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Warm up winter with soup

By Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune
Published: January 10, 2024, 6:05am

As winter settles in and the days are darkest, we crave warm and cozy. After weeks of flitting from office holiday potlucks to last-minute happy hours with friends, we crave sustenance. And as we’ve wrapped up another year filled with shopping, parties, family and, let’s face it, a fair amount of stress, we crave comfort.

Soup is the answer to it all.

From ramen, gumbo and borscht to pozole and the staple of chicken wild rice, settling in with a steaming bowl of soup can make us forget, at least momentarily, the chaos that surrounds us.

Multiply the benefits of soup even further by creating in your kitchen, starting with the zen of chopping vegetables and ending with a sigh of relief that tonight’s dinner is simmering on the stove (and the leftovers can be tomorrow’s lunch).

Revisit a favorite family recipe or use the occasion to try something new.

Make restaurant-quality hot and sour soup or a twist on beef barley soup that gets a spark from lemon.

A cherry tomato confit provides the base for a standout tomato soup, and chef Jacques Pépin shares his recipe for Black Bean Soup, a simple soup that takes on different flavors, depending on how it’s garnished.

Now that the soup’s on, there’s plenty of time for making lists, checking them twice, and stealing a moment for yourself before heading back into the chaos.

Hot and Sour Soup

Serves 4 to 6. From “A Very Chinese Cookbook,” with Kevin Pang and Jeffrey Pang (America’s Test Kitchen, 2023).

“This soup is a warm hello. Many small family-run restaurants I’ve frequented greet customers with a complimentary bowl of hot and sour soup — it’s the Chinese equivalent of bread and butter at a French bistro. Because I’ve always thought of this soup as a restaurant dish, our family rarely made it at home. Turns out, it’s easier to make than you’d think,” writes author Jeffrey Pang. Although it’s tempting to substitute ingredients for this soup, it’s such a specific taste that I strongly suggest you don’t: Be sure to use extra-firm tofu and not soft, which will disintegrate in the soup; Chinese black vinegar, because its malty sweet flavor is integral to this soup; and white pepper, whose floral headiness just can’t be replicated with black pepper. Serve with extra chili oil, black vinegar and white pepper.

7 oz. extra-firm tofu, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

One 6-oz. boneless pork chop, trimmed

6 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoon soy sauce

One (5-oz.) can bamboo shoots, sliced thin lengthwise

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick

3 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water, divided

3 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, divided

5 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 to 3 teaspoon chili oil

1 large egg

3 scallions, sliced thin

Spread tofu over paper-towel-lined plate and let drain for 20 minutes, then gently press dry with paper towels. Place pork chop on separate plate and freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Transfer pork chop to cutting board and, holding knife parallel to cutting board, slice into 2 thin cutlets. Slice each cutlet crosswise into thin strips.

Bring broth and soy sauce to simmer in large saucepan over medium heat. Add bamboo shoots and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms are just tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in tofu and pork and cook until pork is no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, vinegar and pepper, then stir mixture into soup. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens and turns translucent, about 1 minute. Remove soup from heat, but do not let cool down. Stir in sesame oil and chili oil, and season with extra soy sauce to taste.

Whisk remaining 1 teaspoon water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch together in 2-cup liquid measuring cup, then whisk in egg until combined. Off heat, use 1 hand to stir soup with fork or chopsticks while using other hand to pour egg mixture in slow, steady stream into swirling soup. Continue stirring soup until cooked thin egg ribbons appear, about 1 minute. Sprinkle individual portions with scallions before serving.

Creamy Confit Tomato Soup

Serves 4. From “Polish’d,” By Michał Korkosz (Experiment, 2023).

It may not include cream or summer-fresh tomatoes, but this will be one of the best tomato soups you’ve ever eaten. If you’re making the Cherry Tomato Confit for this recipe, you’ll need to allow an extra hour of cooking time (see recipe).

1/3 cup olive oil from Cherry Tomato Confit, plus more for serving (see recipe)

1 medium white onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning

1 tablespoon dried marjoram, plus more for serving

One (28-oz.) can chopped tomatoes

1 cup Cherry Tomato Confit (see recipe), divided

2 cloves garlic from Cherry Tomato Confit, peeled

1 cup vegetable broth

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium pan over low heat. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the marjoram and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup of the cherry tomato confit, garlic and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld together, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender or a blender to purée the mixture until smooth. Blending constantly, add the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide the soup among four bowls. Top with the remaining confit cherry tomatoes and dried marjoram.

Cherry Tomato Confit

Makes 1 (10-ounce) jar. From “Polish’d,” By Michał Korkosz (Experiment, 2023).

