By Marsha Fottler –
Cold days, frosty nights and you’ve got too much to do during this Holiday season. Preparing a delicious evening meal that will warm hearts and tummies seems like a nice but distant dream. It’s positively soup time. You can make it the night before while you’re wrapping gifts or doing laundry. Or you can make it in the afternoon and let soup simmer while you vacuum or order gifts online. Use a slow cooker and a delicious and hearty soup can cook itself while you’re at the office. Soup is the culinary option of the month. Serve it with garlic bread, warm corn bread, crackers or a crusty baguette. A glass of white or red wine adds to a relaxing dinner experience. And, of course, there will be leftovers for lunch the next day.
There are two shortcuts to making great soup that will not negatively impact the flavors of your homemade meal. It’s fine to use store-bought stock, which is the base of most soups. But, do use stock and not broth. The former has more depth of flavor. The latter may just be salted and flavored water. Meat, fish or vegetable stock costs more but it’s worth the price differential.
Also, it’s fine to use frozen vegetables. Open a bag of frozen peas, corn, green beans, whatever the recipe calls for. From the freezer to the soup pot. Easy and the outcome will be delicious. Taste your soup as it’s cooking and be careful not to over salt. If you do, add some raw potato and let it cook a bit absorbing the salt. Then remove the potato and taste the soup again. To make your soup extra special, remember to garnish each bowl – a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley, onion, croutons, a dollop of sour cream – whatever suits the kind of soup you’re ladling out. And always serve hot soup in heated bowls. Here are three soups that are easy to make and sure to please a big crowd or just a hungry few. All three recipes are from Book of Soups from The Culinary Institute of America, which is the world’s premier culinary college. This book of about 100 soups is useful and reliable and I keep it handy all year round because it contains some lovely cold soups which I serve during the summer months.
Minnesota Wild Rice Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 carrots, finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 leeks, white and light green parts, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts chicken stock
3/4 cup wild rice
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup heavy cream, hot
3 tablespoons dry sherry
¼ cup minced chives
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Heat butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, leeks and celery. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the flour and stir well. Cook gently, about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock gradually, whisking well with each addition to eliminate four lumps. Bring to a simmer. Add the wild rice and salt. Continue to simmer until the rice is tender but still somewhat chewy, about 45 minutes. Stir in the heated cream and sherry. Season with salt. Serve in heated bowls and garish with chives and parsley.
Potato Soup with Pancetta and Shiitake Mushroom
1 thick piece of pancetta (about an ounce) chopped finely
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
½ onion diced
¼ yellow turnip, diced
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the pancetta in a soup pot over low heat until all the fat is melted and the meat begins to crisp, about 6 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, onion and turnip. Cover and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, potatoes and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 10-12 minutes. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls.
Tunisian Vegetable and Bean Soup
3 ounces dried lima or butter beans (about ½ cup)
3 ounces dried chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minded
1 celery stalk, diced
½ onion, minced
1 quart chicken stock
1/3 cup tomato paste
4 large Swiss chard leaves, stems removed and cut into 1-inch pieces.
1/3 cup angel hair pasta, broken into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons Harissa (recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup chopped parsley
Soak the dried lima beans and the chickpeas separately, overnight, in 3 times their volume of water. Drain and cook separately in 2 times their volume of fresh water until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquids and set aside. Combine and lima beans and chickpeas and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent, 4-6 minutes. Add the stock, the reserved cooking liquid from the beans and the tomato paste. Mix until well blended and bring to a simmer, 10 minutes. Approximately 10 minutes before serving, add the cooked beans and chickpeas, Swiss chard and pasta. Simmer until the pasta and chard stems are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the harissa and stir until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Served in heated bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.
(This is a spicy-hot condiment that traditionally accompanies couscous. But, it is also frequently used to flavor soups and stews. Covered tightly, harissa will keep in the refrigerator for months. This recipe makes about 3/4 cup).
9 dried New Mexico or other large, hot red chiles
1 garlic clove, peeled
¼ teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground caraway
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Stem, seed and break up the chiles. Soak in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain well, wrap in cheesecloth or place in a strainer and press out any excess moisture. Chop the garlic, sprinkle with the salt, and mash to a paste using the side of a knife. Grind the chiles, garlic, caraway, coriander and cumin in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Pace in a small jar or other suitable container and drizzle a thin layer of oil over the harissa. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.