recipe: Hybrid Garlic or Onion Soup

1 Feb

I have made a bunch of new soups in recent weeks, and some of them were…well…transcendent is the word that leaps to mind, but I don’t want to commit hyperbole here. Anyway, the two that I liked best were the Cheddar Parsnip soup from the Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook and the 44-clove garlic soup from Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve come to realize that the soups I like best have a few things in common that are easily reduced to a couple of basic elements, which you can then mess with as much as you like! I hereby provide you with the “base recipe” for healthy, delicious, creamy soups (which just happen to be incredibly good winter comfort food). The basic idea is that, instead of thickening with cream (which SK does, by the way, but which is not needed), you puree your creamy vegetables to thicken the soup.

You need:
* some kind of aromatic/spicy vegetable: onion, garlic, shallot, or all three. I use a lot of this–maybe 3 cups of onion.
* some kind of broth (chicken is classic, but you can use whatever you have)
* some kind of spices or herbs (for winter: thyme, dill, or chives are delicious)

and you may want to add:
* a smooth vegetable to puree (parsnips, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes)
* some kind of sharp cheese

The basic procedure is this:
1. Cook your onions/garlic/whatevers in a teaspoon of olive oil until they’re tender, or almost tender.
2. Add broth–the amount depends on your other ingredients. I usually just eyeball it and fill the pot about 2/3 full.
3. Add any other vegetable that you want to puree–the “smooth” vegetables listed above will create a smoother soup, but you can add broccoli, asparagus, peas, etc., to make a cream of vegetable soup that is much better than Campbell’s!
4. Simmer until vegetables are soft.
5. Puree in batches (carefully–hot liquids can be difficult in a blender!
6. Return to pot. Reheat. Add your herbs or spices.
7. If desired, add in some cheese and melt it. Parmesan, Gruyere, or Manchego are all highly flavorful choices that make your soup much more interesting without adding much fat or calories, because you only need a little.
8. Taste and add salt or pepper if you need it. If you’ve used packaged broth, you probably won’t want more salt.
9. Serve. Gasp with amazement that it is not loaded with cream or white flour.

This is creamier and thicker if it contains more vegetables. So load it up! It’s very healthful and incredibly satisfying when it’s cold outside. I like to serve these kinds of soups with a salad or sliced fruit and a slice of whole-grain homemade bread.

Sneaky tip that I haven’t tried yet but I plan to use this week: this would also make a great base for a casserole (whatever you’ve been missing because you didn’t want to eat a can of cream of mushroom soup) or, in smaller amounts, a good sauce for poultry or vegetables.

I plan to make a big batch this week of a basic cream-of-onion soup, using this method, and freeze it in smaller packages to use for cooking. It should freeze beautifully because it doesn’t contain milk, which sometimes separates in the freezer.

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