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Archive for the ‘Soup’ Category

January 2011 started off well. I attacked the first work week with fresh energy, compiling the schedules of all the nearby drop-in centres and free baby programs. I figured out how to get to a rec centre where a very nice lady will hang out with Penny while I go work out. I made a plan for changing some of my eating habits, and got said plan underway.  And then I got a cold. Happy New Year.

Winter colds, and any kind of sickness, really, are the reason why I try to keep chicken stock in my freezer at all times. Whether chicken soup holds any medicinal benefit I don’t care. All I know is that chicken soup helps me feel better when I’m under the weather, and when I feel the first signs of a bug getting into my system, I stop everything and make soup. (See also: Magical Healing Soup from last winter.)

This soup recipe has evolved from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe passed on to me from a friend years ago. CI is a remarkable source for cooks – like food p0rn for engineers – but I find their recipes overly labour-intensive.  Why should I peel and seed a fresh tomato when I can open a can and live with having tomato seeds in my soup? Why should I fire-roast a jalapeno when I can keep some canned chipotles in my fridge and use one of those instead?

The one shortcut I cannot take with this soup, however, is using stock that is not homemade. In some circumstances using broth from a can or a cube can be okay – like with a pureed soup or a heavily tomato-based soup like  minestrone. But this soup is all about savoury, spicy broth loaded up with fun garnishes.  In general, canned or bouillon cube stock is just too salty. And for this soup it simply won’t do.

This recipe is extremely versatile. If you want a  vegetarian soup, a flavourful veg stock will work just fine.  I use this soup as an excuse to use up stale tortillas, but if you don’t want to make the chips yourself, storebought will work as long as you cut back on salt in the soup. As for garnishes, the sky’s the limit! I have included a pretty long list below, but my mainstays are as follows:

 But of course the best part of the soup is to serve it with all the garnishes on the side, so each person can tailor it to their own taste, like a soup version of tacos. Cause really, we all just want to play with our food.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
serves 4 to 6

1/2 of a 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 small onion
1 clove of garlic
1 fresh jalapeno, diced OR 1 canned chipotle (with or without seeds, depending on your spice tolerance)
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. olive or veg oil
6 to 8 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
salt and pepper to taste



For the chips:
approximately 10, 6-inch corn tortillas
1 tbsp. olive oil
pinch salt

Potential garnishes: grated cheddar, sour cream, fresh cilantro, green onion, diced avocado, diced red peppers, corn, black beans, chopped spinach or swiss chard

1. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno or chipotle and cilantro and blitz it into a thick puree, adding water as needed.

2. On the stove, heat a heavy-bottomed stock pot over high heat. When the pot is hot, add the oil and tomato mixture; it should bubble and steam, so stir it well until it calms down. After a minute or two, turn down the heat to medium and let it simmer for five minutes. Add the chicken stock and shredded chicken. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and simmer for about twenty minutes, while you make the chips and assemble your garnishes.

3. To make the chips, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the tortillas into 1″ wide strips and toss with the olive oil and salt until they are all evenly coated. Distribute over two baking sheets (parchment-lined, if you wish) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven to turn the chips over for even browning and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes, until they are all golden brown.

4. To assemble the soup, place the tortilla chips into the serving bowls and ladle the broth and chicken on top, then top with garnishes.  

To store leftovers, it’s best to keep the broth separate from all the garnishes. The soup will keep in the fridge for at least three days.

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[Ed. note: Why yes, that  bowl of soup is sitting on an armchair. It happened to be the brightest spot in my apartment at that given moment. Here in the dark Canadian winter, you take sunlight anyway you can get it. ] 

This week presents particular challenges to our digestive systems. We’re just recovering from a weekend in which holiday parties reached a feverish pitch. You’ve likely indulged in a good deal of tasty treats that were thrust your way, or just happened to be lying around, generously placed there just for you. But you know there’s more significant eating yet to come in the very near future. And you know what that means?

You need to pace yourself.

After all, you probably have just a couple of working days before the world shuts down for a little while. Slow workdays in which you will probably be too close to the plate of cookies or candy that seem to have take up permanent residence much too near to your desk. You need a lunch (or dinner) to help create some balance.  A bowl of soup, perhaps. Something easy to make. Something sustaining. Something with fibre. Something with  – dare I say it? – bacon.

I know, I know. Bacon, by rights, has no place in a healthy dish, but hear me out.  The lentils and greens are what make you feel better about yourself, but lentils usually need a lot of help to taste good. To compensate for an otherwise earthy, bland taste, you need something strong and flavourful. In this case I’ve used a fairly lean prosciutto to minimize the bacon fat, but in a pinch you could use pancetta or regular bacon.

Also, I bet you already have everything you need to make this soup on hand.

