Thursday, January 17, 2013

Make Easy Nourishing Soup From Leftovers

Recently, I've been re-reading Sally Fallon and Mary Enig's very important book, Nourishing Traditions.

I've also been thinking about food waste, and how each of us can avoid wasting food.

Backyard Livestock

One great way to avoid food waste is to keep animals in your back yard, feed them kitchen scraps, eat any food that they produce (eggs or milk, for instance), and when the time comes, eat the animals themselves.

Pigs are quite omnivorous, so you can feed them just about anything, but keeping a pig is a serious commitment. (For a hilarious account of urban pig-rasing, among other adventures, read Novella Carpenter's book Farm City.)

Chickens are pretty flexible eaters, too; you might be surprised what they will eat (chicken, for instance, and eggs). Keeping chickens is easier than keeping pigs. And hens lay eggs, so they can provide an ongoing payback, rather than the all-or-nothing of a pig. Ducks are another option; they require pools of water, which can add complexity to their maintenance.

Rabbits and guinea pigs will eat any vegetable scraps you have. They are easy to care for, and they breed reliably and quickly. And guinea pigs are a convenient size from a portioning point of view. I don't find rabbits and guinea pigs quite as charming as some other animals; this may be an advantage when it comes time to slaughter them.

Making Nourishing Soup From Leftovers

Making soup from leftovers is another important way to avoid food waste, and it is less of a commitment than keeping an animal (even a small one).

At my day job, we often get catered food, and I find myself looking at large amounts of leftovers. When it is Meat of Known Origin, I sometimes take some home in ziplock bags and put it in my freezer.

This weekend, my freezer was full.

So it was time to make chicken soup.

A Word About Laziness

Laziness is unfairly stigmatized. If I can do something to make my life easier without harming anyone, why shouldn't I? My friend Anton Schwartz and I were recently discussing this—laziness often leads to efficiency and innovation.

Lazy Soup

Let me tell you how I make lazy soup:

First, if I'm making soup from frozen chicken, whether it's raw or cooked, I don't thaw it. I simply put the chicken in a stockpot; add cool, filtered water until the chicken is well covered; and turn the heat up to high. Once it reaches a boil, I turn the heat down to the lowest simmer I can. If the burner's lowest setting is still too high, I sometimes move the pot off-center on the burner, so it won't get its full heat. (A diffuser can help, too.)

If I'm not staying around the kitchen all day (which I'm usually not), I cover the pot. I keep an eye on it for a while, covering it and uncovering it, and get a feel for how quickly the water level falls, because having it run dry can lead to all sorts of problems. If the water level starts falling, I top it off with more water. Often I'll preheat some water in my electric kettle for this purpose.

Nourishing Traditions recommends adding 2 Tbps of vinegar for every gallon of water when making chicken stock. This helps pull some of the minerals out of the bones and into the soup. Raw apple cider vinegar is my favorite, but since I'm boiling it, raw doesn't matter. So if I don't have raw ACV (because I'm at someone else's house, for instance), I use whatever vinegar I have.

I let the soup cook for as long as I can bear it. Nourishing Traditions recommends letting chicken stock cook for 6-24 hours (!).

I inspect the soup periodically, and stir it up. I'll take a couple of forks and pull the meat off the bones. After it's been cooking for a few hours, this becomes very easy. So there's no hurry. Be lazy and wait!

The great thing about cooking chicken for this long is that all of the connective tissue DISAPPEARS. You know, the stuff that kids hate, the tendons and knuckles and such. It simply dissolves. I'm left with bones, meat, and liquid. This is great, from a laziness point of view, because it means all I need to do is fish out the bones (when the time comes). And the liquid has all the goodness of the whole chicken in it, including the very important proteins and gelatin from the connective tissues, and minerals from the bones.

When the soup is done cooking, I decide how many jars I want to store it in (usually wide-mouth quart mason jars), and then I boil the soup down until it will fit in those jars. Soup can be boiled down quite a bit, and it makes storing it easier. I usually add water before serving it, to get it back to the strength I want.

I transfer the bones, meat, and liquid to the jars using some combination of tongs, slotted spoons, ladles, and funnels. Then I close the jars and put them somewhere cold. If it's a huge amount of soup, it's prudent to pre-chill the jars in an ice bath or snow or on a really cold porch before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer—if you don't do this, then they will heat up everything else in your fridge or freezer! If it's a smaller amount of soup, say a few jars, it matters less.

Adding Vegetables

When it comes time to eat the soup, here's what I do:

I decide what vegetables I want to add. I like mushrooms. I always have dried mushrooms in my cupboard. Usually I rehydrate them before putting them in the soup, so that the mushrooms will taste like mushrooms rather than (in this case) chicken. I fill a coffee cup most of the way with dry mushrooms, and then I add hot water. After 5 or 10 minutes, the mushrooms are mostly rehydrated. I pick them out and put them aside. But it's not necessary to throw away the mushroom water: it can be a nice warm beverage, especially with the addition of a shot of fish sauce. (The grit at the bottom can go in your compost, or directly into an indoor plant. Note that cats love fish sauce!)

Dark leafy greens are nice to add, and/or green beans or peas. Whatever is fresh and in season, or alternatively whatever is in the freezer that needs to be gotten rid of!

