“Beautiful Soup, so rich and green/Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?/Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
–Lewis Carroll —Alice in Wonderland
Eat soup first and eat it last and live until a hundred years is past” – French proverb
Of soup and love, the first is best – Spanish proverb
Yes, raise a spoon! For its flavor, aroma, nutrition, and belly-warming powers, what beats a steaming bowl of soup? And what better time to soup it up than now, with those bountiful bushels of seasonal squashes, potatoes, and colorful root vegetables calling us from both indoor and outdoor markets.
Back Story of the Bowl
Soup has been drunk, sipped, or spooned up since Neolithic times and is integral to every one of the world’s great cuisines. In Japan, it is often sipped as the first meal of the day in the form of fish broth while in the Netherlands, it’s polished off as dessert.
And every soup story is different. Take chowder. Did you know that the color of chowder can be red, yellow, pink, white beige of chocolate, or multi-colored? That it can be thick and opaque, or thin and opalescent? The final effect depends on how the ingredients are mixed and matched. The first written reference to chowder appeared in the diary of New Englander Ben Lynde in 1732, while the oldest known reprinted recipe for chowder appeared in 1751 in the Boston Evening Post.
But soup has humble beginnings. It originally was nothing more than a slice of bread over which broth was spooned. Soup, in fact, is the Teutonic word for “bread soup” which in Portugal is known as sop, or as panade in France and garbure in Italy. And everyday broth poured over everyday stale bread still makes a nourishing and restorative (and cost-effective) meal in many a global household.
Some of the earliest soups were porridges and grains cooked in broth including couscous soups and farina gruels, oatmeal soups, and rice congee eaten as staples in many cultures from the Middle East to Iceland. Over time that bowl began to fill with a symphony of other ingredients including vegetables, pasta, assorted peas and beans, herbs, meat, fish, poultry.
The invention of the can opener and vacuum-packed canning led to the first canned soups in 1897 (Consommé, Oxtail, Chicken and Vegetable were the debut flavors).
Practical health benefits? Soups, past, present, and future—hydrate better than water, are inexpensive to make, easy to prepare from what’s already in your pantry, (most) freeze well for future meals, and leftovers can be turned into stews, dips, and sauces with a little tweaking. Nutrient-wise, soups (the good ones) provide the essential vitamins and minerals and inflammation-fighting antioxidants we all need for nutritional self-defense in the cold weather. Something as simple as a bowl of homemade soup is a slurp in the right direction of disease prevention. According to reports from the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and herbs (just what you get in a bowl of homemade soup) is associated with a reduced risk of many common forms of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund reports that the consumption of at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits daily is associated with a 50% reduced risk for cancer. That produce-rich soup also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and degenerative diseases such as arthritis and diabetes. And forget fattening. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University say that participants who ate a bowl of soup, waited for 15 minutes, then picked up the spoon again, took in 20% fewer calories than the no-soup group. Any broth will do the trick.
Why not just buy it readymade, you ask? The truth is soup from scratch trumps canned or boxed or pouched versions every time. Most commercial products are highly processed and high in sodium which can leach minerals including calcium from your bones and hike blood pressure. Cream-based kinds may be also high in saturated fats which contribute to heart disease. And then there are always those pesky additives.
So get out the stockpot. Here are a few tasty, filling, and curative plant-based soups that can be made (and then made again with variations) from fall through New Year’s.
And if you want to soup up that homemade OR store-bought soup to be a little bit tastier and healthier? Here are a few add-ins.
- Roasted crushed garlic to taste
- A bay leaf ( Pluck it out before serving)
- Fresh ground black pepper (rich in antioxidants) and/or a spoonful of nutritional yeast flakes for B vitamins and a nutty kick
- A spoonful of white, red, or brown miso (fermented soybeans) paste for umami
- A dash or two of good red or white wine or sherry
- A few pinches of fresh poultry seasoning or your favorite herb (thyme, tarragon, dill, etc.) finely minced added the last few minutes of simmering
- A dribble of Balsamic, white wine or red wine vinegar
- A crushed leaf of toasted Nori
- A swirl or two of pesto or hummus before serving
- Finely grated dairy or non-dairy parmesan-type cheese
Don’t forget leftovers!
- Leftover use #1: Beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into any leftover soup. Spoon into greased Pyrex baking dish and bake 20 mins in a preheated 350-degree oven. Optional: First, top with grated cheese or breadcrumbs. Quick lunch or late dinner.
