Soup up January with a warm, one-pot meal

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Frank Chlumsky

Beautiful soup so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup ? ."

No doubt about it, when cold weather takes its turn, I turn to the refrigerator in search of soup-makings, humming that tune that's so lovingly sung by the mock turtle in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland.

And as I now gaze out my window at the bleak, gray horizon during these damp and gloomy January days, I have the welcome reassurance that all will be well once I sit down to that bowl of soothing, steaming soup. But first to the refrigerator.

The soup I have in mind is, in fact, referred to by some as "refrigerator soup," or to be even more precise, "clean-out-the-refrigerator soup." It's a great way to get rid of various odds and ends, as well as those small amounts of leftovers that have been languishing since who knows when. Even so, I usually like to make a trip to the meat market for something decidedly substantial to use as a base. Most often it's some beef shank or a large knuckle bone with a little meat left on it. If the bones are too well trimmed I add a small piece of beef chuck to the pot as well.

Last week I found beef back ribs at Ultra Foods in Forest Park at the incredibly low price of 48 cents per pound and they made one of the best soups I ever had. Occasionally I use beef neck bones, which are also economical. Beef short ribs and oxtails are great, but at today's prices they're downright extravagant.

Incidentally, precision in knife skills and many of the steps usually called for in soup-making are absent in this application and the anal-retentive chef would undoubtedly be appalled. But it's great fun, and the final result speaks for itself.


3 to 4 pounds beef back ribs (first choice),beef shank, or knuckle bone (with meat)

10 cups cold water (enough to cover the bones by 2 inches)

1 tablespoon salt

cup green or yellow split peas, rinsed

cup pearl barley, rinsed

2 medium onions, peeled and quartered

2 (or so) carrots, peeled and cut in 1 to 2-inch chunks

2 or 3 celery stalks, washed and cut in 1 inch slices

1 or 2 parsnips, peeled and cut in thick slices (optional)

1 or 2 turnips, peeled and quartered (optional)

1 or 2 potatoes, peeled or not (optional)

As desired, odds & ends from the refrigerator, such as cabbage or other vegetables; peas or other cooked beans; whatever

1 bay leaf

teaspoon dry leaf thyme

1teaspoon dry leaf marjoram

salt & pepper, to taste

Rinse the bones under cold water and place in a large soup pot.

Add the water and salt.

Bring to a boil and skim off the scum that rises to the top.

Lower the heat and add the split peas and barley.

Simmer for hour.

Add all of the other ingredients and simmer until the meat is tender (about an hour).

Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve steaming hot with slices of rye bread and butter.


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