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A Week of Hearty Soups

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by Joann Jovinelly (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published February 2nd 2011
Soup is nutritious, easy to prepare, and economical. The problem with soup is that it's so often associated with mediocre sodium-infused canned varieties that for many, the mere idea of soup is a turn-off, or it is perceived more as a meal fit for someone who is convalescing. In actuality, homemade soup is delicious and can be made to express complex tastes. Soup can also be tailor made to fit any budget, diet, or set of cooking skills, especially with the aid of an ample crock pot or other type of slow-cooker.

Start first with a stocked pantry that includes a variety of dry beans, grains, basic spices, canned tomatoes,
olive oil, and if you're not making it yourself, at least two to four quarts of high-quality chicken, beef, and/or vegetable broth. (Refrain from using canned broth, as those sold in paper containers taste better.) Next, have on hand a mix of fresh ingredients: onions, garlic, carrots, leeks, potatoes, squash, cabbage, spinach, celery, tomatoes, and fresh herbs, such as Italian flat-leaf parsley and basil. Using leftovers is also a great excuse to make a terrifically rich minestrone, Italian for "the big soup" since it typically contains many vegetables.

Noting the obvious disenchantment with chicken noodle, why not experiment with something more daring? A favorite is Italian Wedding Soup (a mistranslation of "married" soup—meaning the union of meats and greens), which is usually chicken soup with shredded chicken, tiny meatballs, and leafy greens like spinach, kale, or escarole and sometimes a little fine pasta. Folding in an aged grated cheese like percorino romano really puts this rich and savory soup over the top. (Tips: Fully brown the tiny meatballs in olive oil and a mix of onion and garlic before adding them to the broth, and if you're including the cheese, go easy on the salt or omit it altogether.)

Another hearty soup is one made with potatoes, such as the French classic, Potage Parmentier, or Leek and Creamed Potato. The bland potatoes provide a nice foundation for the leeks, which are flavorful and rich in Vitamin C, iron, and folate. The recipe may easily be altered to be meat-free, or you can add bits of a smoked variety like chopped ham or bacon just before serving. (Tips: "Sweat" the chopped leeks by cooking them in a sauté pot with minimal liquid to extract their essence and season soup with white, not black, pepper. A garnish of freshly chopped scallions is also a nice touch.)

One soup that has become very popular of late is Carrot and Ginger. Perfect on a cold afternoon or evening, the addition of fresh ginger and cinnamon gives this soup a memorable flavor that is unique and warming. For the best results, use fresh butternut squash and ginger. (Tips: For more complex flavors, add a few tablespoons of cooked pumpkin to the squash, and if your version is spicier, serve it in smaller portions.)

Another savory soup is the ever-popular Tortilla, which may be served with or without chicken. This soup is fun to serve as a side dish to your favorite Mexican entree, or even on its own. (Tips: Use a high-quality "fire-roasted" canned tomato in this version and finish with fresh cilantro and diced or sliced avocado.)

The flavorful Anglo-Indian soup Mulligatawny is seasoned with marjoram, curry, and nutmeg, but the literal translation of mulligatawny is "pepper water." We most often remember it as Elaine's favorite soup on the popular TV show, Seinfeld.

Yet another hearty soup is Sixteen Bean (just hope your guests don't ask you to name each variety). To simplify this recipe, use whichever combination of dried beans that you have on hand or mix unique combinations to suit your own tastes. If you're in a rush (and didn't soak the beans overnight), you can always used the quick-boil method or add the dried beans to a slow cooker/crock pot. (Tip: The addition of sliced sweet or spicy sausage, ham, or bacon make this soup unforgettable, though it's just as simple and delicious to make a vegetarian version.)

Pasta Fagioli, literally pasta and beans, is a meatless Italian peasant dish that was served year around. Like most Italian dishes, the variations of the recipe and its consistency are endless and usually based on the region where it originated and the abundance of ingredients common to that area. In the United States, pasta fagioli is often served with white cannellini beans and small pasta shapes such as ditalini, though a spicier version in a thin tomato sauce made with red kidney beans and red pepper flakes is also addictive.

Photo Credits:
Amy Kay Watson, Alice Carrier, Ann@74, Alaina Browne, Alan Nakkash, Anjuli Ayer, Mike Hipp, and Johnny Stiletto/FlickrCC.
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Why? Because it sticks to your ribs.
When: Whenever
Where: At home
Cost: Low
These are great soups - I'm going to try the Tortilla tonight. During winter, on a Sunday afternoon I spend a few hours making stocks and stocking up on of the family favourites is the cream of cauliflower, however I make it with a seafood stock, and add in some finely diced crispy cooked bacon at the end for texture. Simply sublime.
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