The art of soup and bread



There's a spate of new soup books on the shelves right now, offering cooks plenty of soothing, comforting recipes. Soup's the best way I know to warm up, from deep inside. Where I live -- in the too-often-nearly-impassable country -- soup is a necessity. A way to get though a trying, frozen season. Soup is a lifesaver.

Just ask my neighbors who were recipients of containers of soup and chunks of homemade bread during some of the harshest January days. Ask my parents, who elder-tested the Chickpea Minestrone, dividing up the work. They got at least two meals out of it, my mother told me. Another great point for soup: It goes far. But soup can be even more than sustenance; it can build a village and feed the soul. Sometimes, it can even help to raise bucks for a good cause.

The book "Soup Night" highlights soup events throughout the country. These organized feeds unite neighborhoods and promote community spirit with a bowlful, and most often, a bit of bread. Folks are bonding over soup.

Pittsburgh is a town that believes in soup. We've got several home-stirred soup events, including Braddock's own "Big Soup" which is featured in "Soup Nights." The party and fundraiser celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2013.

Big Soup simmers each December at the home of Stephen and Melissa Neeley. Their specialty, appearing each year, is Potato-Cheese Soup (recipe follows). The money they raise benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. Attendees show up with a bowl and a spoon; side dishes are optional. Donations are optional, too, but the gathering raised more than $4,000 this past December.

Pittsburgh's Empty Bowls Dinner is one of the best-known and largest area soup events (see sidebar) but there are many others coming up (visit post-gazette.com/food for information about Soup and Inspiration series at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Franklin Park and South Hills Interfaith Ministries' soup-and-bread "Friendraiser").

From Aliza Green's useful new book, "The Soupmaker's Kitchen" we glean some soupy history. The word itself was once spelled soop (just like it sounds), and it meant "a chunk of bread soaked in liquid." That time-honored combination.

Ms. Green's book is a primer, setting you up in the kitchen, step-by-step, teaching you about making stocks, soups and using up scraps. I've included the recipe for her bracing Senegalese Peanut and Yam Soup with Ginger.

She writes, "Many people have lost the art of soupmaking, relying instead on a can, box or frozen package instead." I'm right with you on that soup soap box!

A book that impressed me first for its beauty, later for its fabulous recipes, is Paul Gayler's "Great Homemade Soups." He presents terrific full-flavored soups, adding clever twists to well-known types, like good old black bean. In his version, the tender, cooked beans are enlivened with a pureed mixture of tomatoes and roasted spices. The soup is garnished with Salsa Sofrito, a smoky, sassy combo of chiles in adobo, chopped fresh tomatoes and red onion. It takes humble black beans to a whole new, spicy place.

Stocking up

Many soup books feature formulas for various stocks to use in their recipes. I, too, love to make my own stock. I save up bits and bobs from chickens before roasting them, and sometimes, I even freeze the roasted carcasses for stock making. Stock is money in the bank, providing the deepest, richest flavor, especially in soups where the broth is the star, as in chicken soup. But I'd rather fill my freezer with prepared soup that's ready to be a meal instead of stock that's a few steps away from filling a bowl.

So for these recipes, I used pre-made. I like Swanson's reduced-sodium broths in containers, instead of cans. They also have an organic broth. You may prefer another brand. Some of these recipes just use water. And while testing the recipes, even if broth was called for, if I didn't have enough, I used water. Soup is flexible. Soup is forgiving.

Bread

What goes with soup? Bread, of course. Most of us have access to some really good bread. Still, it's fun, instructive and very rewarding to make your own. Nothing tastes better warm from the oven. Nothing looks better cooling on a rack (OK, maybe a pie looks better) or makes you feel more accomplished, or like soup, is more welcome during a weather crisis. At the Empty Bowls fundraiser, soup is served with a bit of bread, a humble, nourishing meal.

The bread recipes I've included go from quick and easy, No-Knead Whole-Wheat Bread, and a walnut-raisin no-knead one to a some a little more complicated. If you've never made bread, please roll up your sleeves and give a recipe a try.

A few bread-making tips: I use a KitchenAid stand mixer. I knead the bread with the mixer's dough hook. But I do the last-minute kneading by hand, just to feel the dough and make sure it's at the right place. Elastic, smooth, sometimes glossy and not sticky (although sometimes it can be a little sticky). The no-knead bread doughs are different. They don't get handled much, and they're sticky.

