Soup: When the weather’s frightful, make something delightful

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 13, 2015

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Let them eat soup.

With this very damp, cold winter, soup is one of the first things that comes to mind when someone says, “What’s for dinner?”

Soup does not have to be complicated. If you have just a few basic ingredients on hand, you can cook up almost any kind of soup.

A good soup base is onion, celery and carrots sauteed in oil or butter, to start building flavors. Nothing like the smell of onions in butter to start your stomach growling.

Then you’ll want maybe some pasta or potatoes. Frozen vegetables such as lima beans or peas, green beans or corn are great additions. Canned or dried beans are ideal. The benefit of canned beans is you don’t have to soak and cook first. Some beans, like lentils, don’t require soaking, and make a hearty, filling soup.

Soup, if you don’t go crazy adding cream or a pound of bacon, is a great food for people who are trying to lose some weight. The warm soup is filling and if the vegetables are cooked in the soup, full of nutrients.

Soup is the warm version of a juice blend, or a smoothie. Kale, spinach or even cabbage enriches a soup, adding flavor and fantastic vitamins.

For liquid, you can be industrious and make your own chicken or beef stock, or buy prepared stock at the grocery store — look for stocks with reduced sodium if you’re watching what you eat.

Many soups take less than an hour on the stovetop. Some soups can be ready in as little as 15-30 minutes.

And soup is one way to up your vegetable intake for the day. Canned tomatoes are a good way to add flavor, and can play a role in something as simple as tomato soup or as luscious as a minestrone.

In 2012, Consumer Reports said that eating  a low-calorie soup before a meal cuts down on how many calories you consume.

Did the doctor tell you to cut down on salt? Canned soups are high in sodium, but you can control what’s in your homemade soup, and you can use a variety of spices to flavor your soup, from garlic to sage and thyme, even cumin and corriander.

Vegetable or vegetable beef is an easy soup to pull off. Chicken noodle or chicken and rise is pretty easy, too. Start thinking outside the box.

Escarole and white kidney or cannelini beans is filling and full of fiber and nutrients.

Chickpeas with mushrooms and eggplant is another nutrient rich option.

For your eyesight and digestion, try carrot and ginger soup, with vegetable or chicken broth, potatoes to thicken. A quick puree makes for a rich, slightly sweet soup.

For lentil soup, mix up your lentils. Green is the standard, but you can find yellow, red and even pink.

Armed with your onion, celery, carrots and stock, the possibilities are endless, if you just look around and think about what tastes good together.

Let’s start with a basic and healthy lentil soup.

Lentil Soup

This is Mark Bittman’s simple recipe from his “How to Cook Everything” cookbook. It lends itself to numerous variations.

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, cut into 1/2 -inch dice

1 celery stalk, cut into 1/2 -inch dice

1 cup lentils, washed and picked over

1 bay leaf

6 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock or water

Freshly ground black pepper


Put the oil in a large, deep pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, just a minute or two. Add the carrot and celery and keep cooking and stirring until brightly colored and hot, about 2 minutes.

Add the lentils, bay leaf, and stock; sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. (At this point, you may cool and refrigerate the soup, covered, for up to 2 days; reheat gently.) Add more stock if the soup is too thick. Just before serving, taste, sprinkle with salt and more pepper if needed, and serve.

Many bean soups benefit from a last minute addition of an acid, such as lemon juice or garlic. Try adding lemon and a little dill at the end, or lime and some cumin. Smoked paprika adds depth of flavor. Add sausage or bacon by cooking it first in the soup pot, then adding the onions. If you do start with a a fatty meat, omit the olive oil. Toss in a few handfuls of spinach just 2 minutes or so before serving to boost the nutrition. At just 30 minutes, it’s super fast for dinner, add a green sald or some fruit and you’ve satisfied many of your daily nutritional values, plus cut down on calories.

Basic Vegetable Soup

1 onion, diced

2 carrots, cut on the diagonal

2 stalks celery, sliced

4 small red potatoes, cut in bite-size pieces

1 28 ounce can tomatoes

2 cups beef stock

1 cup frozen lima beans

1 box frozen peas

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. butter

Salt and pepper

Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add diced onion and cook till slightly softened. Add celery and carrots and cook until shiny and slightly softened.  Add potatoes, tomatoes and beef broth and bring to a boil. Toss in bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for 20 minutes, until potatoes are beginning to soften. Add lima beans, cook for 10 more minutes, then add peas at the last minute, just to warm through.

You can add cubed, cooked beef, such as a chuck roast, or cooked, shredded chicken breasts or thighs. Either bulk or link Italian sausage is also good. To keep it completely vegetarian, omit the beef broth and use vegetable broth and add about 8 ounces of sliced cremini mushrooms.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

2 dried ancho chiles

1 onion

2 tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

6 cups chicken broth

4 corn tortillas, torn into pieces

1 rotisserie chicken

1/2 cup cilantro

1 cup shredded cheese (Monterey jack, pepper jack, or any Mexican cheese)

1 avocado

2-3 limes

Soak the ancho chiles, then seed and cut roughly. Roughly chop the onion and peel and smash the garlic cloves. Puree those ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pour into a pot and add the chicken broth, torn tortillas and chicken. Simmer until it begins to thicken. Add cilantro and salt and simmer for 10 more minutes. Serve with grated cheese, avocado slices and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

And if you crave something creamy, try this alternative to potato soup, from the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond

Cauliflower soup

1 stick butter, divided

1/2 whole onion, finely diced

1 whole carrot, finely diced

1 stalk celery, finely diced

1 whole head cauliflower, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh or dried parsley, chopped if fresh

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

6 Tbsp. all-pupose flour

2 cups whole milk (or lower fat)

1 cup half-and-half

Salt to taste

1 cup sour cream

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, or until it starts to turn brown.

Add the carrots and celery and cook an additional couple of minutes. Add cauliflower and parsley and stir to combine.

Cover and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour in chicken stock or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Mix the flour with the milk and whisk to combine. Add flour-milk mixture slowly to the butter, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup half-and-half. Add mixture to the simmering soup. Allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Check seasoning and add more salt or pepper if necessary.

Just before serving, place the sour cream in a serving bowl or soup tureen. Add two to three ladles of hot soup into the tureen and stir to combine with the sour cream. Pour in remaining soup and stir.

Serve immediately.