CHEF REBECCA KATZ calls it “culinary alchemy in a pot,” or “liquid love,” and I agree: Soup is both those things, when created simply enough to show off its ingredients, while providing warmth and sustenance. No wonder the word soup sounds like the start of the word soothing, right?
Rebecca, who champions the power of food as medicine and nourishment, is author of the new cookbook “Clean Soups: Simple Nourishing Recipes for Health and Vitality,” and of several earlier books, including the award-winning “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen.”
We spoke about making broth—the basis of many soups, but also a healthful sipping tea in its own right—and more, on the November 7, 2016 edition of my public-radio show and podcast. Read along as you listen in, using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
q&a on ‘clean soups’ with rebecca katz
Q. How did “food as medicine” become your thing—give us a brief bio/background.
A. I’ll give you the 1-minute version. I really started I this work after I went to culinary school when I was 37. I went to the Natural Gourmet Institute for health and culinary arts in New York.
Then I started encountering different people in my life who were getting ill. Here I was a cook, and searching for ways to help them get through their illnesses. Food really became that tool for me.
As I got more into my career I became the executive chef for the Food as Medicine Conference, which is sponsored by the Center for Mind Body Medicine, and I started working more with doctors as a little culinary liaison—like a little culinary translator, for patients who were going through chronic illness.
For the past 16 years the science has just been overwhelming, in terms of how food can help heal and nourish us, but this is something our grandmothers already knew. Everything old is new again. So especially when I am making soup, I feel like I am channeling many grandmothers.
Q. “Culinary translator.” You used that phrase, and I read it in the book. Tell people what it means.
A. It means quite simply that I am very adept at translating nutritional science to the plate. So all the nutritional things that you hear thrown around—all those fancy words like antioxidants, and oxidative stress, and phytochemicals and all of those things—I know what they are, and where they are hidden in food, and I know how to optimize them through “yum.”
Q. “Through yum;” don’t forget the yum.
In the book intro, there is an anecdote about a mentor of yours who would open the lid of the soup pot as he was cooking, and waft a little steam toward his nose—“cooking by nose.” And then you have another phrase where you endorse “course correcting” by tasting throughout when you’re making a recipe.
I took it to mean that with your recipes, you’re not uptight, rigid rigid rigid, but you go with every fresh set of ingredients and the alchemy of that day, yes?
A. I give some clues in the book on how to course correct. I call this technique—which I have been using for years—FASS. It just means the balance of fats, acid, salt and sweet. So you know better than anybody about being in the garden, and especially with food, and depending on when it’s picked, or where you get it, or how it’s grown, or the soil—it’s going to taste different every time you’re making something.
What I try to do is give readers the tool to say, “I’ve made this soup but it’s still a little flat,” so I say taste it. Because maybe it needs a little squeeze of lemon juice to bring up the spices from the bottom, or maybe it needs just a little more salt to move that flavor forward on the front of the palate. Or maybe it needs a little drop of sweet—and I use dark amber maple syrup. I know that sounds weird, but when you’re trying to balance flavor you’re using just maybe a quarter of a teaspoon as a seasoning that will just round out a flavor.
Sometimes a soup may need a topper, like a beautiful cashew cream that give the soup just a little more mouth feel and that little extra fat to take it to the land of yum. [Laughter.]
Q. You mention that your mother or maybe it was grandmother often had soup simmering, and specifically in a cast iron enameled pot, like a Le Creuset type of heavy pot. You use a number of different pots, some more automated and some old-fashioned, but what’s a good soup pot like?
A. My mother’s crazy orange Flame Le Crueset pot.
Q. [Laughter.] We all had that in our mother’s kitchens.
A. That’s my Mom’s pot. She still has it, and she’s like, “I’m leaving it to you.” It’s the heaviest pot in the land, and she’s 83 and she still hoists that pot around. I have a smaller Le Creuset pot that I like to use, and I have this wonderful stainless steel All-Clad pot that I’ve had for over 20 years.
Q. Me, too. I saw it in the book and said, “Ooh, that’s my pot.”
A. That’s my pot. I think soup makers want to make sure they have a pot where heat is going to be evenly distributed, and where it has a bit of a heavy bottom. That’s really important because you don’t want to scorch your soup. To think about a soup pot, that one pot, it should be a really good quality stainless steel or a good-quality cast iron pot.
