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A slurp of soup soothes the soul

  • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

    Mom’s Cabbage Soup.

It wasn’t the best advertising line, but it was undeniably true: Soup is good food.

When you want something warming and comforting after a difficult day, what is it that you most desire? Soup. When you have a cold, what is the only thing that can make you feel better? Soup, especially if it has chicken and noodles in it.

It restoreth the soul. And of course it is always best when your cup runneth over.

At its most elemental level, soup is just water with a bunch of stuff cooked in it. And that is what makes it so exciting. You can have a free hand to do with it what you will.

Take, for instance, my mother’s cabbage soup, which is still one of my favorite soups ever. When she and my father were first married, she asked if he had any favorite dishes he wanted her to prepare. He said he loved a cabbage soup from a famous local delicatessen.

My mother called the wife of the deli owner and asked for the recipe. The woman was happy to oblige — but she only knew how to make it for a restaurant, and even then her measurements were inexact.

So my mother mixed a bit of this and a handful of that, then threw in a dash of something else, and ended up with a cabbage soup. She served it to my father, who said it wasn’t at all like the original soup from the delicatessen. It was better. She has been making it ever since.

Many years ago, I asked my mother for the recipe. She wasn’t very specific. She said to use a bit of this and a handful of that and maybe a dash of something else.

I took down as much of this non-recipe as I could and tried making it for myself. It tasted remarkably like my mother’s.

What I love so much about the soup are its contradictions. It is a thin broth, but it is filled with hearty pieces of beef and cabbage. It is made with a lot of tomatoes, but it isn’t remotely a tomato soup. It is both sweet and sour. And it has seasonings that you would not expect to find in soup, such as allspice and cloves.

It is unlike other soups you have had, and it is certainly unlike the soup they sold at the delicatessen, but it is little short of wonderful.

Mom’s Cabbage Soup

  • 1-1/2 pounds short ribs
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 7 cups water
  • 1/2 small head cabbage, sliced thin
  • 12 whole allspice berries
  • 2 (14-1/2 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Trim fat from ribs. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high. Add ribs and onions, season with salt and pepper; cook until beef is browned on all sides and onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Pour out fat.

Add water, cabbage and allspice. Bring to boil, then lower temperature and simmer 30 minutes, skimming foam as needed.

Break up tomatoes with your hands or in a blender. Add tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, pepper and ground allspice to pot. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer until meat is completely cooked and pulls away at least 1/2 inch from the edge of the bone, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. If the broth is too weak, continue simmering until flavors are more concentrated. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 188 calories, 7 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 8 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 16 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 312 mg sodium, 73 mg calcium

———

Lentil Soup

The best lentil soup I have ever made is this Middle Eastern version that begins with red lentils. These lentils cook faster and more thoroughly than the more popular green kind, dissolving into a kind of thickness, like a puree without having to puree.

The spice is not heavy — a little cumin and coriander, plus garlic, and a pinch of pepper. What makes the soup stand out so much is the juice from a lemon, which brightens the flavor and brilliantly contrasts with the earthiness of the lentils.

Try it and you won’t want to stop eating it. It’s M’m! M’m! good.

Adapted from “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food,” by Claudia Roden (Knopf, 2008)

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1-3/4 cups split red lentils
  • Bunch of celery leaves, chopped, or 1 rib celery, sliced
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • >> Garnish:
  • 1-1/2 to 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pita breads to make croutons (optional)
  • 1 lemon, sliced into wedges, for serving (optional)

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add onion and cook until softened. Add garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne; stir.

Add lentils, celery and carrot, then pour in stock; simmer 30 to 45 minutes, until lentils have largely disintegrated.

Add salt and pepper, and water if the soup is too thick (it should be thin, like light cream). Stir in lemon juice.

For the garnish: Fry onions in oil, first covered over low heat, stirring occasionally, then uncovered over medium and high heat, stirring often, until very brown and almost crisp.

Split and open pita breads and toast until crisp and lightly browned. Break into small pieces to make croutons.

Serve soup very hot. Garnish each bowl with a tablespoon of fried onions and pass the lemon wedges and croutons, if you like, for people to help themselves. Serves 6-8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 343 calories, 13 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 17 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 6 g sugar, 6 g fiber, 358 mg sodium, 48 mg calcium.

———

Curried Cream of Cauliflower and Apple Soup

Subtlety is the key to a gorgeous curried cauliflower soup. Curry and cauliflower are a classic combination, and so are curry and cream — though this soup uses relatively little cream.

The other main ingredient is apples. Golden Delicious apples are sweet but not too sweet, just enough to balance the heat from the curry.

All together, the soup is smooth and almost silky, a dish to serve when you want to impress someone, but is easy enough that you’ll want to make it for yourself.

From “Cooking With Daniel Boulud,” by Daniel Boulud

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sweet (unsalted) butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads or 2 pinches saffron powder
  • 1 cup Golden Delicious apple (or other apple), peeled, split, cored and sliced
  • 4 cups cauliflower (about 1 small-to-medium head), broken into florets
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chives, minced
  • >> Curried apple topping:
  • 1 cup Golden Delicious apple (or other apple), peeled, split, cored and cut in 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads or 1 pinch saffron powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Warm stock over medium heat.

Melt butter in heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add onions, curry powder and saffron and cook until onions soften, 2 minutes, stirring often. Add sliced apple and cook 5 more minutes, stirring often. Add cauliflower and warm stock; bring to a boil.

Boil until cauliflower is tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.

Add cream and cook 3 more minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Transfer soup in batches to blender or food processor and puree until very smooth. Keep warm until ready to serve, or cool and refrigerate (reheat just before serving).

To make curried apple topping: Place diced apples with 1 tablespoon of water in a pan over medium heat. Add curry powder and saffron; season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and cook 3 minutes. Strain. Serves 4-6

Approximate nutritional information: 273 calories, 20 g total fat, 12 g saturated fat, 58 mg cholesterol, 7 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 10 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 263 mg sodium, 62 mg calcium

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