Nourishing soup to warm the soul

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking   instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is working on a project to preserve  the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Every ethnic cuisine has at least one soup that is uniquely identified with the culture and the geography of that group. The Japanese have their ramen, the Italians their minestrone, the French their pistou, the Russians their borscht, the Mexicans their pozole, and the Vietnamese their pho. For Jews of Eastern European heritage, the iconic soup of their culture is, of course, chicken soup.

For generations stretching back in time, there were no written recipes, as the cooking traditions and instructions were passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter—and perhaps every once in awhile to a son.

Every soup shares the same beginning: the aromatics (also known as mirepoix), which provide the special flavor bomb for that soup. What are those aromatics? While the ingredients can differ depending upon the soup, they usually include onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and/or  green pepper, all sautéed together. Then the cook adds water or rich broth for the next stage. The ingredients in each of these ethnic soups included vegetables or grains or meats from the region of their origins—and, fortunately for us, are now available worldwide.

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What made soup unique back then and remains true today is the way it could span a culture’s socio-economic levels. Soups could be made from just about any ingredient, fancy or simple. Back in the shtetls of Poland, the peasants would make their chicken soup with chickens scraps, chicken skin, necks, backs, feet, bones, and even the skins of onions. By contrast, the wealthier Jews might include a whole chicken in the soup. Either way, the soup was left to cook on a low heat for a long time, allowing the mixture to develop those rich flavors and aromas we’ve all associated with chicken soup. Once finished, the soup would be served with bread, fresh or stale, or dumplings such as matzah balls.

Soups were not merely nutritious and filling—and in many cultures a complete meal—but during the winter they were a welcome antidote to the cold.

Fast forward to last week when the temperature plunged and was followed by a nasty mix of snow and ice. The last thing I wanted to do was head outside to the supermarket. Looking for inspiration, I glanced at the orange sugar pumpkin that had been sitting on my kitchen counter since mid-October. I’d originally purchased it to display on Halloween and then to use to create a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But I was given a different cooking assignment for Thanksgiving and returned to town with my sugar pumpkin in tow.

Hmmm, I thought as I studied that pumpkin, I’ve made butternut squash soup many times, so why not pumpkin soup?

But what would a 10-week old sugar pumpkin look like on the inside? I grabbed a knife, placed the pumpkin on a cutting board, took a deep breath, and cut the pumpkin in half. To my delight — and relief — it looked great! And certainly good enough for a pumpkin soup. Check out the photo I took of my sliced-in-half pumpkin. The soup was delicious, and I had enough roasted pumpkin left to make a small pumpkin pie. 

My soup recipe is below. And just as I mentioned above that every soup recipe is flexible, you can swap out the pumpkin for butternut squash or sweet potatoes and it will still be delicious.

The weather remained frigid over the next several days. And there on my counter sat a decorative jar filled to the rim with brown lentils. That jar of lentils became my second winter soup inspiration—and again, I didn’t need to go to the supermarket to create it. The result—an exercise in what I think of as soup improvisation—was as yummy on day one as it was on day seven. And remember, there is no magic recipe for any soup. Feel free to wing it.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

 Note: This soup is delicious served as is, accompanied by a slice of bread. To dress it up, or make it a one-dish meal, consider one or more of the following options.  

• Add a scoop of cooked rice, couscous, or farro in the center of each bowl of soup.

• Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a small skillet. Add 1/4 c. dried or fresh bread crumbs, along with 1/2 tsp. of your favorite dried herbs: basil, thyme, oregano, or sage, or a mixture. Toss together and saute for 2 minutes over medium low heat. Sprinkle each bowl of soup with some of the crumbs.

• Sprinkle the top of each bowl of soup with herb croutons.

• In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 c. plain yogurt or sour cream with 1/4 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest. Place a dollop of mixture in the center of each bowl of soup.

• Drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil on the top of each bowl of soup. 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or oiled aluminum foil. 

Cut pumpkin, squash, or sweet potatoes into 3/4” chunks and transfer to a medium bowl. Toss with 2 tbsp. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes, or until tender and beginning to char at the ends. 

While pumpkin is roasting, heat remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil and butter in a 2-quart pot or pan. Add onions and saute over medium-low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, ginger, and cumin and stir; saute for another 5 minutes. 

Add roasted pumpkin and stir to coat with aromatics. Add broth and 1/2 tsp. salt and black pepper. Stir, and bring mixture to a boil. Cover pan and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer soup for 15 minutes. 

Remove pot from heat, uncover, and let soup cool for 15 minutes. Transfer soup to a blender, or us an immersion blender to puree. Alternatively, use a potato masher to mash the soup in the pot. 

Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with cilantro or parsley, and serve. 

Makes 4-6 servings. 

Ingredients:

2lbs. peeled and seeded pumpkin, butternut squash, or peeled sweet potatoes

4tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided 

2tbsp. unsalted butter 

1medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped 

2 garlic cloves 

1tsp. peeled and grated fresh ginger, or 1/2 tsp. ground ginger  

1 tsp. ground cumin powder, plus more to taste 

3 c. vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water 

1tsp. coarse kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste 

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 

plus more to taste 

Fresh minced cilantro or parsley, for garnishing


Lentil Soup Recipe

Note: 

This soup is delicious simply accompanied by a slice of bread. However, if you would like to turn it into a more substantial meal, or dress it up, consider one or more of the following options: 

• Add 1 lb. cooked chicken sausage or roasted shredded chicken to soup in the last 5 minutes.

• Add 8 oz. fresh spinach leaves or slivered chard to soup 5 minutes in the last 5 minutes. Let soup cook with the lid off for an additional 5 minutes.

• Place a scoop of cooked rice, couscous, or farro in the center of each bowl of soup before serving.

• Drizzle each bowl of soup with good extra virgin olive oil.

• Top each serving with grated or shaved Parmesan cheese.

• Top each serving with a dollop of basil pesto. 

Ingredients:

1 ½tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 

1large yellow onion, peeled and 

chopped

2cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced 

2carrots, trimmed, scraped, and diced 

1 celery stalk, trimmed and chopped 

114 oz. can diced tomatoes 

1 c. brown or green lentils, rinsed and drained 

5 c. vegetable or chicken broth, or water 

1½tsp. dried basil 

1 tsp. dried oregano 

1 tsp. coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste  

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper pepper, plus more to taste

2tbsp. minced fresh parsley or basil chiffonade (cut into ribbons) 

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oil in a 2-quart pot or pan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, carrot and celery, stirring to coat with oil. Saute for 2 minutes. Add canned diced tomatoes, and stir for 30 seconds. Add drained lentils, broth or water, dried basil, oregano, salt and black pepper. 

Stir soup and bring to a boil. Cover pan with a lid, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer soup for 30-45 minutes. Remove lid and continue simmering for an additional 10 minutes.  

Stir soup and ladle into bowls. Sprinkle each serving with parsley or basil, and serve. 

Makes 4-6 servings.