Tag Archives: soup

Small comforts


I KNOW IT’S A CLICHÉ to write about “comfort food,” but the anxiety I’ve experienced  since the election has made comfort seem more necessary than ever. There is something calming about the normality of cooking, especially if you’re making something both comforting and nourishing.

Last week I made a mushroom-chicken pot pie topped with biscuits that fit the bill. Aviva showed me how to do this basically in one pot: saute onions and garlic with your choice of vegetables –some options: mushrooms, chopped potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, cauliflower greens– in butter and/or oil in a cast iron skillet. Add a few tablespoons of flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, rosemary or thyme) and then add enough broth (chicken or vegetarian) to make a nice “gravy” for your pie. Add cooked chicken or leave it out for a vegetarian version. The sauce should be a little thinner than you want it as it’ll thicken in the oven. You can top with a biscuit dough, as I did here (Mark Bittman’s biscuit topping works well) or with a typical pie crust.


Or, for the easiest method, do as I did recently and use puff pastry (buy it frozen and thaw it). Lay a circle of puff pastry over your filling, and cut a few slits for the steam to escape.

For any of these toppings, bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits or other crust is golden.

The pot pie is a little more ambitious than my usual comfort nourishment though. I gravitate toward the simplest form of cooking. Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that I love SOUP, especially in fall and winter, when my go-to supper is soup and bread (or toast, popovers, cornbread, etc.).

Indeed I have a long family history with soup, one part of which I wrote about in my latest sketchbook:


In just the last few weeks, I’ve run through a lot of my soup favorites: lentil with spinach and lemon, parsley-potato; chicken soup with matzo balls, red lentil soup; and of course, minestrone.

My latest soup creation is another lentil soup, this time with lots of carrots to brighten its color, and some seasoning to perk up the flavors. I adapted it from a recipe by British food writer Diane Henry for “Turkish carrots and lentils with herbs” in the book Plenty (no, not the Ottolenghi Plenty).

Henry’s recipe is more a side dish with fewer lentils and no real broth; I doubled the lentils and added more water for a soup-ier version. She suggests fresh mint, parsley or dill for the herbs — I chose to use cilantro (but I do want to try the mint version sometime.) Henry also adds 2 teaspoons of sugar, but I left it out; it didn’t seem to need it. The coriander seeds and red pepper, along with the lemon and herbs give it a bright and lively flavor.


This first serving was more stew-like; when I heated it up the next day, I added more water to make it more of a soup. Really good either way.

Carrot-lentil soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/4 – 1/2 dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or you can use tomato puree)
  • 4 or 5 cups vegetable stock or water
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped cilantro
  • lemon juice
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute’ the onion until soft. Add garlic and spices and cook for two minutes. Then add everything else except the cilantro and lemon juice.
  2.  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water or broth as you like — it can be more of a lentil stew or a soup.
  3. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a glug of olive oil to the soup (I don’t but you might want to).
  4. Ladle into bowls, adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of cilantro into each bowl.

I love Diane Henry’s concise description: “This shows just how delicious frugality can be.” And comforting too.



Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, supper time, vegetables, winter

Soup season

Red pepper and onion soup, Luna Cafe, Summerland, Calif.

We’re in the thick of what I like to think of as soup season.

Of course, you can eat soup any time of the year–perhaps eating cold soups in the summer, or, as my father liked to do, eating hot soup as a first course for lunch or supper no matter what the weather. In my mother’s senior residence, they serve soup at every meal except breakfast — there are a lot of German-born folks who want soup all year round.

But I think the real heart of soup season, the time when soup stars as main and most appreciated course, is that extended wintry period between November and March, when the weather is cold, gloomy, stormy, snowy, rainy, foggy, cloudy, chilly. Then a hearty soup warms and soothes you like nothing else.

In late December, just before the record rainstorm hit Southern California, Steve and I had the pleasure of visiting Anna Thomas (of Vegetarian Epicure fame) in her home in Ojai. Anna’s most recent cookbook, Love Soup, won the prestigious James Beard award for “healthy focus.”

We ate some persimmons for dessert

Anna had a welcoming pot of green soup for us on the stove (which was decorated with a row of ripe persimmons).  We ate bowls of the lovely green soup (it had kale and white yams, onions and I’m not sure what else), topped with a drizzle of olive oil, some toasted pumpkin seeds and crumbles of feta cheese. Along with some multigrain bread, it was just the kind of meal we love. And we had slices of those persimmons for dessert.

In Love Soup, Anna writes about how she first devised green soup–a puree of kale, cilantro, potato and sauteed onions and garlic–in order to lose some holiday pounds one January. She soon was experimenting with all kinds of varieties–adding sauteed mushrooms, substituting yams for potatoes, using spinach or watercress or beet greens for the greens–and inviting friends over to share her discovery.

“I lost my holiday pounds, but the green soup became my steady,” she writes. “I’ve probably made forty or fifty different green soups over the past ten years. It’s a way of life now.”

I think of Anna Thomas as The Queen of Green.

