Get Your Soup Groove On
Hey! It really might be time for soup. The weather here in Washington actually feels like January, and from the looks of the forecasts, the weekend is promising plenty of winter, with the chance of flakes from the sky.
In fact, let's go full throttle and make it a two-soup weekend, one for each day. Don't worry; soup is far from an all-day affair at the stove. Start to finish, you need just one hour to make a pot of soup. Seriously.
Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Bean soups and more elaborate meat-noodle-y numbers take a few hours or more. However, for the quickest route to a bowl of soup, I suggest going the way of the puree.
In puree land, there are few rules and lots of room for creativity and improvisation. But a flavorful puree only comes with commitment to a few key ground rules:
Use only enough cooking liquid to barely cover the contents of your soup pot. Too much liquid and you run the risk of a watery, crayon-flavored potage. If your soup pot gets dry, you can always add more liquid.
Salt at the end, just before serving. If you add salt from get-go, chances are the salt will be completely absorbed and you'll need to add more salt and that's tough on your blood pressure. A reasonable amount of salt for a pot of soup is about 1 teaspoon.
Members of the allium family -- onions, leeks, shallots and garlic -- are a soup's best friend. If all you had in the house was a quartered onion and a garlic clove as seasoning, your soup would still earn sipping points.
Herbs are nearly as important, and, when at all possible, make them fresh. Just a sprig or two of thyme, oregano or rosemary can make a huge difference in flavor, and leafy herbs, such as basil, parsley, cilantro and sage make wonderful garnishes.
Tools: The blender that doubles as your margarita machine is fine, but not ideal for soupy purees. Consider a hand-held immersion blender or a hand operated food mill. In the case of red lentils (see details below), a whisk is all you need to smooth things out.
Below, two purees that have served me well over the winters past. Even though they're listed in recipe fashion, both respond well to improv and all kinds of modifications.
Speaking of improv, here's your chance to share your stand-at-the-pot routines and ersatz soupy secrets of the world. There's no such thing as too many soup tricks!
Check out the Mighty Appetite Recipe Index for even more ideas.
Red Lentil Puree
2 cups red lentils
1 teaspoon salt
½-1 teaspoon cumin
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped (alternatively thyme)
1 teaspoon hot sauce or ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed
small bunch of cilantro, chopped
3-5 leaves of Swiss chard, stems removed, roughly chopped
(alternatively, use spinach)
Rinse lentils several times in cold water and drain. Pour into a soup pot and barely cover with water. Bring pot up to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a simmer. Cook until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes; red lentils will change color from salmon pink to mustard yellow.
Pour contents of soup into a bowl and season with salt, cumin, hot sauce and rosemary. You will notice that lentils have pureed on their own. Whisk lentils if want a smoother texture.
Wipe clean soup pot and return to fire. Add oil and heat for a minute. Add garlic, cilantro and chard and cook until chard is wilted. Return lentils to pot and stir to combine, allowing mixture to warm up.
Makes at least 6 servings.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
Approximately 4 potatoes, cleaned, quartered and rid of blemishes
Sprig of fresh thyme
Handful of fresh flat leaf parsley (also known as Italian parsley), chopped
In a medium-sized pot, place garlic, leek, potatoes and thyme. Put peppercorns in cheesecloth or sachet for easy removal at end of cooking.
Cover with water. Note: Use only enough water to barely cover your vegetables! This is very important if you don't want a tasteless, watery result.
Bring up to a boil and cook at a fast simmer, until potatoes are tender -- about 15 minutes. Do not cover, as the beautiful green leeks will turn an ugly army brown. Take off heat. Remove sachet or cheesecloth.
With a hand blender, puree the contents of the pot until well blended. Add your parsley and you will see beautiful green flecks transform the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately. Can also be made in advance and reheated. Nice when served with crusty bread or croutons.
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