Warming Winter Soups

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Photo by Matthew T. Stallbaumer
Wow! What a difference it makes to use fresh sweet corn in this warming winter soup.

Eat in season with these simple, savory winter soup recipes. Once you taste soup made with fresh produce, you’ll never go back to soup in a can. Plus, homemade goodness doesn’t have to mean spending all day in the kitchen.

Cold Weather Soup Recipes

Basic Vegetable Stock Recipe
Tomato Tortilla Soup Recipe
Fresh Garden Minestrone Soup Recipe
Blue Cheese Broccoli Potato Soup Recipe
Sweet Corn and Red Pepper Soup Recipe

Warming Winter Soups

Soup season is right around the corner, and if you have a garden, the best ingredients are just a few steps away. Fresh produce from your garden or the farmers market is the key to flavorful homemade soups. Whether it’s a chilled berry purée, a light brothy soup or a thick, creamy winter warmer, once you’ve tasted the rich and comforting results of your labors, there’s no going back to soup in a can. Plus, homemade goodness doesn’t have to mean spending all day in the kitchen. With a good stock ready to go, basic kitchen staples and fresh produce, you can put a delicious soup on the table in about half an hour. And most soups freeze or can beautifully, so you can put a scrumptious soup together one day, and enjoy it for many meals to come. You may have heard that soup always tastes better the next day — it’s true! Homemade soups cost a lot less, too — especially if you garden. If not, look for great end-of-season deals at the farmers market, and stock up!

The All-Important Soup Stock

Soup stock is the often unnoticed foundation that makes a soup full-bodied rather than bland and watery. It’s a flavorful liquid in which vegetables, meat and/or fish are cooked slowly, in order to extract their full essence. Making soup stock is a perfect companion to gardening. Simply toss your less-than-perfect culls (complete with trimmings, leaves and peels) and those too-small-to-peel garlic cloves and potatoes, plus a few herbs and seasonings into a heavy pot filled with water. (I find that starting with cold or room temperature water helps the veggies exude even more flavor.) Then just let it simmer while you go about your day.

You can keep plenty of stock frozen and ready to use. If you have a little extra room in the freezer, you also can store veggie trimmings that would have ended up in the disposal or compost pile, until there’s enough for great stock.

Soup stock can be based on vegetables, fowl, beef, fish or even miso. Experiment with different ingredients to suit your tastes and use what’s in season and on hand. You don’t need to peel any veggies — the skins add nutrients and flavor. Just rinse the dirt off. With chicken, skin is optional; it provides more flavor, but also more fat. Simmered bones add calcium and other nutrients, but you can leave them out if you prefer.

After letting it simmer for a couple of hours, strain and discard the solids, then allow the stock to cool. Don’t let it sit around any longer than the time it takes to reach room temperature. If you don’t intend to make soup immediately, freeze or refrigerate the stock for later use.

Traditional Soup Stock Techniques

Soup stocks can be enriched or thickened by adding wine, cream, puréed vegetables, miso, or starches such as wheat or oat flour. If you’re inventing a soup with whatever is on hand, here’s a great way to begin: Sauté diced onions, celery, carrots, garlic and herbs  in just enough oil or butter to coat the bottom of your pot. Brown the vegetables slightly, then deglaze the browned bottom of the pot with stock or dry white wine.

Once the pan is deglazed, add half your stock and the ingredients that will take the longest time to cook. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are almost done. Next, add enough stock to create the desired volume. Return to a boil and add the remaining ingredients. Remove from heat. Adjust seasonings and allow the soup to sit for as long as possible before serving, to let the flavors meld.

To freeze soup, allow about an inch of space in the container for expansion. To can soup, pressure can according to recommendations for the least acidic ingredients, typically 30 to 50 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. (For more about canning, see Learn to Can for Homegrown Flavor, August/September 2005.)

Instant Flavor Enhancers

To add even more depth to your homemade soups, try some of the following tried-and-true techniques for boosting flavor:

• Add grated or puréed potato, squash, zucchini, onion or garlic early in the process; they’ll eventually dissolve.
• Pop in an herb-infused ice cube. (Blend fresh herbs with oil and a little water, and keep frozen in ice cube trays.)
• Add a hefty dollop of tomato paste, honey, molasses, nut butter, pesto, miso or nutritional yeast (the base of many bouillon cubes).
• Spice up soups based on tomatoes, beans or cream with dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin or chili powder.
• Add complexity with red or white wine, cognac, brandy, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice or vinegar.

Now it’s time to try one of the following recipes. Or take “stock” of what’s in your kitchen and garden, find the best market deals, and experiment away!

See the winter soup recipes at the top of this article.