for the love of soup.

Soup is a powerful, healing, comforting gift that is limitless in variety and can be made from next to nothing.  We all have memories attached to soup.  My Bubbie’s chicken soup with matzo balls was stronger than any antibiotic and could make you feel better, no matter was wrong.  I have a funny memory of being on the phone with her sometime during my twenties, asking her for that soup recipe.  I wrote her words on 4 different recipe cards…and she never really gave me a straight answer.  Haha.  She kept saying, “Well, you could just follow what it says on the box of matzo ball mix.”  Of course, I wanted her detailed account of every single step she took to make her Super Soup.  I don’t think that Bub was being secretive, but I do believe that she cooked with her eyes, ears, nose, mouth and heart.  It can be really difficult to transfer your intuition into words.  Needless to say, I have never replicated her masterpiece, but I do have the fondest memories of slurping it down at my grandparents’ table, surrounded by my cousins, before any big meal- holiday or otherwise.

About three years ago, I conquered my fears of creating a giant pot of soup and found myself on a soup-making bender that has yet to end.  I think I was scared about the process of making a roux.  It sounded so daunting- and so easy to ruin.  Come to find out, it’s really not hard!  And, not all soups call for making a roux.  What I quickly realized, is that once you understand the steps of soup construction and the idea behind it, you can apply that knowledge to just about any flavor soup you want.  This was an empowering epiphany.  And for me, transforming raw, simple, colorful ingredients into a soup with flavor, character, texture, and depth is intensely gratifying. 

This week, I actually made two soups for the first time- carrot ginger and vegetarian lentil.  They both turned out extremely well and garnered positive feedback from the soup tasters.  But the three mushroom soup I made last week was hailed by a client friend as the best thing she ever ate in her life.  In her life!!  That is an incredible compliment!  I think I’ve made it over the hump of soup worries.

The carrot soup I made follows a traditional sequence of soup-making steps and was born out of an overabundance of an ingredient- a wonderful catalyst for creating a pot full of goodness!  

It started with these simple ingredients.

First I got some onions going in a pot with three tablespoons of butter. 

After they became all nice and sweaty, I added the garlic and ginger and cooked it for another minute or so.

It wasn’t as important to me to have all of the pieces minced perfectly, because I knew I’d be pureeing them in the end.

Then, it was time to make the roux.  Don’t be nervous.  All that means is that I sprinkled three tablespoons of flour into the pot and began to stir.  I also turned the heat up to medium at this point. 

After stirring for beyond one full minute, I added my hot milk.  Still stirring. 

Next, I added my broth and seasoning.

Then, I let my broth get nice and hot- to just a boil, and then I turned down my heat and allowed the soup to simmer and thicken.

Time to add the carrots.

This was a whole bag of carrots.  I cooked the soup until the carrots were just tender enough to mash, wanting them to maintain their color and sweetness.

I tasted my soup and adjusted my seasoning, and then I took out my old school potato masher and smashed the carrots.  Next, I employed my favorite power kitchen tool- the stick blender- and whirred that soup into a lovely, orange sea of smoothness and delight.

Creamy, sweet, rich with flavor, and that ginger provided just the right amount of kick.  Beautiful.

Another soup I’d like to share is one that was shared with me.  What feels like many moons ago, I got together with some girlfriends over my friend, BB’s house.  She is an extraordinary baker who claims she can’t cook savory dishes at all.  That day, BB prepared a chicken tortilla soup that knocked my socks off and made me long for it for months to come.  She adapted that soup from the Best Life Diet book by Bob Greene.  Even with her non chef-y skills, BB had the inclination to add more tomatoes, herbs, and citrus to the soup to pump up its flavor and girth.  She also allowed it to simmer for a good while, rather than serving it right after all of the ingredients hit the pot.

Recognizing my long standing love for this soup, BB gave me a wonderful birthday gift- she would come to my house and cook the chicken tortilla soup for me!  This girl knows the way to my heart!  She was convinced that I would chuckle at its simplicity.  This soup is no laughing matter.    

I didn’t want to mortify her by taking photos while she cooked, but I did take a picture of my second or third bowl of it.

I wish I could really convey the goodness of this bowl.  It tastes full, rich- but not heavy.  Comforting, and yet, sassy.  And the avocado adds such freshness in the end. 

Not a week later, I had made a pot for Adam and I AND a pot for one of my clients, which yielded this response, “Soup is wow!”.  All I did to change BB’s recipe was to add some heat- some jalapeno in the beginning, and some chipotle to the spice list.  Oh- and I also finished it with scallions, because I had some and I thought it would be pretty.  Here is how simple it is to make this delicious soup that got me through the Snowpocalypse of 2011.

So few ingredients!  This soup is a dream.

Surprise!  I started with onions.  Red onions are the ones I like with Mexican flavors, so that’s what I chose.

Next…any guesses?

You guessed it, garlic- lots of it, and a jalapeno.  Next, comes one heaping tablespoon of cumin and 1 teaspoon of chipotle powder and the juice of a lime.

And after that, I added 3 cups of chicken broth.

Then, I added two cans of diced tomatoes, (I can’t wait until I can make it with some fresh, gorgeous tomatoes from Turtle Bend Farm!) and lots of fresh cilantro.

It really goes as quickly and easily as this sounds.  Lastly, it was time to add the chicken and let all of the flavors swim around to find one another, make friends, and join forces.

Looking at these pictures is making me want to cook up another batch of this soup pronto!  All that was left to do was to fry up a few corn tortillas strips in a little bit of olive oil, shred cheese, slice avocado

and add scallions.  Done and done.

Oh sweet love of mine.  A perfectly satisfying bite in every spoonful. 

The moral of the story is, sharing soup is the right thing to do.  It will bring happiness to the lives of people you know- or even people you don’t know.  Soup is not difficult to make, and the work is actually incredibly satisfying.  The marriage of flavors in a tasty bowl of soup is living proof that sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Try it out, friends.  Let me know what kind of soup you are cooking up in your kitchen – to get through a snowy day, or to warm up a loved one, or to provide healthy lunches during your work week.

Sweet souping to you.


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