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    Has this ever happened to you? You’re making a dish the way you have made it for more decades than you care to count, when someone strolls into the room and says, “Well, that’s unusual.”


    “I’ve never seen it done that way.”

    “Hmm. Odd.”

    “Wow. Wild. I’ll have to try that.”

    “I didn’t realize you could do that with an avocado.” (Don’t ask.)

    The implication is that you’re doing it wrong, while they do it right. Or have seen a chef on TV do it right. But the very most smack-worthy is the marital partner who says, “That’s not how my mother did it.” And then offers to call the mother in question to get her recipe. The last time my marital partner said, “Hmm, definitely not how my mother made it,” I said, “Well, the woman hasn’t been alive since George Bush was president, so there’ll be no phoning her, will there now? And even if she could be contacted via Ouija board, this is how I make it, mister.”

    The concoction in question at the moment was chicken soup, which of course we know from popular culture is for the soul. And while there are almost as many recipes for chicken soup as there are delis that make them, I have always made mine with a previously cooked carcass. An incident this reminds me of that I will never tire of revisiting happened during the 1988 presidential primary campaign. Debating Michael Dukakis, Jesse Jackson lapsed into a familiar anecdote about how his mother made do in the kitchen by using her employers’ leftovers for her children’s meals, repeating over and over the line, “And my mama brought home Dukakis” — instead of the carcass. No one could say a thing. It was the ultimate gotcha.

    Anyway, what Jackson’s mama and a whole bunch of other people have known for centuries is that if you start your soup base with previously cooked meat and bones, you end up with a) much less fat skimming to contend with; and b) deeper, richer flavor. Plus you get several meals out of one cut of meat.

    I have tried explaining this to the aforementioned marital partner, reminding him that he always loves everything I make, that he usually does not see me making it, and that on the night he dissed my method, if he had just stayed in bed with his damn flu, he still to this day would not know how I have been making chicken soup all of these years.

    The same principle applies to almost all hearty soups. My favorite one I cooked up this past winter I did with a mixture of beef and pork rib bones left over from a carryout order from Momma’s in St. Matthews. And while we’re on the subject of various mothers, let me just put in a plug for Momma’s: Mmm-mmm, do these people ever know how to smoke some meat! It’s surprising that any ribs would be left at all, so you may want to order an extra half-rack to be able to make this recipe.

    What I was going for with this soup was a smoky version of good old-fashioned borscht. Those who claim not to like beets have never tasted a good borscht. I’ve also noticed in this part of the country a tendency in restaurants and delis not to call borscht borscht. It’s like it’s too ethnic, perhaps unpronounceable. Or like it might be followed by the word belt. Whatever. If you don’t like this soup, you’re nuts.

    Spoken like my mother-in-law.

    Or, well, you might be a vegetarian. In which case, I would just roast some beets in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, pour a glass of wine and call it a night.

    Rib and Root Soup

    Leftover rib bones (however many you have)

    8 cups of water

    Salt and pepper, to taste

    1 large onion, peeled and chopped

    3 stalks of celery, diced

    1 large carrot, sliced on the diagonal

    4 large or 6 medium whole beets

    2 cups chopped cabbage

    1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

    1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped

    1 lemon, slivered into eighths

    Sour cream, crème fraîche or plain yogurt

    1. Place the rib bones in a large soup pot, preferably copper or enameled cast iron.
    2. Pour in the water and bring the bones to a boil, scraping off the foam that rises to the top.  
    3. Add salt and pepper.
    4. Turn the heat down to let the ribs simmer, until the meat begins to fall away from the bones.
    5. Add the onion, celery, carrots and beets. Allow the mixture to continue simmering until the beets are cooked through (about 25 minutes).
    6. Using a slotted spoon, remove the beets from the soup and place them in a bowl until cool enough to handle.
    7. Using tongs, remove the ribs and place them on a platter or cutting board.
    8. Add the cabbage to the soup and let it simmer and soften while you proceed with the ribs and beets.
    9. Peel the skin from the beets. Cut them into bite-sized chunks and return them to the soup.
    10. Pull the meat away from the bones and discard the bones. (Or give them to your dog — they’re basted, people! They’re safe!) Return the meat to the soup.
    11. When everything in the pot has been mixed, add the balsamic vinegar and the parsley. Give it a few more stirs, and then get ready to ladle. Serve the soup piping hot, and pass the lemon and cream. Serves eight.

    Written by Mary Welp, illustration by Carrie Neumayer.

    This article is courtesy of Louisville Magazine's March issue. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here.


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