From the Kitchen

I’m Bad at Making Simple Soups.

In From the Kitchen, I share thoughts or stories surrounding food I cook and savour.

Many would agree they’re the easiest to make but I end up with broth that is either bland or has too much of a certain spice or seasoning (I was overzealous with black pepper in the featured soup above.) Or with a pot of waterlogged ingredients that don’t look appealing once reheated. Otherwise, I consider myself to be a pretty good cook. Stews. roasts, stir-fry’s, pasta, all kinds of ulam. My beef borsch is much loved by my Soviet-born fiancé; it’s a kind of soup that takes half a day to make. But my chicken noodle or cabbage potato soup sits in the fridge for days. One rainy evening, I resorted to a packet of Lipton–both of us slurped our bowls gratefully.

I had the soup for lunch the other day (the toast was the best part) while pondering this culinary weakness. I guess, for one, I wasn’t raised on homemade soups. We have many broth-based dishes, say tinola, sinigang, nilaga, but any Filipino would know they’re not eaten like soups. Each spoonful comes with a mound of rice. Our school eatery alternated chicken noodle soup (sopas) and rice porridge (lugaw) in the menu, five pesos a bowl. Outside school, I’d occasionally have a very hearty mami, same price, from a street vendor, but we hardly made those at home.

Maybe it’s the simplicity that’s proving to be my downfall. When making a more complex ulam, involving cuts of protein, vegetables with various duration of cooking times, I pay more attention to details. A cook on a budget, I make sure I’d get the taste I’ve been craving from ingredients that, collectively, are not cheap. Sometimes, I consult recipes online, tasting at every turn for the right level of heat and spice. In contrast, soup making sees me throwing the meat bones and the carelessly chopped carrots, onions and celery in the water. After flinging in some salt, pepper, and dry herbs (all measured by eye), I leave the kitchen, returning only to lower the heat, shred the chicken pieces (and magically disappear the fatty skin), maybe add the noodles or lentils, season to taste (yes, I do make that effort but still…)

I’d try a more loving approach to my next pot. Hopefully I get to report an improvement.

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