Tag Archives: Soup

Zucchini-basil soup

It’s funny the things we self-taught home cooks take as gospel. Leek tops, for instance. How many times have I read a recipe that says, “1 leek, white and light green parts only?” That great dark green headdress gets lopped off first thing, and then what? Occasionally someone suggests saving the greens for the stockpot, but otherwise they go unmentioned and unused. This has led to more than one of my friends believing that leek greens are inedible.

So let it be known: The green parts are edible! Leek tops are just as flavorful and useful as the bulbs. They’re a bit more fibrous, but that’s easy to get around by cooking them long enough. And they’ve got the same delicate, almost sugary onion flavor as the bulbs.

If you’ve got allium issues, look to leek greens–like scallion tops and chives, they are low in FODMAPs. But unlike scallions and chives, they’re sturdy enough to saute or sweat, which makes them an easy substitute for onions or leek bulbs in a lot of dishes. Anywhere you’d start with a saute of aromatics–perhaps a mirepoix, or just a simple onion base–leek tops can provide. The flavor is milder than onions, and the greens mellow to a muted green color when cooked. For soups and stews, particularly, I find them indispensable.

Take this soup. I had zucchini that needed using, and this Serious Eats recipe on my mind. The recipe calls for one large leek, and I knew the green tops would work just as well as the white bottoms. So I sliced up the greens from one splendidly headdressed leek, and cooked them low and slow in a covered pan with some olive oil until they softened and turned jammy. Add some zucchini, fresh basil, water, and seasonings, simmer for a while, blend, and voila–a simple, summery soup that comes together surprisingly fast.

zucchini basil soup 1

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Clam miso soup over rice

So far, 2017 is a soup kind of year. It’s been a wet and chilly winter, the kind of Northern California winter I remember from my childhood, before the super-drought set in. We’ve had a couple nasty colds pass through our home, and they’ve seemed even more vicious than usual for this time of year.

And of course, every time I read the news or check social media, there’s something new to break my heart. I’ve been struggling to keep my head above the water of despair and depression, and it feels like every new headline is pushing me back under. I’m doing what I can to fight back, with my body and my wallet, but it never feels like enough.

So I’ve been gravitating to soup. Easy, comforting, nourishing soup. I may not know much in life right now, but I know how to make a pot of something warm and delicious. And this particular soup is a good one: miso soup with fresh clams and greens, ladled over rice. It’s light and savory, briny from the clams, and substantial enough to make you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself.

Looking at the recipe, I think I’ve made this sound more complicated than it actually is. Basically, you steam open some clams in plenty of water–maybe with a bit of kombu for added flavor–and then use the cooking liquid to wilt greens and dissolve miso. Make your rice fresh, or use leftovers if you’ve got them. Combine everything in a bowl, and there’s your meal. This is a nice, relatively inexpensive way to treat yourself to seafood, with the comfort and quiet of a big bowl of broth.

clam-miso-soup

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Impromptu beef borscht

I don’t like beets. I never cook with them. But somehow, a few weeks ago, two little beets made their way into my kitchen. They needed using, and there’s only one way I will willingly eat beets. This was a job for borscht.

My first encounters with Russian beet borscht came during my summer abroad in St. Petersburg. Despite the constant sunlight of the White Nights, it was chilly and cloudy for most of the summer, and sometimes rain came lashing in off the Gulf of Finland. For this California girl, the weather was a bit of a trial. I had borscht a few times that summer, and even as I struggled with the beets, I was grateful for a warm bowl of soup on a not-warm day.

Toward the end of the summer, I ran into a woman I knew from home, who was in St. Petersburg visiting her mother. On my last evening in Russia, I had dinner in their home. It was one of the memorable meals of my life, just hours of talking and talking and eating good food. There was borscht, of course, and I was surprised that I genuinely enjoyed it. Maybe it was the company, or maybe it was that particular batch of soup. Whatever it was, I’ve had a lingering fondness for borscht ever since.

Here’s a rough recipe for the borscht I made recently with those two little beets. I disguised the beets by boiling and then blending them, so they fade right into the broth with a whisper of color and sweetness. With chunks of carrot, cabbage, and slow-cooked beef, this hit the same spot for me as a nice hearty minestrone. If you’re a beet-hater like me, give this a try.

beef-borscht

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Thai curry butternut squash soup

I’ve had a couple tubs of Thai curry paste kicking around in my fridge since the summer. But when butternut squash came into season this year, I started putting them into heavy rotation. I love butternut squash soup as it is, but lately I’ve been liking my winter squash on the spicy side. So I make a very simple soup–just leeks, garlic, ginger, and squash, plus enough broth to make it soupy–and add a little dollop of curry paste. Squash loves curry in all forms, and its sweetness really welcomes the spiciness of Thai curry. It makes for a really terrific soup.