In the summer, I adore a ripe, sun-warmed tomato with some cold-pressed olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky salt. The rest of the year, my favorite tomatoes are a cherry tomato confit. This concentrates their flavor in a long, olive oil bath, turning them into bright crimson candies. When I eat this, I’m instantly transported to the golden days of August.

2 cup cherry tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, unpeeled

3 to 4 basil leaves

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

3/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the cherry tomatoes in a 1-quart baking dish. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife. Add the garlic, basil and salt. Cover with the oil.

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Put the tomatoes in the oven and bake until they are completely soft and the oil is bubbling, about 60 minutes. Let them cool in the baking dish. Transfer to a 10-ounce jar and store the tomatoes in their oil in the fridge if not using immediately.

Tip: In addition to Tomato Confit Soup, use in a pasta sauce or a tartine with farmer cheese.

Beef Barley Soup With Lemon

Serves 8. From Melissa Clark, New York Times.

A soup made for lazy Sunday afternoons, requiring more time than effort. Lighter than you may expect, this beef barley soup features seared chunks of beef and lightly chewy barley, but spinach and lemon step in for the usual mushrooms.

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed

2 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, diced

3 small or 2 large leeks, thinly sliced

1 fennel bulb, diced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

Large pinch of cayenne, optional

4 cup beef or chicken stock

3 sage sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2 large turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup pearl barley

8 cups baby spinach or baby kale

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon, plus fresh lemon juice to taste

Thinly sliced jalapeños or other chiles, optional for serving

Season beef with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let mixture stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add meat and cook in batches, turning occasionally, until well-browned, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. Drizzle in more oil if the pan seems dry. Transfer the browned meat to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Add garlic, celery, leek and fennel to the pan; cook until soft, about 7 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Push the vegetables to one side, and, if the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Add tomato paste and spices to the cleared spot and cook until tomato paste is darkened and caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir together vegetables and tomato paste.

Return meat to the pot. Pour in stock and 8 cups water. Using kitchen string, tie sage, rosemary and bay leaves into a bundle and drop into pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, partly covered, for 1 hour.

Stir in the carrots, parsnips, turnips, barley, 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until barley is cooked through and meat is tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour more. Pull herb bunch from pot and discard.

Stir spinach and parsley into pot until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes (kale may take a few minutes longer), then stir in lemon zest and juice. If soup is too thick, thin it with a little water. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with chiles, if you like.

Black Bean Soup

Serves 12. From “Cooking My Way,” by Jacques Pepin (Harvest, 2023).

“Black bean soup is kind of a classic at our house,” writes Jacques Pepin. “I cook a pound of beans at a time so that I can freeze the extra in containers. It’s easy to do, inexpensive, and there are lots of ways to make it your own with plenty of garnishes. This is a great soup that’s easy to make.”

1 pound dried black beans

8 cup water, plus more if needed

4 cup chicken stock, plus more if needed

1/2 cup rice

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and chopped, leaves reserved for garnish

2 cup salsa (mild to hot, depending on your taste)

1 cup coarsely chopped leek

2 cup coarsely chopped onion

5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled

Optional garnishes: sliced banana, cilantro leaves, diced sweet onion, chopped hard-cooked egg, Tabasco sauce, red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil.

Sort through the beans to make sure there are no stones or broken pieces. Rinse the beans under cold water, then transfer to a large pot. Cover with the water and chicken stock. Add the rice and season with the salt, cumin, and chili powder.

Bring to boil, cover, and cook over low heat until the beans are beginning to become tender, 11/2 to 2 hours.

Add the chopped cilantro stems, salsa, leek, onion and garlic. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Add more water or chicken stock if it’s too thick. Return to a boil and cook for another hour.

To thicken the soup, transfer 2 cups of the mixture to a blender and then return the purée to the pot, or use an immersion blender right in the pot. Blend for a few seconds to your desired consistency.

Serve in large bowls with your choice of garnishes.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Serves 6 to 8. From “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinner’s Ready,” by Ree Drummond (William Morrow, 2023).

No need to reserve pumpkin just for holiday pies; it’s the star of this quick soup. “Once you discover how incredible canned pumpkin is, it will unlock a world of possibilities, ” writes Ree Drummond.

4 tablespoon olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 heaping tablespoon curry powder

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Two (15-oz.) cans pumpkin purée

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup pepitas

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes so the flavors are released and the onion begins to soften. Sprinkle in the curry powder along with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for another couple of minutes. Stir in the pumpkin, then add the broth, coconut milk, brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir to combine and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes while you make the topping.

Pour the pepitas into a dry skillet over medium heat and lightly toss them as they toast, 3 to 4 minutes, taking care to not let them burn.

Pour the pepitas into a bowl and add the cumin, garlic powder, a pinch of salt, the cilantro, and the parsley. Stir the pepita mixture, drizzling in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Dish up the soup and add a generous topping of the herby pepitas.