Most yogurt soups I’ve seen have been summer concoctions, raw and chilled. But I really liked this yogurt-spinach soup, spiced with green chile and ginger, thickened with chickpea flour and served hot. It was bright, tart, fresh, and very warming. We found it in Meena Pathak’s book Flavors of India, where she explains that this is what her mother made for her to eat every day after school in the winter, and it really is comfort food, especially if you have fried potatoes or warm flatbreads (or even better, samosas) to dip in it. When we made it, we served it as a side dish with an aromatic chicken-tomato curry and a side of spiced okra, and it made a beautifully balanced meal. It’s a great way of getting some extra greens on the table, and very quick to make.
This was a pretty spicy soup, mostly because I like to microplane hot chiles to get a smooth texture – but that means all the seeds and membranes go in. If you want it milder, you could deseed the chile and mince it finely, but I don’t think I would leave it out altogether.
Yogurt Spinach Soup
Adapted from Flavors of India: Authentic Indian Recipes by Meena Pathak. Serves two as a starter or side dish.
- 1 heaping Tablespoon chickpea flour
- 2 Tbsp water
- 3 oz fresh spinach, washed and shredded
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/2 piece fresh ginger, minced or microplaned
- 1 hot green chile, minced or microplaned
- pinch of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
Combine the chickpea flour and the 2 Tbsp water in a small bowl and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine the yogurt, ginger, chiles, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water. Stir in the chickpea flour mixture and place the pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently, until the liquid thickens slightly. Add the spinach, stir until wilted, then serve. Garnish each bowl with fresh cilantro.
We recently made hot and sour soup for the first time, and I can’t imagine why I waited this long. It was prompted by the annual advent of scallion-chive flatbreads, since the chives are shooting up in the garden and we happened to have a bag of cilantro in the fridge, and nothing goes better with these breads than soup. We just picked up a used copy of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young, and I pulled this recipe out more or less at random. It looked simple and fast, useful features when you’re also making involved flatbreads.
I followed it pretty closely, while leaving out the lily buds, adding a bit of extra pork, and using the pre-shredded black fungus that we’ve become addicted to instead of whole cloud ears. The soup is heated with white pepper and soured with cider vinegar, and the main complaints we had were the lack of salt (fixed with a dab of soy sauce after serving) and the dullness of the vinegar flavor, apparently due to adding it early in the cooking process. When we ate the leftovers I added a bit of fresh vinegar and it was much peppier. But other than that it was really good – soothing and very textural, and the breads (which I made with hot chile oil and plenty of salt) were fantastic dipped into it.
I think we’ll try a variation on the recipe soon – maybe Barbara Tropp’s version which uses rice vinegar and soy. Does anyone have a recipe for hot and sour soup they really like? I think this could become part of our regular rotation.
This Portuguese-style soup has been one of our go-to dinners for years, and was one of the first soups I ever made that really worked. The original recipe was from the dearly departed magazine Kitchen Gardener, and while I occasionally muck around with different ingredients (white beans are particularly good), I always come back to the basic formula: kale, sausage, tomatoes, and garlic. And it’s not just delicious – it’s stuffed full of vitamins, and low-carb to boot. Whenever I make it we wonder why we don’t have it more often.
Kale-Sausage Soup (an approximate recipe)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 large bunch curly kale, cleaned, stemmed and roughly torn or chopped
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 lb hot Italian sausages (if your sausages aren’t spicy, I’d suggest adding red pepper flakes to the carrots and garlic)
- salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and saute the carrots and garlic until sizzling and beginning to turn golden. Add the kale and a good pinch of salt and stir well until it wilts. Add the stock and tomatoes, bring it to simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes on low heat, or until the kale is limp but still green.
In the meantime, cook the sausages in a covered pan with a little water, then fry them in their own fat until they brown nicely. Slice them into rounds.
When the kale is tender, slip the sausage into the pot, stir it up, and taste the broth for salt. Grind in plenty of fresh black pepper and turn off the heat.
I tend to make pretty chunky borsch – I like the smooth kind served cold with a bit of vinegar stirred in, but I also like a big hearty soup with pieces of beet and potato and beef and plenty of cabbage, and that’s the sort we usually have at home. I usually use beef or lamb broth for the base, if I have any, and dill as the main seasoning. And sour cream on top, of course.
This particular batch had a slightly different flavor than usual, as I braised the beef in beer before assembling the rest of the soup, instead of using broth. A friend brought a growler of excellent locally-brewed stout to our holiday party this weekend, and I wanted to use some of it up. I seared the beef stew meat with onions, added a cup of stout, and let it simmer covered for an hour and a half while I roasted the beets and sliced the cabbage. I topped up the soup pot with a little water and added everything else, then let it cook another half hour or so. It was a really good borsch, and the beer made it less sweet and a bit earthier. A slice of buttered rye bread would have been the only thing to make it better.
