Monday, March 25, 2013

Mom's Southern Vegetable Soup

My mother grew up in the south, and she grew up poor.  Beef wasn't common in the south then anyway and, with little money available, when her family did eat meat it was more likely to be pork or poultry.  So the vegetable soup I grew up on and love is a pork-based vegetable soup, not the beef-based many know.  As far as I know mom never wrote down her recipe but I watched her make it several times growing up and have been making it on my own for 40 or so years.  Here it is, as best as I can remember.


  • ham shank (optional) (most of the ingredients are optional, actually)
  • vegetable stock (homemade preferable)
  • carrots
  • onions
  • celery
  • green beans
  • corn
  • peas
  • okra
  • black-eyed peas
  • lima beans
  • potato
  • tomatoes (peeled, canned or fresh)
  • herbs (I use basil and rosemary)
  • imagination
  • love

If you're making stock, make it first, using your own favorite recipe.  I like to make it with lots of celery tops, a quartered onion or two, a couple of bay leaves, and a couple of carrots cut into large pieces.  I let it simmer at least an hour.  Taste and season if you like.  I don't add salt if I'm using a shank because the shank will add a lot of salt anyway.  When the stock is done, strain it over a large bowl or pot and discard the cooked veggies.  

Mom always threw her ham shank into the pot and added the canned and not drained tomatoes and most of the veggies and let it simmer.  After a few hours she would pull the shank out, cut off the meat, add the meat back to the pot, and announce dinner.  I like to cook the shank in the broth first because I like to skim as much of the fat off as possible before I add the other ingredients.  Up to you.  If you do cook the shank in the stock, let it simmer slowly an hour or more, then remove the shank; allow it and the stock to cool.  Skim the fat off the stock, shred the meat from the bone, and add it back to the stock, along with all the other veggies.  Simmer at least 30 minutes or until all raw veggies are done.  

Serve with cornbread or a crusty loaf of bread.


OK, now on to the imagination part:  you don't have to use a ham shank.  You can use a ham hock but be forewarned they generally have very little meat on them.  You can use chopped ham but you'll lose the smokey flavor from the shank.  I tried it once and never again.  However, it's also very good as a vegetarian/vegan soup with no meat at all.  Vegetables can be of your choice but the tomatoes are part of the base of the soup so I wouldn't omit them.  I also think celery, onion, and carrots are pretty basic, but there are no rules here.  Amounts are what you have on hand and like.  Okra isn't required and it's not my favorite veggie but throwing a handful in thickens the soup a bit, which is kind of nice on a cold winter evening.  It's better with fresh veggies (mom almost always made it late summer) but you can used canned -- but use as many fresh veggies as possible.  Better the second day.  Freezes great!

Have fun with it, and cook, eat, dance, and love!