By Kerri Conan
There’s a reason they call them pot lucks: You take your chances at these shindigs. But last weekend I went to the best bring-your-own-food party ever, where the mandate was soup.
It started a couple weeks ago, when 30 or so folks were summoned to the old William Burroughs—yes, that William Burroughs—residence in Lawrence, Kansas. My friend Tom King, a chef-now-writer from California who has been taking good care of the place and its guests for the last few years, had gotten the idea for a soup potluck from his pal Heather Hall’s family Christmas tradition. Immediately after Tom sent out the sign-up email, the soups started pouring in: Muligatawny; Potato, Kale, Bacon; Chicken Tortilla with Lime; Gypsy Soup (a hearty mix of chickpeas, vegetables, and sweet potatoes); Hot Chili Soup (with several kinds of fresh and dried chiles); Cannellini; Chuck Wagon Beef Yee Haw; Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Spinach; Creamy Potato Leek; Mushroom-Beef with Oat Groats; Chicken Soup with Black-Eyed Peas and Turnip Greens; and Thai Chicken with Lemongrass and Chiles. Twelve in all, each more delicious than the last (I can say with confidence having tried eleven).
The set-up was simple: On the sunny porch, a large table was set with Tom’s seedling starters (that’s where they live so why move them?) a power strip for the slow cookers, and a bread spread. Desserts, slurping vessels, and utensils were handy on a side table. In the kitchen, four pots of soup simmered on the stove, a counter was transformed into a cheese board, and one stray Crock Pot found a free outlet, its garnish of crisp tortillas in a bowl nearby. Beer and wine in the fridge and a fire burning out back ensured the flow between soups was constant and convivial. Afterwards, Tom provided containers for everyone to take home the leftovers. What a perfect way to transition from winter to spring.
By Alaina Sullivan
Carrot and cumin is a flavor pairing worth tattooing into your brain. Here, dressed simply in olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper, the carrots are roasted at high heat until they become tender, caramelized, and smoky. You can eat them straight from the baking sheet, or turn them into soup as I did (see below.) Recipe from How to Cook Everything.
Roasted Carrots with Cumin*
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 35 minutes
1 to 1 ½ pounds baby carrots, green tops tripped, or full-sized carrots, cut into sticks
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (you can also use ground cumin)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil; sprinkle with the cumin and salt and pepper. Roast until the carrots are tender and browning, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
By Alaina Sullivan
Squash soups typically rely on a blender to give them a luxuriously creamy consistency, yet this version achieves richness without being pureed to a pulp. Small cubes of butternut squash are cooked in a milky-sweet broth, and they hold their shape all through cooking. The soup becomes creamy by way of coconut milk, which contributes a rich flavor without weighing it down. Curry, cinnamon and cumin spike the broth just enough to accent the squash without masking its natural flavor. The curry and coconut shine together as they usually do, but it’s the cinnamon that brings a warm, unexpected undertone to the dish.
It’s a soup that sits in limbo somewhere between creamy and brothy, sort of the best of both worlds. Garnish with fresh cilantro or mint. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Curried Coconut-Butternut Squash Soup
Cook two cups of chopped squash in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, along with a diced onion, a teaspoon of cumin, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of curry powder (or more to taste). Cook the vegetables and spices until the onion is soft, about three minutes. Add five cups of chicken broth or water and a cup of coconut milk; bring to a boil and cook for about six minutes or until the squash is tender and easily pierced with a knife. Serve the soup topped with fresh cilantro and crusty bread or a scoop of rice.
By Alaina Sullivan
Mushrooms are delicate but powerful in their ability to add rich meatiness to cooked dishes. This recipe calls for about three cups of mushrooms, though in my fungi-frenzy I measured closer to four. I used shiitake, oyster and cremini — each contributed a distinct texture, creating a rhythm of chewy, porous and meaty spoonfuls. The mushrooms swim in a broth of chicken stock and soy sauce, which intensifies the earthy flavor of the dish. The addition of lemon juice gives a surprising brightness, pulling it up from its savory depths, and strips of nori add a note of the sea. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express
Mushroom and Nori Soup
In a pot over high heat, cook about three cups of mushrooms (any combinations works; oyster and shiitake is especially good) in a couple of tablespoons of butter until they begin to release their liquid; add a diced onion, a minced garlic clove, and a chopped celery stalk and cook until the onion in translucent. Add about four cups of vegetable or chicken stock, a quarter cup of soy sauce, the juice of a lemon, a pinch of celery seed, salt, and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Tear or slice a sheet of nori into strips and put in soup bowls; pour soup over the nori (it will mostly dissolve) and serve.