For me, soup season includes my favorite version of green soup (parsley and potato, a recipe that my friend Peggy gave me years ago), as well as an earthy mushroom-barley soup, a velvety butternut squash soup, a sweet-and-sour cabbage-beet borscht, and many, many pots of that infinitely adaptable standby, minestrone….otherwise known as vegetable soup.

Sometimes I even open a cookbook and try something new. When I was testing out lemon recipes, I looked in Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, and tried the recipe for a Lebanese soup called Shorbet Adds bil Hamud, or “Lemony Spinach and Brown Lentil Soup.”  It was so good that it’s become a regular part of my repertoire. The greens brighten up the brown lentils and plenty of lemon juice gives a fresh lively flavor–a great combination.

Plus it’s simple to make. And fast — the lentils and diced potatoes cook in under half an hour, and you toss in the greens and have a nice nutritious and tasty bowl of soup ready before you know it.

Quick, uncomplicated, healthy, good-tasting. What else could you ask for in a soup? Oh, yes, it’s vegan as well.

Lebanese lentil soup with spinach and lemon

Lemony Lentil Soup

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup large brown or green lentils, washed
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced
  • 2 quarts water or stock
  • 1 pound fresh spinach or frozen leaf spinach, defrosted
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
  • Juice of 1 ½ medium lemons, or more, to taste

In a large pan, sauté the onions until soft and golden. Add the garlic and stir until it begins to color. Add the lentils and potatoes, and the water or stock and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

If using fresh spinach, wash the leaves and put them in a pan with the lid on—and only the water that clings to them—over low heat until the leaves collapse into a soft mass. Cut the cooked fresh or defrosted frozen spinach into thin ribbons. (Toby’s note: I just cut fresh spinach into shreds and toss it into the hot soup. Don’t cook too long or you’ll lose the bright green color.)

Add the spinach and cilantro to the soup and season with salt and pepper (another note: I sometimes also stir in some cumin). Stir well and add water, if necessary, if you wish a lighter consistency.

Cook a few minutes more and add lemons to taste (it should be nice and tangy) before serving.

Variation: For an alternative flavoring, fry 4 or 5 crushed garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil with 2 teaspoons ground coriander until the aroma rises. Stir this sauce, called takelya, into the soup just before serving.

Don't forget the lemon--it's essential!


Filed under fall, soup, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

It’s still soup season

Even though it’s officially spring, the weather can still turn blustery and a bowl of soup is still welcome. And here are two soups that can even be eaten on a Passover-restricted diet.

Last week when I was in California visiting Cathy and John Mihalik and family,  Lily Mihalik made her simple and delicious tomato soup.

She was doing the cooking, and I was just watching…..

First, she put quite a lot of olive oil in the pot, and sauteed some onion and garlic. Then she added a big can of good quality tomatoes, and some salt and pepper and blended it up — it was a lovely coral color and tasted very fresh.

She sauteed some chard (kale would work well too) and put some in the center of each bowl.

Thanks for the photos, John!

Lily has the decorative touch, so she also made some parmesan chips, by grating parmesan rather coarsely, piling it up into little mounds on a cookie sheet and running it under the broiler (very briefly). You could skip this step and just grate some parmesan on your soup if you don’t want to be so fancy. Lily says to add some finely chopped fresh garlic at the end. Here’s her ingredient list and directions:

  • good canned tomatoes (mom would say Italian)
  • 1/3 red onion, the chop can be rough, but not too big.
  • 2-4 garlic cloves minced. save one to add at the end.
  • Enough olive oil so that that the onions are simmering (not so much swimming) in them. I’d guess 1/2 to 3/4 cup… (Toby’s note: I can’t imagine using that much olive oil! Personally, I’d start with 2 or 3 tablespoons, no more than 1/4 cup)
I think the trick it to cook the onions until they are see through, then add the garlic, then the tomatoes. Just cook until it’s hot, just boiling. Pull off the heat, blend, or if you have a wand, blend in the pot, then bring it back up to heat. start sauteing your kale/chard and cooking the parm chips, if you’re up for it, and then, EAT. I think the less real cooking time the better.

Fresh leeks are a glorious, yet humble, sign of spring — and when Cathy’s neighbor brought over a big bagful of freshly picked leeks, I set to work on some leek-potato soup.

Most of this work took place around the sink, as leeks like to hold on to dirt in their layers, so they demand a lot of cleaning.  Basically, you cut off the dark green leaves and the root-y bottoms, then run the rest (the white and light green parts) under running water, making sure you clean between the layers. If the leeks are very fat, slice them vertically before cutting your horizontal slices.

I’ve never been quite happy with the texture of leeks in the soup I’ve made previously, so this time I consulted Cathy’s cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, and these experts supplied the ultimate tip: sweat the leeks.

It’s not the most attractive term, but basically it means that you saute the slices of leeks in some oil or butter, and then put a lid on top for 15 minutes or so. The leeks continue to cook in their own moisture, and they will become meltingly soft and intense.

Now all you need to do is to add some vegetable or chicken broth, a bay leaf and perhaps some thyme, salt and pepper, and a few potatoes — red or white or Yukon gold — cleaned and cut into about 1/2-inch dice. You can leave the skins on if you like. Cook till the potatoes are soft, then smash some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup. It’s nice left chunky like this, with pieces of potato and leek in your soup bowl.

