Soups and stews

Canned beans are convenient, but for soup I prefer dried ones.  Not because the dried beans taste better — canned varieties, especially organic ones, are just as good — but because of the rich, earthy liquid left behind after they cook.  Flavorful and full-bodied, this cooking liquid makes an outstanding soup base — all you need add are some vegetables, maybe some grains, and a little stock or water.

Chickpea and swiss chard soup

Makes about 4 quarts

1/2 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

1/2 c. wheat berries

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Measure wheat berries into a small saucepan and cover with cold water by about three inches.  Season lightly with salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until wheat berries are chewy but no longer tough, about 1 hour.  Drain and set aside.  (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

In a large saucepan, cover drained chickpeas with three inches of cold water.  Bring to a hard boil and skim the froth off the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer until nearly tender, at least one hour.  Season generously with salt and cook until done.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid. (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

Warm a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion, celery, and carrot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add can of tomatoes and cook, stirring, until juices are thickened, about 4 minutes.

Add swiss chard to pot and cook, stirring, until wilted.  Stir in chickpeas, wheat berries, stock, and about 4 cups of reserved bean cooking liquid.  Bring to a simmer and cook briefly to meld flavors.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Don’t have wheat berries? Cooked barley, kasha (buckwheat groats), farro, rice, and short pasta shapes are all good in soup.

Or chickpeas? I like white beans — from tiny navy beans to fat cannellinis — in brothy vegetable soups.

Or chard? Greens are good in bean soups because their natural bitterness complements the beans’ starchy creaminess.  Tougher greens, like kale, need to simmer for at least 15 minutes to soften.  Tender spinach is done when it wilts — you can stir it into the finished soup.

Or tomatoes? Bean and vegetable soups need acid for balance — if you don’t have tomatoes, try adding a splash of lemon juice or vinegar at the end of cooking.


Best-quality canned tomatoes are key to this simple, well-rounded soup.  Roasting the tomatoes in a hot oven with a little sugar before adding them to the pot concentrates their flavor and caramelizes their juices.  If you chop and saute the other vegetables while the tomatoes are in the oven, the soup comes together in under and hour.  With a thick wedge of toasted cornbread and an apple, it makes a lovely lunch.

Roasted tomato soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups

2 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes

1/4 c. olive oil, divided

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 Spanish onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 c. chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed

2 tbsp. butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Drain tomatoes, reserving about 3 c. juice in a large liquid measure.  Halve and seed the tomatoes (hold the halves cut side down and squeeze gently to remove seeds and pulp).  Arrange seeded tomatoes in a single layer on lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar.  Roast until juices are evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes.

Warm a soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in remaining 3 tbsp. olive oil, then add onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and thyme to pot and season with salt and pepper.  Cook 2 minutes more.  Using a wide spatula, remove roasted tomatoes from foil and add to pot.  Pour in stock and reserved tomato juice.  Raise heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently until all vegetables are very tender and soup is slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or blender.  Return to pot.  Stir in butter, if using.  Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and thin to desired consistency with additional stock.

Silky smooth, rich and creamy, and very easy.  Serve with crusty bread and a spinach salad.

Butternut squash soup with bacon

Adapted from The Naked Beet

Yield:  Makes about 3 quarts

6 slices thin-cut bacon

1 Spanish onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced

1 heaping tsp. minced fresh sage or thyme leaves

1 large butternut squash (3-4 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped

About 6 c. chicken stock

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Fry bacon in large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Crumble bacon and set aside.

Pour off all but about 1 1/2 tbsp. bacon fat from pot and return to stove.  Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.  Add sage or thyme and cook 1 minute more.  Pour in 1 cup of the stock and raise heat to high.  Using a wooden spoon, scrape browned bits off bottom of pot.  Add squash and enough stock to just cover vegetables.  Season with salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat.

When soup has cooled slightly, puree in batches in a blender or food processor.  Return to pot, add brown sugar, vinegar, and a few grindings of black pepper.  Taste and adjust seasoning or thin with additional stock as needed.

Serve hot, garnished with crumbled bacon.

