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.

Potato-Leek-Parsley Puree

2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
Approximately 4 potatoes, cleaned, quartered and rid of blemishes
Black peppercorns
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.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 19, 2007; 10:55 AM ET Hot Pot , Soup , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Hello Kim,

On our honeymoon, my wife and I stayed at a hotel in Zurich, and we were dazzled by, among other things, a gin-and-chestnut soup which was served in the hotel restaurant. It was a white, creamy soup, actually just slightly green. I'm imagining it had a fairly simple recipe, but I've been poking around the internet for a while now and not found anything really similar. I would love to surprise my wife on our anniversary with a facsimile of that soup, if I could. Any ideas? Where to look, or how to go about recreating it?

Thanks sincerely,

Posted by: Romance is not dead in Owings Mills | January 19, 2007 12:33 PM

To Romance is Not Dead -- What a thoughtful idea! Try 'Google' and do a search for gin and chestnut soup. I've found a lot of recipes just by googling the name. Maybe you can come up with a close variation of the recipe you're looking for. Good luck.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 19, 2007 12:58 PM

Oooh, that lentil recipe looks lovely! It is actually very similar to my modified version of the lentil puree in /The Best Recipe/ cookbook - you bring your lentils to a boil (I use stock) along with some turmeric, garlic, and salt, and then simmer for twenty minutes. Melt a knob of butter with a lemon's worth of juice and some cumin; stir that into the puree at the very end of the cooking time. I am serving this as a dip for veggies at a cocktail party this weekend, since it thickens quite a bit after a day or two in the fridge.

- Lard Girl

PS: Kim, I made your chocolate truffles for Christmas presents and they were a hit! I did orange, rum, and chili-cinnamon flavored centers. Had to use a bit more cream than you called for originally, though.

Posted by: Sass | January 19, 2007 1:02 PM

Romance is Not Dead - you can find two recipes for Chestnut Soup (one roasted, one silky) on Both recipes call for sherry but are, perhaps, adaptable to other liquors.

Posted by: Bookish | January 19, 2007 1:09 PM

Will you please recommend a good soup cookbook? There's nothing like a bowl of soup and hearty bread to ward off the chill. Thanks.

Posted by: Nanci | January 19, 2007 1:45 PM

I have a recipe for parsnip and apple soup (from the BBC website, of all places). It's basically a puree of diced parsnips and apples, sauteed in butter, then simmered in chicken stock with sage, pepper, and cream. To give it a more interesting texture, I puree only half of the soup in the blender and then add it back to the pot with the rest that is still in little chunks.

Posted by: Bill in Jacksonville FL | January 19, 2007 1:46 PM

Nanci: I've used 'Bread and Soup' by Yvonne Young Tarr as a cookbook and a reference. It includes directions on how to make good rich soup stocks, and an international section to make mulligatawny soup, borscht, vicysoise (sp?) and others. Includes a section on breads to accompany the variety of soups and stews. Unfortunately my edition doesn't contain pictures. I'm a food voyeur and want to see what the final product is supposed to look like. You might try for it.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 19, 2007 2:06 PM

Thanks to your comment-writers for their suggestions regarding chestnut soups - I especially like the recipes on and will try them out!

PS. The hotel was the Hotel Zurichberg, and their restaurant's current menu is online and, alas! no longer has the soup in question. Maybe it's a seasonal thing -

Posted by: Romance is not dead - | January 19, 2007 2:21 PM

I highly recommend The Soup Peddler's Slow & Difficult Soups: Recipes And Reveries by David Ansel--don't worry, none of the recipes are difficult and only a few take longer than an hour. David Ansel is the Soup Peddler in Austin, TX. He has built a business selling and delivering homemade soups there.

Posted by: Suzanne | January 19, 2007 2:33 PM

Here's another spin on the chestnut soup:

Posted by: Yum | January 19, 2007 3:44 PM

made lentil soup last night but i put in too much cumin. the soup was a little too earthy tasting but today the flavor seems to have mellowed.

i bought some soup mixes from king arthur flour company. the corn chowder was great but the little (and i do mean little) packets cost $8.75 for some dried corn & rice plus flavoring. i had to add everything else so i'm going to see if i can make my own version. instead of cream i'm going to puree some silken tofu and see if that works.

Posted by: quark | January 19, 2007 4:22 PM

This is perfect! Just in time for National Soup Swap Day on Tuesday, Jan 23! Thanks!

Posted by: Adrienne | January 19, 2007 5:43 PM

I love cream of tomato soup and tried making my own the other day. It's very simple - all you need is a pot and a blender. Fry 1/8 of an onion in a generous amount of butter until glossy, add some flour to thicken, and pour this mixture into the blender along with a can (411g) of diced tomatoes. Blend everything until smooth and pour back into the pot, add 1T tomato paste and about 2 to 2.5 cups of beef stock, some peppercorns and a bayleaf, 1T white sugar, and cook it for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. At the very end I usually add some heavy cream, depending on how creamy I want it (in my case, very creamy :-)). Works every time, and the canned tomatoes take the work out of chopping tomatoes and removing skins.

Posted by: Love Cream of Tomato Soup | January 19, 2007 5:48 PM

A couple weeks ago, I tried to make slippery chicken potpie and I ended up making chicken and dumplings and potatoes. Tastes the same I guess, but I just can't make dough. Only dumplings.

I would like to know how to make Cornflake drop cookies though. My mom used to make them, but I don't have the recipe.

Posted by: Half-baked Chef | January 19, 2007 7:18 PM

I whipped up a quick soup on Sunday afternoon from leftover spaghetti and meatballs. My partner and I had about an hour for lunch afer getting back from the farmers market and before heading out for a movie. While he made the salad, I softened come chopped onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in some olive oil, added some chicken stock, water, a little leftover sauce, and about a cup and a half of leftover whole wheat linguine that I also chopped up. I also used up half a can of tomato paste that I'd opened the day before when making the sauce. I then chopped up two leftover meatballs, and some parsley. It made enough to have a generous bowl both before the movie and after, which was especially dee-lish when we came in from the snow!

Posted by: Sean | January 22, 2007 2:48 PM

Thanks so much for the soup recipes! I found myself simmering a big pot of chili this weekend and actually inspired a chili cookoff in the kitchen. Cold weather can always inspire chili...

Posted by: TJ | January 22, 2007 4:54 PM

Just made the Red Lentil Puree Soup from Kim's posting above and it is GREAT! Love the flavors of the cumin and cayenne. Plus, any recipe that has swiss chard in it gets extra points, in my book. I love this! I had to add extra liquid as it cooked (I used chicken broth I had open in the fridge). Not sure my 15 mo old son will like the strong flavor of the cumin, but I'm sure going to try! This replaces my last "fave" lentil soup recipe!

Posted by: chrishpl | January 23, 2007 9:49 PM

For a quick minestrone: start with v-8 juice, add a can or two of red beans, some smallish pasta, green beans (fresh, if you can get 'em) cut into 1-inch lengths, and whatever other fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables you fancy. Heat until the pasta and vegetables are cooked.

Posted by: Hector | January 25, 2007 2:28 PM

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