Soups and Stews

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As winter approaches it’s that time of year when people want to eat warming comfort foods, such as soups and stews, prepared ahead of time and easily heated or left in the crock pot, to greet you when you arrive home from a cold day out.


Soup is a savory liquid food that is made by boiling ingredients, such as meat, vegetables and beans in stock or hot water, until the flavour is extracted, forming a broth. Boiling was not a common cooking technique until the invention of waterproof containers about 5,000 years ago.

Over the centuries, the terms gruel (a thin porridge) and potage have become separated from broth, and stock and their refinement, consommé, have all been used to describe this pot-boiling cooking method. The terms have shifted over time, but the modern definitions of soup and stew were established in the eighteenth century. Soups usually are more liquid, while stews are thicker; contain more solid ingredients. Stews are cooked in covered containers for longer periods of time, at a gentle boil with less water and at a lower heat.

Traditionally, soup is classified into two broad groups: clear soups and thick soups. The established French classifications of clear soups are bouillon and consommé. Thick soups are classified depending upon the type of thickening agent used: purées, which are vegetable soups thickened with starch; bisques are made from puréed shellfish thickened with cream; cream soups are thickened with béchamel sauce; and veloutés are thickened with eggs, butter and cream. Other ingredients to thicken soups and broths include rice, flour, and grains.


A stew is a common food made of vegetables and meat in some sort of broth or sauce. The line between stew and soup is a fine one, but generally a stew’s ingredients are cut in larger pieces, and a stew is more likely to be eaten as a main course than as a starter. Stewing has a long tradition in cookery. Popular recipes for regional stews, such as gumbo, bouillabaisse, Brunswick stew, and burgoo, became common during the 19th century and have increased in popularity during the 20th century.

Soups and Stews have always had a place on our dinner table.


Some frugal housewife thousands of years ago, looked at yesterday’s leftover food and not wanting to waste it, threw it all together, heated it up and called it “soup.” And a new dish was born… er, created.


Combine beef of various cuts. Stew is a great leveling field for ground beef, steak and roast!

Beef and buffalo, venison or wild red meat like elk go well together

Combine any common poultry like chicken and turkey

Combine any fat poultry like goose or duck

Lamb will go fine with beef

Cured and processed meats combine well, no matter what the source (beef, turkey, etc.)


Almost anything goes, but don’t mix too many high carbohydrate vegetables (most root vegetables). Potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beets in one dish is just too much. Use two at the most and vary the colour and texture.

Other seed or grain type of vegetables like corn, peas and beans can be mixed

Legumes like beans, lentils and peas can be added to almost any soup

Tomatoes are fruits, but let’s call them vegetables. They are so common, that soup can be divided into two types: With tomatoes and without. They add a distinct flavor no matter what the other ingredients.

Don’t forget to cook the last of the salad! Add raw chopped cucumbers, lettuce and radishes to a stew or soup in the last 15 minutes or so, so they won’t be overcooked. Other salad vegetables – green onions, cabbage, carrots, celery, etc., take longer to cook and can be added at the same time as other ingredients.

Grains and Seeds:

This includes rice, barley, wheat, amaranth, oats and millet and grain products like pasta and noodles, as well as thickeners like flour and cornstarch or nut flours.

Foods that go well together in a meal go together well in soup, so let that be your guide. Don’t throw out leftovers because you don’t know what to do with them or because your family won’t eat them. When you make soup or stew from them, they’re no longer leftovers. They’re the ingredients of a new and delicious dish.


Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and traveling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. New England chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and Campbell’s tomato…are all variations on the same theme.

Soups were easily digested and were prescribed for invalids since ancient times. The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Restoratifs (wheron the word “restaurant” comes) were the first items served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris. Broth [Pot-au-feu], bouillon, and consommé entered here. Classic French cuisine generated many of the soups we know today.

Advancements in science enabled soups to take many forms…portable, canned, dehydrated, microwave-ready. “Pocket soup” was carried by colonial travelers, as it could easily be reconstituted with a little hot water. Canned and dehydrated soups were available in the 19th century. These supplied the military, covered wagon trains, cowboy chuck wagons, and the home pantry. Advances in science also permitted the adjustment of nutrients to fit specific dietary needs (low salt, high fiber, etc.).

“Cereals, roasted to make them digestible and then ground and moistened or diluted with water to make a paste, either thick or thin, did not become gruel or porridge until people had the idea and means of cooking them. They may initially have been cooked by hot stones in receptacles of natural substances, and then in utensils which could go straight over the fire. Soup, in fact, derives from sop or sup, meaning the slice of bread on which broth was poured. Until bread was invented, the only kind of thick soup was a concoction of grains, or of plants and meat cooked in a pot. Gruel or porridge was thus a basic food, a staple form of nourishment, and long held that place in Western countries, for in practice bread was a luxury eaten only in towns. A thick porridge of some kind is still the staple food of many peoples, and it is not always made of cereals, but may consist of other starch foods: legumes, chestnuts or root vegetables.”

Roasted Parsnip and Apple Soup

12 servings



  1. Peel parsnips, cut into ¼ and rub with a little olive oil.
  2. Bake in the oven till golden brown at 350°F.
  3. In a heavy pan sauté the chopped onion, chopped leeks (white part only) and diced apple (use only 4) over a moderate heat in the butter, stirring until vegetables are soft. Add the roasted parsnips; try to dry as much of the grease off the parsnips as possible.
  4. Cover with stock and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Puree the mix, pass through a strainer into another pan. Add the apple juice, cream and season to taste. Stir occasionally over moderate heat.
  6. For the garnish slice thin strips of green leek and blanch them, and cut thin strips of apple (from the one left), and garnish with chopped chives.

Irish Stew



  1. Put lamb in a pot, cover with water and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  2. Wash all vegetables, cut Yukon potatoes into small pieces, add to a pot with leeks, onions, celery, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and add the lamb. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for one hour (vegetables will be very soft).
  3. Remove lamb. Blend the liquid and vegetables. Return to the cooking pot.
  4. Add the lamb, small potatoes, and small onions. Bring to boil and simmer partially covered for 25 minutes. Season for service.
  5. Blanch carrots separately and serve with the stew and chopped parsley.

In this monthly column, Culinary Magician, Ashley Farnell, once described as the “King of Kosher”, shares his outstanding recipes, and entertaining stories of his adventures feeding the famous, and the not so famous. His credits include musicians, sports teams, politicians, and many a private dinner party. For questions, comments, or to book the Culinary Magician, email

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And as heard on the OURadio program Off the Beaten Path – The King of Kosher

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.