To measure flour, I spoon it into the cup and level it off. We should all be weighing flour with scales instead of measuring by volume, which is so inaccurate! But I know that we are not. For most breads the amount of flour is approximate. You might need a little more or a little less flour to get the dough to the not-sticky, elastic place.

If you do a lot of bread baking, purchase your yeast in bulk. You can get 1-pound bags from the East End Food Co-Op. Keep it in the freezer and it lasts at least two years. A scant tablespoon is equivalent to one packet of yeast and this stuff has more oomph. If you use the smaller packets, check the expiration date.

Pay attention to the temperature of the water. Use an instant-read thermometer to check until you've done it a few times and even after that. If the liquid is too hot, you can kill the yeast and the bread won't rise. Too cool is much less of a problem; the dough may rise more slowly.

Practice makes perfect with breads. Sometimes things don't work perfectly. For the most part, as with soups, the results still will taste delicious and be welcome at any table.

Chickpea Minestrone

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This is styled after a hearty, warming bowl of minestrone I had at the vegetable restaurant at Eataly in New York City during the polar vortex. I love using potatoes instead of pasta, which sucks all the juice out of a soup. If you have one, add a scrubbed parmesan rind to the pot while it cooks. This doesn't freeze well because of the potatoes. My mother tested the recipe for me, really my mother and father. Dad did the chopping and Mom did the cooking.

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

3 medium tender celery stalks with some leaves, sliced (about 1½ cups)

2 large or 3 medium carrots, sliced into rounds (1¼ cups)

4 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

48-ounce container reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

28-ounce can whole tomatoes in puree, whirled in food processor; rinse out can with 1 cup water and reserve

3 large Yukon Gold or 2 large russet baking potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 4 cups)

2 cups very small broccoli floret pieces

1 cup 1-inch pieces cut green beans

15-ounce can chickpeas, drained

1/2 small cabbage, cut into chunks (3 to 4 cups)

1 medium yellow summer squash or zucchini, sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated parmesan for serving

Heat oil in large heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic and a big pinch of salt. Reduce heat, cover and cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes, until tender. Stir in oregano. Add broth, tomatoes and parmesan rind, if using. Raise heat and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put potatoes and water to just cover in large saucepan. Add a big pinch of salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook, partially covered, for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender. Stir in broccoli and beans; cook 5 to 7 more minutes until crisp-tender. Drain.

Add chickpeas and cabbage to tomato-broth mixture. Cover and cook over low heat 10 to 15 minutes until cabbage is tender. Add cooked potatoes, broccoli and beans to soup with summer squash or zucchini. Cover and simmer 5 minutes longer until all vegetables are tender.

Season soup with salt and pepper and serve with grated parmesan, and if you like, a drizzle of olive oil. This tastes even better the next day.

Makes 8 generous servings

-- Miriam Rubin

Sweet Onion Whole-Wheat Focaccia

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This is particularly good with the Chickpea Minestrone, but it's a great with any soup. Good, too, for breakfast with scrambled eggs. Enjoy it fast; it doesn't keep well.

1 packet or 1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (110 degrees), divided

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for bowl and pan)

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

About 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Topping: 2 cups halved and thinly sliced sweet onions, ¼ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ teaspoons flaky sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

In stationary electric mixer bowl (or large bowl), stir yeast, ½ cup of the warm water and sugar. Let stand 5 minutes until foamy. Add remaining ½ cup warm water and oil. With mixer on medium, with paddle (or with spoon) beat in whole-wheat flour, 1 cup white flour and the 2 teaspoons kosher salt to make a smooth batter. With mixer on low, a little at a time, add remaining 1 cup white flour until dough is too stiff to mix.

With dough hook, or by hand on floured surface, knead 4 to 6 minutes, adding remaining flour 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, until very smooth, silky and not sticky. Knead a moment by hand to finish, if machine-kneaded.

Coat large bowl with olive oil, place dough in bowl and turn to oil top. Cover with cotton dishtowel. Let rise at room temperature until doubled, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Coat 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Punch down dough.

Press dough into pan, as well as you can. Cover with cooking-spray-coated plastic wrap and let rise until puffy and almost doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.

Press your fingertips firmly into the risen dough about ½-inch deep, pressing dough into corners.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place dough near oven or another warm spot, cover loosely and let rise again until puffy, 30 to 40 minutes. For topping: Sprinkle with onions, drizzle with olive oil and crush the coarse salt over.

Bake until golden and crisp, 20 to 23 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn't brown too much. Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove from pan to wire rack. Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Roast Chicken Soup

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This was superb. Like a big bowl of great chicken gravy but much more sophisticated and soothing. You can make it with chicken parts, too. This is from a British book, it's gorgeous, but I do wish they had called me to convert the measurements and ingredients.

3¼- to 3½-pound roasting chicken, preferably free-range

Few sprigs of thyme, plus thyme leaves

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spooned into cup and leveled off

48-ounce/6-cup container reduced-sodium chicken broth or homemade broth

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken in medium roasting pan. Tuck thyme sprigs in cavity, drizzle with oil and season liberally with salt. Roast 1 to 1¼ hours or until juices run clear and chicken is cooked through (make a slit between thigh and body to check). Remove from oven and let stand until easily handled. Degrease pan drippings and reserve.

Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir in flour and 2 tablespoons drippings and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add broth, a little at a time, whisking until smooth and creamy. Raise heat and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While it simmers, cut chicken into leg, thigh and breast portions (wings are for the cook) and pull off skin. Cut meat into 1/2-inch pieces, reserving bones and carcass. Add roasted carcass and bones to soup with milk and cream and the remaining drippings, if any. Bring to a boil and simmer gently 15 more minutes.

Pick out larger bones and strain soup through fine sieve. If too thick, thin with some broth or water. Return to pot, stir in chicken pieces, thyme leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring often.

Serve piping hot.

Makes 4 generous servings.

-- Adapted from "Great Homemade Soups: A Cook's Collection" by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small, 2013, $40)

Chicken Meatball and Escarole Soup

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I ground the chicken myself in the food processor. You could also substitute ground turkey. Handle the meatballs gently. Packing them too tightly will make them tough. This light, brothy soup is just the thing if you have a cold or are cold.

3 tablespoons plain fresh breadcrumbs

1/4 cup finely grated parmesan, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 pound ground chicken

1 large egg

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice

1 medium rib celery, cut into small dice

32-ounce container reduced-sodium chicken broth or use homemade broth

2 cups water

3- to 4-inch sprig fresh rosemary

5 cups thinly sliced escarole

Put breadcrumbs in medium bowl and moisten with ½ tablespoon water. Mix in parmesan, parsley, ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Add ground chicken and egg; mix just until combined.

Scoop out 1 tablespoon mixture and, with damp hands, form into ¾-inch meatball. Transfer to plate and shape remaining meatballs; mixture is soft.

Heat oil in 5-quart pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, water and rosemary. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Gently add meatballs, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently 10 minutes.

Add escarole, cover and simmer until wilted and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 more minutes.

Discard rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

-- Adapted from "Fine Cooking Soups & Stews: No-Fail Recipes for Every Season" by the Editors of Fine Cooking Magazine (2013, Taunton, $17.95)

Buttermilk Bread

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One of my favorites from "The Book of Bread" by Judith and Evan Jones. It has a chewy crust and a tender, silky interior. If you wish, replace 2 cups of the white flour with 2 cups whole-wheat. More nutrition but you lose the silky mouth-feel.

1 packet or 1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

2 tablespoons light-brown sugar

2 cups buttermilk, divided

6 to 6½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

4 tablespoons butter, cut up

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Egg wash: 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

In stand mixer bowl, (or large bowl) dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in brown sugar. Heat 1 cup buttermilk to lukewarm in microwave or on stovetop (it might separate). Add to yeast mixture. Add 3 cups flour, mix with paddle (or spoon) on low speed and then on medium speed until smooth. Scrape sides, cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in warm place until it swells and bubbles appear on top, 30 to 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, add cut-up butter and salt to remaining 1 cup buttermilk. Heat just until warm in microwave or on stovetop, stirring to melt butter and dissolve salt. Let cool, if necessary, to lukewarm.

