I RECENTLY binge-watched a television series produced in France called “A French Village.” It centers on the fictional community of Villeneuve, near the French-Swiss border, and how the villagers coped during the German occupation in the early 1940s. Food was scarce, but what the characters were able to produce out of little was inspiring. More often than not, it was soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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I started to count how many times a character sat down to a bowl, took a hungry spoonful, looked up and said, “La soupe, elle est bonne.” I stopped counting somewhere in the fifth season—around the same the time I started cooking more steaming pots of my own. Soup is perhaps the most nourishing, most economical and most satisfying food. Cultures around the world make it. And for good reason. It is as basic as creating a flavor base, adding liquid and vegetables, grains or meat. Or all of the above.
I usually start with onions or shallots and garlic, perhaps bacon, pancetta or chorizo, an herb bundle, homemade chicken stock and then whatever’s in the fridge, on the windowsill or in the cupboard. A drizzle of good olive oil, a sprinkling of flaky Maldon sea salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a grating of Parmesan will be the finishing touches for a soup I make that skews Italian. A dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chives top the bowl if I’m leaning French; perhaps a splash of aged Sherry vinegar if I’m simmering something more Spanish.
This winter I’ve been reaching for turmeric, ginger and other spices said to boost the immune system.
This winter I’ve been gravitating toward turmeric, ginger and other spices said to boost the immune system. So I reached out to Ethan Frisch, co-founder of the fair-trade and sustainable spice company Burlap & Barrel, to get his thoughts on spicing soups. Prior to sourcing spices from Iceland to Guatemala to the Euphrates River, Mr. Frisch was a humanitarian aid worker for Doctors Without Borders on the Syrian-Jordanian border. There and in other remote areas where he volunteered, soups were a mainstay of his diet, and he came to depend upon both local and easily transportable spices to flavor them. Now at home in Queens, N.Y., he has a more sizable pantry, but his technique hasn’t changed. “I might start by tempering cumin in olive oil or butter, add some smoked paprika, cinnamon verum or cinnamon leaves, then some fresh aromatics, celery, carrots, smashed garlic, [and] let them nearly brown before adding broth. Or, if I want to open up my sinuses, I’ll bloom Cobanero chilies, which I love for their fruity smokiness, with some smoked paprika, cinnamon, star anise and black pepper.”
Recently, Mr. Frisch launched a Burlap & Barrel series of three masalas created by the late chef and restaurateur Floyd Cardoz. I think of these spice mixes as soup jump starters. They make rather complex and nuanced flavors remarkably easy to pull off. For example, the Goan Masala needs only coconut milk and broth to form a soup both piquant and creamy. The Kashmiri Masala lends a sweet heat, with brightening notes of fennel, ginger and cardamom, as it does in a recipe for Goan pork soup I like to make, adapted from Mr. Cardoz and his wife, Barkha Cardoz. Simply add a bit of stock to moong dal, a classic Indian dish of split mung beans, and you have a rich and protein-packed soup. For a soup with a similarly velvety texture but a more Middle Eastern inflection, infuse lentils with cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and fennel seeds. A topping of crumbled feta and fresh cilantro makes this soup nearly as hearty as a stew.
And then there are those days that call for the simple comfort of tomato soup and grilled cheese. Pouring a glass of red wine into the soup as it cooks will add a little grown-up depth. Try it, and you might look up and say “La soupe, elle est bonne” in any number of languages. And you will be right.
- 1 pound (2 cups) Puy lentils
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- ¼ cup minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 (14-ounce) can plum tomatoes
- 3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup packed chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
- ½ cup chopped feta, for garnish
- Place lentils in a saucepan and add water to cover by 4 inches. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid.
- In a soup pot over medium-low heat, warm oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and cayenne, and cook over medium-high heat until spices bloom, 1 minute.
- In a blender or food processor, pulse tomatoes until nearly smooth. Stir tomatoes and their juice into soup pot. Simmer to meld flavors, 5 minutes.
- To the soup pot, add cooked lentils and 3 cups lentil cooking liquid, and bring to a simmer. Stir in spinach and cook until just wilted. If soup is too thick, add more lentil cooking liquid or broth. Season with salt and pepper.
- To serve, top with cilantro and chunks of feta.
An extra-grassy Tuscan olive oil makes a delicious finishing drizzle for this soup.
- 2 cups farro
- Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
- ¼ pound pancetta, cut in lardons
- 1 large red onion or two medium yellow onions, roughly chopped.
