Soups, From Scratch, With a Twist

Once upon a time, a long list of ingredients was a soup's best feature. Soups were the way home cooks accounted for the constant buildup of vegetable and meat trimmings, discarded carcasses and herb ends that were the natural by-products of daily meal-making. But now that fewer meals are made from scratch at home, that ongoing inventory of itinerant ingredients has practically disappeared, and the art of soup-making has dried up along with it.

Today, more people get their soup from a can than from a pot, but that doesn't mean that what the ladle holds can't be inventive, delicious and brimming with all the ingenuity that was the essence of soups when they were concocted from a larder full of nothing-to-eat.

The New Age chowder that follows is not as radical as it sounds. Smoked meat, beans and potatoes are traditional chowder ingredients; here they appear with a twist. The smoked flavor comes from the salmon, and the beans are fresh green soy. Instead of relying on long simmering to thicken the soup, you add a small amount of potato flakes at the end of cooking, which gives the chowder a silken texture instantly.

Smoked Salmon and Edamame Chowder


1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 rib celery, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 red or gold potato, peeled and finely diced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried dill
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cups (about 14 oz. each) vegetable broth
1 cup corn kernels, fresh, frozen, or canned
1 cup frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)
2 oz. smoked salmon, finely chopped
1/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery, onion and potatoes, and saute until the vegetables are just beginning to get tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the thyme, dill, pepper and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add the corn, edamame, smoked salmon, and potato flakes, stirring until the flakes dissolve. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the edamame are tender and the broth is lightly thickened. Add the cream, heat through, and serve.

Serves 4.

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I try not to use too many packaged ingredients in any one recipe, lest I begin to feel like a dump-and-heat dummy. But this recipe worked out that way and I couldn't have made it better if I had chopped and sweated all day. The flavors are exotic and intense. You can adjust the level of heat by using milder or hotter salsa.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup


1 can (16 oz.) candied yams, drained
1 cup curry cooking (or simmer) sauce, jarred or homemade
1/2 cup salsa, preferably medium-hot
1 cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup light coconut milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

Mash the yams in a large saucepan. Add the curry sauce, salsa, broth, cilantro, allspice, coconut milk, salt and pepper, and heat to simmering. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, stir in the scallions, and serve.

Serves 4.

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Asian dumplings abound. Refrigerated and frozen, folded into wontons, crimped into shiu mai or pleated as pot stickers, they are ready to transform a box of broth and a few vegetables into a delicious soup hearty enough for a light dinner or an elaborate lunch. Any style of Asian dumpling will work in this soup.

Wonton Noodle Noodle Soup


1 container (32 oz.) chicken broth
1 tsp. soy sauce
3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
1 tsp. minced garlic, fresh or jarred organic
1 tsp. minced ginger, fresh or jarred
8 frozen Asian-style dumplings, preferably vegetable
1 package (3.5 oz.) ramen noodles (discard flavor packet)

Combine broth, soy sauce, scallions, garlic and ginger in a large saucepan; heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Add the wontons and noodles; reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the wontons and noodles are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Serves 4.

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The advent of canned fire-roasted tomatoes has revolutionized the way I cook. Redolent with a whiff of wood fire, and speckled with natural bits of charred tomato, they transform a simple, straightforward soup, such as this one, into a rustic, full-flavored dining experience.

Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup


1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut in 1-inch dice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsps. water
2 Tbsps. chopped garlic
1 can (14 oz.) diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can (14 oz.) crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can (14 oz.) vegetable broth
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Heat the oven to 400°.

Toss the onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper on a rimmed sheet pan and spread out in an even layer. Roast for 15 minutes, tossing the onions halfway through to help them caramelize evenly. When they are done they will be browned on their edges.

Remove the mixture from the oven and sprinkle the water over top. Toss to combine, using the moisture to scrape any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan into the onions.

Combine the onions and the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer; simmer for 5 minutes until the flavors are blended.

Serves 4.

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The amalgam of vegetable and fruit flavors sounds strange, but I assure you the results are perfectly delicious. The one ingredient that may be unusual to you is precut butternut squash. You will find it in the produce section of your food store alongside other prepared fresh vegetables. If you can't find it, you can substitute a medium-size butternut, acorn or buttercup squash that has been peeled, cleaned of seeds and stem, and cut into rough 2-inch chunks.

Harvest Vegetable and Orchard Fruit Bisque


1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion, fresh or frozen
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 package (about 1 pound) peeled butternut squash cubes, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup V8TM vegetable juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup apple juice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; add the onion, celery and carrot, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf, allspice, squash and broth; cover and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf and puree the vegetables and broth in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Return the puree to the saucepan. Stir in the juices and heat until simmering; simmer for 5 minutes.

Serves 4.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.



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