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Tuesday, September 26

Gapers Block

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It's officially soup time. The coughs in my office are growing in number (and getting closer), stress levels are about to ramp up for the holidays, and the amount of work I'll be doing won't be lightening up until after New Year's. Which means that my desire to cook involved and healthy dishes isn't going to happen.

Not having much time means that soup is a perfect option. You may think that soup needs a lot of time to meld flavors and soften vegetables and delicately emerge to grace a spoon with smooth and subtle goodness. But that isn't the case if you start with tasty ingredients and keep it simple.

One of the easiest mistakes is to put too many conflicting flavors into an impromptu soup. Start easy. If it seems bland then you can always add some spices, fresh herbs, or even flavored oils or vinegars to bring some pizzazz to your soup.

If I'm making a long-simmered soup, then I'll start with water and build up my stock slowly. But if I'm making a quick, after-dinner soup then I'll start with pre-made stock and add to it. And if you add right, you don't have to add much. If you've gotten some light vegetable or chicken stock and some frozen wontons, then you can warm up the stock, add a few wontons per person, throw in a couple of slices of fresh ginger, a couple drops of sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce, and you have soup. Simple, easy, healthy and quick. It shouldn't take more than 15 minutes for the wontons to cook while the stock warms up.

Instead of just giving you a few recipes, I'm also going to provide some proportions measured out for two large servings, or four small ones. This way you either have dinner and lunch, a meal for two, or a course in a large dinner. Feel free to multiply the ingredients as needed to get more for a larger group.

The first important thing to purchase is a flavored stock or broth. Chicken, beef, vegetable, or you can even use a demi-glace dissolved in water (watch out for the sodium content) as a good place to start. This means that you've got something simple but tasty right from the start that you can only make better.

Most cans of soup claim that 8 ounces (1 cup) is a full serving of soup. If you're not eating a toasted cheese sandwich or salad or something else with this soup, you'll likely be hungry, so I'm making each serving to be about 16 ounces, or 2 cups per serving.

After you've chosen a broth, you'll want to add an aromatic. That sounds fancy, but just means something that smells really good. Next you'll want to decide if you'll add something thick and chewable. If you truly are nursing a cold, some warm and flavorful broth might be enough.

To make two servings of a quick soup, you'll need to add 32 ounces of broth or stock (or tomato juice) with one or two items from each of these categories.

• 1 clove of garlic
• 3-4 slices of ginger with the skin removed
• 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil
• 4 2-inch long pieces of fresh lemongrass
• 1 star anise
• 1 jalape–no pepper (with or without seeds)
• 1/4 cup of diced onion sautéedŽ till tender in 2 teaspoons of olive oil
• 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs: dill, basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, rosemary (1 teaspoon of this since it is very pungent)
• 2 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy and then crumbled
• 2 tablespoons of miso paste

Hearty Things to Add
• 2-4 frozen wontons per person
• 1/4 pound of frozen ravioli per person
• 1 cup of split lentils (These may take 30-40 minutes to cook, depending on the size of them)
• 1/3 cup of barley (this will increase your cooking time to 40 minutes or so.)
• 1/2 cup of rice
• 1/2 cup or 2 ounces of dried noodles or pasta
• 1/2 cup of finely chopped potato
• 1 cup of any frozen or fresh vegetable, chopped to fit easily on a spoon
• 1/2 block of firm tofu (pressed to remove as much of the water as possible and then cut into spoon-sized cubes)
• 2 cups of roughly chopped fresh spinach or other green that wilts easily

If your aromatic needs to be sautéed in olive oil or butter, do so first. Otherwise, place all of the ingredients into a saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and after 15-20 minutes your vegetables should be tender, your rice should be softened, your flavors should be melded together. If you're adding pasta, you may want to wait until the soup is simmering before adding it to the pot, then cook it according to the package directions so it doesn't get mushy. If you're adding frozen vegetables or other vegetables that you don't want to overcook, wait and add them during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. Otherwise, the goal of this soup is to add everything and let it simmer until it is hot, then serve.

If you're unsure about how to make these work together, and simply don't have the brain-power to experiment due to a fever, a long work day, an argument with your boyfriend or any of the various stressors we have in our lives, I've simplified things by creating a few simple recipes that you can follow.

Red Spicy Lentil Soup
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced or run through a garlic press
1 teaspoon of Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
32 ounces of vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup of red lentils (or yellow or green or any other color really)
1 small potato, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon of salt

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and the olive oil and stir frequently for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion is tender and translucent. Mince or press the garlic and add to the saucepan. Stir for just a few seconds before adding the paprika (the non-Hungarian kind will help make the soup more red but won't add much flavor or spice.) Stir until the onion and garlic are coated in paprika. Add the broth and lower the heat to medium-low or low. You want a simmer, not a boil. Rinse the lentils under cool water and pick out any stray sticks or rocks that may have gotten in your bag. Once they're picked through and clean, add them to your saucepan. Cover and let the pan simmer for 15 minutes. Stir a few times to keep the lentils from sticking to the pan. Test until it seems like the lentils are almost cooked through and dense, but not crunchy in the middle. Now add the chopped potato and salt and increase the heat slightly. Let it boil for about 5 minutes, or until the potato is easily pierced with a fork. Serve immediately.
Makes 2-4 servings.

