Kitchen Focus

I love soup. Nothing is more effective in helping take away a chill. It seems to warm you from the inside out and even my toes seem toastier after a piping hot bowl. And when it comes to soup, it's not hard to make me smile. I love everything from pumpkin bisque to chicken noodle soup to french onion soup. I even love the traditional accompaniments to soup -- various breads and salads. So you'll find it no surprise that this month's topic is devoted to soup, soup, beautiful soup!!!

Instead of diving into a variety of traditional soup recipes, I thought I'd take us off the beaten path to look at a few recipes that are among my favorite and really offer a splendid variety for this time of the year. What's even better is that each can be made in about 30 minutes ... that means that soup is no longer something that needs to simmer for hours. It can be a mid-week meal!

We start with a simple beef broth soup that is speckled with red peppers and mushrooms. I love the combination and the result is a satisfying bowl of soup that has an Asian influence and pairs beautifully with many favorite Asian appetizers and little bites. The beef broth brings a deep, savory flavor to the mix, but you could also use a vegetable broth or, better yet, a mushroom broth if you are looking for a vegetarian version of this soup. When I make this soup, I usually double the recipe and ladle out a bowl for lunch and have a simple cucumber and red onion salad with rice wine vinegar dressing alongside. If I've got a lunch companion, we might share an egg roll or two as well. It's a lovely way to take a break.

Mushroom-Pepper Soup

This simple Asian-inspired soup is a delightful first course or, paired with some warm egg rolls, makes a creative and satisfying lunch.
  • 8 oz. mushrooms -- choose your favorite variety or, better yet, use a variety
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic -- minced
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. butter
  • 3 (14 oz.) cans beef broth
  • 1 T. teriyaki sauce -- choose your favorite variety

Slice the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and dice the red pepper. Sauté the mushrooms, pepper and garlic over medium-high heat in the olive oil. Near the end of the cooking, add the butter and mix to flavor the vegetables. Add the beef broth and teriyaki sauce and heat to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes before serving.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
This second soup is my very favorite chicken soup to make when I want to have leftovers. Unlike noodle and rice soups that end up with water-logged bits, this simple chicken and vegetable soup seems like it's freshly made each time it gets warmed. The addition of some spicy tomato juice makes a deep flavor the backdrop for a canvas filled with chunks of tender chicken, white beans, and lots of fresh vegetables. I like to think of this as my extra-healthy soup that doesn't leave me with a longing for something else. Of course, it always appreciates being paired with some warm, salty breadsticks for dunking in that yummy broth.

Chicken & Veggi Soup

Instead of a traditional chicken soup, try this easy rendition that foregoes noodles and adds some spicy tomato to the broth.
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried Italian herbs
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts -- cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion -- coarsely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper -- diced
  • 1 c. sliced carrots
  • 2/3 c. short-cut green beans
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans chicken broth
  • 2 c. spicy tomato juice
  • 1 (15.8 oz.) can white beans -- rinsed and drained
  • 2 green onions -- sliced

Mix the first four ingredients. Set aside. Sauté the chicken in the olive oil. Add the prepared vegetables and the reserved seasonings. Mix to coat with the spices and sauté until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and tomato juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the beans and the green onions and warm through. Serve hot.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
I first made this light version of a chowder one summer when my garden was producing chives at a record pace and I couldn't justify any more baked potatoes! It's an incredibly simple soup that's made even easier if you have an immersion blender that can be used right in your stockpot. If you don't, you can just as easily blend the soup in batches in an ordinary blender. Just be very careful! Hot liquid in the blender can cause a lot of trouble if you aren't careful about pouring, processing and returning the broth to the stockpot. The wonderful thing about this bisque is that if you take a bit and hold it in your mouth with your eyes closed, you can just barely imagine that spring is not too terribly far away!

Mushroom-Chive Bisque

This highly-flavored bisque is definitely on the light side. It's a wonderful blend of traditional comfort foods with just a hint of spring that's offered by fresh chives.
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 (12 oz.) can fat free evaporated skim milk
  • 2 cloves garlic -- minced
  • 2 shallots -- minced
  • 8 oz. mushrooms -- sliced
  • 1 T. olive oil

In a deep pan, combine the vegetable broth, chives, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes or until the chives are soft. Add the evaporated skim milk. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until it has a homogeneous consistency and is pale green in color.

Meanwhile, sauté the garlic, shallots, and mushrooms in the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Before serving, add the sautéed vegetables to the broth and mix to combine. Warm thoroughly and garnish with fresh chives, if desired.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .