Quick & Easy Tomato Soup

For many of us, nothing says homey comfort on a snowy winter day quite like a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup.  I grew up on tomato soup that was made from the condensed stuff out of a can, like many of us did.  Here is something almost as quick and almost as easy as that condensed soup, but with a lot more flavor.  It calls for tomatoes that were canned in the summer, and homemade stock, but you can substitute.  Just be sure to read the labels and choose carefully!

Tomato Soup

  • 1 quart of homemade stock (Bone broth works really well)
  • 1 quart of tomato puree
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 T arrowroot powder***, dissolved in 2 T water
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot.  Add the onions, celery, green pepper, and salt.**  Saute until it is soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, stock, and sugar and simmer for another ten minutes.  If you want that smooth consistency of the canned condensed soup, you can run an immersion (stick) blender through the soup.
  3. Bring the soup up to a boil and add the arrowroot, stirring constantly.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste

This is also wonderful with some homemade pesto mixed in, or adding Taco Seasoning or Aged Inlet Seasoning

 

**Adding salt at the start of the saute helps to draw the moisture out of the vegetables and keeps the soup from getting too watery.

***If you do not have arrowroot, you can use corn starch or potato starch.

Focus: Make Your Own Lunch

In the spirit of the 30-Month Plan, each month I will feature a single goal entry for that month. It may be something that I am working on myself, or something that I found particularly helpful in the past. This month it is one that I found helped me a lot. It isn’t going to sound very earth shattering when I share it with you, but it has made an incredible difference for me, and that is making my lunch, a hot lunch, every day.

Upfront investment: a wide-mouth thermos and a re-useable lunch container. I actually use an old metal lunch box. And when I forget it different places around the school, I get a call or a text that says, “Hey Natalie, you left your lunch box —.” Almost everyone knows that it is mine.

And yes, in some ways it is easier to bring a couple of bucks and buy lunch. But here’s the thing: I am stressed out at work. I feel like I have too much to do and too little time and my students always seem to need something. Going out of the building actually stresses me out even more, because I am freaking out the entire time I am gone, afraid that I won’t get back to school in time. Going to the cafeteria stresses me out because there is a line, and I might have to stand in it for a few minutes. If I bring something that needs to be heated, I might have to wait for the microwave to become available, and this, too, stresses me out. Time is my big issue, and what I found is that if I can reach around and pull out my lunch, undo the thermos cap and eat, I am much more relaxed.

One of the things I do on Sunday is make my lunches for the week. I usually make some sort of soup-base that can take some fermented vegetables being mixed in. It isn’t complicated and doesn’t really take very long. I portion it in pint jars.

During the week, while I am making the children’s lunches in the morning, I heat up my soup. Tempering the thermos by pouring in boiling water a few minutes before adding the soup really improves its ability to keep things hot because the thermos is already hot, it doesn’t take away any of the heat from the soup. I dump the water, add the soup and then mix in some fermented vegetables.

 

Red Lentil “Base Soup”

  • 2 T ghee, lard, coconut oil, or butter
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1t ground coriander
  • ½ t ground turmeric
  • 1 ½ C red lentils
  • 4 C stock
  • 4 C water

Salt to taste

  1. Heat the fat in a heavy bottom pot.
  2. Add the cumin, coriander and turmeric and fry until it becomes fragrant.
  3. Add the lentils, and swirl around until they are coated.
  4. Add the stock and water. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for about 1 hour, or until the lentils are cooked to bursting. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you plan to add fermented vegetables, go easy on the salt, as the vegetables carry a heavy salt component.

Cabbage Borscht (Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup)

As I stated in the last entry, soup is a passionate area for me. Not only is it a comfort food on a cold, stormy day (or night), it also represents the best parts of my family: tradition, the fact that patience with one another yields excellent results, that while we are very different ingredients, when we come together, we are pretty awesome.

