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As winter gets into full swing in Sonoma County, here are some warming soup ideas

I love to make a one-pot meal of hearty vegetable soup for dinner when the holiday sparkle is a distant memory and spring still seems so very far away. In other words, in the depths of winter, there's little better than a warming bowl of soup to sip.

It's a goal of mine to make at least one soup a week, full of vegetables please, to satiate my need for comfort food while also giving my family much-needed nourishment during these chilly evenings.

If I'm lucky, I will be able to pick up a loaf of our favorite seeded sourdough bread from Village Bakery in Sebastopol before it sells out. It is the perfect companion to whatever is in the pot. We'll sit down to an admittedly simple meal of soup, bread and cheese or hummus, but it is something we all enjoy.

Making use of the current bounty of winter vegetables brings comfort and color to the table. Soup is also a wonderful make-ahead meal for busy weeknights. And while a chewy bread - preferably from your local bakery - and cheese, hummus or a salad round out the meal nicely, the best soups need no further accompaniment.

Perusing the farmer's market or the produce section of your

local market can bring easy inspiration. Try roasting your vegetables for extra flavor before cooking with some vegetable broth or water and blending into a smooth puree. And incorporating legumes or pasta elevates a simple bowl of soup into a one-pot meal that both nourishes and satisfies.

Add as many vegetables as you can to your base: start with sautéing garlic and onion, then add carrots and celery for even more flavor and nutritional benefit. Try throwing a few generous handfuls of spinach or chopped kale into a potato-leek soup or raid the freezer for frozen peas to toss into a vegan version of the Greek egg-lemon soup known as avgolemono (simply swap vegetable broth for the chicken stock, throw in some brown rice and omit the egg).

Pasta and chickpeas

The possibilities for vegetable soups are endless, but a favorite of mine is a chickpea orzo soup - or in Italian, pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas) - inspired by food writer Rachel Roddy's description of the Roman dish that often calls for anchovies in the broth. It can be made vegetarian by omitting the fish and increasing the garlic for extra flavor. If you don't wish to use winter tomatoes in the base of the soup, use a can of good, whole plum tomatoes.

By its very nature, this soup is meant to be changeable: if you like a more brothy soup, you may cook it so. Conversely, if you prefer a thicker, more stew-like soup, allow the pasta to soak up more of the cooking water.

What makes it shine is the aromatic base of onion, garlic, herbs, celery and tomatoes. I prefer to soak my own chickpeas, but canned is fine too. For pasta, I typically use orzo, but you may use your choice of small pasta. Together, they round out this filling meal, which also welcomes a salad alongside.

Red lentils and root veggies

Another cozy winter vegetarian soup is a softly spiced dal made with red lentils and topped with roasted root vegetables. Here, red lentils are cooked with fresh ginger and plenty of garlic and simmered into a smooth mixture that needs no pureeing. When serving, a mix of winter vegetables of your choice - for example, cubed, lightly salted sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and parsnips - can be piled on top of the lentils.

A bonus to this recipe is that you could make extra vegetables and save some for a quick meal later in the week, perhaps to serve with brown jasmine rice and fried tofu and drizzled with a lemon-tahini sauce.

This lentil soup is filling and flavorful, with the vegetables cooked long and slow in the oven, thus giving a hint of sweetness to each bite. (In summer, use cherry tomatoes rather than canned tomatoes and top each serving with a sautéed mix of zucchini, fresh corn and sweet peppers.)

Sweet potatoes and miso

A thick sweet potato soup infused with miso paste is an interesting contrast to more traditional vegetable soups. This is a pureed soup, with the optional addition of one-third cup of coconut milk stirred in before serving. It's a gorgeous, bright soup, and the perfect blend of sweet (from the sweet potatoes) and salty (from the miso) is finished with a punch of lime juice.

Among many other options, you could consider making a roasted potato and cauliflower soup blended with a bit of vegetable broth, a deeply colored beet soup made slightly tart with lemon juice, or a soy sauce-based noodle soup with shiitake mushrooms, spinach, tofu and any other vegetables you have in the fridge.

The goal is to make a soup that's nutritious and filling enough to stand alone without calling for a lot of extra work at dinnertime.

Until the days get noticeably longer again, and the first spring greens trickle back into the market, a hearty, warming bowl of vegetable soup will ease the bite of these chilly evenings. Even better, they'll keep us happily nourished, too.

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The recipe as written calls for a topping of roasted root vegetables, about a half-cup per serving. If you'd like even more, increase the quantity of the vegetables and use as many as you like. Save any leftovers for a meal later in the week.

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Dal with Roasted Root Vegetables

Makes 6 servings

For the soup:

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large yellow onion, finely diced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes

- 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 cups red split lentils, rinsed

7 cups water

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

- lemon wedges, for serving

For the roasted root vegetables:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cups root vegetables of your choice, such as sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and parsnips, small dice

In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the coconut oil. Add the diced onion and garlic and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, ginger and a pinch of salt and cook a few minutes more. Add the lentils, water, and salt, bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are broken down, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large baking dish or pan, spread out the prepared root vegetables and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven and cook for about 40 minutes, checking at 30 minutes to see how tender the vegetables are (you want them to be easily pierced with a fork but not mushy). When cooked fully, remove from oven and keep warm until ready to serve the soup.

Divide the soup between bowls, top with about one-half cup of the prepared root vegetables, and serve with a lemon wedge.

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I like this with the addition of coconut milk when I want a little richness, but it's delicious without it too. Toasted coconut flakes as garnish make for an interesting and needed bit of crunch.

Miso Sweet Potato Soup

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 cups vegetable broth or water

1-2 cups water

5 tablespoons light miso paste

1/2 lemon

- salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup coconut milk, optional

- Toasted coconut flakes for serving, optional

- lime wedges for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, vegetable broth or water, and the additional 1 to 2 cups water, enough to just cover the sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender. Stir in the miso paste until it dissolves in the broth.

Carefully puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Return to the pot and stir in the juice from the half lemon and the coconut milk, if using. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve bowls garnished with the coconut flakes and with lime wedges alongside.

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Finish bowls of this Italian- inspired soup with a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese curls, if you like.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup (Pasta e ceci)

Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped

1 carrot, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (more to taste)

1 teaspoon dried basil (more to taste)

1 large tomato, coarsely chopped

21/2 cups cooked chickpeas, divided

6 cups of water

1 cup risoni (orzo) or small pasta

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley, optional

- fine sea salt and pepper to taste

- olive oil and Parmesan, optional garnish

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato and herbs and cook a few minutes more. Season with a generous sprinkling of salt.

Add 2 cups of chickpeas and the 6 cups water and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes. In a blender or using an immersion blender, carefully puree the soup. Return to the pot and add the pasta; cook until al dente. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of the chickpeas and the parsley if using. Salt and pepper to taste. Finish each bowl with olive oil and Parmesan if desired.

Nicole Spiridakis is a Sebastopol-based food writer. Reach her at nspiridakis@gmail.com or at cucinanicolina.com.

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