Soup Week – Not To Be Confused With Weak Soup

March 17, 2011 at 2:25 am Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, my bff Rae sent me a photo of a flowering Tabebuia tree currently blossoming in her yard.  The subject line of the email reads, “I guess it’s officially spring!” 

Well, maybe in Florida it is.  Not so here in East Central Minnesota.  As of the second week of March, I still can’t see my 5’2” next door neighbor standing by her vehicle when I walk down my driveway.  The culprit is not poor vision, it’s that imposing barricade of mounded snow – the result of shoveling our record-approaching snowfall out of the way for the past four and a half months.  Even as I type up these notes, more flakes appear and drift lightly to earth. 

78.7”  That’s the figure I’m hearing when I dare to peek at televised weather reports.  Sometimes it’s better not knowing these things. 

A safer bet for non-stressful television viewing is a local program that broadcasts, among other things, recipes and shopping bargains of interest to Twin Cities’ residents.  I tune in most weekdays for some lighthearted chatter as I eat a late, post-snow-trudge lunch, fascinated by a regular feature called Kitchen Takeover.  In these segments, a local media-savvy chef goes into the homes of viewers and teaches them how to introduce some novelty into family meals using ingredients they already have on hand.  The very thought sends shudders down my spine.  So much for the non-stressful bit. 

Surely I can’t be the only observer to whom this sounds more like a living nightmare than a dream come true.  I’ll grant you that it makes for good television.  But I don’t even allow my family and friends into my kitchen to help with clean-up when they’ve just finished dining at my table.  There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is that, even though I clean up along the way like Mom taught me, my prep area still looks as if it had been marauded by a hoard of Huns by the time everything gets dished up and set on the table. 

And doesn’t anybody else out there cook in a decades-old kitchen with warped cabinetry, dulled counter tops, squeaky drawers, and cracking linoleum?  Certainly not the eager beaverettes who gobble up the chance to invite this handsome stranger in to rummage around in their pantries.

This brings me to fess up to the foundational source of my horror at the thought:  I subscribe to the Erma Bombeck credo that it is much easier on the conscience to pack away every tiny bit of leftover food into a tightly covered container and then throw it away two weeks later, after it has started to reproduce and turn odd colors.  This practice makes me a bit self-conscious about inviting guests into the clearing-up process.  Just imagine having a celebrity chef rooting around amongst all the various petri dishes.  I can’t even. 

But keeping dibs and dabs of leftovers has advantages as well, and in my defense, I rescue far more of those little bits and bobs than ever get sacrificed to the garbage disposal – which I don’t have in my 52 year old kitchen.  One excellent use for them is in homemade soups, and this being just one more in a long succession of wintry days here in the Upper Midwest, a week of soups seems just the prescription to soothe the weary soul who longs for fresh cantaloupe, but will no doubt miss these bubbling pots of heartiness when the summer heat and humidity come rolling in. 

So, from my own files and adapted from other cited sources, I offer you recipes for Chicken Lentil Soup With Celery, Light Tomato Soup Three Ways, a swoon-inducing Sweet Potato Soup, my carnivore’s version of Rachel Ray’s Curried Vegetable Soup, the Leftover Maven’s favorite Mish Mash Beef Chowder, and finally, Christmas Soup, based on a recipe from Alton Brown.   

That’s six days’ worth; on the seventh day, you rest, and serve up a soup-sampling smorgasbord to ensure that there are no leftover leftovers.  As always, non-foodies can skip to the last paragraph. 

For the chicken lentil soup, I had frozen leftover beans.  You can adjust things according to what you have on hand: 

3 stalks celery, sliced                                             ½ lge red onion, chopped

1 C cooked lentils                                                     ½ C cooked black-eyed peas

1 lge chicken breast, cooked                               1 tsp Cajun seasoning*

2 tsp chicken soup base                                         8 oz chopped tomatoes

juice from tomatoes                             +                water to make 2 C 

In a heavy pot, sprayed lightly with canola oil, soften celery and onion for 4-5 minutes over medium-low heat.  Chop or tear the precooked chicken breast into bite-size pieces and add it to the pot along with remaining ingredients, stir well, and simmer for about an hour.  Serves two.  *Make your own stash using one teaspoon each: white and black peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, ground red pepper, and paprika. 

My homemade version of tomato soup light (no corn starch, corn syrup, or preservatives) is so simple it’s ridiculous, and can be adjusted for those seeking more creaminess: 

14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes                         1 chicken bouillon cube

¾ C water                                                                   ½ tsp onion powder

1 TB powdered skim milk**                                2 tsp honey

fresh parsley, snipped 

Combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to bubbling.  Reduce heat and stir in powdered milk and honey.  Blend with an immersion blender until smooth and creamy. Sprinkle with parsley or float a rye toast cracker sprinkle with grated cheddar on top.  Serves two.  **Alternative stir-ins are ¼ cup evaporated skim milk milk or low fat sour cream. 

