Tag Soup

Roasted Carrot Soup

This roasted carrot soup won Food52‘s contest for Your Best Carrot Recipe, beating out 217 other entrants. It bested the predictable salads, slaws, and carrot cakes; not to mention some more surprising recipes such as Candied Carrot Balls and Carrot Cake Ice Cream. Perhaps more significantly, it topped more than twenty other carrot soups. It’s that tasty.

Roasting the carrots intensifies their flavor (not to mention their sweetness) and the ginger and thyme, which steep in the broth before it is added to the carrots, bring a subtle complexity to the bowl. This is not a carrot ginger soup. It is a carrot soup with a slight kick.

It is also ridiculously simple. The recipe calls for just seven ingredients: carrots, olive oil, vegetable stock, a sprig of thyme, ginger, onion, and garlic.

It isn’t a meal in a bowl, by any means. I served it with naan and some leftover pizza. The next time I make it, I’ll round out the meal in a less haphazard fashion, and when I do, we’ll hear the The Professor’s grade.

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Winter = Soup Season = Great Vegetable Stock

Winter is soup season. OK – every season is soup season. But still, even if you aren’t trudging through snow to get home, a warming soup is a the best welcome home on a cold day. And I’ve cooked a lot of soups this winter: Deborah Madison’s lentil minestrone; Martha Rose Shulman’s pureed butternut squash and white bean soup (more on that soon); Mark Bittman’s sweet potato chowder (ditto); Yotam Ottolenghi’s Savoy cabbage and Parmesan rind soup (ehh …); and an utterly forgettable parsnip soup. Some have done well by The Professor;  others not so much. But here’s what I’ve learned: in most cases, the stock more than matters – it’s the deciding factor in whether a vegetarian soup is truly satisfying to a meat-eater. So what is the best vegetarian stock?

One year ago, I spent the better part of a day gathering, peeling and chopping ingredients (17 in total, including collard greens and lemon grass) to make Cooks Illustrated‘s Ultimate Vegetable Stock. The recipe’s creators were aiming for “a nicely balanced, robust vegetable stock recipe that vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would consider making.” And the stock was certainly more complex and flavorful than any packaged option.Though 5 hours and 17 ingredients better? I’m not so sure.

Since then, I’ve been using a stock based on Superior Touch’s Better Than Bouillon, embellished with a few teaspoons of soy sauce. In general, The Professor has been happy with the flavor that it adds, but I keep wondering if there is a simple home-made alternative. If you have a great recipe for home-made vegetable stock, send it to me and I’ll include it in my vegetable stock taste test.

Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells

Last week my dear friend Helen was in town and she came over for dinner.

“What do you want to eat,” I had asked her, in preparation.

“Something that you can write about for your blog, of course,” she responded.

Helen is a vegetarian. She is also British, which means she  grew up eating things like bangers and cottage pie and other euphemisms for … well, let’s not go there. In any case, I’d meant to ask Helen why and when she became a vegetarian but I forgot. I suppose it was because she grew up eating bangers.

In any case, the morning of her visit was cold and wet so I decided to make Martha Rose Shulman’s Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells for dinner.

I left the cookbook on the counter, opened to that page, while I started peeling the garlic. The Professor raised an eyebrow when he glanced at the recipe, but I pointed to Shulman’s words and repeated them: “It’s a meal in a bowl.”

“OK,” he replied, still skeptical.

The results were mixed.

For a meatless, creamless soup, the broth really was quite tasty and rich, thanks to the addition of four egg yolks. “It tastes good,” The Professor said. “Though I’d still call it subtle.

Subtle! It has damn near thirty cloves of garlic in it! I thought to myself, and turned my attention to Helen.

But The Professor continued his critique. The soup’s main flaw, to his mind, was the toasted bread, which the recipe calls for putting in the bottom of the bowl, sprinkling with grated Gruyere, and then topping with the hot soup. Inevitably, the bread turns mushy, and The Professor can’t abide mushy.

At the end of the meal, The Professor offered his conclusion: “I guess it’s filling … if you eat enough of it. But a meal in a bowl it is not!”

I think the soup is worth trying again — with the bread simply sliced for dunking into the soup, or cubed for sprinkling on top.

Super Carrot Soup

Last night I served carrot soup, based on a recipe from Power Foods, a book I’ve written about before. (I used vegetable stock rather than chicken stock and 2% milk rather than half-and-half. I also forgot the last-minute sprinkle of cayenne!)

In my experience, many soups that focus on a single vegetable — pea, asparagus, mushroom, etc — can involve pounds of the main ingredient and hours of work yet not deliver even minutes of rich flavor. The result might be too watery, too subtle, or too boring. In short, such soups can be disappointing.