By Alaina Sullivan
There comes a time around the end of August when I feel an urgency to take advantage of the produce that, come autumn, will cease to overflow at farmers markets. It is during these dwindling days of summer that I crave the season’s fruits, vegetables and abundant herbs in their pure, unadulterated states. Meet a simple soup that embodies the freshness of summer: pureed zucchini, delicate and light, hosts handfuls of freshly chopped dill—it’s a combination that highlights the strengths of its core ingredients without unnecessary frill.
Though mild in taste, zucchini, especially grated, has a texture well-suited to soup – its natural moistness is further softened by a quick simmer with onion and vegetable broth, and a final puree brings it to a light, pulpy consistency. Dill supplies the flavor – simple, clean and savory – it is a perfect herbal companion to the zucchini. I found the soup most delicious served cold—a cooler temperature emphasizes the freshness of the zucchini and elevates the flavor of the dill.
Though simple in its ingredients and preparation, it is the type of soup that can be infinitely tweaked according to personal taste. A few dollops of Greek yogurt provided an added creaminess in my version, and, as someone who craves a crunch in my pureed vegetable soups, I garnished the bowl with toasted pistachios before diving in. As with most simple recipes, the quality of ingredients is key. When the zucchini and dill are fresh, this soup makes the impending arrival of fall feel more distant with each spoonful. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.
Zucchini and Dill Soup
Add fresh ricotta, sour cream, or yogurt while pureeing, for richness.
Grate a couple of zucchini. Cook a chopped onion in butter until softened, then add the zucchini and stir until softened, five minutes or so. Add vegetable or chicken stock and bring to a boil; simmer for about five minutes, then puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and lots of fresh chopped dill.
By Freya Bellin
This chilled soup is almost more of an herby fruit juice, incredibly refreshing and simple to make. And gets along well with booze! The lemon and herb (I used rosemary), add a savory element to the dessert, cutting down the sweetness a bit. You may consider making extra syrup in step 1, as it lasts a little while and would be a great addition to homemade iced tea. I skipped the straining step because I liked the texture of the pureed melon—a little bit like a slushie—but taste as you go and decide for yourself. Eat with spoons or straws. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 45 minutes
Lentils make soup making easy—they cook quickly and are incredibly tasty. And unlike many lentil soups, which are so thick they put people off completely, this one is nicely balanced with some simple vegetables. The lentils break down a bit during the cooking to give the soup a hearty consistency, but you can purée it if you prefer. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.
By Freya Bellin
Ripe, fresh tomatoes are elusive this time of year, but good quality canned tomatoes do the trick in this hearty winter-time soup. They can be just as sweet as the ones you find in the middle of August, and you get to skip over the washing and chopping step. Plus, they break down a little faster than the fresh kind.
I used half stock and half water for the liquid, but the broth was still quite flavorful from the onions, celery, and garlic cooked at the beginning. I especially liked the celery, which was subtle, but noticeable and appreciated. With the addition of bulgur the soup becomes heartier and more of a standalone meal. As mentioned below, the starch lends a surprising creaminess, making this soup seem much richer than it is. Unlike most soups, I found that I really preferred this one on day 1, so try to serve it all at once if possible. It shouldn’t be too hard to find willing eaters. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
By Freya Bellin
One of the cold weather staples in my kitchen is a good, hearty soup — the kind that needs only a thick slice of bread to make itself a meal. This carrot and chickpea soup fits right into that category: it has relatively few ingredients, takes only about 30 minutes of active cook time, and is completely satisfying as a main dish. The smoked paprika smells amazing bubbling in a stock pot for hours. My chickpeas soaked for about 3 hours before I added them to the stock, and it required about 2 hours cooking time to soften them. If you remember, try soaking the beans overnight to reduce that time. Plus, you can reuse the soaking liquid – I used 2 cups of chickpea liquid and 4 cups of vegetable stock for the 6 cups of liquid needed. I ate a few bites of the soup before I pureed it and it’s as good chunky as it is smooth. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
It’s the weekend after the 4th, it’s hot, and you’re still stuffed with meat. Check out this unbelievably refreshing (and quick) avocado soup from How to Cook Everything. There’s no cooking required, but if you have any leftover cooked shrimp or crab lying around, definitely try the variation.
Fast Avocado Soup
MAKES: 4 servings
TIME: 10 minutes, plus time to chill
Creamy, with a gorgeous color, this soup couldn’t be simpler. If you like, dress it up with chopped cherry tomatoes, sliced scallion, chopped chervil or mint, or a dollop of crème fraîche (or any of those in combination). Or see the variation for some seafood additions.