- Leftover use #2: Puree any leftover soup with cooked or raw shredded vegetables (such as carrots, corn, potatoes, peas, and broccoli). Add stock or broth and/ or a little low-fat half and half or coconut cream. Blend well. Season, heat and serve as a quick bisque.
- Soup in a Flash: Combine 1 can of any drained rinsed beans with 1 or more cups of low sodium vegetable broth and 2 cloves of crushed minced garlic. Process in blender or processor. Simmer in a saucepan, covered, for 10 minutes. Stir in fresh baby spinach leaves or other green. Cover and simmer for 3 more minutes. Finish, adding a grind of black pepper and some shredded cheese or cubes of tofu.
Reheat Tip #1: To reheat a cream soup or to keep warm until ready to serve, place in the top of a double boiler. Reheating over a direct flame will cause scorching.
Reheat Tip #2: Don’t freeze soups containing pasta. Remove pasta before freezing and add back before serving a second time. Pasta continues to absorb moisture in the freezer and becomes soggy after defrosting.
SLIGHTLY FRUITY LENTIL SOUP
1 cup red, green, or French lentils
4 cups water or broth
1 tsp. each ground cumin and dry mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup minced dried apricots
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Black pepper and cayenne pepper
Place lentils and water in a deep saucepot and bring to a boil. Turn to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 minutes. Add onion, cumin, and mustard and cook covered for another 10 minutes. Add garlic, apricot, and salt, cover, and simmer another 10 minutes, adding more liquid, if needed. Check and correct seasoning. Serve hot with a few slivers of apricot and a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream.
Options: Used dried peaches or apples in place of apricots; stir in a cup of steamed frozen peas or steamed baby potatoes last minute for color, fiber and texture.
CREAMY ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP
1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds — white, purple, or orange), cut into bite-size florets
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
One medium onion, chopped
Two cloves garlic, pressed and minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp. unsalted butter (dairy or plant-based)
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice or to taste
Pinch ground nutmeg
Garnish: 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chives and/or green onions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. On the baking sheet, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly and evenly coated in oil. Arrange in a single layer and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake until the cauliflower is tender and caramelized on the edges, about 25 minutes, tossing halfway.
Once cauliflower is done, warm the remaining olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan and add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt, then the broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Combine with cauliflower, setting aside ½ cup of the vegetable.
Add nutmeg and lemon juice, Stir in the reserved cauliflower. Garnish and serve.
Options: Substitute broccoli for cauliflower; substitute 1 cup of dairy or non-dairy milk for 1 cup of broth; stir in a little finely grated radish or carrot for color and texture before serving.
CARROT GINGER SOUP
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onions
3 garlic cloves, smashed
2 heaping cups chopped carrots
1½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
Salt and fresh black pepper
Coconut milk (optional); pesto, optional
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt and pepper and cook stirring until softened about 5 minutes. Add the smashed garlic cloves and carrots to the pot and cook about 5 minutes more, stirring.
Stir in ginger; add the apple cider vinegar, and then 3 to 4 cups of broth, (depending on your desired consistency). Reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are soft,
Let soup cool slightly and transfer to a blender/processor. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve with a drizzle of coconut milk and/or a dollop of pesto, if desired.
Variation: Try peeled chopped parsnips in place of carrots; add a cup of cooked sweet potato to the blender for a thicker bisque-style soup.
Gluten-Free Soup Crackers
1 cup gluten-free flour blend
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter or butter substitute
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon honey or agave nectar
¼ – ½ cup water
Poppy, dill or chia, or sesame seeds for the top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together the olive oil, melted butter, and honey or agave. Add the gluten-free flour blend, salt, and ¼ cup of water.
Blend until the dough is thick, and then shape into a ball. Add more water (gradually) if needed, Place the ball of dough between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper and use a rolling pin to roll about ⅛. inch thick. (Keep the same thickness, especially at the edges, to avoid burning). Peel off the top sheet. Sprinkle a little water on the dough, and smooth the tops. Sprinkle on seeds and roll them into the dough. Cut into strips or squares.
Bake 10 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet and bake 5-10 minutes longer. Let cool on a rack or overturned pan.
Options: Add 1-2 teaspoons of chopped parsley, dill or cilantro or sesame, dill, chia, or poppy seeds to dough for crunch before rolling out.
Enough to accompany 4 servings of soup.