I’ve used red and green curry here, and they were both great. The red curry is a cleaner, sourer heat, and I find I need a little less paste to do the job. Green curry is richer, darker, maybe slightly less spicy, and I use a little more of it to really zing. In either case, the effect is both surprising and subtle: lots of fire up front and a quiet thrum of curry in the background.

The soup is nice enough on its own, but adding a little pile of fried shallots to each bowl really makes it special. Pureed squash can be a bit sugary and boring on its own, and the fried shallots add a lovely crackly-crisp texture and bittersweet contrast that I just love. If you’re serving the whole batch of soup at once, I’d suggest frying all the shallots right in the soup pot, then using the shallot-infused oil to make the soup. But if, like me, you like making soup ahead of time and freezing it for later, just fry up a little batch of shallots whenever you’re ready to eat.

I’m not normally one for adding cream to pureed soups, but this soup really benefits from something rich stirred in at the end. The curry paste I use is very spicy, and it needs a bit of fat to tame it so that the other flavors come through. Coconut milk is the obvious choice, but I don’t always want to open a whole can just to use a drizzle. I’ve finished this soup with different dairy and non-dairy milks, depending on what was in my fridge at the time, and it comes out great every time. The recipe includes a bunch of options; use what you like, or what you’ve got on hand. It’s that kind of soup.

thai curry squash soup

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Green vegetable soup with miso

One of the first things Sam and I did after we got the keys to our new place was to sign up for a CSA membership. It’s been great fun so far, having a big box of exuberantly dirty produce show up quietly on our doorstep every other week. We stuff it all into the fridge, and then methodically cook or snack on it for the next fourteen days. Normally I relish this kind of cooking challenge–being handed a bunch of ingredients and told, “Go!” But, if I’m being honest, my creativity has been wearing a little thin.

So this recipe is a case of extremely fortunate timing. Last Tuesday, I opened our CSA box to find, among other things, a huge bunch of dinosaur kale, three bundled broccoli heads, a bunch of gorgeous carrots, and a lemon. On Wednesday, I opened up my RSS reader to find a Food in Jars post with a soup recipe calling for kale, broccoli, carrot, and lemon. All it took was putting two and two together, and I had lunch for the rest of the week.

Marisa from Food in Jars calls this “hippie soup,” which seems accurate. For one thing, it starts by boiling vegetables instead of sweating them in oil. You just toss a big pile of greens and herbs, an armful of broccoli florets, some alliums, and a grated carrot into a pot with water, and cook everything until it’s blendable. The recipe called for nutritional yeast, which I didn’t have and don’t intend to buy. But I had some white miso in the fridge, and figured that adding it would give the soup body and savory saltiness. I also tweaked the ingredients a bit based on my mood and the contents of the fridge, swapping scallions for onions and skipping the spinach in favor of more kale. The soup came out vividly Christmas-green, and the flavor was surprisingly complex–I was worried it’d be bitter, but it was mellow and herbal instead. It definitely tasted “good-for-you” green, but in the best way. (I suppose this is how people feel about green smoothies, but I like this soup way better than any green smoothie I’ve ever had.)

Normally, when I write recipes, I try to give approximate weights and volumes for things like “a bunch of kale” or “the juice of a lemon.” But I’m not doing that here, because precision really, really does not matter with this soup. This kind of recipe begs to be fiddled with, and the greens and herbs are totally interchangeable. I used kale and parsley, but this recipe is a great use-up for whatever greens and leafy herbs you have around–chard, spinach, radish greens, beet greens, turnip greens, collards, carrot tops, cilantro, arugula, watercress, etc. You want about half the mass of the soup to be leafy greens and herbs of some kind, and the other half to be broccoli, scallions, carrot, and garlic. Beyond that, go nuts.

green veggie soup with miso

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White bean and tomato soup

Well. That was an adventure.

Back in August, I wrote about being overwhelmed and making jam. Sad to say, the jam-making tapered off soon afterward, but the being overwhelmed continued for a while. In the four months since I last blogged, I’ve been working through a little cascade of life changes. I moved in with my boyfriend. I quit my job. I started a few tentative steps along a new career path. I’ve spent an awful lot of time lately unpacking boxes and sending out applications and jumping on every networking happy hour invite that comes my way, all while slogging through a particularly grey bout of SAD. It’s been a challenge.

But things are settling now. The move, at least, is done. We’re slowly making our new place into a home. And as a big part of that, I’ve been cooking almost every day. Our new kitchen may be tiny, but it’s getting a workout.