Stir buttermilk mixture into sponge. Mix in 1 cup flour and beat until smooth. Add remaining flour, as needed, about ½ cup at a time, switching to dough hook when dough is too stiff to mix (or knead by hand on floured surface). Knead 4 to 6 minutes, finishing by hand, until dough is smooth and resilient.

Oil large bowl, place dough in bowl and turn to oil top. Cover with cooking-spray-coated plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until double, about 1 hour. Generously grease 2 8- by 4-inch loaf pans.

Turn out dough onto board and punch down. Cut in half and pat each half into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle. Make sure it's smooth on underside, then roll up tightly from a long side, tucking the ends under. Place each in a prepared pan. Cover lightly with cooking-spray-coated plastic wrap and let rise again until double, about 45 minutes.

About 15 minutes before loaves are risen, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush tops with egg wash. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer until well browned and loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottoms. Turn out of pans and bake directly on racks for 5 more minutes to brown the crust. Cool on wire racks.

Makes 2 loaves.

-- Adapted from "The Book of Bread" by Judith and Evan Jones (Harper Perennial, 1982, $17)

Feather Rolls

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Do you remember those soft, pillowy rolls from school lunches? Here they are! The dough is chilled in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours before shaping the rolls. Good with any sort of soup but especially the spicy ones.

4¼ to 4¾ cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 packet or 1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast

1½ cups warm water (120 to 130 degrees)

1/2 cup mashed cooked potato (see note)

1/3 cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted

In stationary electric mixer bowl, mix 2 cups flour and yeast. In medium bowl whisk warm water, mashed potato, the 1/3 cup melted butter, sugar and salt. Add potato mixture to flour mixture. Beat with paddle on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl. Using mixer or a wooden spoon, stir in as much of remaining flour as you can, switching to dough hook when dough is too stiff to mix (or begin kneading by hand on floured surface).

Knead in enough of remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Oil large bowl, place dough in bowl, and turn to oil top. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 1 to 2 hours.

Punch dough down. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, generously grease 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. With lightly floured hands divide dough into 15 pieces. Shape pieces into smooth balls; arrange in prepared pan. Cover with cotton dish towel and let rise in warm place until nearly double, about 40 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until rolls are golden and sound hollow when lightly tapped. Brush tops with the 2 tablespoons melted butter. Immediately remove from pan. Serve warm.

Note: For 1/2 cup mashed potato, cook 1 small peeled, quartered red or russet potato (6 ounces) in lightly salted boiling water 15 to 20 minutes until very tender. Drain well. Mash well with electric mixer or potato masher. Or use 1/2 cup leftover mashed potatoes.

-- Adapted from "Better Homes and Gardens Baking: More Than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, $29.99)

No-Knead Whole-Wheat Bread

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This is different from the no-knead bread recipes I've seen. It doesn't have a 24-hour rise and it doesn't get a high, brittle crust. It's short and it spreads, but it has a fine texture and a sweet wheaty flavor. Plus it's baked and ready to eat in under an hour and a half.

1 packet or 1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast

1¼ cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon soft butter or oil plus additional melted butter to brush on baked loaf

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

About 1¾ cups flour

In large bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water and stir in honey. Let stand 5 minutes until mixture begins to foam.

Add butter or oil, whole wheat flour and salt, and whisk until well blended. Start whisking in bread flour, ½ cup at a time. When it gets too hard to whisk, switch to a wooden spoon, and then a plastic dough scraper, adding enough additional flour to make a fairly cohesive, yet still sticky, lumpy, bumpy dough.

Oil a rimmed baking sheet. With dough scraper, transfer dough to sheet and roughly shape into a round about 8 inches in diameter. Cover loosely with a cooking-spray coated piece of plastic wrap. Let rise 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bake until center of loaf springs back when touched, a toothpick comes out clean, and loaf is browned and firm on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. Brush top of loaf with melted butter. Transfer to wire rack. Serve warm, cut into wedges.

Makes 1 small loaf.

-- Adapted from "The Soup & Bread Cookbook: More Than 100 Seasonal Pairings for Simple, Satisfying Meals" by Beatrice Ojakangas (Rodale, 2013, $23.99)

Sweet Corn Chowder

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This chowder is a potluck favorite from Elizabeth Newland, who participates in a Soup Night event in Tucson, Ariz. It's easily doubled or tripled. To make it ahead, remove from the heat just before the potatoes are completely cooked, then refrigerate. Before serving, add the corn and cook gently until potatoes are tender and corn is warmed through.

