Casaubon's Book

The Soup Lady

In college I lived in a house where I was the only female resident among a largish group of guys. Along with assorted boyfriends, girlfriends and hangers on, our house became a hang-out for a lot of people, and we regularly sat down with 15-20 people for dinner. Our food budgets, however, were not of the sort that made this easy – but we managed mostly by feeding everyone soup, more or less all the time. The household was vegetarian and kosher, and we were young and experimental, and almost nothing seemed weird. As one of the chief cooks in the household, I made soup out of nearly everything. I count this soupy education of mine – pleasing many palates cheaply and imaginatively – as one of the best lessons I ever learned.

I made miso soup rich with mushrooms, ginger and tofu, roasted garlic soup, cream of carrot, cream of broccoli, curried cream of cauliflower and parsnip, perfected a vegetarian soup broth that tasted like turkey stock (the only problem is that I didn’t record what I did and I no longer remember how I did it!) and made matzah ball soup, made cabbage soup, rich, hearty winter borscht and tangy cold summer-style, hot and sour soup, Tom Kha Kai, mulligatawney and bean soup every which way.

I still make soup all the time, especially in winter. Meat is now part of our diet so there are Laotian-style chicken soups, and polish-style sausage, cabbage and potato soup, along with rich North African-style lamb broths, and once in a while, a deep, deep beef broth that gets made into wine-laced onion soup. When there is sustainable fish I make a clear fish broth or corn and fish chowder that my children beg for. In the cold months if I don’t know what there is for dinner, most likely there will be soup, because the ingredients are always in the root cellar. Chop some onions and brown them, add carrots, parsnips, maybe turnips, some cabbage, certainly garlic, maybe celery root, green herbs from the windowsills – parsley, fresh bay and lovage, perhaps or a bit of dill or mint, some sage and rosemary instead, add some leftover broth or roast some vegetables and cover with water to make vegetable broth, add in any thing else that seems wise – beans, a bit of meat (you don’t need much to make soup for six that will give you lunch the next day as well), coconut milk or curry paste for some soups, citrus or vinegar for others, some kale from the garden turned sweet with cold, simmer on the back of the cookstove, and you’ve got soup.

All it needs is bread (which we always have) or biscuits (which we have if we don’t have bread, since they are so quick), or maybe a muffin or pumpkin loaf. Or it could just have brown rice stirred into laotian chicken soup or avgolemono, or noodles – dry pasta if I’m lazy, but if I’m feeling energetic, or it is too cold to go far from the stove, homemade noodles, sliced and tossed in. Or dumplings – one has to have a kind of ambition, but the rewards of kreplach or wontons are terrific.

Dinner is done, and dinner can be smelled from the top of the house now where I work in my chilly office. If we will be out for the day with no fire it can go in a crockpot in winter or the sun oven in summer (and even often in spring and fall). If guests come to dinner unexpected, I can add some more tomatoes or noodles or rice or broth and make it stretch from feeding six to feeding 20 in a matter of minutes.

There is something about soup that feeds both your body and spirit in winter. Why else then would soup inspire the universal gesture, in which we break our bread above it and speak the blessing “Ah” as the steam rises up to meet us?

Anyone want to share a favorite soup recipe? Lentil-kale here tonight!



  1. #1 Adrienne
    January 4, 2012

    This is my latest favorite soup recipe. I advise using broth (either veggie or chicken) instead of water and adding a few more carrots. You can also omit the cheese and milk and use more potato for a creamy-ish texture w/o the dairy products… IMO it’s not the same w/o at least a little cheese, though.

  2. #2 Beth
    January 4, 2012

    Easy vegetarian version of Hoppin’ John (Southern Black-Eyed Pea Stew)

    Soak 1 lb dried black-eyed peas overnight. In the morning, rinse and combine them in a crock pot with a chopped onion, 2-3 minced garlic cloves, chopped celery, chopped bell pepper,and 4 cups water or veg broth. Cook on low 8-9 hrs. Add some diced tomatoes last, plus 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika. Serve over rice with a side of hot cornbread, and bottled hot sauce for anyone who wants.

  3. #3 CB
    January 4, 2012

    Carrot & Orange Soup
    1½ lb carrots
    ½ lb onions
    1 pint stock (chicken or veg is fine)
    1 pint orange juice

    Chop onions and fry for few mins. Add chopped carrots. Fry few more mins. Add stock and OJ. Season to taste. Simmer for 30 mins. Use a blender (or potato masher) to puree. Serve with a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of chives if you want to be posh.
    PS any cheap carton OJ will do for this.

  4. #4 aimee
    January 4, 2012

    I am a soup genius! I would happily cook soup four or five nights a week. One of my recent fall favorites is pumpkin-cheese soup with rajas. Rajas are roasted, peeled poblano peppers cut into long strips. They can be preserved in olive oil or brine and used in many ways. To make this soup:

    Bake a half of a large or a whole small pie-pumpkin. Peel and chop, then puree in a blender canister, thinning with chicken or vegetable stock. While pumpkin is baking,
    preheat broiler. Roast four large poblano peppers under broiler, turning until blistewred on all sides. Remove to a paper bag and let cool, then peel, seed, and cut into strips. These are your rajas.

    in a soup pot, sautee two stalks celery, shopped, a yellow onion, chopped, two or three cloves of garlic, and a large pinch of cumin seed. Other veggies to add if you like include carrots, bell peppers, summer squash, tough greens such as collards…

    When vegetables are soft, add pumpkin puree and thin to desired consistency with more stock, water, or milk. Add 4-6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cubed. Then add rajas.
    Finish soup with a dollop of sour cream and salt and pepper to taste.

  5. #5 Sarah in Melbourne
    January 5, 2012

    Spiced Red Lentil Soup:

    Fry chopped onions and garlic in olive oil with half teaspoons of turmeric, cayenne, fennel seed and a teaspoon or more of grated fresh ginger until the aroma rises.

    Add a cup or so of dried red lentils and stir them about for a minute or so.

    Add a tin or two of diced roma tomatoes (or basically any canned or fresh tomatoes with good flavour). Add chicken or veggie stock to make sure there’s enough liquid for the lentils to absorb. Cook until the lentils are tender – half an hour or so. Blend with a stick blender (or put it through a coarse sieve, or don’t).

    This is a nice warming soup for cold weather.

  6. #6 simba
    January 5, 2012

    Soup for when you’re sick:

    Boil equal amounts of garlic and ginger in plenty of water in a pot. Amounts vary according to taste- we generally do 5-10 cloves of garlic and 3-4tsp grated ginger for 4 people. If you’re cooking for those who need low salt, use lots of this so you don’t have to add stock or soya sauce.

    Fry onions until translucent in a frying pan (not brown), add them in along with an old broccoli stem. Boil until you forget about it, or it starts going golden. It’s hard to overcook this bit, and it’s nicer if allowed to reduce quite a lot.

    Then add carrots, boil. Then broccoli and any other veg you like. Taste and season if you think it needs it- soya sauce and sesame oil add to it.

    Bring to a good hard rolling boil, add noodles, when they’re cooked add spinach to the hot stock. Ladle into bowls, top with leftover meat and cold boiled eggs.

  7. #7 Steve in Hungary
    January 5, 2012

    One of my staples too, Sharon. Though I do not do quite as much experimenting as you, but it comes mainly from my little (but growing in size) garden here.

  8. #8 Apple Jack Creek
    January 5, 2012

    Cream of whatever soup is my staple.

    Cook veggies – or get leftovers from the fridge, or do some of each. Run through the food mill (this is your best kitchen gadget, right after a good knife and some decent pots and maybe a slow cooker) to mush it up and strain out anything nobody will eat (seeds, tomato skins, the parts on the stem of the broccoli that are too tough even after cooking). Season, add milk (maybe, maybe not, depends on what we are serving and how thick the soup ended up being), potentially thickened with the crumbs from the bottom of a cracker bag or some flour heated in milk on the stove, and voila, you have soup.