So Much Better Than "Boring Ramen" Noodle Soup
32 ounces of broth or stock
3-4 slices of ginger, about 1/8" thick
2 stalks of green onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
4 2-inch long pieces of lemongrass
1/4 cup of chopped fresh parsley
juice from 1/2 of a lemon
either 1 pack of noodles from packaged ramen, or 8 ounces of glass or cellophane noodles

Combine all ingredients except for the lemon juice, noodles and parsley in a covered saucepan over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat, remove the cover and add the noodles, parsley and lemon juice. If using packaged Ramen noodles, cook for 3 minutes before turning off the flame and letting the soup sit for 2 minutes. This will permit the noodles to soak up some of the flavor. If you're using glass noodles, turn off the heat immediately after adding the noodles and let it sit for 3 minutes before serving.
Makes 2-4 servings.

Vegetable Barley Soup
1/3 cup of pearl barley
32 ounces of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, cleaned and finely chopped
1/2 of a firm tofu block sliced in half and pressed to remove excess water
1 cup of fresh or frozen green beans or mixed veggies
salt and pepper to taste

Put the barley and vegetable stock in a covered saucepan over medium-high heat. Let it come to a boil and reduce the heat to medium. While this boils, place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onion, carrots and celery and stir it frequently for 7-10 minutes. The onions should be translucent and the carrots should be slightly soft before adding the vegetables to the saucepan. Keep it covered and let it cook for about 30 minutes. Chop the tofu into squares and add it with the frozen vegetables and salt and pepper. Let it cook for no more than 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 2-4 servings.

Tomato Rice Soup
1 14-ounce can of beef broth
32 ounces of tomato juice (or 32 ounces of water mixed with 1/3 cup of tomato paste)
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup of brown rice
salt and pepper to taste

Add all of the contents to a saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. Cover and let it cook for 20 minutes. Test the rice for doneness and taste to see if salt and pepper need to be added. Cook for longer if desired. Remove the bay leaves and serve immediately. This soup will actually taste better the next day, especially if you leave the bay leaf in the soup.
Makes 2-4 servings.

Hopefully one of these recipes will encourage you to put down that can of condensed soup and have a go at making your own. Or maybe the ingredient list will inspire your own combination of elements to create a quick and flavorful soup. And maybe these soups will fortify your immune system and help keep you warm on the inside so you don't get a cold, but if you do these should be perfect recipes to help you get over one. I'm hoping for prevention this year, personally.

Feel free to share any of your quick-soup ideas, or combinations in the comments below.

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Brandy / November 27, 2007 12:03 PM

Brilliant article, Cinnamon.

I live on soup year round. If I didn't make soup, I swear I wouldn't eat. My deal is that I make a big batch and eat it for one meal a day for a week. Yeah, it's repetitive, but that's fine compared to time I save cooking and worrying about what to eat.

A couple things to support what you're saying:

- Less cooking time = More, better soup. I used to cook soup in crockpots for FAR too long. Everything turns into a mushy melange. Use good broth and cook quickly. You'll get a soup that's fast, fresh and much tastier.

- Like C said, have a short ingredient list. I learned from experience NOT to throw everything into a soup. Like mixing colors - too many will just end up in a grayish brown mess. Flavors in soup do the same.

- I'm a crying wuss/mess when cutting onions. Therefore many of my soups opt for lots of minced garlic and pepper bases.

I really do hope your article sways folks away from canned soup! Viva la Soup!

mary / November 27, 2007 12:19 PM

i loooove soup!! thanks for these recipes, i'm def. going to try some out!! also, when i studied abroad in florence, we learned how to make a thick soup called "pappa al pomodoro" which is a thick tomato-y basil-y soup.

i dont even know the specific measurements but i'll try to remember how i've made it in past seasons:

~1 loaf of old italian bread cut into pieces (1 to 1 1/2 inches thick) -- leave a loaf out the night before if you dont have any laying around, or you can cheat like i have and toast the bread for a short amount of time after the pieces have been cut
~3 or 4 cloves of garlic chopped up
~olive oil
~can of skinned whole tomatos (either one of those huge ones or 2 small)
~1 can of chicken or vegetable broth
~1 bunch basil

1.In large pot, cook the chopped garlic in some oil until slightly browned
2.Add tomatos (with the "juice") and crush with back of spoon.
3. When tomatos have fully "fallen apart" add 1/2 the broth and torn pieces of basil.
4. Layer the pieces of bread across the top of the soup (they should soak up the ingredients)
5. When the bread has "fallen apart" add the rest of the broth and basil.
6. Drizzle olive oil on the top of the "mush" and enjoy!!

Wow I make this sound unappetizing, but it comes out to be a stew which is incredibly delicious (esp if you like tomato soup, and basil).

Search for Pappa al Pomodoro recipes if you are someone who likes more exact recipes!!!

Brandy / November 27, 2007 12:26 PM

Holy crow, Mary! I was just looking at a stale half-loaf of italian bread while I was eating my post-Thanksgiving Turkey & Rice Stew. Thanks for the recipe!

Souplovers unite!

Margaret / November 28, 2007 6:28 PM

Wow! A coworker turned me onto your site and it's just fabulous! I truly love how you've demystified your soup "recipes"...I believe a recipe never needs to be followed exactly, but so many people are scared to stray. I say use the ingredients you have and invent your own recipes. We can't wait to try some of your inspiring ideas! Cheers!

Jenny / December 2, 2007 9:45 AM

Cinnamon, these are fabulous recipes/formula and I can't wait to try. I'm a fellow year-round soup fanatic...and after living with a French woman, my favorite soups are the purees, which we ate three times a week while I lived there. They're the easiest thing in the world -- take a base vegetable (zucchini, broccoli are my favorites) cut them and simmer them until tender. Throw'em in a blender with good cheese (cheddar, fontina, asiago or something sharp for the broccoli, a creamy cheese for the zucchini and some salt, plus the cooking water. Blend. Eat. Yum.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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