A couple weekends ago, the soup swap was brought back to life after a one-year hiatus. What were we thinking, skipping a year? I do not know. My only excuse is that we moved last January and at the time, I probably didn’t think the house was “ready” to have people over. I can’t say that it’s that much more ready now- we still have a long way to go and the list of home improvement projects is long- but fortunately I’ve forced myself to get over it and lower my standards; otherwise, I’d never have any guests!
It’s a well-known fact that a little pork can enhance just about any soup, and we found it amusing that everyone’s soups, without specifically planning it that way, had pork in them. Michelle’s was the meatiest, a pork and tomatillo stew with big chunks of tender, falling-apart meat. Kate brought a delicious split pea with bacon, perked up with the addition of fresh rosemary. Molly made a hearty chickpea and sausage soup with some Hungarian sausage she’d been gifted from a neighbor, and Sarah made a fantastic wonton soup with homemade, pork-filled dumplings.
I’m getting to this point in my cooking career where I’ve begun to actually create my own recipes based on techniques I’ve learned from cookbooks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great feeling to make a recipe from a cookbook and have it turn out just right (especially if it’s something you’ve never attempted), but it’s a different level of satisfaction to conceive a recipe and have it turn out perfectly the first time. This is so exciting to me- kind of like when I first started writing songs after just playing other people’s for years. I’ve never had much problem making up recipes for simple things like soup, pasta, salad or salad dressing. But this past year I’ve been branching out and creating slightly more advanced recipes based on ideas I have for flavor combinations. One of the first times I did this was for these scrambled eggs with scallops & bacon (which, incidentally, would be a fabulous Valentine’s breakfast!). I did refer to another recipe, kind of like a musician refers to certain chord progressions to write a pop song, but the cool thing for me was that I thought up the idea independently and that it worked! Since then, I’ve written other recipes, each time getting a little more confident and feeling less like I need to consult a cookbook. Some are very simple, like this saffron-citrus risotto or this Chinese-style kale (probably my most popular recipe), while others, like this venison & porcini ragu, are a little more involved.
Last weekend I got together with some girlfriends for Soup Swap Mach II (you can go here to check out last year’s Soup Swap) and after flipping through tons of cookbooks for soup recipes, decided to just make one up. The flavors for this soup were inspired by an onion tart I made last year from the Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook which contained onions, cheese, and the somewhat unexpected element (for French cuisine, anyway) of cumin. I really loved these flavors together and thought they’d be wonderful in a soup. The depth and intensity of this soup was unlike any cheese soup I’ve ever had- I caramelized the onions for almost an hour until they reached a deep amber color, toasted the cumin seeds, and used a pound of cheese. Decadent, perhaps a bit, but this soup reaches a level of savory that makes it all worthwhile. Don’t be put off by its somewhat drab appearance- what it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in taste. Serve it with a salad, some fruit (apples or pears would be good) and crusty bread or croutons.
Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin
6 cups diced yellow onions
3 Tbs butter
1 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
4-5 Tbs flour
2 cups chicken stock (substitute a mild vegetable stock for a vegetarian version)
2 cups lowfat milk
1 lb shredded cheese such as Cheddar or Emmenthaler (see notes)
1 rounded tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
kosher or sea salt
optional for serving: chopped parsley and croutons
Notes: If you’d like detailed instructions on caramelizing onions, I used the techniques described in this post, using wine to deglaze the pan instead of water. For the cheese, you can use whatever you like- Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Emmenthaler or another hard cheese like Comte… Just make sure whatever you choose is not going to have a funky flavor once melted, as some Swiss-style cheeses are prone to do. I used a mixture of 3/4 Wisconsin white Cheddar and 1/4 Emmenthaler (because I had some in the fridge to use up) but I think you could play with the proportions or try other cheeses. I wouldn’t use anything too strong or too mild unless you plan to mix two cheeses. The Emmenthaler on its own would be lovely, but it’s a bit spendy; the Cheddar is much more affordable.
Directions: Melt 2 Tbs of the butter over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Whatever you choose, make sure it has a light-colored bottom so you can monitor the browning process. Most importantly, do NOT use a non-stick pan! When the butter has melted and the pan is hot, add the onions. Sprinkle them generously with salt- this will help to draw out the water, which is the first step to getting them browned. Stir often with a wooden spoon or spatula. Be patient- the caramelization process will take quite a long time (45 minutes to an hour), but it’s not difficult and the flavor is so worth it! Some cooks like to read while they stir… The hotter you keep the heat, the faster things will go, but the more you’ll have to be vigilant with your stirring. Towards the end, you may have to reduce the heat a little to keep things from scorching. After the water has started to cook out, the onions will become a pale brown and an amber-colored residue will gradually begin to build up on the bottom of the pan. When you can no longer scrape the browned part up with your spoon alone, start using the wine to deglaze the pan. To start off, you’ll want to deglaze every 45-60 seconds or so; as the onions cook, the intervals will become shorter. Every time a “crust” accumulates, add a SMALL splash of the wine (no more than a tablespoon; less if possible) and stir and scrape the pan to incorporate the browned bits into the onions. The sugars from the wine will assist the browning process and give you a gorgeous deep amber color.
When you’ve used up all the wine and the onions have become quite dark (see photos), reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbs butter to the pot. When the butter has melted, sprinkle the flour over the onions 1 Tbs at a time, stirring to incorporate and making sure there are no lumps. Cook the floured onions for 2-3 minutes so that the flour loses its “raw” taste.