    What I like about this method is that I can a) disguise pretty much anything and my family will eat it and b) reduce prep time. The food mill saves me peeling the thick parts off the broccoli, dealing with the skins on the tomatoes, or (in a non-soup digression) cook down apples for sauce without peeling or coring first. Love, love, love my food mill.

    Love soup, too. And here I was, wondering what to do for dinner tonight – a few days back I cooked down a pumpkin with some curry paste and ended up with a rather thin curry sauce after milling it through … I have a cauliflower in the fridge that needs to be eaten, so if I cook it and then mash it into the curried pumpkin sauce, I oughta end up with a decent soup! We can hope. And mm, biscuits. Yep, we now have dinner plans. Thanks. 🙂

  9. #9 Adam Eran
    January 5, 2012

    Beans generally are what I like. Cook them in a slow-cooker overnight with a ham hock, and possibly add mirepoix (chopped, sauteed onions, garlic, green pepper and celery)… This simply can’t be beat.

    Even without the ham (don’t forget to salt the beans after they’ve cooked, then), you can also make salsa (tomato, chile, garlic, onion, and optionally lime and/or cilantro). Heat tortillas on a flat pan (“comal”) until they bubble up.

    Recommended beans: Any dark bean with ham hocks. Pinto beans are nice with salsa, but cranberry or borlotti beans are even better.

    For exotic (if pricey) beans, try…or your favorite farmer’s market.

  10. #10 Lorna
    January 5, 2012

    The West African Sweet Potato Peanut Soup you referenced a while back has become a new favorite at our house. Here’s an old favorite of ours. It comes from a German friend who says it’s a French recipe. It’s very simple and quick. I never measure, just use whatever amount seems right; ingredients can be adjusted to what is available. ROOT SOUP–saute onion, garlic and minced celeriac. Add diced root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, golden beets, turnips, rutabagas etc. Cover with just enough water or stock to cook. Season with salt and pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes. When vegetables are soft add milk or cream and slightly mash ingredients, or puree if you prefer. If you’re vegan this is good without added dairy, just use a good stock.

  11. #11 April
    January 5, 2012

    Ever notice how the best soup recipes start out “Saute chopped onion”? 🙂 As soon as I started frying onions tonight every kid came up and asked “Whatcha making?” or “When’s dinner?”

    Tonight we had an Indian inspired stew (which we served with our experiment in making naan):

    Saute – 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped carrots, 4 cloves chopped garlic, ~1″ peeled and chopped ginger.

    Add – chunked left over roast beast from New Years dinner, ~ 25 oz diced tomatoes,& spice to taste with ground fennel, curry, salt and pepper. Thin with water and cook down. Thow in any nice big chunks of veggies you have around. I had two baggies left from a recent picnic full of baby carrots, broccoli, and snow peas.

    I sauteed using the beef tallow I had left from some rendering, and had I had enough bone broth left I would have used that instead of water to thin.

  12. #12 4D
    January 6, 2012

    Great Sharon. post,

    Ah, soup….My grandmother told of supporting a household of thirteen family members and friends with one cash producing job during the Depression in Detroit. On Sunday one chicken would become “dinner” as soup with…

    Non-household folks would stop by because it was known that there would be a warm bowl for them and much appreciation for their visit (even empty bellied and handed). Dumplings were fashioned and all were fed.

    Today on our stove is a North African Couscous Soup inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe. It springs from that all will be fed lineage… a little homemade veggie broth, blended with some celery, onion, tomato paste and home grown dried tomato, laddled over ww couscous and seasoned with za’atar

    Different cultural roots and Sabbath, but gratitude and abundance for all who share the table.

  13. #13 Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife
    January 6, 2012

    I made a French peasant soup from a sketch of a recipe in the memoir _A Life of Her Own_. It’s made by gathering edible weeds and herbs, as many as you can find, and as even a mixture as possible. Dandelion, nettle, wild arugula, any herbs still hanging on in a late fall garden, whatever you’ve got. Saute some garlic in butter or animal fat, chop up all the washed greens and add them to the pot, stir a few times and add either cubed potatoes or rice, and then liquid to cover with a pinch of salt. Broth is better than water here, but water will work if that’s all you’ve got. Cook gently until the starchy ingredient is done and then serve. It seems to beg for a dollop of cream, and you can go there if you want, but I preferred it without. This works best in fall or spring, as the potatoes are just coming in and the dandelions pop back up, or with the last of the potatoes and the earliest weedy greens. It’s really a kick to make good soup from weeds!

