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Create soups that warm soul, nourish body

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 8:43 p.m.
Aromatic Chicken Noodle Soup
Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey
The Washington Post
Aromatic Chicken Noodle Soup Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey
Spicy Carrot, Tomato, Chorizo and Cilantro Soup
Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey
The Washington Post
Spicy Carrot, Tomato, Chorizo and Cilantro Soup Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey
Mulligatawny Soup
Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee/MCT
Mulligatawny Soup Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee/MCT
Stock image/TMS
Slow-cooker TMS
Minestrone soup
Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee/MCT
Minestrone soup Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee/MCT

Soup is universal. Spice it up, tone it down, keep it simple or load it with ingredients.

The results are the same: Warm or cold, it's comfort in a cup.

It's delicious and nutritious whether slurped from a cup or savored with a spoon. You could say soup is giving — and forgiving. Throw in anything. Thicken it in so many ways: cornstarch, pureed cooked beans, cooked mashed potatoes, 2 tablespoons of almonds or cashews soaked in hot water and pureed, barley, a flour slurry, with potato starch or semolina flour.

Here are some favorites to help get you through long winter nights.

Aromatic Chicken Noodle Soup

This simple, fragrant soup is an ideal vehicle for leftover chicken. It's good as is and can be enhanced in many ways: by adding sliced mushrooms, for example, or a few drops of fish sauce.

You can also make this with raw chicken; see note. Adapted from “Comfort & Spice,” by Niamh Shields (Lyons Press, 2012).

1 tablespoon light oil

2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed and tough outer layers discarded, remainder halved lengthwise and minced

1 Thai red chile pepper, seeded and minced

1-inch piece gingerroot, peeled and minced

2 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

10 ounces cooked chicken, shredded (see note)

4 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth

5 ounces thick, dried rice noodles or egg noodles

Soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Juice of 12 medium-size lemon

Handful cilantro leaves

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the lemon grass, chile pepper and gingerroot and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the chicken and the broth, and cook for 5 minutes to let the flavors develop. Add the noodles and cook according to the package directions. (It should take no more than a few minutes.)

Season to taste with soy sauce and pepper. Squeeze a little lemon juice into each serving and sprinkle with the cilantro.

Note: To make this with raw chicken, cut the chicken into thin slices and add it to the saucepan 30 seconds after adding the garlic, stir-frying it until the exterior looks cooked. Then add the broth and proceed with the recipe as written.

Makes 2 servings.

Mighty Mulligatawny

This recipe is from “Jamie Oliver's Great Britain,” by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, $35). Oliver delivers the best of the old and new (including classic British immigrant food) in his first cookbook focused on England.

Olive oil

8 12 ounces quality ground beef

1 medium-size red onion, peeled

2 medium-size carrots, peeled and finely chopped

4 medium-size cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced

1 medium-size sweet red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

A 1-inch piece of gingerroot, peeled and finely chopped

1 or 2 medium-size chiles, seeded and chopped, divided

A small bunch fresh cilantro


1 heaped tablespoon Patak's Madras curry paste

1 tablespoon tomato puree

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 heaping tablespoon HP sauce

5 cups organic beef stock

12 butternut squash (roughly 12 ounces)

A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked

A couple of pinches of garam masala

1 cup basmati rice

Plain yogurt, to serve

Put a large pan on high heat and add a splash of olive oil and the ground beef.

Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the beef, until it starts to turn golden and caramelize. Stir in the onion, carrot, garlic, red pepper, gingerroot and most of the chiles, and add a splash more oil, if needed. Cut the top leafy section off the cilantro and put aside in a cup of cold water for later. Finely chop the stalks and add them to the pan. Cook and stir for about 10 minutes on medium heat, or until the veggies have softened.

Stir in the curry paste, tomato puree, a good pinch of salt and pepper and the HP sauce. After a few more minutes, when it smells fantastic, pour in the stock. Leave to blip away with the lid on over a medium heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut the butternut squash into 12-inch chunks, getting rid of any seeds and gnarly bits (there's no need to peel it). Put a smaller pan on a high heat. Add a lug of olive oil and the squash. Stir in the thyme leaves and the garam masala. Pop a lid on the pan and cook for around 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until softened and golden. Add a cup of rice to the pan with 2 cups of water and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Replace the lid and cook for about 8 minutes on a medium heat, then turn the heat off and leave to steam for 8 minutes with the lid on.

Fluff the rice and tip it into the soup. Have a taste, and season if needed. Gently mix the soup with the rice, then divide among your soup bowls with a good dollop of plain yogurt. Scatter over the cilantro leaves and add a sprinkling of fresh chiles, if you like.

Makes 6 servings.

Spicy Carrot, Tomato, Chorizo and Cilantro Soup

Here's a soup that is bright and hearty, without being too heavy. Serve with wedges of crusty bread.

Freeze the cooled soup flat, in quart-size, freezer-safe resealable plastic food-storage bags, for as long as 3 months. To reheat, defrost in the refrigerator during the day, or place in a large bowl of tepid water, then transfer to a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until heated through. Adapted from “The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook,” by Ghillie James (Kyle, 2012).

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium-size red onion, finely chopped (1 cup)

8 ounces (2 links) fresh chorizo, casings removed

14 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks

14 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into very small chunks

3 ribs celery, trimmed and cut into small chunks

12 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seed

12 teaspoon ground coriander

12 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 cups chopped, fresh tomatoes

1 quart no-salt-added chicken broth

3 or 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided

14 ounces canned, no-salt-added chickpeas, drained, divided

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime (1 or 2 tablespoons), divided

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add the onion and chorizo, breaking the sausage into pieces as you drop it in. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the carrots, sweet potatoes and celery and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the crushed red pepper (to taste), cumin seed, ground coriander and ground turmeric; cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes and the broth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender.

