“As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.” ~Leslie Newman
As a kid, the return of cold weather meant one thing: the return of my grandma’s soup. My grandmother’s soup was slightly different each time depending on what leftovers remained from that week’s cooking. Sometimes there was beef, other times chicken, and occasionally, only vegetables – but it was always the gut-and-soul warming concoction I needed to make me feel that all was right with the world. A big bowl of grandma’s soup along with a perfectly grilled cheese sandwich equaled toe-curling goodness.
As much I used to enjoy soup eating, soup making wasn’t something I ventured into until fairly recently. I think somewhere along the way I convinced myself that only grandmas could make good tasting soups, and that I should steer clear of such foreign territory. In reality, though, soups are fairly easy for even novice cooks. And they’re an excellent way to make a meal that’s quick, budget-friendly and full of feel-good flavor. Plus, soups are universal. Every culture has at least one signature recipe for slow cooked veggies and meats in savory broth that’s a beloved dish at almost any dinner table.
The basic formula for most soups is the same. Step 1: Saute or roast aromatics and seasonings. Step 2: Add other ingredients. Step 3: cover with liquid. Step 4: Bring to a boil, or simmer until everything reaches desired texture and flavor.
As Ina says, “How easy is that?”
Here are 3 of my favorite soup recipes that any grandma would be proud of.
Lentil Soup with Root Vegetables
2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 stalks of celery
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
ground spice mixture (1 Tbsp cumin, about 1 tsp each of: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, paprika)
2 cups of green lentils
root vegetables: your choice of carrots, parsnips, and/or potatoes
6 cups vegetable broth or stock
salt and black pepper to taste
Optional (but highly recommended): 2-3 leaves of fresh culantro (not cilantro)
Chop or thinly slice all of the vegetables and the garlic (chopped veggies give a more homestyle feel; sliced veggies, a more refined one). Heat olive oil on medium high in a large pot, and add celery, onion, and garlic. Saute until onions begin to turn translucent. Add ground spices and saute for a minute, stirring constantly so you don’t burn the spices. Add remaining vegetables and lentils and stir to combine all ingredients. Add enough vegetable broth to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. If using culantro, add to the soup. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and lentils are cooked through (about 40 minutes to an hour), adding more broth as needed. Stir occasionally during cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Why you’ll love this soup: It’s very low effort. It’s 100% vegan so you can feel good about eating it. The blend of spices gives an earthy Middle Eastern flavor that’s exotic without being weird.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
salt and black pepper
2 medium onions, chopped
1 not-so-sweet red apple, peeled cored, and chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carrots, peeled and chopped
3-4 butternut squash (about 3 lbs)
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 Tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp garlic powder
approx. 5 cups chicken broth or stock
special tools: blender, immersion blender, or food processor
for garnish (use any or all): chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, dried cranberries, coconut flakes, chopped cashews
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut each squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds/pulp with a spoon. Drizzle chopped veggies, apple, and squash halves with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place chopped veggies and apple on 1 baking sheet and squash on a separate baking sheet, skin side up. Place in oven and cook until very tender (about 20 minutes for apple/onion and 45 minutes to 1 hour for squash). Allow roasted ingredients to cool. Scoop out squash flesh and add to blender or food processor with roasted ingredients, and about 1 cup of chicken broth. Depending on the size of your blender or food processor, you may have to do this in batches. Blend mixture until you have a puree. In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium high and add curry powder and ginger. Saute for 1 minute, then add squash puree and enough chicken broth to reach desired consistency. Heat on medium until warm. If you’re using an immersion blender, add all of the roasted ingredients to the sauteed curry powder / ginger mixture in the pot. Cover with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and blend in the pot until you reach the desired consistency. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve with garnishes on the side.
Why you’ll love this soup: The color is beautiful. If you’re used to sweet butternut squash soups, you’ll enjoy this savory alternative. You can customize the flavor and texture to your heart’s content with the garnishes.
Easy Vietnamese Pho Ga (Chicken Pho)
2 medium onions
3 slices of fresh ginger
6-8 cups of chicken broth
1 tsp of fish sauce
16 oz rice noodles (or angel hair pasta)
1-2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (preferably dark meat)
for garnish: thai basil leaves or chopped cilantro, sliced jalapeno, chopped green onion, lime wedges, chili sauce (sriracha), bean sprouts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel onions and cut into quarters. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Place onion and ginger on baking sheet in oven. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook rice noodles (or angel hair) according to package directions. Place cooked noodles into 4 separate bowls. In a separate pot, add chicken broth and fish sauce and heat on medium-low. When onion and ginger are roasted, add to chicken broth. Heat on medium-low for 15 minutes. Add a small amount of chicken and each garnish to each bowl on top of cooked noodles. Ladle hot broth into each bowl (leaving onion and ginger in the pot) and serve with extra garnishes on the side.
Why you’ll love this soup: It has everything you expect from traditional chicken noodle soup with a decidedly non-traditional flavor. It tastes almost as good with or without the chicken in the soup. It’s even easier to make than the other two soups above.
photo: Vegetable soup by Lottery Monkey, on Flickr
photo: Lentil Soup by Back to the Cutting Board, on Flickr
photo: pho ga by jslander, on Flickr