Chilled Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

It’s been another hot-hot-HOT summer in DC.  I’ve been dealing with the heat in many ways: getting up before 5:00 a.m. to get my runs in before the sun comes up, jumping through the neighbors’ sprinklers, and eating plenty of chilled soup.  The first chilled soup I ever had was a classic gazpacho – my mom and little brother make it best – and that’s still my favorite.  But I’ve been on something of a Greek yogurt kick recently and this is a perfect, easy, light and refreshing supper to whip up when it’s so hot you can’t face the idea of turning on the stove.  The “soup” is icy cold and minty, and the radishes add a fun crunch.  It’s the second best way to cool off from the heat of a mid-Atlantic summer.

The best way to cool off?  Well, duh… the neighbors’ sprinklers.

Chilled Cucumber-Yogurt Soup with Mint

1 unpeeled English cucumber, chopped roughly
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
juice of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)
2/3 cup packed mint leaves
2 cups Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon sugar
skim milk (optional), as needed
thinly sliced radishes and mint sprigs for garnish

  • Add cucumbers to blender and pulse to begin chopping.
  • Add lemon (or lime) juice, salt, mint leaves, yogurt and sugar to blender and blend until pureed and combined well.  Thin with milk as necessary.  When soup reaches desired consistency, taste for seasonings and adjust (adding more sugar or more salt) as you prefer.
  • Chill soup 1 to 2 hours in refrigerator.  Before serving, stir well.  Garnish with thinly sliced radishes and mint sprigs.

Source: Adapted slightly from Love Soup

Lemon Chicken Soup

Ahhhh, leftovers.  Who here loves leftovers?  I’ll say that I do, but when I think of leftovers, I’m usually thinking of Thanksgiving leftovers.  Or those fantastic days when we had risotto the night before and there’s just enough left for my lunch the next day.  But what about those odds and ends that knock around the fridge?  Or vegetables that are starting to look a leetle long in the tooth?  Or – Heaven help me – that last quarter-box of spaghetti that seems doomed to sit in the pantry together?  Considered separately, these things are all unpleasant challenges that I’ll never overcome, food that is probably destined to ultimately go to waste.

Well, I’ve already established that I hate to throw food away.  But what’s to be done about leftovers that look decidedly unappetizing?  Answer: throw them into a soup.  After interacting with new flavors, almost-spent dishes take on a different – better – character.  This soup, which I first saw featured on an episode of Giada at Home, is a sparkling take on leftovers that actually elevates humble chicken soup to “treat” status.  The fresh lemon juice brightens the flavors of leftover chicken breasts and slightly-limp carrots and turns this soup into a dish where, honestly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Lemon Chicken Soup

1 yellow onion, peeled and minced
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups water
2 leftover chicken breasts, large-diced
1 handful spaghetti or other long pasta, broken into thirds (at least)
juice of 2 lemons

  • Heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and season with salt and pepper.  Saute until translucent.  Add carrots and saute until carrots are beginning to soften and take on golden color.
  • Add stock and water and simmer 10 minutes.
  • Add diced chicken and spaghetti.  Bring to a boil for 8-10 minutes, until the spaghetti is cooked.  Add lemon juice.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until ready to serve.

You can experiment with different add-ins; this soup would be a great foil for anything you may have aging (slightly) in your fridge.  I frequently have half a pack of spinach left over by just before the expiration date, and I’m definitely planning to throw that in next time!

Source: Adapted from Giada at Home.

Squash and Ginger Soup

I realize that I have committed the cardinal sin of blogging: the disappearing act.  And I present to you my most humble apology for being AWOL so long, with no explanation.  In fact, I’m not going to bore you with the details of my explanation right now – or ever.  I’ll just leave it at this: for the past week, at any given time, either hubby or I have been subsisting entirely on the following three things: (1) chicken soup; (2) saltine crackers; and (3) ginger ale.  I really didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading about our meals.  The recipes would go something like this: Open Campbell’s chicken soup.  Heat on stove.  Serve with saltines, ginger ale, and sympathy.  Lie on couch and watch Bringing Up Baby (if you’re me) or Star Trek (if you’re hubby).  There… you’re now caught up on all of our meals for the past week.

Now that I’m back to sitting upright and being able to stand the sight/smell/thought of food, though, I’m eating this squash and ginger soup to get me back to 100%.  Ginger is miraculous when you have a tender tummy.  I’ll admit that I didn’t always like ginger – other than the luridly pink pickled ginger that comes with Whole Foods sushi – but I’m a convert.  I love it in baked goods, in teas, in stir-fries and, yes, in soups.  And the best part: you don’t even need to have a sick tummy to enjoy this subtly spicy ginger-infused puree.  It’s a wholesome, warming, wonderful winter soup.  Yum.