  14. #14 Karen
    January 6, 2012

    I try to make low-calorie soups for dinner, since I’m on a diet and Husband snacks his head off during the afternoon. We have no growing bodies to feed.

    I make really quick soup using equal amounts low-sodium V8 and regular or non-alcoholic beer (dark beer, like O’Douls amber, is best) for stock. The other non-negotiable ingredients are onion, chopped and browned over medium heat in a little oil; a can of low-sodium chopped stewed tomatoes; dried basil, oregano, and parsley; Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb seasoning mix; and finally, a little bit of crushed red pepper. Negotiable ingredients are other veggies (mushrooms, celery, root vegetables, spinach, chard, cabbage…), canned beans, rinsed and drained, canned chicken breast, rinsed, drained, and shredded, and/or even pasta — shells are my favorite. (With the pasta you have to be sure you have some extra stock, which will be absorbed. It’s important to start with enough stock, since the cooking process allows the CO2 in the beer to dissipate.)

    After browning the onion in a big nonstick pot I add the stock ingredients, seasonings, and veggies, and bring to a boil; then I cover, lower the heat, and simmer for at least 45 minutes, or at least until the veggies are tender. If I’m adding pasta I set a timer so it goes in early enough that it’s cooked at the 45 minute mark. Then I add the beans and/or chicken and heat through. If you like your leafy veggies not overcooked, you can add them near the end of the cooking process instead.

    But it’s fast, it’s good, and it feeds us for days, which works really well with our crazy schedules.

  15. #15 Sara Rose in Alabama
    January 7, 2012

    I just read this and I am salivating.
    Today is day 5 of a 10 day vegetable and fruit juice fast I am doing along with my trusty VitaMix.
    I will look forward to day 11 to try these out.
    Thank you.

  16. #16 Charlotte
    January 7, 2012

    My mother made “garbage soup” every Monday with whatever was left in the fridge. It was usually some version of chicken or turkey soup with veggies, but the habit has stuck with me. I cannot, to this day, heat up soup without adding something to it, which means I have soups that never die — I think there’s a homeopathic trace of every soup I’ve ever made in the latest one I’m eating for lunch.

  17. #17 Raye
    January 7, 2012

    Yum, everybody!

    We’ve been enjoying potato spinach soup.

    I use olive oil, an onion, three potatoes, a cup or so of spinach, and whey leftover from cheese making. I add black pepper, garlic and cayenne powder.

    Saute a chopped onion in olive oil till translucent.
    Add three medium potatoes (cut into small chunks) and cook another ten minutes or so, till the edges of the potato soften a little.
    Add a couple of cups of whey, black pepper, garlic and cayenne to taste.
    Cook till potatoes soften.
    Add spinach, and cook another five minutes.

    I serve it with cubes of jack-style cheese.

  18. #18 Greenpa
    January 9, 2012

    I can’t share the recipe, just the experience. My first “FOOD!!” epiphany was in Germany, on the road between Munich and Vienna. Small restaurant. They had ox-tail soup on the menu, and as a college kid out for experience, I tried it. (That was also how I discovered, after making a menu choice because I did not know the word, that “nieren” means “kidneys”.)

    I had simply never experienced food this way. First spoonful- and I was frozen. I didn’t want to swallow it. I had had no idea that “food” could be so – intense, complex, astonishing. And from ox-tails, for heaven’s sake.

    So, soup changed my life. Really. 🙂

  19. #19 Danna
    January 21, 2012

    This one is my favorite so far.
    I’ve made it several times since I first had it last year. Once I added some packaged carrot-ginger soup to the leftovers and my husband liked it even more.

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