Soups for the Soul

Stay warm this winter with homemade soup

SWK VegetableStock650xPhotographed by Jim Stott

In New England, early settlers boiled seafood shells for soup and used less appealing bits of chicken and beef for broth that became a staple of their diet. To the soup, they added vegetables from their root cellars. Root vegetables fed families throughout the long Northern winters.

These folks were on to something. Although making soups from scraps of food is not necessary today, we find that it is wholly satisfying, fun, and nutritious to make your own soups and stews. Delicious soup starts with a good stock, which is easy to make. In a pinch, a good quality, low-sodium canned stock will do, but you will definitely notice an improvement in the flavor of soups and stews made with homemade stock. We’ve included a basic chicken and vegetable stock recipe at the end of this article.

Try enhancing the flavor of your stock with a bouquet garni, a classic French combination of herbs bundled together for seasoning. Gather fresh or dried herbs—rosemary, bay leaves, and thyme all work well—and tie them together with kitchen string. Be sure to leave a long enough “tail” to the string so that you can tie it to the handle of the pot for easy removal.

Here are general hints on soup and stew making. There are very few rules, and we encourage you to be creative. Adding whatever ingredients you like and experimenting with recipes by adding this and that are all part of the fun!

In general:
• Don’t cook soups beyond a simmer (never boil) and always use a non-aluminum stockpot.
• The flavor will improve if kept refrigerated overnight.
• Chop veggies and other ingredients into small pieces. They are not only easier to eat; they cook quickly, retaining color and flavor.
• For a creamy soup without the extra calories from cream, puree half the base before meats are added and add it back into your soup.
• To peel tomatoes for soups and stews, place them in boiling water until the skin starts to split. Remove, cool in cold water, and the skin will be easy to remove with a paring knife.
• Be creative in dressing up your soup. Chopped herbs, flavored sour cream, and grated cheeses make superb, tasty garnishes.

Here are some favorite stock and soup recipes:

Basic Stock, Vegetable

Good vegetable stock is an essential ingredient in winter soups and stews; without it your recipe could taste flat. Start with about a cup each of finely minced onions, celery, carrots, and two cloves of garlic sautéed in oil until just slightly brown. Add a half cup of chopped scallions and continue cooking. Remove the ingredients, and deglaze the pot with a half cup of white wine, a trick that adds a great dimension to the base of your stock. Reduce and add two cups of water, the cooked mix, and whatever vegetables you wish. Simmer, strain, and you will have a perfect base for the recipes below.

Basic Stock, Chicken

Place several chicken parts or leftovers in a large stockpot with about a cup each of chopped celery, carrots, onions, scallions, leeks, garlic (two cloves), and a bouquet garni. Add enough water to fill the pot two-thirds full. Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, skimming as necessary. Strain and freeze or refrigerate.

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Asian Style Chicken Noodle Soup
4 generous servings

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
Freshly ground pepper
1 to 4 teaspoons Chinese chili paste
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 cup shredded or cubed cooked chicken
6 ounces Asian wheat or udon noodles
1 small bunch watercress, stems removed
1 cup bean sprouts1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

1. In a large pot bring the broth, scallions, and ginger to a simmer over medium heat. Season with pepper, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil. In four, oversized soup bowls, add a dab of chili paste. You can make the soup as spicy or mild as you like. Add 1 teaspoon soy sauce to the bottom of each bowl. Divide the chicken among the four bowls.
3. Cook the noodles in the boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the noodles, until tender. Drain.
4. Divide the hot noodles among the four bowls and ladle on the hot broth. Top with watercress, bean sprouts, and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Favorite Variations:
• Use cooked duck, turkey, pork, or beef instead of the chicken.
• Add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro to the top of the soup.
• Add roasted vegetables to the soup.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Curried Pecans, Apples, and Goat Cheese
Serves 6

1½ tablespoons of canola oil
2 medium onions finely chopped
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup curried maple pecans
4 ounces goat cheese
1 tart apple very thinly sliced and sautéed lightly in butter
12 whole sage leaves

1. Heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions with salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring frequently, for 12 minutes until the onions are golden brown.
2. Add the squash and cook for 5 minutes, stirring well. Raise the heat to high, add the broth, and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes or until the squash is tender.
4. Working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender.
5. Return the soup to the pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
6. When ready, place the hot soup in serving bowls and top with a sprinkling of chopped pecans, goat cheese crumbles, sautéed apple, and sage leaves.

Curried Maple Pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup pecan halves
¼ cup maple syrup

1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet and add all the spices to the pan. Let this cook for 2 minutes.
2. Add the pecans and cook for another 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the syrup and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the syrup starts to thicken.
4. Pour nuts onto wax or parchment paper and separate them. When cooled, place them in a sealed container.