Savory soup for cold winter nights

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When it’s bitterly cold outside, is there anything better than the inner warmth that only a piping hot bowl of soup can provide?

Winter is definitely soup season for us, a time when we take to the kitchen with piles of fresh vegetables, succulent meats and seafood and a cupboard full of herbs and spices. Whether the result is bouillon or bouillabaisse, bisque, borscht or bird’s nest soup, a hearty, nutritious meal is only a matter of combining the right ingredients and setting the stove to simmer.

The evidence of soup dates back to 6,000 B.C., about the time that clay jars – thought to be the first watertight containers – came into use. The word “soup” comes from the French word “soupe,” or broth, which further derives from “suppa,” a phrase in vulgar Latin that meant bread soaked in broth. In 16th-century France, soup sold by street vendors became popular for its restorative powers. It wasn’t long before entrepreneurs set up soup shops called restaurants, which loosely translates into “something restorative.”

Soup was popular in Colonial America and the invention of canning made soup even more popular – and accessible. The Campbell Soup Co. introduced condensed soups in 1897. Its three most popular brands – tomato, cream of mushroom and chicken noodle – account for some 2.5 billion bowls consumed in America every year.

We like to make our own soups, combining organic vegetables and grocery store ingredients to create a hearty and healthy meal. Soup is a good way to use leftover produce and it helps to make nutritious but difficult ingredients, such as a kale, more manageable.

In creating soups, first decide on a main ingredient, then look for other contents to complement it in both flavor and texture. Decide if you want the soup to be thick and stew-like, or merely a thin broth. Knowing that will help you choose the right amount of seasoning. 

The following recipes are among our favorites:

Winter squash soup with Gruyère croutons 

(adapted from epicurious.com)

¼ cup (½ stick) butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

3 14½-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth

3 lbs. squash, butternut or acorn (2 large or 3 small)

1 ¼ tsp. minced fresh thyme

1 ¼ tsp. minced fresh sage

¼ cup half & half

2 tsp. sugar

Croutons

2 tbsp. (¼ stick) butter

24 ¼-inch-thick baguette bread slices

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme

1 tsp. minced fresh sage

For soup:
Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, then sauté until tender (about 10 minutes). Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Brush each half with olive oil and lightly salt and pepper. Place squash on baking sheet cut side down and roast in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool. Scoop the flesh from the squash and add it to onions. Then add the broth and herbs and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash is tender (about 20 minutes). Puree soup in a blender then return it to the same pot. Stir in cream and sugar and simmer. Season with salt and pepper. 

Preheat broiler. Butter one side of each bread slice and arrange buttered side up on baking sheet. Broil until golden (about one minute). Turn over. Sprinkle cheese, then thyme and sage over bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until cheese melts (about one minute). Ladle soup into bowls, top with croutons and serve.

Black bean chili with dark roast coffee

(Adapted by Andrea Yoder, Harmony Valley Farms, from “Long Way on a Little”
by Shannon Hayes)

Serves 4-6

1 cup dried or canned black beans, sorted and rinsed

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 pound beef stew meat or round steak, cubed

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. crumbled dried oregano, or 3 tbsp. fresh oregano 

¼ tsp. cinnamon

1½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp. dried chipotle powder

1 tsp. coarse salt, or to taste

2 cups diced canned tomatoes

1 cup strong brewed medium to dark roast coffee

3-4 cups beef or vegetable broth

Optional garnishes:

Sour cream, shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, chopped fresh cilantro, diced onion, diced and pickled hot peppers and diced avocado

1. Prepare the dried black beans by putting them in a saucepan and covering with water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover the pan and soak until tender. Drain and discard the soaking liquid prior to adding the beans to the chili. For canned beans, drain and rinse.

2. In a medium soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the stew meat or round steak cubes and cook until nicely browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan with the meat and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chipotle powder and salt. Cook one minute, stirring, then add tomatoes, beans and coffee. Cover and simmer for one to one and a half hours, stirring periodically. Both the meat and beans should be tender. 

4. Remove the lid and simmer until thickened to your liking. Adjust the seasoning to your taste. Serve with the toppings of your choice and corn tortillas, cornbread or corn muffins.