Super Soup Ideas from Vienna, Austria’s Food Markets
March 24, 2013
If there’s one thing I cannot do without in the fall and winter, it’s homemade soup. Not only is it great comfort food but soup is also brimming with steamy-good nutrition, its ingredients are typically inexpensive, and it makes a soothing end to a busy day. During my four month stay in Vienna, Austria last fall, I happily discovered some super soup ideas in my favorite grocery stores, outdoor produce markets and the lovely cafes around this grand city.
Vegetables of all colors and varieties are a central focus for homemade soups, Vienna included, and even for a registered dietitian and enthusiastic cook I learned about some new choices. Three of my new favorites are celery root, parsley root and parsnips. Seriously, I had to ask the outdoor vegetable market vendor what it was in very broken German the first time I saw the parsley root. I smelled it, took it home, smelled it again and googled it to be sure. The celery root was slightly familiar to me, though I had never cooked it into soup. Works great, by the way, as a flavorful substitute for ‘American celery.’ Parsnips were easy to find in Vienna markets, and they added a delightful sweet flavor to my soups.
Three more essential vegetables for making soup in Vienna were fresh pumpkin, leeks and colorful sweet peppers. Pumpkins that I found easily at the grocery store were the small, Hokkaido variety, or I bought a flat chunk of pumpkin cut from a large fresh one at the outdoor street market. Fresh leeks were available at every grocery and outdoor market as were all colors and varieties of sweet peppers. All of these became staples as I cooked homemade soup, Austrian-style.
To make it easier, Viennese grocery and outdoor market vendors bundle traditional soup vegetables for their customers. Not only does the shopper buy only what she/he needs but their time commitment in the store is less. Healthy vegetable bundles became my once-a-week purchase with a nice pot of homemade soup to enjoy afterwards. On occasion, I spotted the vegetable bundle inside a package of lean beef chunks, so on that day I made beef goulash soup, for something heartier.
Vienna has a large Turkish population and one tasty result is the array of lentils (red, yellow, orange and brown) that is available at a cheap price at the Turkish outdoor markets. This makes lentil soup indispensable as a warm addition to breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Soup Broth Not Too Salty
After caramelizing fresh garlic, onions and root vegetables in oil, I move on to adding broth to my pot of soup. The grocery store broth cubes I found in Vienna were of high quality, inexpensive, and not too salty – and I relied on them for my soups. The broth was so satisfying by itself that I drank it as a warm and healthy beverage occasionally – a pleasant bonus.
Fresh Herbs Abound
Well into November and early December, I was able to buy pots of live, fresh herbs in the outdoor Vienna markets. Talk about an ingredient that makes soup flavors pop! I used fresh parsley, thyme, basil, oregano and rosemary. I attribute these herbs to nearby Mediterranean countries with mild climates that last into fall and early winter. Thank you, Mediterranean!
Vienna’s Cafes & Soup Presentation
In addition to the inspired ingredients and flavors I took away for super soups, I also got some new ideas for presentation thanks to Vienna’s cafes. For example, creamy pumpkin soup is typically served with locally-produced, Styrian pumpkin seed oil drizzled on top and a few roasted pumpkin seeds on the saucer. A popular beef broth with noodle soup features root vegetables cut into a uniform, ½ centimeter dice, which makes every bite the perfect combination of parsnips, carrots, celery root and parsley root. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to return to Vienna for another extended stay – I’m still working on mastering that one!
Cindy Silver is a registered dietitian in North Carolina. She is the owner of Market Basket Nutrition and the corporate nutritionist for Lowes Foods. Cindy is a passionate nutrition educator and an enthusiastic soup cooker. Visit her website and facebook page for ongoing tips and recipes, and join her on twitter @CindySilverRD.