Gourmet Girl: Wonderful Winter Soups

Winter soups to warm the heart and soul...

We're deep into winter, when the temperatures go down with the sun and darkness descends early. It's the time of year when we hunker down with food to warm our hearts as much as our stomachs, and what better fare to eat on these cold, dark nights than soup, a dish people have eaten for thousands of years.

Photo: Kimberly Varderman

Soup dates back some 20,000 years when indigenous people around the globe prepared it in watertight baskets made of reeds and bark or animal skins over hot rocks. The word originates from the Latin word, suppa, meaning “bread soaked in broth “ and also a Germanic word sop, meaning the piece of bread used to sop up the soup.

In fact, the word “restaurant” had an entirely different meaning in 16th-century France when it was first used to describe a thick soup sold by street vendors that was advertised as a health tonic for physical exhaustion. A store that opened in 1765 served only one item—restaurants, which led to the modern use of the word “restaurant” for eating establishments. Whatever the recipe for that health soup was, it surely is the predecessor for our modern-day cure-all, chicken noodle soup.

Photo: Wikipedia

Soups grew popular in America as European immigrants arrived, bringing their recipes with them. Germans in Pennsylvania became famous for their potato soup, Russians for their beef borscht and it was Italian fishermen in San Francisco who invented cioppino, the classic fisherman's stew made from clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and other seafood as well as the catch of the day.

Photo: Kurtis Garbutt

In the 19th century, canned soups hit the market after the invention of canning, followed by condensed soup invented by a chemist in 1897 working for the Campbell Soup Company. Today, Campbell's Tomato, Cream of Mushroom and Chicken Noodle are the country's three top soups, eaten by 2.5 billion Americans a year.

But you don't have to buy canned, condensed soup to enjoy at home, as soups are a snap to make, often with whatever you happen to have on hand in your fridge and pantry. Here are a few recipes for soup that are guaranteed to warm your spirit as much as your stomach.

Photo: Mallory Dash

French Lentil Soup (From The Barefoot Contessa; Serves 8-10)
1 pound French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
3 large onions, chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 large leeks, white and tender green parts only, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped thyme 1 teaspoon ground cumin  8 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a large heatproof bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, garlic, leeks, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper and the thyme and cumin and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the celery and carrots and cook until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste and lentils to the pot. Increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce the heat to moderate and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour. Stir in the red wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Photo: Wikipedia

Tomato Basil Soup (From Cooking Light; Serves 8)
4 large tomatoes (about 4 cups), peeled, seeded and chopped
4 cups tomato juice
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup  cream cheese, softened
Basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 French baguette, cut on the diagonal into 8 thick slices

Bring the tomato and juice to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Place the tomato mixture and basil leaves in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Return the pureed mixture to the pan and stir in the milk, salt, and pepper over medium heat. Stirring with a whisk, add the cream cheese and cook over medium heat until thickened. Serve garnished with basil leaves in soup bowls with French baguette slices.

Photo: MarthaStewart.com

Winter Vegetable Soup (From Martha Stewart Living, Serves 4)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 bunch kale ( 3/4 pound), ribs cut away and discarded, leaves torn
5 1/2 cups (43.5 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (14 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed
3 sprigs thyme
Grated Parmesan, for serving

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, melt butter over medium. Cook onion and garlic until fragrant, 3 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add squash and kale and cook until kale is wilted, about 3 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add broth, beans, and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash and kale are tender, about 12 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan, if desired.

Photo: Wikimedia

Carrot Soup (From 101cookbooks.com; Serves 4)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon red curry paste
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped  into 1/2-inch chunks
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
1 ½ cups water
1 lemon or lime, sliced in half
¼ cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

In a large soup pan over medium-high heat add the butter and onion. Stir until the onions are well-coated, and allow to saute until translucent, a few minutes. Stir in the curry paste, and then the carrots. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes then stir in the coconut milk, salt, and water, adding more water to cover if needed. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the carrots are tender, and then puree using a blender or hand blender until the soup is completely silky smooth. Add more water if the consistency needs to be thinned out a bit. Season this soup with a great big squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Serve topped with almonds and cilantro.

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