5 strips bacon, diced

1 large onion, coarsely chopped (this was my addition)

1 small leek, trimmed, well rinsed and coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or winter savory, or ½ teaspoon dried

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large russet baking potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cubed

2 cups whole milk

2 cups cream (I used half-and-half)

2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen

Cook bacon in heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Leaving bacon in pan, spoon off all but 2 tablespoons drippings.

Add onion, leek, thyme or savory and salt and pepper to taste to drippings. Cook, stirring often, until leek and onion are softened, about 5 minutes, adding a little water to pan if it gets dry.

Stir in potatoes, milk and cream and bring to gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, without boiling, until potatoes are tender. Stir in corn and simmer until tender, 4 minutes for fresh, about 7 minutes for frozen. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired. Serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around A Pot of Soup" by Maggie Stuckey (Storey, 2013, $19.95)

Neelys' Potato-Cheese Soup

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Pittsburgh's Stephen and Melissa Neely serve this every year at their party and fundraiser, Big Soup. "No matter what other soups we serve we always have this one, mostly because we know the kids will eat it." The recipe can be made ahead after pureeing then reheated to serve, adding the cheese off the heat. Double or triple this for a crowd.

8 russet baking potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks (I used 4 giant russets and 3 small Yukon Golds, then I was out of potatoes)

2 cups diced celery

2 cups diced onion

2 cups diced carrots

32-ounce container vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used kosher salt)

8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded, plus extra to garnish

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine potatoes, celery, onion and carrots in large soup pot or Dutch oven. Pour in broth and add marjoram and seasoned salt. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer briskly until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree with immersion blender or in batches in food processor. Return to pot.

Add cheese and pepper to taste, whisking to melt cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with bowls of shredded cheese as garnish.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

-- Adapted from "Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around A Pot of Soup" by Maggie Stuckey (Storey, 2013, $19.95)

Black Bean Soup with Salsa Sofrito

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Another winner from chef Gayer's "Great Homemade Soups." The salsa is a must, and I would double it so you have enough. This is vegetarian and can be vegan if you omit the sour cream, which is not necessary. To lightly toast the cumin and coriander, cook in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, tossing often until fragrant and darker in color. Tip into a bowl, otherwise the seeds will continue cooking in the skillet.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, cut in half

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1-pound bag dry black beans, picked over and rinsed but not soaked

8 cups water

14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

2 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I used 1/4 teaspoon, enough for me, but up to you)

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sour cream and lime wedges to serve

For Salsa Sofrito

2 tablespoons canned chipotle peppers in adobo, coarsely chopped

2 to 3 medium firm-ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup coarsely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

1 garlic clove, crushed through a press

First make Salsa Sofrito, even a day ahead. Mix all ingredients in medium bowl and let stand 1 hour so flavors can blend. Transfer to fridge.

For soup: Heat 1½ tablespoons oil in large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add half the onion, half the garlic and the oregano; cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until softened.

Add black beans and water; raise heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours until beans are very tender.

Meanwhile, put remaining onion, garlic, the canned tomatoes and their juices, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika and crushed red pepper in blender or food processor. Whirl until smooth.

Heat remaining 1½ tablespoons oil in large, heavy skillet over high heat. Carefully pour in pureed mixture. Reduce heat and cook 10 to 15 minutes, until pulpy and thickened. Add to beans, stir well, cover and simmer 15 minutes more.

Puree soup with blender, food processor or immersion blender until coarsely pureed or leave unblended (which is what I did). Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls, serve with sour cream, lime wedges and Salsa Sofrito.

Makes 4 to 6 hearty servings.

-- Adapted from "Great Homemade Soups: A Cook's Collection" by Paul Gayler (Jacqui Small, 2013, $40)

Senegalese Peanut and Yam Soup with Ginger

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Even though yams are what the supermarket calls them, yams are not found in these parts. I used orange-fleshed sweet potatoes for this soup, but you could use the drier Northern white sweet potatoes too. This soup is vegan and was really a hit with the Friday-night gang at the neighbors. It makes a ton. Make sure your spices are fragrant. Maybe it's time to stock up on new cumin, cinnamon and coriander?

