Soup for a Winter Day
Nothing tastes better on a cold winter day than a bowl of steaming hot soup. It is true today but it was especially true in former times when a heated house meant a fire burning in the fireplace or in the wood-burning stove. Aromas filling the not-so-warm room and the expectation of a tasty, hot bowl of soup must have been truly comforting. Of course, good hot soup is something to look forward to even today.
The best choice for the season is a filling, hearty soup. In old days at this time of the year there were dried legumes and herbs in the pantry, sauerkraut in the cellar, cabbage, potatoes and root vegetables in the root cellar. If available, cream, milk, sour cream, cheese, or smoked meat provided the luxury of extra protein. Soups became even more filling if pasta, dumplings or grains (think barley, rice, wild rice) were added.
Making soup could be a fun and satisfying activity even for inexperienced cooks. Although we tend to perceive soup making as a lengthy process, most soups require only several minutes of prep time. While it is true that a good chicken or beef soup benefits from a long slow simmering and it may take half a day to cook, vegetable soups usually require much less cooking time.
So why not to reserve a little time for some unhurried cooking and make a big pot of soup. Maybe we can try to transform the mundane activity of cooking and establish a family ritual of, let’s say, Soup Saturdays. Part of the process can be finding an exciting new recipe or accepting the challenge of improvised cooking and simply making a soup out of what we can find on the shelves of our kitchen cabinets or in the refrigerator.
Potato soups (creamy or chunky), bean and lentil soups, carrot, winter squash or sweet potato cream soups (mild or spicy, made with coconut milk or without), minestrone and borsch (vegetarian or not), cabbage or sauerkraut based soup are all good candidates to become your family’s next favorite winter meal. Make a big pot, most soups taste great reheated next day when the flavors truly come together. Making a bigger batch usually doesn’t mean much more work but it will feed the family more than once.
Keeping with a family tradition, we cooked lentil soup on New Year’s Day. Lentils, looking like tiny coins, are perceived as a symbol of money. Legend has it that eating lentils on the first day of the year will assure prosperity and financial safety. There are, of course, no guarantees. Still, on New Year’s Day we nourished our bodies with a satisfying, tasty meal and honored the tradition of our ancestors. And that is good enough for me.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup diced onions
½ cup diced celery or celeriac
½ cup diced carrots
1 ½ cup French lentils
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 clove of garlic
¼ black pepper or to taste
few pinches of nutmeg
2 cups diced potatoes
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
salt to taste
water or stock
For more protein and an extra layer of flavor smoked meat can be added.
Soak lentils overnight (or at least for 5-6 hours) in water. Drain.
In a heavy-bottomed pot heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions, celery or celeriac, and carrots. Sauté until golden. Pour in the water or the broth, add drained lentils, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, pepper, nutmeg, and smoked meat, if using. Cook covered on medium heat for about 40 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook an additional 15-20 minutes until lentils and potatoes are tender. Add the vinegar and salt to taste. Adjust spices if necessary. Serve with quality bread or rolls.