Q. You also use Insta-pots sometimes, and slow cookers, with certain recipes, I read in the book.
I want to talk for a minute about broth when it’s a recipe in itself–not something to later become an ingredient in another soup or stew. I make broth regularly through the year, then freeze it in canning jars in portion sizes. I drink it like tea, as a mid-morning snack–a habit I adopted from Dr. Mark Hyman years ago, though I don’t follow the exact recipe any longer. You are well-known for your Magic Mineral Broth, and I’d like to hear about it–and what role broth has in your day, your week, your life?
A. The Magic Mineral Broth I created 16 years ago, and I call it the 16-year overnight sensation, because it’s actually the cover of “Clean Soups.” I was really excited that it became the cover shot. [Get the recipe on Rebecca’s website.]
I have always been a big fan of broth. This one evolved because I wanted to invent a nutrient-dense broth that had a lot of minerals in it, and that would bolster the immune system but still have a depth of flavor to it.
I think it was gallons and gallons and a couple of spins around the earth, and I finally got it right. It’s interesting; as many times as I have made it—which is practically every week or week and a half…
Q. Two billion times [laughter].
A. Right. I still always follow the recipe exactly, because I felt like had to calibrate that recipe so much. And I never follow recipes.
Q. And there is another dimension of it being nourishing and soothing, which is that it’s “my broth,” do you know what I mean, my brand so to speak?
A. This is my contribution to the culinary canon. So I’m like you, and I use it as the base of many soups, and also use it as a sipping tea. I’ll put it in a nice mug, or one of my to-go thermoses, when I am on the go. I’ll squeeze some lemon juice in it, or maybe I’ll add a little fresh ginger in it to infuse it. I like sipping on it as a soothing mid-morning or late-afternoon snack.
Really I like it, especially in the winter, because I feel like it’s nourishing, and I am being hydrated, and it’s stopping and talking to all my cells and waking them up. It’s like taking your body to an internal spa, when you sip broth.
Q. It has one ingredient that I cannot imagine making broth without, and I was so validated to see that you have dried kombu seaweed.
Q. Is that the “mineral” in the Magic Mineral Broth?
A. It is certainly one of the minerals of the mineral broth. We know that kombu is really high in trace minerals, and of course creates that umami, and there are just so many great things about kombu from a health and taste perspective.
In the mineral broth, I kind of go against the grain. I use some different kinds of sweet potatoes, and some red potatoes in there—and I don’t peel any if the vegetables. [Learn more about kombu on Rebecca’s website.]
Q. Neither do I; I loved that. It felt like a sisterhood [laughter].
A. Soup sisterhood. It’s a chop and throw, because really the minerals are right under that skin, right there. People are like, “I’ve simmered the broth for four hours, and I’m left with all these vegetables—what do I do? I don’t want to waste them.”
And I say, “They have given everything up.”
Q. They have indeed. All their energy, all their magic.
A. They have given it up; compost the rest. You’re not wasting them; they have done their job.
Q. And just as broth is the base of many soups, this Magic Mineral Broth is also the base of other broths. Then there is also a chart in the book that pairs your broths or stocks with the soup recipes from the book that they work best in.
A. I call it derivatives. With the Magic Mineral Broth, if you have 8 cups (2 quarts) of it, you add coconut milk and some lemongrass and some wild lime leaves—and if you don’t have that, you can just take the peel of a lime itself. Then add three 1-inch pieces of ginger and two shallots, and infuse that broth for a good 20 to 30 minutes and you have a beautiful Thai Coconut Broth.
Q. That sounded so fabulous; I love coconut milk. What a great twist on broth.
A. The other broth I like, if you want to create a little bit more immune boosting, you could take the Magic Mineral Broth and add some shiitake mushrooms, some burdock root, and some ginger—and even a little turmeric. Boom, you’ve kicked it up a little bit immune-wise.
If you want to use it to make a bone broth, you can add chicken bones, or marrow bones; it’s like a chameleon.
Q. So we have one broth that can lead to many broths, then those broths or the original one can lead to the soups that are in the book. So for instance, the Thai Coconut Broth might go well in what soup?
