This time of year makes me smile. And while we may not relish the early nightfall that squashes those favorite after-dinner strolls, who can resist the falling leaves, saturated in fiery color, or the gaggle of holidays from Halloween to Diwali, Thanksgiving and beyond? Call me odd, but I crave weather that pleads its case for a cozy jacket on foggy mornings. The drizzly weekends that prompt card games and family hang out time.
And the soup. This is its season. Steamy broth laced with vegetable chunks, lentils or healthy greens. Add a few noodles and fresh herbs. Spice it up if you like. Or purée the lot to a satiny consistency that swaddles the spoon like a blanket. There’s any number of possibilities. All warm. All delicious.
Soup starts with an assortment of vegetables extracted from dark recesses of the crisper drawer (who knew what was in there?). We chop them (a food processor will do the work if we like), then offer a turn in an enormous cast-iron pot to caramelize with a healthy dose of garlic and olive oil. A quart of broth covers everything nicely before we turn down the fire to a slow simmer and go about our usual business. Work, laundry, bills to pay. A good book. Whatever needs doing. All the while, behind the scenes, with just a gentle stir now and then, the chemistry of soup unfolds.
Noses are the first to detect the magic. Each molecule of kitchen air is infused with an intoxicating perfume—onion, garlic, herbs and spices. Who knew strong stuff could smell so inviting? One by one, household inhabitants surface from behind closed doors. Laptop lids shutter with firm clicks. What’s cooking, Mom?
We ladle the elixir into deep bowls and gather around the dining table. Or curl up on the couch with a warm mugful in gloomy weather. A deep breath in of the steamy aroma begins the cure—banishing the angst of the day and leaving calm behind. There’s nothing like it, except perhaps a hug. But this is therapy that feeds our stomachs too.
Recipes for the week:
Minestrone is a time-honored classic, and if we could choose only one soup on our desert island, this would be it. Luckily there’s room for more.
Head to the farmer’s market and grab any and all tomatoes and red peppers before they’re entirely gone. Then simmer up a pot of Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Soup.
A southwestern favorite, this soup is great for clearing out the crisper as well as the sinuses (with a judicious dash of hot sauce)—Tortilla Soup.
Spiced Carrot Soup
We’re stirring up carrot soup this week (pictured at top above). There’s nothing quite so humble as root vegetables in a pot, or as satisfying—especially when they’re roasted first. This dish benefits from a bit of ginger root and warming spices, plus a tangy measure of buttermilk swirled in just before serving. We like to sprinkle toasted pistachios and chopped cilantro on top. Though the flavor is just right on its own, too.
- Olive oil
- 5 cups cubed carrots (half-inch cubes)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped, peeled ginger root
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 6 cups low-sodium broth
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss carrots with enough olive oil to lightly coat. Sprinkle with cumin, coriander and a large pinch of salt. Cover with foil and roast until tender, removing foil in the last 5 minutes or so of cooking. Total roasting time will be 25 to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile warm 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes, then add garlic, ginger, celery and paprika and cook for 10 more minutes. Add broth, apple juice, roasted carrots and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on medium-low for 30-40 minutes until about one quarter of the liquid volume has cooked off.
- While soup is simmering, place nuts in a small skillet and toast over medium heat. Watch the nuts carefully as they burn easily. Shake the pan and stir the nuts to toast evenly. When they are done they will be spotted with golden-brown patches. Cool and roughly chop into small pieces.
- When soup is done simmering turn off the heat and stir in buttermilk. Taste, then add more salt as necessary. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and a sprinkling of chopped nuts.