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey, bigger is always better.  This year’s 24-pounder yielded a holiday dinner for 7, more than a gallon of stock, and easily a week’s worth of leftovers for my family of four and my in-laws as well.  Today my mother-in-law made turkey, chickpea, and sweet potato curry, and I made a simple turkey soup with barley and this hearty chili.

Making chili is a good way to use up small amounts of assorted dried beans lurking in the back of your pantry.  If you don’t have any, or want a quicker-cooking chili, you can use canned beans.  6 cans, rinsed and drained, should yield the proper quantity for this recipe.

Turkey chili

Yield:  4 -4 1/2 qts.

1 1/2 lb. dried beans, soaked overnight (I used Great Northern and pinto)

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 Spanish onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsp. ancho chili powder (or more or less, to taste)

1 tbsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled

2 qts. turkey or chicken stock (or use part bean cooking liquid)

1 15-oz. can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes

6 c. shredded, cooked turkey

Juice of 1-2 limes

Handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Salt, to taste

Drain beans and place in a large saucepan.  Cover by 3-inches with cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil hard for a few minutes, then reduce heat and skim froth from surface of water.  Cook beans at a bare simmer until just tender, about 40 minutes to a little over an hour (depending on type and age of beans).  Season generously with salt and continue cooking 10 minutes longer.  Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid.

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and stir in garlic, chili powder, and cumin.  Cook another two minutes.  Add oregano, beans, and bean-cooking liquid and/or stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook 20 minutes more or until beans are very tender.

In a food processor or blender, puree a few cups of the soup, then return puree to pot.  Stir in tomatoes, turkey, and juice of 1 lime.  Taste, adding additional lime juice and salt as needed, and serve.

Chili keeps well in the fridge up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

If you’re feeding a family of four or more and don’t have at least one recipe in your arsenal that begins, “Open a can of…” let’s face it:  you’re sunk.  This particularly can-tastic soup is one of my favorites.  It’s quickly and easily made with ingredients that are already in my pantry, and I actually prefer its simple flavors and creamy texture to other, more complicated black bean soups I’ve cooked in the past.  We like it with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt (for a dairy- and soy-free option, try the coconut “nogurt”  recipe, below) and sweet potato quesadillas on the side.

Easy black bean soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups, serving 6

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

3 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock (boxed or canned broth is fine)

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

Salt, to taste

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic, thyme, and cumin and cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes with their juice, beans, stock, and Tabasco*.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer soup until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Ladle about 1/3 of soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Stir puree back into pot.  Season with salt as needed.

* Our kids are not big on spicy food, so I don’t add the Tabasco to the whole pot.  Instead, I add a dash or two to the grown-ups’ bowls just before serving.

Coconut “nogurt”

Creamy and tangy, a little like sour cream and a little like yogurt, I use it as a dairy- and soy-free substitute for yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk in cooking.

Yield:  2 cups

1 15-oz can lite coconut milk

1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice (from about 1/2 lemon or 1 lime)

5 tsp. cornstarch

4 tsp. granulated sugar

Whisk ingredients together in a small saucepan until well-blended.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to prevent lumps.  Let cook about 1 minute, until thick and glossy.  Transfer to a pint container and press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the surface of the nogurt (to prevent a skin from forming).  Let cool at room temperature until lukewarm, then refrigerate until cold.  Nogurt will thicken as it cools.  Stir well before serving.

Fast, because you have all the ingredients on hand already.  Economical, because canned goods and frozen veg are cheap.  Able to feed small children without a single complaint (because who doesn’t love novelty pasta shapes?).  Look!  In the pot!  It’s easy!  It’s a full meal!  It’s Supersoup!

Pantry pasta and bean soup

Yield:  About 4 qts., serving at least 8

1/2 lb. small pasta shapes

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

A small handful fresh sage leaves (or thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, or just parsley), finely chopped

1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes

2 1/2 qts. hot chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of stock and bean-cooking liquid, if you have it)

1 15-oz can beans (or about 1 1/2 c. cooked, dried beans), rinsed and drained

1/2 c. frozen peas

Cook pasta in generously salted, boiling water until just tender.  Drain, rinse under cold running water until cool, drain again, and set aside.