The very first thing I cooked, the day after we moved in, was a pot of my grandmother’s bean soup. This is one of those recipes that speaks instant comfort to me, that tastes like winter and rain and the holidays. I can picture my grandmother standing at the stove, with a stained apron tied over her lavender sweat suit, wearing a pair of bedroom slippers that might be as old as I am, stirring an enormous pot of beans and tomatoes. This was a staple every Thanksgiving, and often on Christmas Eve (my aunt’s birthday) as well. It’s simple, nutritious, and freezes like a dream. It felt like the perfect thing to make to turn our new apartment into a home.

This is one of those soups that’s so much more than the sum of its parts: dried white beans, soaked and simmered until they’re starchy and tender, mixed with a sauteed mirepoix and some diced tomatoes. Using dried beans makes the broth fragrant and thick, and cooking the vegetables down into a sauce before adding them to the pot makes the whole thing deep and resonant. Then there are the finishing touches: a spoonful of cooked orzo and a drizzle of olive oil to top off each bowl. The orzo must be cooked separately, rather than boiled it into the soup itself, so that it stays firm and toothsome rather than relaxing into the broth. And the olive oil adds fruitiness and gloss to the bowl, making it vivid and hearty all at the same time. This is how I ate soup as a child, and how I ate it that night in our new home, staring down the barrel of a new stage of adulthood and willing myself to be ready.

grangy's bean soup

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Cauliflower broccoli soup

I love broccoli. I really, really, really do. Which is why I don’t understand how so many people want to muck up good broccoli soup by adding a bunch of potato to it.

Now, granted, I’ve had good broccoli potato soup once or twice, always with more broccoli than potato in it. But even then, the fuzzy heaviness the potato gives just isn’t my thing. I’m always hesitant to order broccoli soup in restaurants, because it so often comes with a sludgy, slightly grainy potato base. Which is why, when I was craving a thick, pale, slurpable broccoli soup recently, I turned to cauliflower instead.

I just love what cauliflower does when it meets hot liquid and a blender. When pureed, it turns almost starchy, but with a lightness that starch just can’t match. I’ve used it as a potato replacement in soup before, with roasted garlic and red lentils, but this might be my new favorite mutation. Broccoli and cauliflower are cousins, so it only makes sense that they would play well together–bold and brassy versus subtle and sweet. Mixing them together creates an almost airy soup, comforting yet light, perfect for sipping out of a mug.

This is a soup that evolves over time. Immediately after blending, it’s loose and flowing, pale minty green, and the flavors are bright and clean. As it sits, it thickens slightly and darkens somewhat, and the flavors mellow and blunt a bit. Refrigerate it or freeze it, and it loses some of its invigorating freshness, becoming milder and subtler.

That’s fine by me, because a soup like this is best treated as a blank canvas. When it’s freshly made and crisp-flavored, a drizzle of olive oil is all it needs. But now that I’m working my way through my freezer stash, I’m taking the opportunity to play. So far, I’ve had leftover soup with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a handful of grated Parm; with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and a squirt of Sriracha; and, tonight, with a dab of harissa and some feta cheese crumbles. All of my adaptations so far have been fantastic, and all dramatically different. I love that so much.

cauliflower broccoli soup

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Carrot miso soup with quick-pickled scallions

I love how I can know someone for years and years and years and still learn new things about them. For example.

My friend Marissa and I have known each other for the better part of a decade–almost our entire adult lives. She’s one of the first friends I made in college. We spent inordinate amounts of time together, in dorms and in common rooms, on grassy lawns and on airplanes, in classroom seats and in theater seats. I’ve shared a bed with her. She’s worn my clothes. I can tell you exactly how she’ll react to a piece of news, or who her celebrity crushes are, or what her sister’s ex-boyfriend’s name is. But not until she came to visit me from Florida last month did I learn how much she loves carrots.

It started when Audrey and I took her out for Thai food. We ordered some gorgeous elaborate stir-fry, speckled with vegetables, and the first thing Marissa did was to pick every single carrot off the serving dish and claim them for herself. She was genuinely more excited about those carrots than about anything else we’d done that day. “Omigosh, you guys, I LOVE carrots,” she gushed between mouthfuls. It took me aback. I could feel a small pang of offense–how hadn’t she told me this before? It seemed like such a fundamental character trait. Well, maybe not so fundamental. But certainly news to me.

So a couple days later, on a cold and blustery evening, when the train to my neighborhood got shut down and Marissa was stranded at a distant station wearing shorts and a thin sweater, shivering and sad by the time I picked her up, I knew I needed to make her something warm and carroty to bring her back to her sunny self. I’d had a carrot miso soup recipe bookmarked for months, and with a carrot-loving houseguest and a half-finished tub of miso in the fridge, I knew the time had come. This is a beautifully simple recipe, for a soup that’s smooth and lush and gloriously comforting. For me, it hit the same autumn spot as squash soup, with a similar pulpy orange sweetness; but it’s brighter and less sugary than squash, with a deep salty thrum from the miso.

