Winter Soups

Lend me your imagination for a moment. There's a frigid wind blowing outside your windows and you can see your breath the moment you open the door to welcome a good friend in from the cold. Icicles are clinging perilously to the eaves on your home and the snow is steadily piling up on the walk you shoveled not more than an hour ago.

For some of us, it doesn't take much to imagine this wintry scene. It's right outside our front doors! How do you combat the chills, colds, and sometimes dreary weather that hangs around during the winter months? If you're like me, you fire up the stove, pull out your stock pot, and make soup...lots of soup!

Even if your version of winter is dealing with temperatures in the low eighties instead of triple digits, a good bowl of homemade soup can be a welcome treat. Packed with fresh vegetables, hearty meats or legumes, and everything else you need to keep yourself going this winter, soups are the answer to busy schedules and stuffy heads. Because they freeze and store so well, soups are a natural for make-ahead meals. In the time it takes to make a huge pot of soup, you can have yourself dinners for days when you're too busy or tired to cook, lunches on the go, and even first courses for those surprise guest visits.

Before we get to the recipes in this article, I'd like to say a few things about soups. First, allow yourself a good chunk of time to make a really good soup. What really gives them their fantastic flavor is the process of slow simmering over hours. Also, like stews, soups taste terrific a day later, so don't be afraid to make some soup alongside Sunday's ornate dinner and set it aside for Monday. Finally, I love using homemade stocks in my soups. I simply make huge batches of beef, chicken, and whatever else I have on hand at the beginning of each month. I always skim them before they make it into my soups. However, if you don't have the time, energy, or desire to make stocks from scratch, you can choose from among the many canned broths, dry bouillon cubes or granules. Just use enough to make the amount of broth called for in each recipe.

I've included four of my favorite soups in this article. Because I'm a firm believer in being versatile, I've also included some other options with each recipe - who says you can't teach an old soup new tricks?!? So, if it's as the main course for an intimate family dinner or just the start of an elegant party, soup's on!

Too-Much-In-My-Garden Chicken Soup

The name of this soup says it all! Instead of thick egg noodles, this hearty soup features so many veggies that it really ought to be called Vegetable Soup. But that wouldn't sound nearly as fun, would it?
  • 2 qt. chicken broth
  • 1 qt. water
  • 2 c. cooked chicken, cubed
  • 1 c. carrots, sliced
  • 1 c. fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh mushrooms
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth and water in a large stock pot and place over medium heat. Add chicken, carrots and peas and cook for 20 minutes. Add onion and green pepper and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Finally, add the mushrooms, tomatoes and seasonings and lower heat to low or medium-low and slow simmer until you achieve the desired taste. Note: If you want a vegetarian version, use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth and add 1 cup of cubed potatoes and 1 cup of cubed turnips or parsnips instead of the chicken.

  • Yields: about 4 quarts of soup
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour, plus simmering time

Sausage and Red Lentil Soup

Anyone who has ever thought that bean-based soups are dull should leave their misconceptions at the door! This soup -- called a "smiler" by my husband -- is bursting with flavor and is bound to keep you warm this winter.
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c. red lentils
  • 2 c. diced potato
  • 1 c. corn
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. smoked sausage, cut into 1/2" pieces

Cook the onion, carrot and garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes or until soft and lightly browned. Add all remaining ingredients except the sausage and cook for 35-40 minutes or until lentils and potatoes are soft. Add the sausage pieces and simmer about 15-20 minutes more until you achieve the desired taste. If you want soup that's more appropriate for a first course, omit the sausages and add 4 pieces of crumbled bacon with the lentils.

  • Yields: about 2 quarts of soup
  • Preparation Time: about 1 hour

Indian-Style Chicken Soup

This delicate soup blends the familiar chicken broth and vegetables of the West with a touch of India. Lemon grass and coconut milk can both be found at most major supermarkets.
  • 2 qt. chicken broth
  • 1 qt. water
  • 1 - 12 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. lemon grass
  • 2 c. frozen carrot, corn and bean blend
  • 1 ripe tomato, coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth, water and coconut milk in a large stock pot and place over medium heat. Add garlic and lemon grass and cook for 20 minutes. Add the frozen vegetables, tomato and seasonings and lower heat to low or medium-low and slow simmer until you achieve the desired taste. Note: To make this soup a little more hearty, add 1 cup of cooked, cubed chicken, 1 cup long-grain white rice, and 1 teaspoon of curry. The result will be a thicker soup that can be served as a main course.

  • Yields: about 3 quarts of soup
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus simmering time

Autumn Minestrone

The abundance of vegetables and familiar seasonings in this soup make it tasty and fun to make. Use some corned beef from a previous meal to add a little salty flavor to this already tasty soup.
  • 1 qt. chicken broth
  • 2 qt. water
  • 3 c. carrots, sliced
  • 1 c. green beans, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 1 c. corned beef, cubed
  • 1 c. corn
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 head cabbage, shredded

Combine broth and water in a large stock pot and place over medium heat. Add carrots, green beans, onion and green pepper and cook for 20 minutes. Add kidney beans, corned beef and corn and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Finally, add the seasonings, tomatoes and cabbage and lower heat to low or medium-low and slow simmer until you achieve the desired taste. Note: If you prefer a side dish soup, replace the corned beef with 4 slices of cooked, crumbled bacon.

  • Yields: about 4 quarts of soup
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour, plus simmering time

Seafood & Wild Rice Soup

If you've ever been lucky enough to enjoy Cajun cuisine, this soup will bring back memories. Red snapper, crab, and wild rice give it that unique down-home feeling while its peppy spice blend gives it Cajun flair.
  • 1 qt. stewed tomatoes
  • 1 qt. water
  • 1 qt. chicken broth
  • 1 c. wild rice
  • 1 c. carrots, sliced
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 2-3 T. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. red snapper, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1/2 lb. crabmeat, cut into 1" pieces

Combine stewed tomatoes, broth and water in a large stock pot and place over medium heat. Add wild rice and carrots and cook for 20 minutes. Add onion and red pepper and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Then, add the seasonings and lower heat to low or medium-low and slow simmer until you achieve the desired taste. Five minutes before serving, add the snapper and crabmeat and allow to cook. Note: The seafood will cook very quickly, so check the snapper frequently by piercing with a fork. When it flakes easily, it's done. If you prefer a milder fish, try adding 1" pieces of cod about 2-3 minutes before serving. Cod will cook even faster than snapper and may flake apart more when serving.

  • Yields: about 4 quarts of soup
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes, plus simmering time

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