I often make soup on Mondays, a holdover from when I worked late shift and we needed a quick re-heat sort of dinner. I like the tradition, though – if I make the soup in the morning it gives me a chance to putter around the house doing laundry and paying bills and the like, occasionally wandering through the kitchen to give things a stir. And most soups, especially bean soups, are better if they’re made ahead and given a chance to sit and meld in the fridge.
This soup, a variation of my favorite pasta fazool, was intended to celebrate the very last of the season’s fresh cannellini beans from Dunbar Gardens. I love fresh shelling beans with a passion, and never get to eat quite as many as I’d like before the season is past, so I was glad to get one final bag. And while we were at the farmstand I also picked up a bunch of curly endive – I thought it was escarole but I was wrong – to toss into the soup.
Taking every leftover container out of the fridge and dumping it into a soup pot isn’t always a safe technique (or a good idea), but in this case it turned out to be the right thing. We had a few braised short ribs left, and I wanted to stretch them out into a full meal. I had a few other things to use up, and I decided that soup would be perfect, with a slight middle-eastern slant to it.
I started the soup with a bit of onion and garlic sizzled in olive oil, then added a sprinkle of ground cumin and hot paprika. Half a preserved lemon went in, roughly chopped. I thawed a container of broth made from 7-spice roast chicken, so it had a bit of sweet cinnamon flavor to it, and added it to the pot, then stirred in short grain rice and let it simmer.
When the rice was almost done, I added the cut-up short ribs and their juices (including braised leeks), some roasted bell peppers left over from tacos, and some cooked asparagus and roasted fingerling potatoes. A random assortment of stuff, maybe, but it pulled together beautifully in the spiced broth, with the rice as the unifying theme. Delicious, warming, and cheap.
Learning to make good soup has been a lot of trial and error for me. When I started out I would make the rookie mistake of just throwing everything into a pot and covering it with water. Now I know you need to build a soup gradually, nurturing it along, adding each item at just the right moment to let the flavors layer onto each other for just the right amount of time.
My lentil soup recipe is very representative of this philosophy. When I started making lentil soup, it was – well – depressing. Brown and gloppy, and overwhelmingly lentil-y. Even when I added chopped ham it was far from inspiring. Then I discovered French green lentils, which helped tremendously. Then I discovered adding enough stock to let the lentils dance around in the bowl instead of binding into mush. Then the addition of noodles and chunks of spicy pork sausage crowned the rendition. I still vary the soup considerably, but I seldom veer from the basic formula. It works.
First, the broth. Every time I roast a chicken I make a simple stock from the carcass, and freeze it in variously sized containers. I will often just thaw a quart or so of stock, then add water to fill out the pot. Every bit of extra flavor helps, but don’t feel the need to use nothing but stock, especially if the other ingredients are assertive. Get the stock and any additional water warm and ready to go before you start cooking.
Sorry for the radio silence this past week, but for the last eight days I’ve been out of commission with the nastiest cold/allergy/something-or-other I’ve ever had the displeasure of suffering through. Hack, cough. I’ve been eating, but for several days I completely lost my sense of taste – a distressing state of affairs.
Early in the week, Jon and I were signed up to help with a cooking class taught by our friend Peter. I felt that the customers might not appreciate my coughing into their food, so Jon went on his own, and he came back laden with fabulous leftovers. The class theme was Southern food, in particular New Orleans-style, featuring shrimp fritters, cornbread and chicken-sausage gumbo, and there was more than enough food for everyone. I lived off of that gumbo for the next several days, it being one of the few things that could penetrate my personal fog.
If you’ve managed to catch the crud yourself and need some hot soup full of pork fat, or if you’re just in the mood to celebrate Fat Tuesday with a little gumbo, here’s the recipe.
I recently invented this soup, and its become one of our favorites – as it turns out, really just a version of pasta e fagioli (Italian for noodles and beans, also known as pasta fazool). It also happens to be one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made, with the exception of the kind that involve opening a can or two. The first time I made it with freshly shelled borlotti beans from Colony Creek Farm (which were incredible), and the second time I used some locally grown, cupboard-aged Calypso beans (like little Yin-Yangs) that had taken up embarrassing residence in my pantry. Good thing dried beans don’t go bad very quickly.
St. Patrick’s Day is coming right up! For us, this week generally means playing several musical gigs in a row, driving across a variety of high mountain passes in snowstorms, and drinking a lot of wine, but I realize that this isn’t most people’s idea of the holiday. However, to get in the mood in advance this year (and to provide photos for an article I was writing), I made up a batch of Irish soda bread and some beef stew to go with it. And damn if that wasn’t the best beef stew I have ever made! The bread wasn’t bad, either.