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- 2 cups chopped canned tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 bunches of Lacinato kale, roughly chopped
- 5 cups chicken broth, more as needed
- Salt and cracked black pepper
- Parmesan to taste
- Cook farro according to the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pot over medium-low heat, sauté pancetta until it has rendered its fat, about 8 minutes. Remove pancetta from pot. Add onions. If the pan looks dry, add a touch of olive oil. Sauté onions over low heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add celery, carrots, garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring constantly, to meld flavors, 5 minutes. Increase heat to high and add tomatoes, broth, salt and pepper. Simmer until vegetables are tender, 15 minutes.
- Return farro to pot along with kale. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until kale has softened, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Ladle hearty portions of soup into warm bowls. Drizzle generously with olive oil and give soup a good grating of Parmesan and another generous grind of black pepper.
- 1 cup yellow moong dal, or equal parts moong and tur dal
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 green chile such as jalapeño, split lengthwise
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ¼ teaspoons asafoetida (optional)
- ½ teaspoon chile powder
- 2 whole dry red chiles
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Wash dal and then soak in clean water at least 30 minutes. Drain.
- In a lidded pan over low heat, combine drained dal with 3 cups water, ginger, green chile and turmeric. Cook, skimming off any froth, until lentils are soft to the touch, about 20 minutes.
- With a hand-held blender or in a standing blender, blend lentils into a smooth purée. If using a standing blender, return purée to pot. Set pot of lentils over low heat. Add enough chicken stock to bring soup to the desired consistency. Bring to a simmer.
- Make tarka: Meanwhile, in a small pan over medium-low heat, melt ghee. Add cumin seeds. Once they start popping, add asafoetida, if using, and dry red chiles. Cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add chile powder and garam masala. Cook, stirring, to bloom spices, 1-2 minutes more.
- Pour most of the tarka over cooked dal. Cover with a lid, and cook, stirring so dal doesn’t stick to bottom of pot, to meld flavors, 5 minutes.
- Stir lemon juice into dal and drizzle each portion with remaining tadka. This can be served as is, or over a slice of crusty bread placed in the bottom of each bowl for added heft.
- 1 cup dry white beans such as butter, cannellini or navy beans
- 1 pound country-style pork ribs or 1½ pounds regular pork ribs
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil such as canola, olive or avocado
- 2 links chorizo sausage, sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
- A few sprigs of fresh oregano
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2-3 tablespoons Kashmiri masala such as FC + B&B from Burlap & Barrel
- 1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups chopped spinach
- 2 cups chopped Swiss chard or kale
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- Wash beans and soak overnight in clean water. Drain.
- In a small pot over medium heat, cover drained beans with water that comes about two inches over the beans. Bring to a simmer and cook beans until only half-cooked, 30 minutes, depending on the beans. (They will cook further in the stew.) Strain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Fill a medium pot with water, set over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add ribs and boil, skimming scum from surface periodically, until meat is almost cooked through, about 10 minutes. Strain, reserving cooking liquid.
- Add oil to a large pan over medium heat. Once hot, add sliced chorizo. Cook until chorizo has released some fat, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until light brown, about 3 minutes. Add chopped onions and sauté until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add fresh herbs and Kashmiri masala and cook until spices bloom, 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook until tomatoes are soft and thicken into a sauce, about 10 minutes.
- Add pork, beans, 2-3 cups pork stock and 1-2 cups bean water. (If you don’t have enough cooking liquid, add water.) Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until pork is fork-tender, 30-45 minutes. Pull pork out and shred or cut into small pieces, then return meat to stew. Cook, adding more stock or water as needed, to bring up to temperature, 15-20 minutes. Season with salt as needed.
- Add chopped spinach, chard and parsley. Cook until greens wilt, about 3 minutes. Add garam masala. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the flavors have married, 5-7 minutes.
- Serve with crusty bread.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ⅔ cup red wine
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 2 (28-ounce) cans whole San Marzano tomatoes
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-low heat, warm butter and olive oil. Add carrots, onions, garlic and rosemary, and stir in salt. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and sweat vegetables until tender and onions are translucent, about 15 minutes. Check occasionally to stir and make sure vegetables are softening but not browning.
- Uncover pot, increase heat to high and add tomato paste. Cook, stirring, to caramelize tomato, 1 minute. Pour in wine and boil until reduced by half. Add flour a little at a time, and cook, whisking vigorously, until incorporated, 1 minute.
- Add 3 cups chicken stock and tomatoes. Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes begin to lose their shape, 15 minutes. Use a spoon to smash tomatoes up a bit. Continue simmering until they melt, 15 minutes more.
- Remove from heat and let soup cool 30 minutes. Once soup has cooled, remove and discard the bay leaf. Use a blender or food processor blend soup until smooth. Return soup to pot. If consistency is too thick, add some reserved chicken broth. Just before serving, reheat soup to a near-simmer. Stir in cream and Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Top with a spoonful of Parmesan, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
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