Archive | 3:08 pm

Cooking school

6 Oct

By Chris Garbutt

I work full time at the University of Toronto, where I run a program designed for first-year students. Lately I’ve done a couple of cooking workshops for students who are away from home for the first time. One group had about 15 people and the other had close to 60. It made me realize how much I had learned over the years, and how much I took for granted.

Take, for instance, cutting an onion. We were making a soup, but I wanted to make sure as many students as possible got into the act, so I would ask for volunteers from the audience. As with most soups — most dishes for that matter — the first thing to do was chop onions. The first volunteer took a knife in one hand, the onion in the other, and looked blankly at me. Clearly, he had no idea what to do. Do you cut off the ends first? Cut it in half? Peel it? How much of the skin do you take off? These were questions that I realized I didn’t know the answer to until I set out on my own so many years ago.

When I had 60 students, I felt like a rock star. I was standing on a stage, behind a table with a hot plate on it. Flanking my table were two other tables, each with two cutting boards. When a volunteer finished his or her job, we would all applaud and cheer, even if all they did was open and drain a can of chick peas. With the group of 15, I shared the workshop with a colleague, and we were more like parents — “Yes, that looks good”, “No, don’t peel the potatoes”, “What do you think, more salt?”. It’s a blessing of my job that I get to share my love for cooking, and even more of a blessing that I get to share the food. The soup was delicious.

Here’s the recipe:


4 cups Water, Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock
2 cloves garlic
2 medium Onions
1 tsp each Dried Herbs (such as Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, Summer Savory, Rosemary)
2 ribs Celery
4 large Carrots
2 large Potatoes
Any other vegetables you like: eg. Broccoli, Zucchini, Frozen or fresh Peas and Corn
1 can (19 oz) Chick Peas or Kidney Beans
Fresh parsley, curly or flat-leaved, chopped (optional)

Put the water or stock in a large pot and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the onions into small pieces, about 1/4 inch square. Mince the garlic by chopping very finely or using a garlic press,. Chop all the other vegetables into bite-size pieces. When the water is boiling, throw in the onion and garlic. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-high, so the soup is simmering rather than fully boiling, and begin to add the herbs, then the chopped vegetables, depending on how long it takes to cook them (celery, potatoes and carrots take 10-15 minutes, broccoli and zucchini about 5 minutes, frozen veggies take just a couple). Add more water or stock if the soup seems too chunky. Open the can of chick peas and drain it in a colander. Rinse well. Add chick peas to soup, and cook until they’re heated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle the parsley over the bowl. Enjoy with bread, and to be really nutritious, have a salad on the side!

For a thicker broth, before you ladle the soup into the bowls, try putting 1/4 to 1/2 of the soup in a blender, pureeing until smooth and adding it back to the pot. Mix thoroughly and serve.

If you make enough, this soup can last you for days. If you puree all of it in the blender, it will freeze really well and makes a great quick meal heated up on a cold winter day.

Other possibilities:

– Try adding a can of whole or diced tomatoes after the chick peas for a deeper flavour.
– Throw in leftover cooked meat (chicken, beef, sausage, lamb etc.) if you want to be a carnivore!
– Experiment with ingredients (eg. Try cumin, or soya sauce for flavouring). The great thing about soup is it’s a part of every culture, so use vegetables, herbs and spices that you liked when you were growing up.