Super Soups

Soup, glorious soup! It fills your tummy, nourishes your soul and brings you back for more. When the weather turns cold, there’s nothing more comforting than a steamy bowl of hot homemade soup. Soup warms you up on a cold winter day, spreading the feeling of contentment and satisfaction. Soups are extremely versatile, letting you improvise and be creative using simple ingredients. Soups are economical, can be prepared ahead-of-time and will feed a crowd with minimal effort. They are a wonderful way to incorporate more vegetables into your menu, especially when feeding fussy eaters.

I grew up on chicken soup and it is still one of my favorites, especially when it comes to Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Noodles, rice, matzah balls and kreplach are traditional accompaniments, but egg drops, crispy croutons or slivered green onions also make delicious additions, and a few drops of soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil will add an Asian flavor.

The majority of the soups I make are meatless, with a variety of vegetables to provide flavor and nutrients. The best vegetarian soups include full-flavored vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and zucchini.

Save leftover cooked noodles, rice and other grains such as quinoa or couscous and add them to clear or chunky soups.

If you start off your meal with a big bowl of soup, you won’t feel as hungry and will be less likely to overindulge (and bulge)! It takes twenty minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full, and sipping a bowl of hot soup at the start of your meal will help you slow down your eating.

The best way to give a creamy consistency to soup without using heavy (and fattening) creamers is to add pureed cooked starchy vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes, or cauliflower for a low-carb version. Cooked beans and lentils will add protein, soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals. Approximately 1 cup of pureed vegetables or legumes will thicken 3 to 4 cups of broth.

Vegetables should be cooked until tender, but not mushy. Beans, legumes and barley should be cooked until they release their starch, yet should still retain their shape. Root vegetables such as beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes and turnips require longer cooking time in order to fully release their flavors. Add milder vegetables such as zucchini and bell peppers midway through cooking so they don’t become mushy or tasteless. Delicate leafy vegetables such as spinach or Swiss chard can be added closer to the end of cooking in order to retain their bright color.

Add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking to release their flavor, whereas fresh herbs should be added in the last few minutes. My favorite herbs include thyme, basil, oregano and tarragon.

Add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking to enhance the flavor of lentil or bean soups. It’s best to adjust the salt and pepper at the end of cooking, especially if the soup is too thick and requires additional liquid.

I prefer to add less water at the beginning of cooking. If the soup is too thick, you can adjust the texture by adding a little more liquid if needed. A good guideline is to cover the vegetables with water, plus an extra inch.

If your soup is too watery, let it simmer uncovered to reduce some of the liquid. If it is still too thin, puree part of the cooked vegetables in a food processor, then stir them back into the soup. The pureed vegetables will give the soup a thicker consistency.

Yields 12 servings

This nourishing, fiber-packed soup is great for vegetarians. Beans are an excellent substitute for meat, providing plant protein that is low in fat. 

2 cups small white beans (e.g., navy beans)
6 cups cold water (for soaking the beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 medium carrots, chopped
6 1/2 cups water (approximately)
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut in small chunks
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or to taste)
1 to 2 teaspoons cumin (or to taste)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh coriander, finely minced (or 2 teaspoons dried)
Lemon wedges for garnish

Soak beans in 6 cups cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well. Discard soaking water.

Heat oil on medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add onions and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes, until golden.

Add garlic and carrots and sauté 5 minutes longer. Add a little water if needed to prevent sticking or burning.

Add water, beans, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme and cumin. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer partly covered for 1 hour.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. Cook for a 1/2 hour longer, until beans are tender. Stir in coriander. If soup is too thick, thin it with a little water.

Remove bay leaves and discard them before serving. Garnish each serving with a lemon wedge—squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice and enjoy!

Note: Freezes well.

Time-Saving Tips:

Soak and drain beans as directed. Place soaked beans in a Ziploc freezer bag and freeze for up to two months. When you want to make soup, just add the frozen beans to the pot—no need to defrost them first. (Note: This trick works with any kind of beans!)

