“In essence,” he stressed, wagging his spoon at a tableful of ever more bemused looking – and soup smattered – dining companions, “it is time to sex up your soup.”
It was, unexpectedly, the beginning of a lively discussion. Sex up your soup? Soup up your soup? Why? How?
Apparently, explained an increasingly animated Emile – who was clearly delighted by the response he had stirred – soup originated in about 6 000 BC, with non-other than hippopotamus as its primary ingredient.
“You are not serious?” breathed wide-eyed Sue, leaning eagerly towards the expert. “How big was the pot, do you think?”
Not to be outdone, smart Alec chipped in from the far side of the table, “Ja boet, that must have been the world’s first won ton soup, hey? Did they stockpile it, I wonder?”
Impervious to his detractors, Emile went on, explaining that after the hippo-pot era, soup evolved into a widely revered dish the world over.
“Did you know that, in the court of Louis XI, women’s meals consist almost entirely of soup?” he mused. “Those were the pre-Oil of Olay days and women were afraid that too much chewing would cause facial wrinkles. What’s more, apparently the French king was so smitten by his own looks that he demanded that his chefs create a soup in which he could see his own reflection. That’s how consommé came about. It’s actually an edible mirror.”
Emile’s point was – it eventually emerged, ladled on thick – that soup has a long, illustrious history. However, after centuries of being laboriously dished up as a nutritious and comforting dish – not to mention medicinal, when it comes in the form of chicken soup – it has lost its sex appeal. There is nothing hip or happening about soup. It is simply hot and wholesome. Indeed, it was agreed: soup needs to be souped up. Here then, are some suggestions, courtesy of a brainstorm around a soup bowl at aforementioned dinner party.
“To begin with,” recommended Dave, who has a sports agency, “soup needs a saucy new name, like Nike or Puma, but most definitely not something that rhymes with gloop or poop.”
It transpired, in fact, there are already plenty of much saucier and appropriate monikers around to replace the word “soup”. For example, if you prepare vegetables, fish and/or meat in liquid, you can aptly present it as broth or, more exotic still, bouillon.
Titivate further, suggested the always abundantly accessorised Alice, by adding an onion studded with whole cloves, celery, carrots and a bouquet garni and you can call it court-bouillon. And, of course, if you clarify the mixture, it becomes narcissistically friendly consommé.
“And bru, when your soup is rich, thick, and is full of mushed-up (he meant pureed) seafood – or poultry and vegetables instead of seafood – and cream, the menu should read bisque,” added Alec. “And, if you add large chunks of food to bisque, it becomes chowder, my china.”
The party was on a roll and the ideas were spooned out thick and fast: If your concoction contains mussels, onions, wine and cream, it could qualify as the French dish billi-bi. Classic bill-bi (or billy bi) recipes require you to strain the mussels, leaving a smooth liquid, but it is acceptable to leave whole mussels in the mixture.
And if you puree your steamy, French-inspired soup and thicken it with cream or egg yolks, you can call it potage – unless it is a more Mediterranean-styled fish soup that contains onions, orange peel, garlic mayonnaise and egg yolks, in which case it is more likely to be bourride.
You could also, advised Emile, give your soup some Russian or Polish sex appeal by including beets, various vegetables, sometimes some meat or meat stock, and garnish it with a dollop of sour cream: “Then you call it borscht and, for a truly sexy twist, you should serve it with vodka. It can be eaten hot or cold. So if, while drinking the vodka, things really hot up and the meal gets cold, it is completely acceptable,” he said, winking lasciviously at his wife, Janet, who showed him the finger.
Alice’s latest accessory, Craig, came up with what was the sexiest sounding soup – until he mentioned the ingredients, that is. Menudo, he explained, is a spicy Mexican mixture made of tripe, calves’ feet, chilli and hominy: “It’s also said to be a great hangover cure, probably because it has a bit of a kick to it,” he chuckled, before tipping the remnants of his wine glass into his mouth.
Tripe is also used in Pepper Pot, which is a thick meaty and peppery concoction with vegetables. Posole is another Mexican potion, this time comprising pork or chicken, hominy, onions, garlic and chilli, and served with chopped lettuce, onion, radishes and cheese.
If Indian food presses your buttons, Mulligatawny is a rich meat and vegetable soup, highly seasoned with curry and other spices from eastern India. You can doll it up with rice, eggs, coconut and/or cream. Or, as Alec reminded us, you can go further east with China’s won ton or bird’s nest variations. Minestrone is an Italian creation, while the Scottish swear profusely by Scotch broth. And, if your take on sexy is a cool one, you might go for vichyssoise or gazpacho.
For sure, soup, it seems, is simple to soup up when you give it another name. But Sue and Alice insisted that you could revamp it even further by dressing it up. Serve it in unusual containers like espresso cups or hollowed out pumpkins, they said, and add toppings like crispy bacon strips, crumbled goat’s cheese, chorizo sausage, dumplings, parmesan shavings, pretzels, croutons, crème fraîche, yoghurt and fresh herbs.
So, we solved the problem of boring soup. Another dinner party will be convened next month during which we plan to pimp the potato. Don’t miss it.
(First published in The Weekender.)