Bowl of soup perfect antidote for winter

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 15, 2001

The cheerful twinkle of Christmas lights is gone and the wonderful dusting of New Year’s Eve snow has melted. To me, this is the longest part of winter. The weather report will be the same for days on end: cold and damp except for the occasional freeze. And even though the kitchen is barely cleaned up from your huge Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, your family is sitting at the table waiting to be fed again.

The answer to the weather and hunger is the ease of winter soups. Not only will their delicious aromas brighten up your home, but also they will warm your family to the tips of their toes.

Most of these recipes call for broth or stock. Obviously it would be preferable for you to use homemade. Once upon a time I had the time to make my own. However, now that I live in the real world I rarely do. If you have the time I have included the steps to making your own chicken stock. If you use canned broth, as I often do, remember to taste your soup before you add salt because the canned ones are usually salty. I also like to use an ingredient called soup base. You can find it a grocery stores in the soup section, and it comes in beef, chicken and occasionally vegetable. It resembles a paste, and I mix it with boiling water. It is also perfect to put a little of this in your vegetables when they are cooking for flavor and you don’t have to open an whole can of broth. This product has to stored in the refrigerator after you open it, but is great to have on hand.

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This first soup is the perfect use of an out-of-season vegetable. Never would I dream of using tender spring asparagus for a soup. But Mexico and other Southern countries provide us with asparagus most of the year and their thicker, woodier stalks are perfect for soup.

Winter Asparagus Soup

5 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, minced

2 leeks, rinsed well, trimmed and minced (use the white and tender green part)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon dried tarragon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and

cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup dry white wine

5 cups chicken broth

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and white pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, leeks, garlic and carrots, cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are quite soft, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the tarragon, cayenne, parsley and asparagus. Then let cook two more minutes. Add the wine and chicken broth. Bring the soup to boil, then simmer uncovered until all the vegetables are very tender. This takes about 45 minutes.

Stir in the dill and remove from the heat. Add the cream to the soup and process it in small batches in either your blender or food processor until smooth. Season with the salt and pepper and serve. Or you can refrigerate and reheat over low heat when you are ready to serve.

This next soup is something I put together years ago because it reminded me of a dish from my childhood. When I was in elementary school we lived for several years in Pennsylvania. During the winter my mother often cooked dried beans with a big ham bone in them. We would eat the thick, creamy dish with plenty of hot, buttered cornbread. This dish is more of a soup then the original dish, but cornbread is still the perfect accompaniment.

Northern Bean Soup

1 pound dried navy beans

1 meaty ham bone, about two pounds

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 carrots, scrubbed and diced

1 white onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, diced

5 cups of water

3 or 4 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Pour the beans into a large bowl and pick out any bad ones.

Cover the beans with cold water let them soak overnight. Drain the beans and rinse them well. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the carrots and onions. Cook the vegetables until they are soft, then add the garlic. Let this saut\u00E9 for a few minutes. Then add the ham bone, bay leaves, beans and water.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally and skim off any fat or foam that rises to the top.

When the beans are just barely tender, remove the bone from the soup and cut off the meat. Return the meat to the soup and check your seasonings. Serve when the beans are tender.

In San Francisco there is an incredible restaurant called Greens. It is a vegetarian restaurant which serves wonderful food, and the absence of meat is rarely noticed. This next soup caught my eye on the menu and in their cookbook. I have had to make a few changes for the sake of convenience. They start with a wild mushroom stock and I use chicken and while theirs has a deep, woodsy flavor, I think you will find this version excellent.

Mushroom, Leek and Potato Soup

3 tablespoons butter

1 medium white onion, diced

3 leeks, white parts only,

sliced into rounds

1 pound potatoes, peeled,

quartered and thinly sliced

6 cups chicken or vegetable


2 tablespoons olive oil

12 ounces fresh mushrooms,

brushed clean and coarsely


1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt and black pepper

1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream, optional

Fresh herbs for garnish such as parsley, thyme, or tarragon

Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a soup pot and add the onion and leeks. Saut\u00E9 them over high heat, stirring often for two to three minutes. Then add the potatoes, a teaspoon of salt and two cups of the broth. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter and the olive oil in a skillet. Add the mushrooms and saut\u00E9 them just until they begin to release their juices. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the wine to the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and syrupy. Then add the mushroom and wine mixture to the potatoes and add the remaining 4 cups of broth. Bring to boil and then cover the pot, reduce the heat and cook until the potatoes are soft. This will take 20 to 30 minutes.

Check your seasonings and if you want to use the cream add it now. Heat through and serve with fresh herbs for garnish.