Soup's on!  Winter dishes will warm up your diet

March 5, 2012
Curried carrot soup is tasty with yogurt drizzle. BY JACK CLEMONS

For centuries, soup has been a mainstay of our diet. In fact, the history of soup is the likely beginning of the history of cooking. Start with a large pot, fill it with a variety of ingredients, simmer it for a while and you’ve created a filling and nutritious meal. In its earliest form, soup was a thick porridge of boiled meats, grains and root vegetables. This easily digested liquid food was often supplemented with medicinal herbs for the sick or frail.

The word soup comes from a Germanic root, sup, meaning bread soaked in liquid (think “to sop up”). This derives from the way the dish was served during the Middle Ages: rich broth in which meat or poultry had been braised was poured over a piece of bread along with some of the solid ingredients. Sup can also be found in the word for an evening meal, or supper.

Over time, we have come to refer to the liquid elements of these long-cooking dishes as soup. In French cuisine, 18th-century refinements developed the elegant and wholesome broths and consommés known as restoratifs (a name which shares its derivation with the word restaurant). From its earliest uses, soup was a common food for virtually every cultural group, each of which developed its own signature styles through locally sourced ingredients, from New England clam chowder to Spanish gazpacho.

Is there a difference between soup and stew? Not really; they both originated from the same idea and similar ingredients. One distinction is how they’re eaten: soup as an appetizer or side dish and stew as a main course. The name for stew gives us a clue to another difference; stewing describes the process of simmering foods (especially tough cuts of meat) in as little liquid as possible. The meat, vegetables and liquid are served together. Soups, on the other hand, typically contain just the liquid, or sometimes the solid ingredients are pureed into the liquid.

Whether taking the place of honor as an elegant first course of a special menu or the hearty focus of a one-dish family meal, soup is a versatile and adaptable food. With the recent weather patterns - windy, rainy, unpredictable temperatures - a steaming bowl of soup seemed like a good idea.

Using the same approach as our ancestors, the soup recipes I chose were driven by what was on hand. In this case, I had the makings of three different soups: curried carrot, cauliflower leek and mushroom herb. In all cases, the soup had a thick, creamy texture without adding any milk or cream, simply by puréeing the cooked vegetables and liquid.

For the soup in the photo, I started by sautéing curry powder in canola oil until the entire kitchen smelled like an Indian restaurant (to me, that’s a welcome aroma, but it might not be to everyone’s taste). After I stirred in chopped onion, apple and carrots, everything in the pan acquired a golden hue. The mixture cooked until the vegetables softened, then became a lush purée with a swift spin of the immersion blender. Plain yogurt, crème fraiche or sour cream all work as garnish. If curry isn’t your spice of choice, you can replace it with grated ginger for a nice contrast to the sweet carrot and apple.

The next soup on my agenda was selected to take advantage of a zip-top bag of cauliflower florets that have been in the freezer for a while. The assembly process is similar to the carrot soup: simmer, purée, garnish and serve. Here, the combination of cauliflower and leeks is thickened with ground walnuts. A sprinkle of paprika adds great color to this dish.

My favorite soup from this group was the mushroom herb, made with a mixture of crimini, button and reconstituted dried wild mushrooms - any variety will work. Based on the lush texture, you could almost call this cream of mushroom. When you make this, be sure to save the bacon to make a BLT to enjoy along with your bowl of soup.

Curried Carrot Soup
1 lb carrots
1 onion
1 Granny Smith apple
1 T canola oil
1 T curry powder
3 C vegetable stock
salt & pepper, to taste
yogurt for garnish

Peel the carrots and thinly slice into rounds; set aside. Roughly chop the onion; set aside. Peel, core and chop the apple; set aside. Heat the oil over medium in a large saucepan. Add the curry powder and cook for about 3 minutes. Add carrots, onion and apple; stir until coated with curry powder. Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium low and cook until vegetables are softened, about 15 minutes, shaking the pan often. Add 1 1/2 C vegetable stock and purée the mixture with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Return the mixture to the saucepan, stir in the remaining stock and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings and garnish with a drizzle of yogurt or crème fraiche to serve.

Leek & Cauliflower Soup
2 leeks
1 medium cauliflower
1/4 t nutmeg
3 C vegetable stock
3 T walnuts
salt & pepper, to taste
paprika for garnish

Clean and trim the leeks; chop roughly into a large saucepan. Rinse and trim the cauliflower; add the florets to the saucepan. Add nutmeg and 2 C of the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the walnuts and purée the mixture until smooth with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Return mixture to saucepan and stir in the final 1 C of broth to reach desired consistency. Adjust seasonings and serve sprinkled with paprika.

Mushroom & Herb Soup
12 oz mushrooms
4 slices bacon
1 chopped onion
2 1/2 C beef or veal stock
2 T sherry
2 t Italian seasoning
salt & pepper, to taste

Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms; set aside. Place the bacon in a large saucepan and cook to render all the fat. Remove the bacon and reserve for a BLT sandwich. Add the onions to the bacon fat and cook over low until softened. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add the stock, sherry and herbs. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Briefly purée with an immersion blender or in a food processor, leaving small chunks of mushrooms (not to a smooth consistency). Adjust seasonings and serve.

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