I found this advertisement in a store flier. Were the mushrooms leaking out of the strudel?

Do not confuse a leek with a leak. If in doubt, please contact me for proofreading advice.


Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Something with a spoon


The silver soup ladle my grandmother brought from Russia

I’ve inherited a love of soup (as well as bread) from both sides of my family. My Zayde was known for saying, when asked what he would like to eat, “something with a spoon.” Soup, that is. Usually it was chicken soup, with matzo balls or noodles. In the spring, my grandmother made beet borscht from a fermented starter called Rossel.

Germans seem to eat soup with every meal other than breakfast. My dad, a naturalized American, kept this habit as much as possible, even in the summer.

My German grandparents brought the soupspoon pictured on the right, which holds twice as much as an ordinary soupspoon

My German grandparents brought the soup spoon pictured on the right, which holds twice as much as an ordinary soup spoon. It seems to demand a bigger bowl than I possess.

Both sets of grandparents usually considered soup as a first course preceding the meal.

For me, soup is the meal.

As soon as the weather gets cool, I start thinking of minestrone.

Minestra is Italian for soup, and minestrone is simply a soup with many ingredients. It is infinitely variable, depending on what you like and what you have on hand.

I like to make mine with plenty of cooked beans for heartiness, and lots of vegetables. Sometimes I have potatoes as in the recipe below, but often not. Some people like to add rice or other grains or pasta in the pot.

Over the long cooking period, the flavors of the different vegetables blend together; I like to add some greens or green beans and basil toward the end of the cooking time for their bright color and fresh flavor.

Start the soup by sauteeing vegetables in your soup pot. Onions first!

Start the soup by sauteeing vegetables in your soup pot. Onions first, please!

I don’t use a recipe per se, so when I sat down to write out instructions, the process sounded much more complicated than it really is. Trust me on this.

Also, if you’re missing some of the ingredients, don’t worry. Sauteed onions with broth, tomatoes and other vegetables will taste delicious, if you just give it some time. You can adapt this recipe as much as you like, adding whatever you like. No two batches of minestrone are ever the same.


  • 1 to 1 ½ cups navy beans or canellini beans, uncooked or 2 cups of canned cooked beans
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • ½ cup diced zucchini
  • 1 cup diced potatoes
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 6 to 8 cups of homemade broth or 1 to 2 cups canned broth plus 4 to 7 cups of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Optional: crust of parmesan, romano or pecorino hard cheese,  ¼ to ½ cup red wine
  • fresh basil or basil cubes.
  • Optional: blanched (barely cooked) green beans, and/or spinach, chard or kale; frozen corn, frozen green beans and/or peas; parsley

1. The night before I plan to make minestrone, I soak some white beans in a pot of cold water, so I can cook them the next day. If you don’t have time for this step, substitute the canned beans.

2. In a large cooking pot or stockpot, heat up your olive oil; then add the onion and sauté until it’s soft and a light golden color. As it sautés, you can dice the garlic. Since you will be adding the ingredients one at a time, as each one is cooking, you can cut up the next.

3. Add the garlic for two minutes or so, stirring; then add the carrots for two or three minutes; then the celery for a couple minutes, the zucchini for a couple minutes and the potatoes.

4. Add the broth and the tomatoes, and the bay leaf, along with the optional cheese crust and wine. Salt lightly and add more later, if you wish.


Add a little wine if you like (the alcohol will cook off).

5. Heat until simmering; then cover the pot and lower the heat so it cooks at a steady gentle simmer. You can leave the pot like this for two hours or more, but if you want your soup sooner, it will taste fine too – just that the flavors won’t be as blended together.

6. At this point, taste and adjust for salt, plus add a little more wine if you like, or more tomatoes, wine or broth if it is too thick. Then add the cooked navy or canellini beans, stir and cook for another 20 minutes.

7. If you’re using frozen vegetables, it’s time to add those.

8. After another five minutes, add the basil (a few tablespoons of fresh chopped basil or a couple of those basil cubes you put away), plus some green beans and/or chopped greens and chopped parsley. These will just barely cook, while retaining their bright color. If you reheat the soup later, you can add some more greens.

9. Your soup is ready! Remove the bay leaf and the cheese crust if you used it, and sprinkle freshly grated hard cheese (pecorino, parmesan, romano)  over the top if you like.

With some crusty bread, this makes a hearty and healthy lunch or supper.  A glass of red wine goes well too. (Thanks to Rick for the wine — check out Rick’s winemaking blog.)

A stay-at-home weekend day is perfect for making minestrone–and if you’re not serving a crowd, you’ll have plenty left over. And that’s good, because when you reheat the soup the next day it will taste even better.

Stored in a covered container in your fridge, the soup will keep well for up to a week (if you can keep it that long). Or you can freeze it in small containers and take it to work with you for lunch  or heat up anytime you don’t have a pot of minestrone on your stovetop or in your fridge.

Soup's on, folks!

Soup's on, folks!

What’s your favorite way to make minestrone or other big hearty soup? Write a comment below and let me know.


Filed under soup, Uncategorized, vegetables