Brothy, yet hearty winter soups




Winter soups can be more than just rich creamy potages or chunky chilies. Sometimes a brothy one accompanied by a good protein is a meal in a bowl.

Beef, chicken, turkey or pork are all good sources of protein. So is shrimp if you are a pescetarian and lentils if you are a vegetarian. All they need is a good flavorful broth and the soup is ready to be slurped.

Consider the fragrant Vietnamese pho. It doesn’t call for a half pint of cream to soothe your soul, but instead the beef broth-based rice noodle soup does it simply with meat and/or vegetables, spices such as star anise and cardamom, ginger, fish or soy sauce, and a mix of cilantro, mint and basil.

The dynamic duo — greens and beans — also make for a good brothy soup, and come in many guises. Spinach can be combined with white beans and browned sausage or chicken meatballs. G&B can take on an Italian accent when cannellini beans are cooked with kale, garlic, pancetta or prosciutto and tomato paste or a Southern one when black-eyed peas are tossed with turnip greens and country ham.

A special shout-out goes to the chicken noodle soup, which reigns during the frigid months as it seems to ward off the cold and flu. Jazz up the old-fashioned flavor base of chicken, carrots, celery, yellow onion and parsley with tomato paste, chili powder, avocado and cilantro for a tortilla soup. Serve it with dumplings and spinach or make it in the form of a minestrone with pasta shells, vegetables, peas or beans.

Seared pork tenderloin can add a protein oomph to a hot-and-sour soup studded with shiitake mushrooms or to a broth perfumed with garlic, onion, garam masala and turmeric and slightly sweetened with chopped, dried figs.

All that meat chatter does not mean vegetarians have been abandoned; there are plenty of lentil-based soups to keep the base happy. The Greek faki soupa me spanaki is made with brown lentils, tomatoes, spinach and olive oil, while the mulligatawny has split peas, turmeric powder, tamarind paste, ground black peppercorns, ground cumin and red chilies. The soup’s name was appropriated by the British from the Tamil word molaghu tanni, which means pepper water.

Tofu and miso, made by fermenting soybeans, also are sources of protein, and it is not unusual for the Japanese to start their day with a bowl of miso that has shiitake mushrooms, rice vinegar and daikon noodles.

Since soups happily adapt to different diets, seasons and availability of produce, every one of the recipes shown can handle mixing and matching of ingredients.

We found that chicken meatballs have more flavor and texture when made with fennel and leeks and studded with pecans. A shrimp soup improves when chicken broth is combined with tomato paste, white wine, coconut milk, cayenne pepper and paprika. Chicken-dumpling soup can easily be converted to a vegetarian one by replacing the meat with loads of vegetables and chickpeas. And a lentil-based soup embraces earth with its nod to turmeric and cauliflower,

So while the beastly winter presses on, hearty brothy soups are a way to beat the blues.

Arthi Subramaniam: asubramaniam@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.

Chicken Meatballs in Lemon Broth

The original recipe called for the lemons to be roasted and then juiced but I found that fresh lemon juice works just as well. I also used pecans instead of pine nuts and shallots instead of cipollini onions. 

For meatballs

1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely diced

1 fennel bulb, finely diced

2 sprigs fresh basil

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste, divided

½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped

1 pound ground chicken

Freshly ground black pepper

For broth

¼ cup olive oil

4 shallots, thickly sliced

3 bay leaves

½ cinnamon stick

8 cups unsalted chicken broth

Kosher salt, divided

4 cups petit potatoes, cubed

¼ cup lemon juice

1 (6-ounce bag) spinach

Make the meatballs: Combine leek, fennel, basil, olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium skillet. Sweat over medium-low heat until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Let mixture cool.

In a large bowl, combine vegetables, nuts, chicken, 2 teaspoons salt and several cracks of pepper. Cover and refrigerate.

Make the broth: Heat olive oil in stockpot over medium heat. Place shallot in oil, and cook until slightly browned. Add bay leaves and cinnamon stick and swirl around a few times.

Carefully add broth to hot oil, and follow with pinch of salt and potatoes.

Bring broth to a simmer, allowing potatoes to absorb the flavors without breaking down, about 20 minutes.

When potatoes are just tender, remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Add lemon juice. Taste broth and adjust seasoning.

Finish the meatballs: Remove chicken from refrigerator, and with lightly wet hands, form 1-inch meatballs. (Yields 25 to 30 meatballs.)

Add meatballs to broth. Gently poach over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just cooked through.

Right before removing from the heat, add spinach to wilt.

Serves 5.

— Adapted from “Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook” by Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu (Clarkson Potter; October 2017)

Spicy Killer Shrimp Soup

PG tested

This soup gets a boost from the wine and coconut milk and has an added punch from the cayenne pepper and paprika.

1 cup dry white wine

1½ tablespoons tomato paste

1 quart chicken broth

1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

1 bay leaf

1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk

1½ teaspoons lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a medium saucepan, whisk together wine and tomato paste in a medium saucepan until the tomato paste dissolves.

Stir in broth. Add ground fennel seeds, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium-high.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.

Remove bay leaf. Add coconut milk, lemon zest and lemon juice to the broth. Bring to simmer over medium-heat.

Add shrimp and simmer until just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add butter, stirring until it melts. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from “Valerie’s Home Cooking” by Valerie Bertinelli (Oxmoor House; October 2017)

Lentil and Cauliflower Soup

PG tested

Turmeric adds a goldish-yellow hue to the soup, but it’s better to add the turmeric while cooking lentils rather than later as it has a pungent and earthy flavor that can be overpowering.

1¼ pounds cauliflower

1 large Vidalia onion, sliced

1 tablespoon curry powder

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste, divided

1 cup red or yellow lentils, cooked in 3 cups water and 2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Chop cauliflower into medium florets. In a bowl, combine together cauliflower, onion, curry powder, olive oil and salt. Place florets on a baking sheet with a rim and bake for 25-30 minutes.

In a pot, combine cooked lentils and tamarind paste. Add 7 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes.

Set aside a handful of florets for garnish and add the rest and onion to lentils. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

Check seasoning and add more salt if needed. Garnish soup with reserved florets.

Serves 6.

— Arthi Subramaniam

Chickpea & Dumpling Stew

PG tested

The dumplings make it hearty and stew-like but you can get a lighter soup by reducing the dumplings by half.

For stew

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, diced

2 ribs celery, diced (about 1 cup)

2 carrots diced (about 1 cup)

6 basil leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

7 cups vegetable stock

1 cup white wine

1 cup corn kernels

2 cans chickpeas, drained

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For dumplings

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons chopped chives

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional

1 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

For stew: To a Dutch oven, add olive oil and heat over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onion and saute until it starts to soften, about 4 minutes.

Add celery, carrots, basil and thyme; saute 3-4 minutes.

Add stock and wine, and bring to simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes to let flavor deepen.

For dumplings: In a large bowl, add flour, baking powder, salt, chives and Parmesan, if using, and whisk to combine.

In another bowl, add milk and oil, and whisk to combine. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until a slightly sticky but smooth batter is formed.

Drop batter, one tablespoon at a time, into simmering stew. It will make about 20 dumplings. Gently stir and let dumplings cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add corn and chickpeas and cover with lid. Let stew cook for 15-20 minutes or until dumplings are doubled in size and cooked through.

Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6.

— Adapted from “Southern Girl Meets Vegetarian Boy” by Damaris Phillips (Abrams; October 2017)





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