Saturday, 23 February 2013

Packet soups

There were always packet soups in our house when we were growing up. My mother never used them in the way that instructions stated on the back of the packet: she used to add them to her own recipes for extra flavour. In this way, she used a tomato soup sachet to make a thick soup with rice, a chicken noodle sachet for avgolemono, and stock cubes for giving pilafi rice cooked in chicken stock an extra kick. Now that I'm cooking for the family, I can understand why she did this. Had there been paximadi, high quality olive oil and free-range chicken available in New Zealand during our time there (similar foods that she had learnt to prepare food with when she was still in Greece), soup packets would probably have been unnecessary. But soup was still a popular meal in our house, possibly due to the New Zealand climate.

At times, I've bought these sachets myself thinking I would use them when I didn't have time to cook 'properly'. Although there have been many times when I have not been able to do just that (cook properly) for various reasons (lack of time or will), those packet soups have never come out to be used as a meal and they are still lying in my cupboards. There's never really been any reason to add this salt-laden flavouring agent to any of our meals because they already have a high quality taste and flavour without them; I may be cooking similar meals to my mother's but our vegetables usually come from our garden.

When there isn't enough time to cook, a boiled or fried egg, or maybe some cheese with some bread and a salad will suffice. If they can't find any ham and cheese in the fridge, the children will whip up a dakos; when he's on his own, my son prefers thick slices of sourdough bread drizzled with our own supplies of extra virgin olive oil, lemon from our own trees and oregano presented to us as a gift.  Packet soups and sachet meals are always found at the supermarket, but they are never sold as cheaply as one would expect, for such meals to catch on. Soup in general is seen as a winter food, but soup has never been popular in contemporary Greece in the first place.  

I was doing a pantry clearance the other day when I came across the packet soups. I felt rather guilty about the fact that they've been lying there for over a year and I know I'll never use them. I know I can use them to cook our pets' food (which I am now doing), but even that feels strange: I'm feeding our pets food that I consider inferior for human consumption.  

In the past, it was easy to get bones and offcuts for free from butchers and the meat counters at supermarkets, but these days this is difficult. The last time I asked for them at a top-end supermarket, I was told that anything that isn't sold (including trimmings) is sent back to the main offices of the chain (I wonder what they do with them.) And if you aren't actually buying much meat in the first place, then you have no reason to be at a butcher or meat counter asking for scraps. 

For the next month, our dog cat will be trying a new range of pasta dishes, all cooked with finely chopped garden vegetables, olive oil and sachet flavours: tomato, spring vegetable, carbonara, thai green curry, red curry paste, chicken stock and even vanilla pudding. I started with the tomato soup packet the other day. Usually they scoff down their meal as soon as the food hits their plate. I was a little worried when the dog left hers lying in the old frying pan that serves as her plate. I felt some relief to see the food missing the next morning. Maybe this kind of food is just a little more difficult to digest.

Having been raised in a household where packaged highly  processed food of this kind did have its place, it should come as a surprise to most people that I could live without them. Living in rural Crete, I know why there is no need for such food to exist at all.

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