The soup itself is clean, simple, and cheerfully sweet. I felt it needed a little bite and a touch of richness to even it out. So, going off of a parenthetical note on the original recipe, I quickly pickled some scallions in rice vinegar, then swirled them into the soup. A drizzle of dark fatty sesame oil, and we had a lovely windy-night meal.

And now I’m wondering what else she hasn’t told me…

carrot miso soup

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Pea and green garlic soup

My dad came home from the hospital today. He’s in terrific spirits and already well on the mend, though there are lingering effects from the surgery. For one thing, his voice has been temporarily pushed into falsetto, making him sound a bit like Hyacinth Bucket; for another, he’s preferring soft-to-swallow foods, to save his poor cut-up throat some effort. I wanted to treat him to a nice light-but-special lunch when he came home; my farmer’s market trip yesterday yielded, among other things, a bag of English peas and a purple-tinged bunch of green garlic. So I made soup.

This is, more or less, early spring in a bowl. Fresh peas are at their sugary plump best now, with a crisp starchiness that frozen peas just can’t match. I’m lazy and buy my peas shelled–for a premium–but supposedly, shelling the peas is the kind of meditative kitchen task people wait all year for. As for the green garlic, it’s not an ingredient I often use, since it only appears at farmer’s markets and must be used quickly. It’s also sometimes hard to spot, since in its smallest and sweetest form it looks like a bulbous scallion. As it grows, the bulb becomes more pronounced, and the flavor intensifies. The garlic I bought was more or less fully grown, but not yet cured and concentrated the way our more familiar garlic is. Either way, it’s a great find for delicate dishes, with all the sweetness and roundness of older garlic and none of the spicy aggression.

young garlic

I’m not usually one for minimalism and refinement in the kitchen. But today I wanted simple. Clean. Peas and green garlic at the front. I sauteed the garlic quickly in oil, then added peas, water, and a few featherweight flavorings–lemon juice, chili flakes, a mint sprig. The peas got cooked gently, just until they lost their last hint of chalkiness and became soft enough to puree. Then I stuck an immersion blender in the pot and whirred away, watching the soup get slowly thicker and minty-greener. A couple slices of bread, a tangerine for each of us, and voila–lunch in 20 minutes.

We had our soup in mugs, which I highly recommend. There’s a comfort factor to this soup–as airy as it is–that makes it perfect for sipping over a newspaper. It also stayed wonderful as it cooled to room temperature, which makes me think it would work just as well served cold. I suppose you could add a drizzle of cream or a swirl of yogurt, if you wanted, but I wouldn’t recommend it. With something this delicate, let the vegetables do the talking.

pea green garlic soup

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Cuban black bean soup

It’s been a long winter, but finally spring seems to have taken over. The air is warming up as the thick April rainclouds descend, and Easter candy is on sale at the drugstore. As we say goodbye to the cold, here’s one more thick-and-hearty soup to give it a proper farewell.

I was initially going to use a long-bookmarked recipe for Cuban black bean soup as an excuse to (finally) inaugurate the slow cooker I bought last year. But when I eventually got around to taking it out of the box, I discovered that there wasn’t enough counter space for it in my small kitchen, and no unoccupied outlet near enough to plug it in. So my little slow-cooker is sitting, unloved, in a corner until I figure out what to do with it. (It doesn’t help that I’m actually a bit scared of slow-cookery, having never done it in my life. But that’s a story for another day.)

So I made this soup the old-fashioned way, burbling and steaming in a pot on a back burner while I lounged on the couch with my laptop and a mug of tea. It took less time than I expected for the beans to turn from hard and bouncy to soft and spoon-mashable, and then to start rupturing and giving up their muddy starchiness to the soup. In about three hours, what began as a mess of beans and vegetables turned into a creamy black pool studded with red and green bell pepper skins. The real surprise, though, is an enormous splash of vinegar stirred in right at the end; it seems like a lot, but rather than make the soup brassy and acidic, the vinegar somehow intensifies the sweetness of the beans and the peppers. Add a swirl of sour cream (or, in my case, full-fat Greek yogurt) and a torn handful of cilantro, and presto: a smoky-starchy comfort food meal in a bowl.

I decided to keep this one meatless, but it’s certainly not a requirement. The recipe I adapted calls for a ham hock, which would be a gorgeous and indulgent addition if you can get your hands on one. If you’re not inclined to chase down a bone, though, you could decrease the initial dose of oil to 1 tbsp and render a few chopped-up strips of bacon to cook the vegetables in.

Oh, and, of course, this is yet another recipe that benefits from a long hibernation. Make a lot, freeze a lot. Even in April, there are plenty of rainy nights that call for soup.

cuban black bean soup

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