I love soup!
At this time of year, when the winds shake the houses and the cold makes bodies feel old and stiff, I especially love soup. It’s the only meal I eat that I also consider a “cure” for whatever aches or sniffl es I might have. I’m certain that the curative powers of a hot bowl of soup have far more to do with imagination than with science, but I don’t care.
I feel virtuous when I eat soup. When I make it from scratch, I know something about all the wholesome ingredients that find their way into the pot. Dark leafy greens, tomatoes, beans of all kinds are those foods that everybody is told to eat more of – funny that they are the same veggies that taste best in soups. I love chopping vegetables – it’s very satisfying and the juices smell great.
I divide soup into two categories: Old-fashioned classics and modern interpretations. Chicken soup, deeply settled in the first category, was the first soup I learned how to make. My grandmother loved it and made it often. It was truly a classic, made with just chicken, onions, celery, carrots, water and a couple of bouillon cubes. That chicken soup I learned to make as a kid was the foundation recipe for many of the modern interpretations I make today. My other grandmother made chicken soup, too, but hers contained matzoh balls, which I sometimes crave and add to the basic recipe.
Other soups I make that fall into the old-fashioned classics are pea soup, which I make whenever we have leftover ham, and New England clam chowder, which is my go-to soup in the heat of the summer. I make mine with a milky broth – not too creamy – somewhere between New England and Rhode Island chowder. I absolutely hate Manhattan chowder, which contains tomatoes – a mistake of epic proportions.
My favorite modern interpretation soup is something that is probably best called “Leftovers Soup.” I make this when I have a piece of meat that is too small to make a meal. Usually, I invent these soups on the fly. Recently I took some pork cutlets, which had been sautéed, and julienned them. I sauté them with some fresh onion and shitake mushrooms, add a splash of soy sauce and then a quart of chicken broth. I let it simmer for 20 minutes and then add a handful of pasta. I like acini de pepe the best, just because I like to say acini de pepe. Other good starches for soup include orzo, Israeli couscous and rice. I let the pasta cook an additional 10 minutes and it is ready to serve, sprinkled with fresh chopped cilantro and scallions.
I love store-bought broth, and I keep chicken and vegetable on hand at all times, just in case a soup fix is required.
Many of my favorite soups include beans, like lentils, black-eyed peas or kidney. I also love cabbage in soup – and that’s what I made for dinner tonight. At the bottom of the pot, I sauté some chopped bacon and a large onion. Then, I thinly slice an entire savoy cabbage, which weighs about three pounds. Napa cabbage can also be used here, but don’t use either red or white cabbage – the flavor is too strong.
After the cabbage is transparent and has acquired some brown edges, add a splash of vinegar. Then, I add a can of diced tomatoes with the juice, a quart of chicken stock and about two more cups of water. Then, I let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes.
By itself, the cabbage soup is very light and refreshing. To give it a little boost of protein and truly make a meal out of it, I serve it with an egg on top. When the soup is still very hot, ladle it into a hot stoneware bowl and immediately crack a raw egg on top. Put a plate or another bowl over the top of the first one and let the heat of the soup cook the egg for about three minutes. The egg should be close to room temperature when you do this or it won’t cook as fast. Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley is very good sprinkled on top of this soup.
One of the easiest and heartiest soups I make takes just a few minutes to whip up. Take some leftover cooked broccoli or cauliflower (you can also do this with asparagus) and simmer it in a quart of chicken stock until the vegetables are very soft. Take the pot off the stove and plug in your immersion blender. Puree the veggies until there are no chunks left, then add a handful of cheddar cheese and about a cup of milk and stir until the cheese is melted. Add a dash of nutmeg and serve topped with a handful of homemade croutons.