I can’t say that cabbage borscht was one of my fave’s as a kid. As a matter of fact, I think I may have been in my 20’s before I even tasted it, because I didn’t like the way it smelled – kind of cabbage-y. However, once I tasted it, I had to consider where that mushroom-barley soup stood in my esteem.

I have two recipes for cabbage borscht, a slow one that is going to be on your backburner for most of the day and a second that cooks faster and can be easily converted to a vegetarian recipe. Both of these are soured after cooking by adding about a cup of homemade kraut. If you don’t know about lacto-fermenting, there are earlier entries to consult.

DO NOT salt the soup before adding lacto-fermented vegetables! L-F Veggies are naturally salty, and you don’t want to over-salt. Once salt is in you can’t get it out. If there isn’t enough, you can always add more at the table.

 

SLOW Cabbage Borscht

1 – 2 lbs. short ribs

1 soup bone

1 large onion, cut in large pieces

16 oz. crushed tomatoes

1 medium carrot

1 medium head of cabbage

1 – 1 ½ C homemade sauerkraut

salt and pepper to taste

 

Put the short ribs, soup bone, onion, tomatoes, and carrot into a big pot and cover with cold water. Put on a medium heat and bring it up to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and let this simmer away for 5 -6 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add a quart for every quart you lose.

Quarter and core the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into spoon size pieces. Place in a colander and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of salt. This will “sweat” some of the excess water put of the cabbage.

After 5-6 hours, remove the bones and meat. Run an immersion blender through the stock to puree the vegetables (you can put them through a food mill or sieve if you don’t have an immersion blender). Add the cabbage and simmer until the cabbage is cooked, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, get the meat off of the bones and cut it into spoon-sized pieces, removing any connective tissue, silver skin, or gristle that may still be there. Add the meat back into the pot.

Once the cabbage is cooked, turn off the heat. Add the kraut and stir thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. My grandmother had a heavy hand with the black pepper.

 

FAST Cabbage Borscht

Fat to sauté in

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

½ C apple cider

2 quarts of stock (any will do, including vegetable stock)

16 oz. crushed tomatoes

1 medium head of cabbage

1 -1 ½ C homemade sauerkraut

salt and pepper to taste

 

In the bottom of a large pot, heat the fat. Add the onion sauté until it starts to become translucent and then add the carrots. Cook until the carrots start to caramelize. Add the apple cider and use it to help scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add the stock and crushed tomatoes. Let this simmer for about 45 minutes.

Cut and core the cabbage. Slice into spoon-sized pieces.

After 45 minutes, run an immersion blender through the stock to puree the vegetables.

Add the cabbage and let simmer for 30 minutes, until the cabbage is cooked.

Once the cabbage is cooked, turn off the heat and add the kraut. Stir thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.

Traditional Soup

The first Nor’easter of the season blew up the coast yesterday, leaving behind about 1 ¼” of rain and a lot of gusty wind. Had it been cold enough, it would have been about a foot of snow that would have come down sideways. As it was, with highs earlier in the week being closer to 80 and 95% humidity, but not raining, the contrast was sharp and bone-chilling. When my husband first moved here from Minnesota, he didn’t quite understand the Mid-Atlantic winter. Now I am not saying that winter in New Jersey is as brutal as winter in Maine, or even Minnesota, but it does have it’s own characteristic not-very-charming quirks, like storms that leave behind 2 inches of rain instead of 20 inches of snow because it was 34ºF, not 30ºF. His observation was this: At least in Minnesota, the snow stays frozen on your frozen coat. Here this just soaks through everything. And how does one get warm again? Hot showers and soup. Homemade traditional soups are easy to make.

Growing up, there were three kinds of soup: condensed in a can, powered in an envelope, or frozen in “containers.” The containers are of particular importance because the soup within came from my grandmother’s kitchen. It was highly prized in the family and highly sought after. We all had our favorites: mine was mushroom-barley. I think there may have been treaties more easily negotiated than the division of soup in my grandmother’s kitchen. But all of it was null and void if someone did not return “the container.” You could stand at the stove, make your move toward the pot, but if you hadn’t returned your container, my grandmother was loath to give you another. What were these prized possessions? These tickets to soup euphoria? Sherbet containers. Yes, you read that right. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, sherbet came in these plastic containers and my family reused them for adopting leftover soup. Tupperware was too expensive.