Squash and Ginger Soup

1 large Butternut or Blue Hubbard squash (I used Blue Hubbard here)
1 yellow onion, large-diced
2 russet potatoes, cubed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (not the powdered stuff)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Peel and seed the squash: halve it very carefully, then scoop out the seeds, chop the squash into cubes and remove the skin.  Scrub the potatoes and chop them into cubes of roughly equivalent size to the squash.  Toss the squash and potatoes with olive oil and sea salt.  Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and continue cooking for another 20 minutes.
  • In a large soup pot, saute onions until translucent.  Combine the roasted vegetables with the broth, water, fresh ginger, cilantro (if using) and rice vinegar.  Simmer together for approximately 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.  Turn off the heat.  Puree the soup (in batches, please, unless you want soup all over your ceiling, and trust me, you don’t – ask me about the Great Pesto-Tastrophe of 2005 if you want more details) in a blender, or in the pot with an immersion blender.  Thin the soup with more broth if you prefer.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with a garnish of cilantro or plain yogurt if desired.

Source: adapted from Love Soup, by Anna Thomas

Green Soup

Don’t be scared: this only looks like pond scum.  I promise you, it tastes much better.  (Not that I know what pond scum tastes like…)

I bought my copy of Anna Thomas’s Love Soup some months ago and simply haven’t had time to cook anything from it.  This is sad, and not a reflection on Anna at all – most of her recipes are very easy and tempting.  It’s just that my schedule has been so hectic that I feel like I’ve barely sat down since mid-October.  If nothing else, that fact alone means I’m crying out for some homemade soup, which in my book is about the most comforting, lovely food imaginable.  Of course, when I finally got the opportunity to make myself some soup, I found I had misplaced my copy of Love Soup.  (It’s probably in my den buried under the 36 bottles of wine that hubby and I bought in California.)  No worries, though – I knew exactly what kind of soup I wanted… green soup!  Anna touts her green soup – which is actually a whole category of pureed soups with some sort of dark leafy green – as a perfect post-holiday cure-all.  She’s not kidding.  I made this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants version of Anna’s green soup, sans cookbook, and it was delicious – light but also warming, comforting, nutritious and tasty.  The perfect January food, in my opinion. 

Green Soup

2 Carnival squash, tops lopped off and seeds scooped out
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
1 shallot, minced
1 carton (4 cups) vegetable broth
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems trimmed out and leaves julienned
2-3 cups water
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons Ricotta cheese (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  After preparing the Carnival squash (that just happened to be the variety I had laying around the kitchen, left over from a farmers market visit – but you can substitute any hard winter squash), dress them with a generous drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast squash for 45 minutes, then remove from oven to cool.
  • While squash is cooling, warm a glug of extra-virgin olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the minced shallots and sprinkle with salt; stir occasionally until softened and slightly caramelized (about 5-8 minutes).
  • Trim the skin from the cooled Carnival squash and large-dice the squash flesh.  Add to the softened shallots and stir briefly.  Pour vegetable broth over squash and shallots and stir to deglaze the pot.  Add julienned Swiss Chard leaves and stir to combine.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cover pot.  Allow soup to cook for 30 minutes, until flavors meld and squash and greens are completely soft.  Turn off heat and process the soup in a blender or food processor, or in the pot with an immersion blender (my choice) if you have one.
  • Add water and cook soup on medium heat for another 10 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.  The soup is good as-is, but if you would like a little creaminess, stir in up to 2 tablespoons of Ricotta cheese.

Source: Adapted from Anna Thomas’s Love Soup.

Potato and Leek Soup

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I’m ashamed to admit this, as a proud foodie, but this was my first Julia Child recipe.  I’ve been intimidated by Julia, and her cookbooks, for several reasons, including:

1) All the French words.  (And nowhere did I find the phrase “I am a pineapple,” which is pretty much all the French I know.)
2) The sheer volume of butter and cream.
3) Her height.  I’m 4’11”.  Julia was tall enough to conk me on the head with a copper pot without lifting her arm.