Transfer about four ladlefuls of the soup to a blender. Add half of the cilantro and half of the chickpeas. Remove the center knob of the blender lid to allow steam to escape and hold a clean kitchen towel over the opening. Puree until smooth, then pour the pureed soup back into the pot, adding the remaining cilantro and chickpeas and half of the lime juice. Stir to combine.

Season with salt and pepper, adding the remaining lime juice as needed.

Serve hot, or cool completely and portion into freezer-safe resealable plastic food-storage bags. Freeze flat.

Makes about 10 cups of 8 to 10 servings.

Boskos Minestrone

This recipe is from “Wine Country Chef's Table: Extraordinary Recipes From Napa and Sonoma,” (Lyons Press, $24.95).

12 cup oil (canola or a non-extra-virgin olive oil)

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 pound yellow onions, cut into 12-inch dice

1 large carrot, cut into 12-inch dice

12 bunch celery, leaves removed, ribs cut into 12-inch dice

2 medium-size leeks, white part only, cut into 12-inch dice

12 medium-size head green cabbage, chopped into 12-inch dice

2 tablespoons kosher salt

34 teaspoon white pepper

34 teaspoon crushed red pepper

34 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 12 cups crushed tomatoes

18 cup beef base

3 quarts chicken stock or water

1 cup dry (or 2 cups cooked) cannellini beans

Salted water, if using dry cannellini beans

Bay leaf, if using dry cannellini beans

1 pound red potatoes, cut into 12-inch dice

34 pound zucchini, cut into 12-inch dice

14 bunch (approximately 1 12 cups) fresh Swiss chard or spinach

12 pound shell noodles, uncooked

Start with a large stockpot over medium-high heat; add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic. After the garlic starts to brown slightly, add the diced onions, diced carrots, diced celery, diced leeks and diced cabbage; cook for about 5 minutes, still over medium-high heat. Add the salt, white pepper, crushed red pepper, paprika, oregano and basil during this first saute process — adding dry seasonings early helps create layers of flavors in a dish. Be sure all of the vegetables become translucent before adding the water or stock. Add tomatoes, beef base, and water or stock to the pot with the vegetables; bring the entire mixture to a simmer.

Meanwhile, if using dry cannellini beans, cook the cannellini beans in boiling, salted water with a bay leaf until beans are soft (for about 20 minutes). When beans are done (or, if starting with cooked beans), set half aside. Puree the other half. Add the whole, cooked beans and the pureed beans to the soup.

When the soup comes to a simmer, add the potatoes. Let the soup continue to boil for 5 minutes, then add the zucchini and chard to the pot. Cook the ixture for another 5 minutes.

Add the shell noodles and cook for a final 5minutes. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking.

Makes 15 servings, or about 1 12 gallons of soup.

How to make better soup in a slow cooker

Emma Christensen, of, offers these slow-cooking tips to help you make the best soup ever.

Add these ingredients at the beginning: Some ingredients stand up to, and benefit from, longer cooking times more than others. All of these can be added at the very start of cooking.

• Robust vegetables: Onions, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, winter squashes, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower and broccoli

• Meats: Lean cuts from the shoulder and rump of beef, lamb, goat, pork, whole chickens, chicken thighs and chicken legs

• Spices: Most spices can and should be added at the beginning of cooking, although I find that rosemary can become bitter over the longest cooking times and is best added at the end.

Add these ingredients at the end: These are quicker-cooking ingredients that wouldn't hold up over hours of cooking, and they add fresh flavor to a slow-cooked dish. Add all of the following ingredients in the last 30 to 45 minutes of cooking.

• Softer vegetables such as peas, corn, sweet bell peppers and spinach.

• Meat such as chicken breast, fish and other seafood. Check the chicken breast for doneness at the end of cooking, and give it a little more time if it's still pink in the middle.

• Pantry Items: Rice, noodles and other grains. You can add these already cooked, although uncooked grains are helpful for soaking up excess liquid, and it makes them more flavorful. Beans can cause some debate; personally, I like to add them at the end of cooking so they retain some firmness, although they can be added at the beginning if that's easier for you.

• Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese. Coconut milk is also best added at the end.

Cut all of the ingredients to the same size: This ensures that all of the ingredients will cook, more or less, at the same rate

Take the time to brown your ingredients: With our busy schedules, it's tempting and, sometimes, necessary to just dump all of the ingredients in the slow-cooker and press “go.” This is perfectly fine and will give you a nice, warm dinner to come home to.

If you have a few extra minutes and want to take that soup to the next level, brown the veggies and sear the meat before putting them in the slow cooker. You'll be rewarded with richer, more-intense flavors in your soup.

Use less liquid: There is very little evaporation in a slow cooker. If you're adapting a regular soup recipe, it's likely that you won't need to use all of the liquid called for. Put all of your ingredients in the slow cooker, and then pour the broth over top. It should cover the vegetables by about 12 inch. If you have excess liquid at the end of cooking, remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to let some of it evaporate.

Place longer-cooking ingredients on the bottom: Meats and root vegetables will take longer to become tender than, say, cauliflower. Nestle those items around the bottom and sides of the slow-cooker, where they will have more direct contact with the slow-cooker's heating element.

Choosing the right cooking time: Recipes with meat, like chili and pork shoulder, are best when cooked for six hours minimum or for as long as 10 hours. Vegetarian recipes are best cooked for around four hours, but can do a minimum of two hours or maximum of six hours (after which the vegetables start to get unpleasantly mushy).

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