A. There is a great soup that I love that’s in the blended soup category: Coconut Cauliflower Soup with Ginger and Turmeric.
Q. I was so surprised at that combination; I read the title and I was like, “What’s that going to taste like?” But I liked the idea of it, and it’s so colorful.
A. There is a gorgeous picture of it against that blue pot [photo, top of page].
There is also a Kale Soup with Coconut and Lime; that’s another blended soup. And then in the back of the book, where I get into more traditional soups, there is a wonderful Thai Tom Yum Gai. So you can use it even as the base to riff on a chicken soup with an Asian flair.
Q. I don’t remember which of the broths goes into it, but you just described that luxurious orange one, and there was also the greenest soup I’d ever seen in the blended soup—Power Green Soup. [Get the Power Green Soup recipe.]
A. That is definitely a Magic Mineral Broth or an Immune Broth soup. I call it the Popeye soup. It’s actually very quick to pull together. It has Swiss chard, lacinato or Dino kale, and parsley. And then I have as the base for the aromatics is leeks, and one ‘Yukon Gold’ potato to give it a little bit of body. Plus garlic, red chili pepper flakes—and then Immune Broth or Magic Mineral Broth and the greens and the parsley along with some lemon zest or lemon juice. The parsley is what makes that soup very green and not muddy, like green soups can get.
Q. It sounds like am immersion blender is also your secret weapon, besides the right pot.
A. An immersion blender or a high-speed blender; I use both. I use a high-speed blender, a Vitamix, and I get that really cashmere-sweater consistency. For people who don’t want another appliance, or don’t want to clean it, an immersion blender works fine for these blender soups.
Q. I couldn’t live without mine.
Q. You have a list of “flavor boosters” in your book, and you alluded also to some flavor “hacks” you might add to broth—like fresh ginger you might put in before you sip a cup, or turmeric. You had some other interesting flavor ideas. I like to make split pea soup and you have one called Smoky Split Pea, and I thought, “Does it have a ham hock in it?” [laughter]. But no it didn’t–it was smoked paprika, which I would not have thought to put in pea soup. Other flavor enhancers?
A. There is a whole chapter on toppers, which can be really wonderful for finishing off a soup and making it pop. Some flavor boosters also are things like lemon juice that I was talking about—or miso is a good one. Tomato paste is a good flavor booster. These all have that umami flavor.
And then spices: your spices and your herbs are your total keys to the kingdom of marvelous food making.
People always get confused how to use herbs and spices, when making soup. I have a soup template on page 20, and when you’re dealing with spices and dried herbs, when you sauté your onions and garlic and whatever else you’ve got going at the beginning—your aromatics—that’s when you put in your dried herbs and spices so they can open up and bloom.
Q. Not as an afterthought.
A. And then they infuse their was into the soup. The fresh herbs, which I love, are big flavor boosters. I have a recipe in the topper section of the book called Many Herb Drizzle. Basically it’s taking some parsley and mint and lemon juice and olive oil, and putting it in a mini Cuisinart or food processor and then drizzling it on top of a soup. Pestos play the same role.
Q. That’s one of my favorites.
A. Or soup salsa—those are the things that boost flavor. When in doubt, keep a lemon on hand.
more from rebecca katz
- Get her Power Green Soup Recipe
- Get her Magic Mineral Broth Recipe
- Order the new book “Clean Soups” now on Amazon
- Browse all Rebecca’s cookbooks on Amazon
enter to win rebecca katz’s ‘clean soups’
I’LL BUY A COPY of Rebecca Katz’s new book, “Clean Soups,” for one lucky reader. All you have to do is answer this question in the comments box at the very bottom of the page, after the last reader comment:
What was the last soup you made, and did it start with broth as an ingredient? Do you ever make your own broth, too?
No answer or feeling shy? Just say something like “Count me in” and I will, but an answer is even better. I’ll select a random winner after entries close at midnight Tuesday, November 8, 2016. Good luck to all.
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Nov. 7, 2016 show right here. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
(Recipes reprinted with permission from “Clean Soups,” copyright by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson, 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2016 Eva Kolenko. Disclosure: Purchases from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)