As my grandmother got older, I kept trying to get the soup secrets out of her. I tried and tried to replicate her soup and could never quite get it. There was always something missing. When she broke her hip and was in a rehabilitation facility, I called her to say hello and we got started talking about soup. She finally confessed parts of recipes. The underlying problem I would have was that I didn’t have her soup pot. It was this huge enamel pot that had all kinds of cracks and stains. Her recipes went something like this: “You put a soup bone in the bottom and then fill the pot with water up to the black chip that looks like an eye.” Not especially helpful in recipe replication.

Over the years, with much trial and error, I have come up with reasonable versions of my grandmother’s soups. I researched recipes, experimented and ate quite a bit of mediocre soup. In my research, I found that many of the sweet/sour soups quintessential to Eastern Europe called for lemon juice or vinegar to create the sour component. It occurred to me that a peasant in Poland would probably not have lemons, so I let go of any recipe that used lemon juice. One day, as I was pounding down some cabbage for kraut, I had an epiphany: peasants in Eastern Europe did not have lemons. But they more than likely had fermented vegetables like cabbage and beets. The resulting soups were remarkable!

 

Easy Beet Borscht (Sweet and Sour Beet Soup)

1 T fat for sauté

1 medium onion, rough chop

¼ C apple cider

2 lbs. of raw beets, peeled and cubed

1 quart of stock (any type will do)

1 C fermented beets

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Heat the fat in the bottom of the pot. Add the onion and sauté until it is translucent. Add the apple cider and scrape up any brown bits form the bottom of the pot. Add the beets the stock and let this simmer until the beets are cooked (about an hour, depending upon how small your cubes are).

Take the soup off the heat and mash the vegetables, or run an immersion (wand) blender through them. Add the fermented beets. Taste for salt and pepper.

Because the fermented beets are salty, do not add any salt until after you add the beets.

What do I do with all of these Butternut Squashes?

Oh, Butternut! How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways…

1.     Roasted

2.     Mashed with butter

3.     Mashed and mixed into pasta with parmesan cheese

4.     Cubed, roasted and tossed in balsamic vinaigrette

But my husband?  He hates squash.  Hates it.  Squash and peas.  He says it’s a consistency thing, and I can’t argue with that because if I go near an oyster or a clam, I gag.  But I got him to eat squash – as soup.  And as pie.

            While butternuts keep quite well, I find that by the end of January, I need to get them used up, so I cut them in half, scoop out the seeds (and save some to plant next year!), and roast them, cut-side down in a 350°F oven for about 45 minutes.  When they are cool enough to handle, I scoop out the flesh into a food processor and purée it.  After it is puréed, I put two cups worth into a baggie, press out the excess air and lay it flat in the freezer.  Then I substitute butternut squash into any recipe that calls for pumpkin.  The secret to my killer pumpkin pie?  I use half butternut squash. 

Butternut Squash Soup that Even Greg Will Eat

1 T coconut oil, or other oil to sauté:

1 medium onion, rough chop

2 cloves of garlic, rough chop

1 T garam masala

½ t tumeric

32 oz. chicken stock, preferably homemade

4 C pureed butternut squash

Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large stock pot, heat the oil.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent.

2. Add the garam masala and tumeric and stir until everything becomes fragrant.  You’ll know what I mean when you smell it.

3. Pour about 1 C of the chicken stock and use it to de-glaze the bottom of the pot.

4. Add the rest of the chicken stock and the butternut squash purée.

5. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

6. Using a stick blender, puree everything to a smooth consistency.  If you don’t have a stick blender, you can use a conventional blender, but be very careful with the hot liquid.

OPTIONAL: You can finish the soup by stirring in 1 C of whole milk or cream.