If I'm using greens, I tear them up by hand and chop the stems up.

Root vegetables can be good, too. I find turnips and rutabagas particularly nice. Parsnips in excess can be overbearing. Personally, I'm not wild about potatoes, but if you like them, then use them. Just sure to cut them up into pieces that will cook quickly; potatoes MUST be cooked through, because uncooked potatoes are toxic.

And of course fermented vegetables are always good. If I have some sauerkraut or fermented turnips that have been sitting around for a while and are getting a little soft, this is a perfect destiny for them, since it's okay for soup vegetables to be soft. I add the fermented vegetables once the soup has started cooling, so that their probiotics and enzymes aren't destroyed by heat. (See below.)

If I want greater volume of soup, I may add some water. This makes up for the water that I boiled off before I put it in jars.

I heat the soup until it's completely liquid. I pick the bones out, by whatever means are most convenient--usually tongs or (clean) fingers. Then I heat the soup more until it's boiling. I add the root vegetables and wait until they're nearly done; add the cut up stems of the greens; add the greens themselves; wait a minute or two; add the mushrooms; and then turn off the heat.

I give the soup a taste. This is where the advantage of using leftover chicken becomes clear: it's already seasoned! The soup may be great just the way it is. Often it benefits from salt and pepper. If it lacks bite, I may wait for it to cool to the point where I can comfortably put my finger in it, and then add some raw apple cider vinegar, or even better, some sauerkraut juice, or some sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables. The finger test ensures that the soup is 117°F or below (Sally Fallon's trick, again from Nourishing Traditions); at 117°F and below, probiotic microbes and enzymes in the vinegar or sauerkraut will survive, so that I can benefit from them. (It should be noted that the finger test is not in compliance with health code in most states! A thermometer may be used if the health inspector is coming over for dinner.)

Of course sometimes I add other sorts of seasoning earlier in the process. But my hope is always that the leftovers are well-seasoned, so that I don't need to think about this too much. (Lazy.)

And voilĂ : the soup is done!

Sunday Night Dinner

Here's what I had for dinner on Sunday night:
  • Soup as above, with shiitake mushrooms from my cupboard, chard from the farmers' market, Celtic sea salt, pepper, and a big, generous glob of coconut oil melted in it
  • Warm mushroom water with fish sauce as a beverage
  • Toasted sprouted-grain bread, with lots of Kerrygold grass-fed butter on it (salted, in the gold foil wrapper, not whipped)
  • Raw ComptĂ© cheese from France
  • A forkful of plain sauerkraut
  • Some grape chia kombucha for "dessert"
It was very satisfying and delicious. And there was very little waste!
Shared with: Keep It Real Thursdays, DIY Thrifty Thursday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Thrifty Thursday.


johan said...

Very interesting. I will do as you say :-)

ZoomZoom said...

Nice post I do the same thing with my leftover meat! Sorry this comment is a little off topic, but I've got a question about fermentation. I just got your book and I love it.
I'm interested in fermenting so that I can eat live cultures. When the fermentation is done and I put the veggies into a jar in the fridge am I killing the live cultures?
Am I correct in assuming that if I use a vinegar solution for pickling that I get no live culture, and if I transfer finished veggies to a vinegar solution I kill off the cultures?
Just started some kraut, pickles, and lemons!

Alex Lewin said...

Johan, sorry, I just saw this. Did you do as I say? Love to hear how it went!

Alex Lewin said...

Eric ZoomZoom,

I'm so glad that you like my book. :-) And that you're fermenting! That's the important part.

Putting stuff in the fridge doesn't kill the live cultures--it just puts them to sleep. So they're still there, but the fermentation slows down a lot. This is actually a good thing, because if they went on fermenting indefinitely, at some point they'd run out of food, and/or your veggies would get mushy. Putting them to sleep means they'll still be there when you eat them.

If you preserve using only vinegar, you won't get significant live cultures on your veggies. Raw vinegar contains its own live cultures, but they're not as interesting (from a health point of view) as the veggie ones (acetobacter vs. lactobacillus).

If you put veggies that have already been fermented into vinegar, you may or may not be killing off the veggie cultures, depending on how strong the vinegar is, and some other factors. I suppose you might want to do this with cucumbers or other things that go very quickly from perfect to mushy. Don't go overboard on the vinegar and you should be okay.

Be aware that if you put fermented veggies into jars and can them (using heat), you will kill all the bacteria. The results might taste okay or might be mushy, but they won't be as healthful as when they were raw.

Hope this helps.

ZoomZoom said...

Very very helpful Thanks!

Suella said...

I've been frying my sauerkraut until it was crispy. Does this mean that I am killing all the healthy pro-bioticness of the sauerkraut?

Alex Lewin said...

Hi Suella,

Yes! If you are frying your sauerkraut, you are killing all the beasties. What I would say is: (a) please consider frying it in a healthy fat (butter, animal fat, or coconut oil); and (b) eat some raw, too, so that you get the benefits. Fried sauerkraut loses its magic, but that doesn't mean you can't eat it if you like it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alex. I'll try some raw sauerkraut and see what I reckon to the taste.

Suella said...

Thanks Alex. I'll try some raw.