Welcome to today’s memory soup! Sunday’s Super Bowl made me think of Florida. This morning’s chill made me think of soup. It seems that red conch chowder marries the two. Apparently, this Caribbean dish is popular in Florida as well as the Bahamas. I’ve never eaten it, but I have eaten conch fresh out of the ocean.
Years ago, some friends and I took one of those overweight puddle jumper flights from Belize City to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We took off over the water and slowly climbed with the stall siren blaring for what seemed like a solid five minutes. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a stall horn. I just knew it was an annoying, loud noise that wouldn’t stop. A few years later, during pilot training, I was overcome with a delayed feeling of terror when I recognized the danger we had been in.
Once we settled into our accommodations on the island, we found a guide to take us bonefishing. Bonefish, like redfish, flip their tails into the air and feed off the bottom in the shallows.
They aren’t easy to catch. When you can see the tails, all movement must be slow and quiet until you’re close enough to cast. A single errant throw of the line will scatter them away quickly. But when you hook one, it’s a fun fight until you land it.
After a morning of fishing, our guide pulled the wooden boat up to a pier and we got out. Several hours in the sun had left me thirsty and hungry. About four steps down the pier, we encountered a man using cupped fingers to happily dip ceviche out of a red Solo® cup. “Want some?” he implored.
While the thought of eating uncooked seafood from a cup into which a man is dipping his fingers is something I can’t even stand to think about now, at the time I just wanted to share what was making him so happy! The ceviche was made with conch the man had harvested that day. Soaked in fresh lime juice and seasoned with cilantro, salt, and hot pepper then mixed with tomatoes and cucumber, it was full of flavor and as delicious as this suntanned stranger had described. I’ve loved ceviche ever since.
Living in a landlocked state means saltwater fish and seafood must be flown in for them to be moderately fresh. That means we don’t eat a lot of clam chowder or oyster stuffing. We have to make up the difference with crawfish, trout, bass, and crappe. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the occasional ocean catch. My neighbors have a big pot of fish stew on the stove right now.
Now that you’ve sampled the memory portion, I guess it’s time for soup. What’s better than classic tomato soup? I like to use Pomi Italian Strained Tomatoes as a base, but there are other options. Dei Fratelli Condensed Tomato Soup is gluten-free comes in a restaurant or large family 50 oz size. Both of these can be used in lasagna, chili, pizza sauce, and marinara when you get tired of tomato soup.
There’s nothing better than homemade chicken stock, but it takes awhile so you have to plan ahead. Sometimes I decide I want chicken soup right now. For those occasions, I keep Imagine® Organic Free Range Chicken Broth in the pantry. I like drinking it from a mug as is, but it’s also a great base for chicken & rice or chicken noodle soup.
Potato soup is warm, filling, and doesn’t require any exotic ingredients. I can usually throw it together with what’s on hand: potatoes, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, butter, and milk or milk substitute…and water. It’s even better if I can scare up some bacon. Sometimes, I like to add cauliflower or corn.
With a pandemic stocked pantry, I have plenty of beans on hand. Black bean is a great option. I typically use dried beans, but you can use can beans as well. Carrot, celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic, broth, bay leaves, cumin, cilantro, salt, pepper, and lime juice are the other items needed.
And there’s always vegetable soup. I’m pretty sure the versions are unlimited. Sometimes I start with chicken stock and leftover veggies. Other times, I opt for fresh veggies in pot likker from greens. On a given day, my preferred version is any combination of vegetables that please me or empty the fridge.
Where are the actual recipes? That’s the great thing about soup. It’s a perfect culinary playground. You don’t need a recipe to make it delicious. You can use your memory and your senses.
If you’re not currently comfortable cooking by feel but want to give it a try, pull out any chicken soup recipe. Fill a soup pot with the recommended amounts of stock and water. Then measure the amount of salt recommended. Sprinkle the salt across the top of the liquid. Get a visual feel for that particular measure. Do the same with the pepper, garlic, and cumin or curry in the recipe (these are only examples). Next time you make soup, you’ll have a visual reference for what you need. Just shake it right out of the container.
Use your sense of smell at the same time. Smell after each addition. As you get comfortable, you’ll recognize that you can smell a difference when you add a bit more salt or garlic. As long as there are no raw ingredients of concern, taste after each stage as well. The more senses you use, the more information you’ll have.
While you’re playing, keep in mind that an addition of cooked chicken that’s already seasoned means you don’t need to add additional salt and pepper to season the chicken. The same goes for left-over vegetables.
I’ve thrown out my share of cooking mistakes, but it’s hard to destroy soup. If you over spice, dilute with additional liquid. And if you have difficulty deciding what to include, memories of soups you’ve previously enjoyed can help guide you. No matter whether you choose flavors from the Caribbean, Asia, the Pacific Northeast or the American South, you’re sure to end up with comforting warmth.
After a year without travel, it would be great to swim in clear Caribbean water and eat fresh conch ceviche. That won’t happen for awhile, so I’ll just have to savor the memories along with a warm cup of soup.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”