For the conscientious cook, January is often a month full of surprises. Not all of those surprises are happy ones.
With the fall harvest a vague memory and the holiday leftovers finally gone, January finds us digging through the crisper drawers in our refrigerators and the corners of our pantries in search of something edible. Blackened parsnips, pockmarked squash, spongy potatoes and onions that have become little more than bags of fluid rise to the surface with frightening regularity.
So we harvest what we can, compost what we can’t and make ready various pots and kettles for bracing soups to cure the winter chill. And, in a certain sense, we’re fortunate. From both a nutritional and economic standpoint, “soup season” can be one of the most culinary rewarding times of the year.
As a cooking technique, soup-making has been traced as far back as 20,000 B.C., about the time that watertight clay vessels first came into use. Hot rocks were used to heat the water and cook the plants that eventually became part of the soup.
The word “soup” comes from the French soupe, or “broth,” and can trace its origins to even earlier times. In fact, the word “restaurant,” meaning “something restoring,” was first used in 16th-century France to refer to inexpensive, highly concentrated soup sold by street vendors as an antidote to exhaustion. Homemade soups still perform that role.
What follows are a few favorite soup recipes to warm you up, tide you over through the cold months ahead and, perhaps best of all, make good use of root vegetables and other produce you have in the house, or can purchase cheaply at any good grocery store.
Each recipe makes multiple batches — roughly six to eight servings — which can be shared or saved for future meals.
Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup
16 oz. (3 cans) of black beans, rinsed and drained
16 oz. (1 can) of tomatoes, chopped and drained
1 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, diced
4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth (chicken broth can be substituted)
16 oz. (1 can) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
Salt to taste
Puree beans and tomatoes in a food processor, in several batches if necessary. Melt butter in a large stockpot, then add garlic, onions, cumin, pepper and salt. Cook until onions are soft and caramelized (about 6 minutes).
Stir in beans and tomato puree, then add broth and pumpkin mix. Stir well and let simmer for 30 minutes before serving.
Rustic Potato Leek Soup
3 leeks, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 large onion, chopped
6 to 8 russet potatoes, well scrubbed and thinly sliced with the skin still on
3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large saucepan and add onions and leeks, stirring until they are slightly browned. Add potato slices and just enough broth to cover potatoes, cooking until potatoes are tender.
Once softened, mash and stir potatoes until the desired consistency is reached. As the mash thickens, reduce heat and stir to avoid scorching the mash.
Add cream, salt and pepper, then cook 15 minutes over low heat. Remove and serve.
White Winter Minestrone Soup
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups celeriac (celery root), peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups parsnips, peeled and cubed
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups lentils
15 oz. (1 can) of white beans, rinsed and drained
1 small apple, peeled and cubed
3 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup kale, chard or other green
1 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup rosemary sprigs
1/4 lb. dried spaghetti, broken into pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in stockpot over medium heat, then add onions and minced garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn soft, translucent and are slightly browned (about 8 minutes). Stir in parsnips and celery root and cook another 5 minutes until fragrant. Add stock, apples, bay leaves, beans, cabbage and lentils and stir.
Reduce heat to medium, then cover pot and simmer 30 minutes until celery root and parsnips are tender. Stir in spaghetti and continue simmering until al dente, then salt and pepper to taste.