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped, peeled ginger

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use it all!)

Pinch ground cloves

28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice (recipe calls for fresh as first choice, but wait until tomato season, then use 2 cups diced)

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into large chunks (5½ cups)

2 32-ounce containers vegetable broth (recipe called for 10 cups, but I added the juice from the canned tomatoes instead)

1 cup roasted peanuts, plus extra for garnish

1/2 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter

1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped, plus extra for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Diced tomatoes for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and saute until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne and cloves. Saute 2 to 3 minutes to release fragrance. Add tomatoes and their juices and sweet potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add broth and peanuts and bring to boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 30 to 40 minutes, until sweet potatoes are quite soft. Remove from heat.

Strain soup through sieve or wire basket, reserving solids and liquid separately.

In batches, place solids in blender, adding enough liquid to cover by 1 inch. Start blender on low, gradually increasing the speed. Do not fill blender jar more than 2/3rds full. Puree until smooth. (I used the food processor but the blender would have made it smoother.)

Return soup to pot. Whisk in peanut butter and chopped cilantro, season to taste with salt and pepper and heat through, stirring often. Serve piping hot, garnished with chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts and diced tomatoes, if desired.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Soupmaker's Kitchen: How to Save your Scraps, Prepare a Stock, and Craft the Perfect Pot of Soup" by Aliza Green (Quarry, 2013, $24.99)

Slow-Cooker Barley-Beef Soup

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If you have this soup in your freezer, you can make it though the next cold snap. The recipe called for 1 cup sliced potatoes or parsnips. I added neither. I didn't use potatoes because I wished to freeze the soup and potatoes get grainy in freezing. I had no parsnips, so I added sliced carrots instead. The cremini mushrooms are my addition (they were in the fridge).

1½ tablespoons vegetable oil

12 ounces 1-inch chunks boneless beef chuck or lamb stew meat

2 to 3 cups sliced cremini or white button mushrooms

48-ounce container reduced-sodium beef broth

14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 cup water

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 cup ½-inch sliced carrots

1 cup frozen mixed vegetables

2/3 cup pearl barley

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped (about ½ cup)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon dried oregano or basil, crushed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In large, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add beef, in 2 batches, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms to second batch of beef after it's browned and cook, stirring often until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add beef and mushrooms to 5- to 6-quart slow-cooker.

Add broth, tomatoes and their juices, water, onion, carrots, frozen vegetables, barley, celery, garlic, bay leaf, oregano or basil and pepper. Cover and cook on high, 4 to 5 hours, until beef and barley are tender and soup is richly flavored. Discard bay leaf.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

-- Adapted from "Better Homes and Gardens The Ultimate Soups & Stews Book: More than 400 Satisfying Meals in a Bowl" (Wiley, 2013, $19.99)

Walnut-Raisin Whole-Wheat No-Knead Bread

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This is adapted from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens' new baking book. It was a basic artisan bread recipe, with options for flour combinations, liquids to use, stir-ins to add. I decided to use their recipe as a guide and add my own stir-ins. It's easy and works beautifully.

3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

1 packet or 1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast

1/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned into cup and leveled off)

1/3 cup golden or dark raisins

Eggwash: 1 large egg, beaten with 2 teaspoons water

In large bowl, stir together warm water and yeast. Let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in microwave or small saucepan, heat milk, sugar, oil or butter and salt until warm (120 to 130 degrees), stirring until butter melts and sugar and salt have dissolved.

Stir milk mixture, walnuts and raisins into yeast mixture. Stir in the flours, about ½ cup at a time. Dough will be sticky. Oil another large bowl. Put dough in bowl, cover with cooking-spray coated plastic wrap and chill for 4 to 24 hours.

Using dough scraper, carefully lift dough from bowl and turn out onto floured surface. Cover with cooking-spray-coated plastic wrap. Let stand 30 minutes.

Put silpat or parchment on baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with fine cornmeal. Gently shape dough into 6-inch round loaf, flouring it if needed. If desired, cut an X in the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush loaf with eggwash. Bake 25 to 35 minutes until brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on bottom. If necessary, cover with sheet of foil the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 1 loaf.

-- Adapted from "Better Homes and Gardens Baking: More than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, $29.99)


Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin.

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