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.