting your soup stone)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 2 mashed cloves of garlic
Heat a little olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot. Sauté the veggies in the oil until onion begins to become translucent. Pour enough broth or water over the veggies that they are covered plus an inch or two. If you want to make more soup, add more veggies. Add a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook until veggies are tender.

From this point on you get to play and I’d recommend you do so, this soup will be much better with more stuff in it. I always add more stuff. Make sure you have enough liquid that it remains soup and not stew.

You could add:
  • chopped cabbage, kale, or other greens (cabbage adds a tremendous amount of flavor to soup)
  • sliced chicken, beef, pork, tofu, leftover grilled meats, etc.
  • chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
  • peppers, mild or hot
  • turnips, celery root, or other root vegetables
  • rice, barley (which takes a long time to cook), pasta, corn, or other starches. If you plan to add a starch make more broth initially
  • different spices. Be daring, sniff them and imagine what it will taste like
  • on and on. Use your imagination. Pretend you are a village collaborating to make soup.
If you choose to use a stone for your soup pot I would make a few recommendations.
  • make sure it’s a hard stone that won’t dissolve with use
  • it should be large enough that it can’t be swallowed
  • it should be fairly smooth so it’s easy to wash (soup does tend to get in the cracks and crevices).
Save your stone. Use it again and again. Tell the story. And make soup together.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

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