Increase the heat back to medium high, add the chicken stock, and bring to a low simmer; the soup will thicken slightly. Add the milk; when the soup comes back up to temperature, add the cheese. If you like, you can reserve a little of the cheese for garnish. Stir gently until the cheese has melted. Cover the soup and reduce the heat to low.
Toast the cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat until they are fragrant, being very careful not to burn them. (If they seem at all burned, toss them out and start over; burnt cumin is very bitter and will ruin your soup!) When they have cooled, crush them a bit in a mortar & pestle to release their flavor. Add the cumin to the soup along with the white pepper. Taste for salt, but it likely won’t need any.
If you want to leave your soup as-is, you’re done. If you want a smooth soup, transfer to a blender in 2 batches and puree until very smooth. Alternately (and I think I’d do this next time), puree half the soup and stir it back in- this will give you some body, but you’ll retain the texture of some of the onions.
Ladle into bowls and top with croutons, a little chopped parsley, and a pinch of grated cheese if desired.
soup swap! (vol. 2: three more simple and amazingly delish soup recipes, courtesy of my girlfriends)
I’m lucky to have many friends who are as enthusiastic as me about cooking (or at least eating) good food. I knew the soups at the Soup Swap would all be great, and I was not disappointed. I won’t name names, but even the person who claimed they “don’t know how to cook” did a great job. So here are the other three recipes from the Soup Swap: a creamy chicken noodle, an Eastern-European-inspired cabbage stew, and a lamb-barley soup with escarole. They’re all very different but all fabulous in their own way. Oh, and my original intention of having extra soup to put in the freezer did not come to pass… everything was so good that nothing made it that far. I didn’t even share with Marvin. Sorry hon! We’ll have to do another one soon.
A slightly heartier, more lush version of chicken noodle soup. Kate used these amazing Mrs. Miller’s Noodles that were nice and thick and had just the right amount of “chew”. PS: This soup is great hangover food. (At least that’s what I hear.)
3 chicken quarters or thighs (about 2 lbs total)
4 cups water
1/2 cup copped celery plus 2 stalks, thinly sliced
4 medium carrots, sliced into coins
3 medium onions, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups milk
2 tbs all-purpose flour
2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (reduce to 1 tsp if using dried)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 bay leaf
4 oz (1/4 package) dried medium or wide noodles
Directions: Skin the chicken, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Place the chicken, water, 1/2 cup chopped celery, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf in a Dutch oven or stock pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Add the sliced celery, carrots, and onions; cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and no longer pink. Turn off heat, remove chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. When cool enough, debone the chicken, discard the bones and chop the chicken; set aside.
Heat the soup to boiling. Add the noodles; cook for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the milk and the peas. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup milk and the flour in a screw-top jar and shake until smooth (or whisk together in a bowl); stir into the soup. Cook, stirring, until thickened and bubbly. Stir in the chicken and cook for another minute or two to heat through.
This is a good option for the vegetarians out there- meatless but hearty and satisfying enough to make a meal out of. The starch from the potato and rice combines with the juice from the tomatoes and makes the soup have a “creamy” tomato base. The sour cream and horseradish garnishes bring it all home.
1/2 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
2 carrots, shredded
3 stalks celery, leaves included, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 large potato such as Russet or Yukon, peeled and shredded
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock, heated
3 bay leaves
2 tbs sugar
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup sauerkraut with juice
1/2 cup rice
a few tbs butter, olive or vegetable oil for sautéeing
salt & pepper to taste
Directions: Put the stock and water in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove and heat until simmering. Meanwhile, put 2-3 tbs oil or butter in a soup pot and place over medium heat. Add the onions and bay leaves and cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add the cabbage and sugar and cook until cabbage begins to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add the celery, carrot and potato; cook another 5 minutes. Add the heated stock and water, crushed tomatoes, and sauerkraut. Simmer until vegetables are almost done, then add rice. Simmer until rice is fully cooked. Taste for salt, pepper and acidity, adding more sauerkraut and/or juice to taste. To serve, garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a dab of horseradish.
This delicious soup manages to be rich and light at the same time, and will be eagerly devoured by the pregnant and non-pregnant alike. For the non-pregnant, I highly recommend a glass of Shiraz, Malbec or Côtes du Rhône to wash it down.
1-2 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, trimmed of any visible fat and cut into bite-sized chunks (see notes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano (doubled if using fresh)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
15-oz can diced tomatoes
12 oz escarole, chopped (see notes)
sea salt & pepper to taste
Notes: If you’re not a fan of lamb, you can substitute beef chuck roast. If you can’t find escarole, you can substitute chopped chard or kale, stems and thick ribs removed. If using kale, just put it in about 30-40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Chard would probably take 10-15 minutes to cook.
Directions: Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, season the meat with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, carefully place the meat in the pot (watch for splattering). Sear the meat, stirring occasionally until well browned on all sides. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove meat from pot and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add the garlic, onions, herbs, and a sprinkle of salt to the pot. Add a little more olive oil if necessary so nothing sticks. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the carrot and celery and cook 2-3 more minutes, stirring often.
Return the meat to the pot. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot and sweat the ingredients for 3 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the barley, broth and tomatoes with their juice. Cover the pot again and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hr 15 minutes.
Stir in the escarole. It will begin to wilt immediately. Season the soup with black pepper and, if necessary, more salt.