Finally, the weather seems to have changed, and it’s time to make soup. Today we explore old favorites: Creole vegetable soup; Albondigas, the Mexican meatball soup; and split pea soup made famous by James Beard.
The recipe for Creole vegetable soup is quite old, I believe, and more scholarship could be done on this much-less-known cousin of gumbo. Unlike vegetable soups from other areas, Creole soup always contains beef (“soup meat”) and tomatoes.
The 1901 second edition of The Picayune’s “Creole Cook Book” has a recipe for Potage a la Julienne with beef, turnips, carrots, onions, leeks, celery, tomatoes, cabbage and peas. Then an entire chapter is devoted to The Bouilli, “the boiled meat usually thrown away by other nationalities than the Creole and French when the pot au feu, the consume or the bouillon, has been completed.”
I suspect Creole vegetable soup is linked to the boiled brisket still served, famously, at New Orleans’ second oldest restaurant, Tujaque’s. Leon E. Soniat Jr., that most reliable of Picayune columnists, noted that “If there is any extra stew meat, it will make a meal by itself. Serve with Creole mustard or a horseradish sauce.” (One friend from New Orleans reported her dad always did this.)
Some supermarkets offer the seasonal vegetable bunch of ingredients needed for Creole vegetable soup.
My version of the soup is based on recipes from Soniat’s “La Bouche Creole,” “River Road Recipes” and the Old Fashioned Vegetable Soup from “Woodstoves to Microwaves: The Entergy Cookbook” (aka the NOPSI cookbook). Some versions add 2 tablespoons rice and/or macaroni or spaghetti.
Sopa de Albondigas is an old Mexican soup; meatballs probably came to Spain with the Moors. The soup varies as widely as the cooks who make it.
The signature meatballs may be beef, pork, chicken or even fish. Mint can be included in both the meatballs and broth. My version is based on a stripped-down 1960s Arizona favorite. Even when made with the leanest beef, it’s best to cook it a day ahead so the fat can be easily removed.
Split pea soup is eaten worldwide, and was supposedly sold by vendors of the streets of Athens about 500 to 400 BC. It is thought to have come to New England in the 19th century with French-Canadian millworkers.
Last year for my book club, I made the version from “James Beard’s American Cookery” for the first time. What a revelation: Putting the softened peas through a sieve makes all the difference.
Creole Vegetable Soup
The less tender cuts of beef (brisket, round, chuck) can be used as “soup meat.” I used a small boneless top round roast. Creole Italian cookbooks call for macaroni to be added to the soup during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
FOR THE BROTH
2 pounds brisket or other soup meat
1 large onion, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
2 stalks celery
1 large potato, peeled
3 quarts water
FOR THE SOUP
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, or 2 cups chopped fresh
¼ head cabbage, shredded
3 large carrots, peeled, diced
1 large onion, chopped
½ large potato, peeled, diced
1 large turnip, peeled, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
¼ cup minced parsley
¼ cup minced green onion
10-ounce package frozen lima beans
1 (about 15 ounce) can corn or 2 ears corn, cut in segments
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
In a 4-quart covered pot, season water with 1 teaspoon salt. Add meat, ribs of celery, onion and potato. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 1 hour to 90 minutes, until vegetables are very soft. Remove meat and let cool until it can be handled. Remove and discard all fat and bone. Dice meat.
Skim broth. Put a sieve over the top of the pot and use the back of a large spoon to mash potato, onion and celery through sieve. (Or use a food mill.)
Add all diced vegetables: Tomatoes and liquid, cabbage, carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, turnip, parsley, green onion, lima beans and corn. Add thyme, bay leaves and hot sauce. Bring to boil, lower heat to simmer, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 1 hour. Add diced meat back to soup after first 30 minutes.
Season with lots of black pepper and other seasonings to taste.
Add all the garnishes you want to this classic Mexican cold-weather dish, but we prefer it with just a sprinkle of shredded cheese. For best results, make the soup a day ahead so you can remove the fat when you reheat the soup. I used 93 percent lean ground beef. This would also be good with ground turkey.
Makes 8 servings.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1 (7-ounce) can chopped green chiles (or 2 4-ounce cans)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (or 2 15-ounce cans)
1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups water
2 pounds leanest hamburger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Saute green onions in hot oil in large soup pot until limp. Add chiles, tomatoes, oregano, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and cumin. Add water. Bring to a steady boil.
As soup comes to a boil, wet your hands and combine hamburger, eggs, flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Form into 1-inch balls. (Do not brown.),
Drop into soup one by one as you make them, keeping soup at a boil. When all are added, turn heat to simmer. Taste to adjust seasoning.
Cook 45 minutes. Serve hot.
James Beard’s Split Pea Soup
This classic recipe also can be made with lentils, leaving them whole or pureeing if you like. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
1 pound split peas, well washed
Meaty ham bone or smoked ham hock
2 quarts water
1 onion stuck with 2 cloves
1 rib celery
1 or 2 carrots
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
Combine peas with ham, water and other ingredients except salt. Bring to a boil. Cover pot tightly, reduce heat, and simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Taste for salt and add more if needed. Remove ham bone, cut off bits of meat remaining and cut in small dice. Put soup through a food mill or sieve, removing cloves.
Return soup to pot with ham and, if necessary, dilute soup with heavy cream, broth or water. (I used water.)
Serve very hot with thinly sliced sausage, crisp croutons, or crisp bacon bits.
Variation: Add sherry or Madeira just before serving and garnish with chopped ham.
Caroline Derbes, of Baton Rouge, gave me the idea for this column when she shared an excellent recipe.
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