It is warm. It is homey. It is fiber-friendly. Soup, in short, is very '90s.
Never mind that soup has been around since before black-and-white TV. Soup, like the old Lucy and Desi show, is being rediscovered.
That is another good thing about soup: It gets better the second time around. Or as we say in the '90s, it is recyclable.
Soup got shoved aside in the glitter days of dining, when endive stuffed with caviar was the hors d'oeuvres du jour. All that has changed. Now not only is caviar more scarce than a solid job offer, soup has taken the spotlight. In many cases it is the entire meal.
The only drawback to soup is that making a good one takes time. This conflicts with the wisdom of the '80s, when any dish that required more than 30 minutes to prepare was said to be too slow for today's pace. But as anyone who tried to eat one of those 30-minute wonders can testify, the '80s weren't so smart after all. Some of these quick-fix dishes may have been colorful, but they were barely edible.
Not so with soup. Soup welcomes lots of ingredients, including the new stars of the culinary scene, beans and grains. And soups calling for milk or cream serve as carriers for that another nutrient-friendly comer, calcium.
It takes at least an hour to make a decent soup. The longer the time, the better the soup. The patience of real soup-makers is rewarded. Since soup is made by the potful, that means there are usually leftovers. And the longer soup sits, the better it tastes. I have kept soups around for almost a week. After that familiarity breeds contempt, and who knows what else. But on those dreary winter days when the world was my enemy, a reheated serving of yesterday's soup has saved me.
Here's a new recipe for an old favorite soup, borscht. It's from Florence Fabricant's "New Home Cooking" (Clarkson Potter, 1991, $30).
Big Borscht Serves eight.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds beef shanks with bone, in 1-inch thick slices
2 medium leeks, mainly the white part, rinsed and chopped
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
12 cups water
1/2 small head red cabbage
3/4 pound chopped fresh or drained canned tomatoes
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh dill
10 black peppercorns, crushed
2 bay leaves
4 medium beets
4 medium white turnips
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled
sour cream or plain yogurt
Heat oil in large (at least 6-quart) soup pot. Add beef shanks, and brown on all sides over high heat. Remove beef and reduce heat to low.
Add leeks, red onion and carrots, and saute until tender but not brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Return the beef to the pot and add 9 cups of the water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook 5 to 10 minutes, skimming the surface. Reduce heat.
Core and chop cabbage, add it to pot along with tomatoes. Tie sprigs of thyme and dill together and add. Add peppercorns and bay leaves. Partly cover and simmer for 2 hours.
Scrub beets, trimming off any long roots. Cut stem to within 1 inch of bulb. Peel turnips. Place beets and turnips in pot and simmer another hour. By this time meat should be very tender; if not, simmer up to 1 hour more.
Remove the meat, beets, and turnips from pot. Cut meat off bones, reserving the marrow, and dice meat. Return the meat to the pot. Peel the beets and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Cut turnips into chunks. Return both to pot. Mix the tomato paste with vinegar and stir it in, along with remaining water. Return soup to simmer, and season to taste with salt.
Just before serving, cut the potatoes into 1-inch chunks. Boil them in salted water until tender, about 20 minutes, then drain. Place in warm serving dish. Warm the reserved marrow, dice it, and sprinkle it over the potatoes.
Remove the herb sprigs and bay leaves from borscht. Serve the borscht with potatoes on the side for guests to add to soup plates. Serve sour cream or yogurt on side as well.