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and sage, cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes and raise heat to medium-high.  Cook, stirring, until tomato juices are almost evaporated.  Add stock and beans.  Bring to a simmer, add peas and pasta.  Serve as soon as peas and pasta are hot.

A tip for making pasta soups in advance: This soup will keep, refrigerated, for about 5 days.  To prevent the pasta from getting mushy, cool the soup to lukewarm before adding peas and cooked pasta (hot soup will continue to cook the pasta).  Then ladle into storage containers and chill in the fridge.  Or freeze the soup without the peas and pasta (add them both to the thawed and heated soup just before serving).

Make it gluten-free: If you have kids (or if you are a kid at heart), try Tinkyada’s brown rice pasta, which comes in all manner of adorable shapes.

There are three reasons I will never be a vegetarian.  The first is roast chicken.  The second is a leg of lamb, preferably turned on a spit or roasted on a grill.  And the third is meatballs.  I never met a meatball I didn’t love.  I love them with spaghetti.  I love them over rice.  I love them in red sauce, or white sauce, or mushroom sauce, or gravy, or with lingonberry jam and mashed potatoes (and you thought Ikea was only good for furniture!).  And I love them in soup.

Rolling dozens of tiny meatballs is a lot of work, so make them as small as your patience allows (my mother-in-law makes 1/2″ meatballs; I roll them about 1″ wide).   I usually double the meatball ingredients and roll half of them small for soup and half of them large to cook and freeze for a later date.

This recipe easily translates into meatball alphabet soup:  omit the escarole, double the tomatoes (or add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste), and use 1 1/2 cups of tiny alphabet pasta.

Italian wedding soup

Yield:  About 4 quarts, serving 6-8

For meatballs:

2 slices stale sandwich bread (white or wheat is fine, just nothing grainy)

1/3 c. cold water

1 lb. ground turkey (dark meat is best)

1/4 c. finely grated Pecorino Romano

1/4 c. chopped, fresh parsley

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cloves garlic, minced

Generous pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. olive oil

For soup:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 stalk celery, diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 head escarole, roughly chopped, rinsed, and drained

1 c. chopped, canned tomatoes, with their juice

2 quarts chicken stock

1 c. small pasta shapes (I like Hodgson Mill’s tiny whole grain shells), cooked al dente, rinsed until cool, and drained

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Make meatballs:

Line a sheet tray with parchment or wax paper and set aside.

Use a food processor or box grater to turn the bread into crumbs.  Put the crumbs into a large mixing bowl and pour the water over them.  Add the turkey, cheese, parsley, egg, garlic, salt, and pepper, and mix with your hands until well-combined.  Gently form turkey mixture into 1-inch balls and place them on the lined sheet tray. (I find it’s easiest to roll the meatballs if my hands are wet.  I keep a bowl full of cool water on the counter for periodically rinsing my hands — this way I’m not constantly contaminating my sink with raw turkey-covered fingers.)  Cover meatballs lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to one day.

Warm a large skillet over medium heat (you can use your soup pot to brown the meatballs, if you want to save washing a second pan, but I find using a shallow skillet much easier).  Drizzle in half the olive oil, then add half the meatballs.  Let them cook, undisturbed, for a few minutes.  When browned on the bottom, gently shake the pan to turn the meatballs (loosen them with a spatula, if need be) and cook another minute or two.  Carefully remove them to a plate and repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.  Don’t worry about cooking the meatballs all the way through — they will finish up when they’re dropped into the hot soup.

Make soup:

Warm a large pot over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, 8-10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add garlic, thyme, and pepper flakes, and cook 2 minutes more.  Add escarole and cook, stirring, until wilted.  Add tomatoes and stock.  Bring to a gentle simmer, add meatballs, and cook a few minutes until meatballs are done.  Add pasta.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Make it egg- and/or dairy-free: Feel free to omit the egg and cheese (though you might need a tiny bit more salt if you leave out the cheese) — the broth keeps the meatballs soft and tender.

Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free sandwich bread or waffles for breadcrumbs and brown rice pasta (If you’re cooking for kids, try this one.  Bicycles, airplanes, and tiny meatballs all in one bowl?  They’ll love it!).

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