Between the crazy North Texas weather, dipping into freezing one day and spiking into the 70s the next, and the arrival of my annual Christmas cold, there’s been little else that I’ve wanted lately for dinner than soup.
Any kind of soup, really, but one that can be made quickly, i.e. in less than an hour, is what I aim for. Because no matter how bad I feel, there are still things to be crossed off of my daily to-do list. Those Netflix shows are not going to watch themselves.
Especially in the winter, I’ve always been big on soups, and in the worst of scenarios, when I can’t find the energy to make my own, I’ll buy the soup that comes in a carton.
I shouldn’t admit this probably, but the one in France with peas, mint and Parmesan is a favorite, and in Texas, there’s a roasted red bell pepper soup that’s not bad at all. Look for it.
The deal with soups, no matter how plain, is that they must be made to feel special so you don’t feel like you’re settling for a boring meal.
You take a store-bought soup, even, and pick up a fresh baguette on the way home to go with it, or add something unexpected, like the tofu croutons, chopped pistachios, or the fried basil in the soups below, and the whole soup experience changes.
You no longer have a sad, naked bowl of soup in front of you; you have a bowl of goodness, and one that marks the beginning of more meals in France than not.
Blended soups are common in France, and they’re the easiest of all soups to make. Just about any vegetable, even leftovers, can be cooked up with some stock and transformed into a smooth, creamy soup, whether you add actual cream or not.
Those blenders aren’t just for frozen margaritas. Get souping, peoples.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of COWGIRL CHEF: Texas Cooking with a French Accent (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef)
Tomato Parmesan soup with fried basil
Makes 4 servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 large basil leaves, torn, plus 10 more whole leves
- 1 (8-ounce) jar sundried tomatoes in oil, drained (save the oil for vinaigrettes)
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 4 cups (1 quart) chicken stock
- 1 Parmesan rind
- 1 cup canola oil
- Parmesan, for serving
1. Put the olive oil and garlic in a stockpot over medium heat. When the garlic sizzles and you can smell it, add the 4 torn basil leaves, stir, and let them wilt.
2. Add the sundried tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and Parmesan rind, along with 4 cups of water. Increase heat to medium-high, let it boil, then reduce to low and cook for 30 more minutes. Puree the soup in the blender for the smoothest consistency (a hand blender will work, too).
3. Fry the basil leaves. Put a pot of salted water onto boil. Drop the basil leaves in the water one by one, blanching them only for 3 or 4 seconds each, and lay them onto a paper towel-lined plate to dry. Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a wok or skillet. Again, one at a time (because if you try to do more than one, they’ll quickly overcook and go brown), take the basil leaves and fry them for 2 seconds on each side, then return to the paper towel-lined plate.
4. Divide your soup among 4 bowls and top with fried basil leaves and pass the Parmesan cheese.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 365 calories, 26 grams fat, 29 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 1 milligram cholesterol, 476 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 62 percent of calories from fat.
Miso broccoli soup and tofu croutons
Makes 4 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1-inch knob fresh ginger, grated
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds broccoli crowns, cut into florets
- 4 cups chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Baked tofu croutons, recipe follows
- Sesame seeds, for serving
1. Put olive oil and garlic in a stockpot over medium heat. When you smell the garlic, after 2 to 3 minutes, whisk in the miso and grated ginger.
2. Add the broccoli and chicken stock along with 2 cups of water and cook until the broccoli is slightly soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree soup in the blender until smooth. Serve in bowls with a few tofu croutons and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 130 calories, 10 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, no cholesterol, 225 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.
Baked tofu croutons
Adapted from David Lebovitz's blog and Eat Your Vegetables, by Joe Yonan
Makes 2 to 4 servings
- 14 ounces firm organic tofu
- 2-inch knob fresh ginger, grated
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (plain)
- 1 teaspoon chili paste
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
1. Drain the tofu by putting it on a plate with something heavy, like a saucepan on top of it, for 30 minutes or so. Slice the tofu into small, 1/2 -inch cubes, about the size of a salad crouton.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients except the cornstarch. Add the tofu cubes, toss and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.
3. To bake the tofu: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a piece of parchment on a large baking sheet so the tofu won’t stick to the pan (it likes to do this).
4. Drain the tofu, saving the marinade for a dipping sauce, a stir-fry or another batch of baked tofu. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the tofu and mix with a spoon, making sure all of the cubes are evenly coated. Lay the tofu out on prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until crisp. Use in soups, salads, rice bowls or stir-fries (or just eat them off the pan, like popcorn).
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 136 calories, 8 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, no cholesterol, 274 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 53 percent of calories from fat.
Butternut squash + pear soup
Makes 4 servings
- 2 shallots
- 2 pears (I used Anjou)
- 6 cups butternut squash, cubed
- 4 cups (1 quart) chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup pistachios, for serving
1. Slice the shallots and put them in a stockpot with 1/4 cup water. Turn the heat to medium and let cook until the shallots soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Peel the pears, remove the cores and stems, and chop into 1-inch cubes. Add them to the pot along with the butternut squash cubes and chicken stock.
3. Crush the fennel seeds with the back of your knife and roughly chop them. Put them in the pot along with the salt and pepper. Stir, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and let cook for 15 minutes or until the pear and butternut squash are easily pierced with a knife.
4. Carefully pour the contents of the stockpot into your blender and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings. Return to the pot to warm through or let cool and refrigerate if you’re planning to serve the soup the next day. Before serving, roughly chop the pistachios and sprinkle on top.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 240 calories, 8 grams fat, 43 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein, no cholesterol, 50 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 24 percent of calories from fat.
Chicken tortilla soup remix
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 jalapeño, sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch cilantro stems
- 1 clove of garlic, halved
- 8 peppercorns
- Sea salt
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 sweet potato
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 white onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 3 corn tortillas
- Cilantro, for serving
- Avocado, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
1. To poach the chicken thighs: Put the chicken, sliced jalapeño, bay leaves, cilantro stems, garlic clove, peppercorns and salt (about 1 tablespoonful) in a medium stockpot and cover with water by 4 inches. Turn the heat to medium-high and when it boils, skim off the foam, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Set the timer for 10 minutes and pull out one of the thighs to test for doneness. If done, remove the rest, let cool slightly, then shred with a fork. Set aside.
Advance planning: Poach and shred the chicken the day or night before you want to make this soup and keep it in the fridge.
2. Roast the poblano pepper by making a few slits in the flesh and placing it directly on the gas flame, turning once or twice so it blackens all over. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to cool for 10 minutes or so. Scrape off the skin, remove the seeds, and chop. You should have about 1/3 cup.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel the sweet potato and chop into 1-inch cubes. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and spread out on a large baking sheet. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until browned on two sides, turning once.
Advance planning: Roast the sweet potatoes in advance and refrigerate until ready to make the soup.
4. Put the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stockpot along with the chopped onion and garlic over medium-low heat. Cook until the onions become translucent and you can smell them, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chopped poblano, the diced tomatoes, black beans, chicken stock and cumin. Bring to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the chicken and 2 cups of the sweet potatoes and cook for 15 more minutes.
6. While the soup’s cooking, char the tortillas on the gas flame. Tear them into smallish pieces and put in blender along with about 1 cup of the soup liquid. Blend until smooth. Pour the tortilla juice back into the soup and stir to combine. Taste for seasonings.
7. Serve in shallow bowls with chopped cilantro and avocado on top, and lime wedges on the side.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 464 calories, 22 grams fat, 46 grams carbohydrates, 39 grams protein, 57 milligrams cholesterol, 932 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber, 36 percent of calories from fat.