If you’re really rushed, substitute 2 cans (19-ounces each) of white beans, drained and rinsed, instead of soaking dried beans overnight.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Lentil Soup
Photos: Estee Gestetner

Yields 10 servings

This scrumptious soup is a winner! Carrots, broccoli and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of beta carotene. It can be made either dairy or pareve.

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 or 4 medium carrots, chopped
1 bunch fresh broccoli (about 4 cups, cut) or 3 cups frozen broccoli
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut
7 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 tablespoons fresh basil or dill, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 cup additional water (or use milk, soy or rice milk)
1 teaspoon margarine or butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil on medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add onions and celery and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until softened. If necessary, add a little water to prevent burning.

Add carrots. Cook 3 to 4 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.

Add broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes and broth.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Add parsley and basil.

Cool slightly. Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree part or all of the soup until it reaches the desired texture. Stir in water or milk and margarine. Season to taste.

Note: Freezes well.

Yields 10 to 12 servings (about 18 cups)

Quick prep, slow cook! Chop the vegetables in the food processor, then put everything into the slow cooker and let the soup cook all day while you are at work. This scrumptious soup is packed with fiber and flavor—and it’s virtually fat-free.

2 medium onions, cut in chunks
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut in chunks
3 stalks of celery, cut in chunks
3 large carrots, cut in chunks
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
1/4 cup minced fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon dried dill)
3/4 cup pearl barley, rinsed and drained
1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed and drained
12 cups vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process vegetables in batches, using quick on/off pulses, until finely chopped.

Transfer finely chopped vegetables to a slow cooker, along with dill, barley, red lentils, broth, salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, until vegetables are tender.

Note: Freezes well. This soup will thicken when refrigerated overnight, so thin it with a little water when reheating.

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Soup
I vary this soup depending on what I have on hand. Use chopped mushrooms, zucchini or tomatoes. Instead of sweet potato, substitute with regular potato, turnip or squash. Instead of lentils, use green or yellow split peas. Canned drained kidney beans are also a good addition. It is important to fill the pot halfway with vegetables. Add barley and legumes, and then add enough vegetable broth or water to fill the pot to within 1 inch from the top. Sometimes I add a cup of leftover tomato sauce. Always different, always delicious!

Broccoli and Sweet Potato Soup


Let it Boil: The soup will cook faster if you add boiling water instead of tap water. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours.

Where’s the Beef? For a meatier flavor, add a few soup bones. Cooking time will be the same.

Yields 6 servings (about 12 cups)

Chicken soup is the ultimate comfort food. A steaming bowl of chicken soup, often called “Jewish penicillin,” is thought to cure the common cold. Serve this golden broth with matzah balls, noodles, rice or quinoa. This is a meal in a bowl!

3 pounds chicken pieces, with skin and bones
Cold water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (or to taste)
2 medium onions
5 to 6 medium carrots
3 to 4 stalks celery
1 or 2 parsnips (optional)
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Trim excess fat from chicken. Place chicken in a large stockpot, preferably one with a pasta insert. Add enough cold water to cover chicken completely by at least 1 inch. Add salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

Use a slotted spoon to skim off foam that rises to the surface.

Add onions, carrots, celery and parsnip. Reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Add garlic and dill and simmer 15 to 20 minutes longer. Adjust salt to taste and season with freshly ground pepper.

Remove pot from heat and let cool for a 1/2 hour.

Carefully strain broth into a large bowl or container; reserve chicken and vegetables. Store broth, covered, in refrigerator overnight.

Meanwhile, remove skin and bones from chicken and discard. Cut chicken and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl or container. Cover and refrigerate chicken and vegetables overnight.

When ready to serve, discard hardened layer of fat from surface of broth. For a meal in a bowl, add chicken and vegetables to the soup before reheating.

Note: Reheats and/or freezes well.

Norene Gilletz of Toronto, Canada, is the author of nine cookbooks, including The NEW Food Processor Bible: 30th Anniversary Edition (Vancouver, Canada, 2011) and Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (Vancouver, Canada, 2009). She is a freelance food writer, culinary consultant, cookbook editor, lecturer and culinary spokesperson.

This article was featured in the Winter 2012 issue of Jewish Action.
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