As a soup, this recipe did not disappoint — or didn’t disappoint The Cook, at least. The soup wasn’t too watery, and I thought its vibrant orange color was matched by a concentrated flavor that I attributed to the two cups of carrot juice the recipe calls for.

For his part, The Professor deemed it “not as subtle as your butternut squash soup.” (A soup, I noted, that involves more ingredients and prep time.) “But I thought it smelled more flavorful than it tasted,” he added.

In any case, I had to admit that the soup — yummy as it was — felt more like an appetizer than a main course. To round out the meal, I had served it with a salad and what I called parmesan flat bread (an Iggy’s pizza shell, brushed with olive oil; sprinkled with cheese, salt, and pepper; and heated on the griddle).

“It’s definitely a light meal,” said The Professor. “But you don’t want a heavy meal every night.”

I didn’t ask for a grade this time, but I will try it again on some evening when a light meal would be welcome. And next time I won’t forget the garnish of cayenne, which might just heat the soup into the A range.

Immersion Blender

After posting this morning about soups, I couldn’t stop thinking about my immersion blender and how much I adore it.

For those unfamiliar with these wonderful gadgets, they are hand-held blenders and they make it infinitely easier to make pureed soups. Rather than transfer the soup into a food processor to blend, one batch at a time, you just stick the immersion blender into the pot and blend.

And presto!

Mark Bittman on Easy Soups

I am very late commenting on Mark Bittman’s first column for the The New York Times Magazine. It ran a few Sundays ago and focused on soups. “Creamy, Brothy, Earthy, Hearty” was the title.

I’m a big fan of soups, and already make several similar to those he suggests — a creamy and gingery butternut squash soup; a tomato soup with fresh basil; a black bean soup. I find the challenge is turning a yummy soup into a satisfying meal.

With the tomato soup, for instance, I serve grilled cheese sandwiches or bruschetta (as my “Italian” Mom taught me to call thick cut toast) rubbed with garlic and olive oil, and served with a selection of cheeses.

The butternut squash soup I served with seared scallops until I suddenly and inexplicably turned against the tasty molluscs. Now I’m struggling to find a good complement.

In any case, I’ll post my soup recipes soon. In the meantime, enjoy Mark Bittman’s.

How to Make Vegetable Stock

Making vegetable stock often seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Yet the store-bought stocks tend to be too bland or too salty. (In How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman laments that he wanted to “include an appraisal of store-bought vegetable stocks, but … none is consistently good enough to recommend.”) So in cooking for The Professor, I’ve sometimes fallen off the vegetarian wagon and succumbed to low-sodium chicken stock. But I’m determined to find an alternative.

So consider this the first post in an ongoing exploration. Some experiments will be needed. And ultimately some taste testers. For the moment, I’m starting with a recipe for “The Ultimate Vegetable Stock” from the team of cooks and testers at Cooks Illustrated magazine and the PBS television show, America’s Test Kitchen. They set out to create “a nicely balanced, robust vegetable stock recipe that vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would consider making” — a goal that lines up nicely with the focus of this blog.

The Cooks Illustrated team doesn’t just throw a few onions and celery stalks into a pot with water and let it simmer. The recipe calls for lots of ingredients — which you can see below, including some surprises like lemon grass, cauliflower, collard greens — and involves several steps.

It also involves more prep work than many stock recipes, as The Professor pointed out.

“You don’t have to peel the onions for a stock. Just chop them and throw them in the pot with the skins,” he offered, as he passed through the kitchen and saw me thinly slicing shallots. “That’s how the Barefoot Contessa does it.”

“Thanks,” I said, ignoring the advice as I continued slicing. Though I wondered if the Barefoot Contessa had it right. Would the recipe’s extra ingredients and additional steps be worth it? I’ll find out soon.

Note: Cooks Illustrated keeps cooking secrets like how to make vegetable stock behind a pay wall, but you can sign up for a free two-week trial to access the complete Ultimate Vegetable Stock recipe. In the meantime, here’s the list of ingredients:

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped coarse

10-12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

8 large shallots, sliced thin

1 rib celery, chopped coarse

1 small carrot, chopped coarse

vegetable cooking spray

4 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped (about 5 1/2 cups)

stems of fresh parsley from 1 bunch

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 tsp table salt

1 tsp black peppercorns, cracked

1 pound collard greens, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch strips

1 small head cauliflower

8-10 sprigs fresh parsley

1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed to bottom 6 inches and bruised

4 medium scallions, white and light green parts, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar