Possibly the most common association the rest of the Western world makes about Jews is the one about Jewish mothers and chicken soup.
Feeling the flu coming on? Chicken soup. Is it getting cold outside? Chicken soup. Depression? Definitely chicken soup! Just arrived? Chicken soup! Going on a trip? Take a little with you — it couldn’t hurt! But, perhaps less famously, our culture has contributed many more soups through the ages than just the over-burdened chicken.
Even Esau’s birthright was famously sold for a pot of lentils, undoubtedly a rich, irresistible broth, redolent with the exotic spices Jews traded for those eons ago. It’s probable that Jews, over centuries and through poverty and invention, created and passed on more versions of beet borscht than every Slavic nation combined could have ever thought possible.
But this fall I don’t want to reveal to you yet another version of a luscious, heart-healing mushroom barley soup or another creamy, heart-healthy split pea, as lovely and beloved as a bowl of either one would be. What’s in store in my annual soup offering are some unusual, sensual flavors and perhaps a new warm fragrance or two to pass around the kitchen while the weather gets colder and the days shorten — until the world brightens with the sparkle of Hanukkah.
There may still be some good fresh tomatoes around for this big-flavored, golden-hued Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Tomato soup, but good Italian canned tomatoes will also do very well. You can add cream, non-dairy “milk” or regular whole milk and purée until very smooth for a rich, comfort-food version — like Campbell’s Tomato soup, all grown up.
Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Tomato Soup
2 Tbs. butter, margarine or olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, cut fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1 lb. parsnips, peeled, trimmed and diced small
2 lbs. sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced in 3/4” pieces
2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced, juices saved or
1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes, diced, with their juice
2 red peppers, cored, seeded and cut in long, thin strips
1 Tbs. brown sugar or honey
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. saffron threads (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper or 1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
4 cups water, vegetable bouillon or vegetable broth
1/4 cup lemon juice or 1/2 cup orange juice
1-1/2 cups milk, cream, half-and-half or non-dairy milk (optional)
1/2 cup walnuts, pumpkin seeds or pecans, toasted and roughly chopped, for garnish
3-4 Tbs. blue cheese, cream cheese, mascarpone or chevre, for garnish
Heat the butter or oil in a three- or four-quart saucepot over medium heat until it sizzles. Add the onion and celery and cook until the onion is wilted and golden, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips, the sweet potatoes and the peppers. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the sweet potatoes start to caramelize (becoming golden-brown on the edges). Stir in the spices, the sugar or honey and the salt.
Add the garlic and cook for another two minutes, stir, then add the diced tomatoes and their juice and let the mixture come to a boil. Add the water or vegetable broth, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender.
Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes before puréeing. Put two or three cups of the soup into the jar of a blender (no more, or the hot soup will explode out the top!), remove the inner plastic cap from the center of the lid, put the top on the blender and a folded towel over the hole in the top. Pulse the blender on and off on low speed two or three times, then blend the soup on medium speed until very smooth, then pour into a clean pot.
Blend half of the soup in the same manner, then pour the remaining unblended soup into the puréed soup, put the new pot on the burner and bring to a simmer. If you want a completely smooth, creamy soup, purée all of it instead of half. Add the milk or cream if using, then add the lemon and/or orange juice and taste for salt and seasonings.
Put a little blue cheese, cream cheese, mascarpone or chevre in the bottom of each bowl and ladle the soup over it. Garnish with the toasted nuts or pumpkin seeds and serve hot. The soup will keep for a week, cooled, covered and refrigerated, or about two months frozen in a sealed container.
6 good-sized servings, with leftovers. Parve or dairy
The next soup is uniquely suited to satisfying a very traditional Eastern European Jewish need: using up leftovers! What goes into kugel? An egg and some leftover noodles, potatoes, whatever! Got extra carrots, cooked chickpeas, potatoes? Put them in the tzimmes or into the cholent! Except this time, we’re going to make the leftovers to make the soup.
Luckily (or maybe by design) the dish to be “left over” is very simple, delicious and perfect to make on a cold, lazy afternoon when the kitchen beckons and there’s just energy enough to stir a pot every once in awhile. Then, the initial dish can be eaten up for dinner and the leftovers can be made into an equally simple and delicious soup in a day or so.
Smothered Green Cabbage, Venetian Style
2 lbs. smooth green or Savoy (crinkly green) cabbage, ribs cut out and finely shredded
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup good olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. red or white wine vinegar
Put the onion and olive oil into a deep sauté pan with a cover. Turn the heat to medium and sauté the onion until it turns a deep gold, then add the garlic. Sauté for a minute or two, then add all the cabbage. Stir and turn the cabbage for several minutes until it is all wilted. Add the salt, a few grindings of pepper and the vinegar. Stir, cover the pan and turn the heat down to minimum. Cook for at least 1-1/2 hours, or until very tender. Turn it every once in awhile. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Serve either hot or room temperature and save the leftovers for:
Risotto and Smothered Cabbage Soup
2 or 3 cups leftover smothered cabbage
3 cups rich vegetable broth or vegetable bouillon dissolved in 3 cups water
2/3 cup Arborio rice (available at most grocery or specialty foods stores)
2 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the cabbage and the broth into a soup pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the rice and cook uncovered at a slow boil, stirring from time to time. The soup is ready when the rice is done, about 15 to 20 minutes. The rice should be a little firm to the bite, not mushy, but not hard in the center. If you find that the soup is becoming too thick while the rice is cooking, add more broth or water. When done, the consistency of the soup should be rather dense.
Add the butter and the grated cheese and stir well. Taste and add salt and pepper to your taste. Give the soup a few minutes rest and serve medium hot with pieces of crusty rustic bread and more grated Parmesan, if desired.
Four servings. Dairy.