Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Soup Season

Alas! It's here - a logical reason to make soup as many times as I want in any given week! My favorite time of year is right now: the colors, the falling leaves, pumpkins and spiced drinks. It's the precursor to the festive, holiday season, but, more importantly, it's soup season. Let me make myself clear, I really like soup. I think it goes without saying - but I'll say it anyway - the list is endless when it comes to soup and what you can do with it. We eat it all year around, but it's this time of year when it's extra cozy and hip to have it. The only soup I don't like is cold soup. Maybe I'm not sophisticated enough, but I can't get into it. Soup should be hot and an immediate aversion occurs when this cold option hits my tongue. But the hot stuff, now that's where it's at.

A couple things I'd like to mention about soup:

a) Its inexpensive
b) Its versatile
c) Its easy and low maintenance
d) Low in calories and fat
e) You can use up a lot of things in your refrigerator to create a one-of-a-kind soup.

Soup has a long, long history and many historians say soup is as old as the art of cooking itself. It is incorporated in most personal menus - regardless of economic status. Its minimalist qualities lend itself well to folks with small budgets, but its refined versatility allows for upper class acceptance. Soup has evolved over the years and variations of it have spread through so many cultures: Italian, Russian, French, Greek, Thai and Chinese. That's why it's so fun to make because, like I said, the ideas are endless.

So, I'd like to share a couple of recipes that make our meal rotation frequently. We, literally, eat soup all year around. We slow it down when weather starts heating up, but in the Pacific Northwest, those months are few and far between.

Check out some of our favorites. Please note, I make changes to suit my tastes and you should too:

Similar to the green pea version, I like the yellow variety because it tastes slightly lighter and maybe a bit sweeter. I make this a vegetarian version and omit the ham. This is, by far, the cheapest soup I make, yet, it is so tasty and low fat it's shocking.

1 lb yellow split peas (soak overnight)
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves
Salt & pepper

I kid you not, this is it. Place everything in soup pan or slow cooker and cover with water to about one inch from the top of the peas. Season to taste. Cook low all day until peas thicken and, wha-la, you have a tasty, hearty, healthy, low fat and very inexpensive soup.

Stop me now, because this is one of my favorite soups of all-time. I fall in love when I find a place - or person - who can nail this soup. I should travel the country tasting French Onion soup and document my findings on who creates the best. But, for now, I'll give you my version and let you decide. I, personally, don't enjoy the bread and cheese traditionally placed on top and broiled before serving, but, you can add it if you enjoy it. I'll include it for traditions sake. Also, the red wine just delivers this soup to another level. I replaced white wine for the red and couldn't be happier.

Olive oil (I replaced the butter for heart-healthy olive oil, but do what you like.)
6 onions (about 3 lbs), sliced
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 cup (or more) dry, red wine
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups beef broth
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1-2 pinches of brown sugar
3 dashes of Worcestershire
salt and pepper

4 sourdough bread slices, toasted
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Melt olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until very tender and brown, about 45 minutes to an hour. The key is to let the onions cook until they caramelize. Add wine and simmer until reduced to glaze, about 3 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, beef broth, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire. Simmer 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If adding the bread topping, preheat broiler. Ladle soup in to oven-safe bowls. Top each with slice of toast and grated cheeses. Broil until cheeses melt and bubble.

This is probably the most sophisticated soup I make. Not in terms of ingredients, but in terms of flavor. Adding sherry and heavy cream to the recipe increases the hierarchy of this simple soup.

Olive oil
3 large shallots, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup) or 1 onion chopped
1 lb mushrooms, chopped. (Can use dry and soak in warm water, save mushroom water to add to stock)
3 Tbl cream sherry
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped chives or scallions
1/2-3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in sauce pan over medium heat and saute shallots and mushrooms, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown. Add sherry and boil until evaporated. Stir in broth and mushroom water (if using) and simmer 15 minutes, or until mixture is reduced. Puree 1/2 mixture in food processor and return to pan. Add heavy cream and season with salt and pepper.

This is simple and tasty. I add chopped yellow potatoes to give it a heartier feel. Adding wine in most things, especially soups, just makes my day. It gives me an excuse to open a bottle for cooking and what else is there to do but enjoy a glass or two.

2 medium leeks
3/4 lb mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot
1 celery stick
5-6 yellow potatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 14 1/2 veggie broth
1 Tbl chopped chives

Cut leeks in 1/4 inch thick rounds. Wash leeks well. Thinly slice mushrooms. In saucepan heat olive oil and saute leeks about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, carrot, celery until mushroom liquid evaporates and begin to brown. Add wine and boil 1 minute. Add broth and chopped potatoes and simmer until potatoes are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives or scallions.

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