The first few sweet potato soup recipes I served to guests were mildly unsatisfactory on the texture front; a little gooey and stringy.  This one, however, was a silken delight on the tongue, the sweet perfectly balanced by the tart, and it came from the foil lid liner of my Dannon non-fat yogurt container.  I reduce the amount of oil – Two tablespoons? Are they serious? – and forgo the cliché of cilantro.  Toasted pumpkin seeds make a nice garnish, but so does a simple sprinkling of nutmeg or paprika:   

cooking oil spray                                                     1 lge sweet onion, sliced

2 tsp ground cumin or coriander                      3 lge sweet potatoes, peeled

6 C chicken broth                                                     1-¾ C plain yogurt 

In a heavy soup pot sprayed with cooking oil, sauté onions for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often.  Sprinkle softened onions with cumin or coriander.  Cube potatoes and add to pot along with broth; bring to a boil.  Cover pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Using an immersion blender (or in small batches carefully ladled into a blender or food processor), puree mixture until smooth and silky, adding in yogurt in ¼ cup amounts until fully incorporated.  Serves 12 according to the original recipe, six according to my personal experience.  (Note: I used ½ cup crème fraiche, which I happened to have on hand, along with 1-¼ cups yogurt, and it was absolutely luscious.) 

My version of the fabulous curried chicken soup calls for: 

1 TB safflower or canola oil                                                     2 med eggplant

1 sm head cauliflower (2 C)                                                     2 lge red bliss potatoes

1 lge red sweet pepper                                                              1 lge onion

3 cloves garlic, minced                                                             salt & pepper to taste

4 C chicken broth                                                                         2 TB mild curry paste 

¼ C mango chutney                                                                    2-15 oz cans chick peas

28 oz can chopped tomatoes                                                   2 baked s/b chicken breasts 

Peel and cube the eggplant, carve the cauliflower into smallish pieces, scrub and dice potatoes into 3/4” cubes, seed and chop the red pepper, peel and chop the onion, and chop the garlic fine.  Use the oil to coat the bottom of a large, heavy soup kettle.  Over medium high heat, cook the eggplant for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add cauliflower, potatoes, sweet pepper, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and broth.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the skinless, boneless baked chicken breast into bite-size pieces. 

Scoop out one cup of broth and combine with curry paste and chutney, whirring it with an immersion blender to a smooth paste (or, puree in a blender).  Add curry mixture back to pot along with chicken pieces, chick peas, and tomatoes, and simmer another 15-20 minutes, or until cauliflower and potatoes are tender.  Serves four generously, and at fewer than 500 calories per hearty serving. 

I, self-proclaimed queen of leftovers recycling, came up with this beef soup a few years ago when I was still doing the 8-5 routine and crazy-busy with life in general: 

2+ C chopped, cooked beef                                                   4 med carrots

        (leftover roast, steak, or stir-fry)                                2 + C chopped fresh tomatoes

1 med onion, minced                                                                1-14 oz can beef broth

1 med summer squash                                                             1 med zucchini

1 med eggplant                                                                            1 tsp Montreal Steak seasoning*** 

Peel and slice carrots; wash and cube summer squash and zucchini; peel and cube eggplant.  Place all ingredients in a stock pot and cook until carrots are tender, 20-30 minutes.  ***Makeyour own:   4 TB salt; 1 TB each black pepper and dehydrated onion; 1/2 TB each garlic powder, crushed red pepper, dried thyme, rosemary, and fennel.

And since there’s still so much white left over around here, an innards-warming batch of Christmas soup: 

1 # turkey kielbasa                                                vegetable oil spray

8 cloves garlic, minced                                        1 # red kidney beans, soaked

8 C chicken broth                                                    1# Yukon gold potatoes

4 C fresh kale                                                             ¼ C red wine vinegar

½ tsp ground pepper                                             4 oz Romano cheese 

Brown the kielbasa and garlic in a large dutch oven or heavy soup kettle coated with cooking spray for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add beans and broth; cover and cook for 45 minutes.  Add potatoes, cover, and cook another 15 minutes.  Wash kale and tear into bite size pieces; add to pot, cover, and cook another ten minutes.  Add vinegar and pepper. Serve, distributing kielbasa evenly, in deep bowls to six, with a sprinkling of finely grated cheese. 

In addition to ushering out winter, soup is a great way to introduce vegetables and fill up stomachs, and the clean-up is a breeze:  a one-pot meal requiring one bowl and one spoon per person.  All that’s needed is a quick rinse to prepare dishes for the dishwasher – which I also don’t have in my 52 year old kitchen.  Well, I do; but it walks on two legs and does a lot of grousing about no one ever helping in the kitchen.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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