Suffice it to say, these factors had me staying away from Julia.  Far, far away.  But, like most foodies and bloggers and food bloggers, I made a beeline for the movie theater when Julie and Julia came out, and despite the ridiculous amount of butter in that movie, I decided to get over The Fear and give Julia a chance.  I started small, as you can see, with potage parmentier, or potato and leek soup, which happened to be the first recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 and the first dish that Julie Powell cooked in Julie and Julia.  It only seemed appropriate, and there really wasn’t much butter at all.  Bonus!  I cut the recipe in half and made a couple of tweaks.  I hope Julia doesn’t mind.  If she does, I’ll have to look out for copper pots…

Potato and Leek Soup

2 cups potatoes, peeled and medium-diced
1 1/2 cups leeks, rinsed well and medium-diced
1 quart chicken stock
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter (it’s Julia, after all)

  • In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, warm the chicken stock.  Add the diced potatoes and leeks, bring to a boil, and then turn down to low immediately.  Simmer, partially (mostly) covered, approximately 50 minutes, until the potatoes and leeks are softened.
  • In a food mill or with an immersion blender (not a food processor), process or blend soup until consistency is smooth or chunky, as you prefer.  If necessary, thin with water to bring consistency to desired point.
  • Stir in a pat of butter (approximately a tablespoon, but you can do more if you want to because it’s Julia) and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with chives and serve in cream soup bowls.

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Source: Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.

Lentil and Vegetable Soup

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Organic French lentils, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and kombu – what’s not to love?  I made a pot of this soup before going to the spa on Sunday, and it was the perfect dinner to come home to – after treating myself to a lovely massage, I continued to treat myself to a delicious, healthy dinner.  Now that’s what I call pampering!

Lentil Vegetable Soup

1 quart organic chicken or vegetable stock
1 quart water
1/2 cup French lentils
2 strips kombu (sea vegetable, available in the Asian aisle of your market)
3 carrots, sliced in thin rounds
1 zucchini, quartered and sliced
1/2 teaspoon kelp granules (optional)
kosher salt and fresh pepper
pinch of cumin, oregano and thyme
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

  • Bring water and stock to a boil in a large stockpot.  Add lentils and kombu strips (break them in half before adding them, to make them easier to eat) and cook on a low boil for 45 minutes, until lentils have begun to soften.
  • Add vegetables and season with kelp granules, salt and pepper, dried herbs and spices, and continue to cook until lentils have completely softened and the carrots and zucchini are cooked through as well, about 10-15 more minutes.  Stir in crushed tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes or so to allow the flavors to combine.

Source: Adapted from Sara Snow

Pasta e Fagioli

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I love to have soup for dinner.  I’ve been known to whip up a big pot of chicken noodle, or corn chowder, or my grandmother’s roasted red pepper soup, and live on it for a week.  That, of course, was when I was a law student living alone in Foggy Bottom.  Now that I’ve got a man around the house, the situation has changed slightly.  Soup for dinner is still okay, but only if it has some substance to it.  So my favorite split pea soup is scorned, but this pasta e fagioli – with red kidney beans, chewy pasta and a thick broth – is acceptable.  In fact, it’s more than acceptable; it’s hearty but healthy, with a delicious, savory flavor, and it’s a one pot meal.  Sign me up!  But of course, I’m the notorious soup lover in the household.  The hubs is the real critic, when it comes to soup… and he loved it too.

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Pasta e Fagioli

1 shallot, minced
2 strips turkey bacon (optional)
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken stock, divided (preferably organic and free-range)
1/2 cup pastina (such as ditalini or small elbows)

  • In a large, heavy stock pot, heat approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add minced shallot, season with kosher salt, and saute until tender.  (If desired, add turkey bacon here and cook until crisp, then remove from the heat, leaving the renderings.  Place bacon on a paper towel and allow it to cool, then dice it.  I didn’t bother with any of this; so don’t feel it’s necessary – it’s just nice if you have time, which I didn’t…)
  • Once shallots are tender and translucent, add kidney beans and 1 cup of the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down slightly and allow the beans to cook at a high simmer or low boil for 10 minutes.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend soup just slightly, until some of the beans are broken up and thickening the stock, but most are still whole.  Alternatively, you can transfer about 1/4 to 1/3 of the beans to a blender or food processor, puree them, and transfer them back into the pot.  (This is actually how you are supposed to do it – I’m just lazy.)
  • Add the remaining 3 cups of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of pastina.  Elbow macaroni works great, but I used ditalini, which was yummy too.  Any small pasta will do.
  • Boil approximately 10 minutes.  (If you bothered with bacon, now would be the time to stir most of it back in, reserving some as a garnish.)  Season to taste with salt (if needed) and pepper, then serve with parmesan grated fresh over the top.

Source: Adapted from Giada’s Family Dinners, by Giada de Laurentiis