Soups are wonderful comfort foods, which warm our souls, offer plenty of low-calorie nutrition (or high-calorie, depending on the ingredients), and are a thrifty way to use all sorts of leftovers and ingredients from the pantry.
Once you decide on the stock, (beef, chicken, vegetarian, fish, or even plain water), let your leftovers lead the way, or take a tour of the Farmers’ Market to find fresh ingredients, and garnishes such as fresh goat or cows’ milk cheeses, cream for chowder, poultry and meat, various veggies, and fresh herbs. Pick up some crusty fresh bread to insure success. You can’t go wrong, and flexibility is the rule.
Just in case you need inspiration for your soup, here is a wonderful winter warm-up from North Country Public Radio’s book, Stories, Food, Life. “Three Sisters Plus a Few Cousins Soup” by foodie and station manager, Ellen Rocco from DeKalb, New York, acknowledges the Native Americans’ trio of corn, beans and squash, while emphasizing flexibility with a variety of herbs, and using wintery fresh, local ingredients.
Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients marked * are available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market.
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 onions, coarsely diced*
2 carrots, sliced*
2 stalks of celery, sliced*
8 cups of low-sodium broth (vegetable or chicken, purchased or homemade from Farmer’s Market ingredients*)
2 cups black beans (from a can, rinsed). Or dried beans that have been soaked and are ready to cook.
1 butternut or comparable winter squash*, or 2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced*
2 cups frozen corn (hopefully from your own or your farmers’ summer garden)
Seasonings to add during cooking include thyme, oregano or Italian seasoning mix, and for some zip, crushed chipotle pepper or dried hot red pepper flakes.
Seasonings for garnish include cumin (a must) or garam masala, and sprinkles fresh chives* or chopped parsley*.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot, then sauté onions, carrots and celery for a few minutes. Add all seasonings and some salt (more can be added later). Sauté for another minute.
Add the broth, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. (If you are using uncooked, soaked beans, add them now.)
Add squash (sweet potatoes) and corn. (If using canned beans add them now.) Add more stock if the soup becomes too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Cook gently for another 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are done.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, and sprinkle a bit of cumin or garam masala or chopped chives or parsley on top of each bowl.
Serve with fresh, hot bread.