Lentil and prosciutto soup
serves 4 to 6

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup (3 oz.) prosciutto or pancetta, cut 1/2″ thick and diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch dried chili flakes 
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 large carrot, diced
1 or 2 ribs of celery, diced
1 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups chopped kale, swiss chard or spinach
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the prosciutto (or pancetta or bacon) until slightly browned and some fat is rendered. If you’re using fatty bacon, now would be a good time to pour off some of the grease before you proceed, ;eaving some fat in the pan.

Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic, chili flakes and tomato paste; mix well and cook one or two minutes until some of the tomato paste starts to caramelize in the pan. Add the celery, carrot, lentils and stock; bringt to a boil and let simmer until the lentils and vegetables are cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.   Just before serving, add the greens and season to taste.

With a salad, bread and a hunk of cheese, it makes a perfect winter meal.

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Don’ t you love this time of year? That time of year when the sad, mealy stonefruit of early fall are replaced by glorious, bumpity squashes? Something about the pile of squashes at the market or the grocery store, with all their varying shades and shapes, makes me feel joyful about autumn – right up there with shooshing through the fallen leaves.

Combine those squashes with the official arrival of Soup Season, and the need to use up the jar of curry paste in my fridge and a can of coconut milk in my pantry, and we have this soup.

This soup is easy to make, and ideal for a Sunday afternoon when you’re futzing around the house. It involves roasting the squash first, which adds sweetness and depth. (In fact, if you’re really into squash, you could roast a double batch – one to to have as a side dish with dinner one night, and one batch for this soup.) It’s a forgiving recipe, too. I like to add the potato for extra starch, which helps make the soup creamy, and the carrot for extra sweetness and colour. But if you don’t have these on hand, just straight squash will be just fine.  However. Essential to this soup are the spices and the coconut milk. Without them, it just won’t be the same. It also helps to have an immersion blender to make the soup nice and smooth.

Coconut curry squash soup
serves 6 to 8.
freezes well.

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2″ chunks
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. mild curry paste (I used Patak’s, but you can use any curry mix you like)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
salt and pepper

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger root
1 tbsp. mild curry paste
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, diced
6 cups stock or water (In my world, water and a veggie bouillon cube is acceptable for this soup.)
1 can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Roast the squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is heating, peel, seed and chop the squash. In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash chunks with the olive oil, curry paste, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash is soft and and browned. (Tip: deglazing the pan with some water and adding the juices to the soup pot is a good thing to do, and adds flavour to your soup.)

Make the soup: In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until it softens. Add the garlic, ginger and curry paste and cook 1 or 2 minutes until very fragrant. Add the potato and carrot chunks, the roasted squash, water and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, and simmer for about 45 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.

Taking the soup off the heat, puree with the immersion blender until the soup is completely smooth. If you’re having a dinner party and want to be extra fancy, you can push the puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove some vegetable fibre and make the soup perfectly velvet-smooth. If you just want a bowl of tasty soup, then skip this step. Season to taste. 

Delightful potential garnishes include: chopped green onion, chopped cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, a yogurt swirl.

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Magical Healing Soup

Sometimes, you need a reminder that dinner doesn’t have to be a big deal. It’s a big deal when you’re hungry at the end of a long day, but sometimes cooking dinner can be easy, and making dinner doesn’t have to take a ton of time or money.

This soup was that reminder tonight, when tired and hungry, I realized I was headed home to a solitary supper and a mostly empty fridge. My options: go grocery shopping, buying a BBQ chicken, or just make do. I was too hungry for the grocery store, and felt too stingy to spend $10 on a chicken. But happily, I had all the ingredients I need for this soup.

This soup. This soup. This soup is what I eat when I’m staving off a cold or need some comfort on a cold winter night. Or just when the spirit takes me.

Having grown up in an Italian-dominant town, tortellini soup is a staple from my childhood. Usually this involves a handful of tortellini, a bowl full of chicken stock and a sprinkle of chopped parsley and grated parmesan. But to make it a meal, you need a bit more substance.

This is so inexact I can’t call it a recipe, but here’s what I had to work with:

  • Chicken stock that I made last weekend, along with bits of chicken picked off the bones
  • A handful of cheese tortellini from the freezer
  • Also from the freezer, a few oven-dried tomatoes, diced (sundried from the cupboard would work equally well)
  • A generous handful of chopped kale

Bring the broth, chicken and tomatoes to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring some water to a boil and cook the tortellini. Technically, you   could cook the tortellini in the broth, but this makes it cloudy. When the tortellini is cooked, drain the water off and toss the pasta into the soup pot. Last of all, toss in the kale and let it soften.

Seal the deal with a grind of pepperand a generous grating of parmesan.

This is what you end up with:

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