If you want to make a dazzling soup, but don’t have hours to dedicate to cooking, try this simple trick: Make a basic soup and dress it up with easy touches that make it look and taste divine.
Today’s recipes showcase this method in three inviting ways.
The first is a curried yam soup, which is simply made by simmering curry-powder-flavoured yams, onions and not much else in stock until tender, before pureeing the ingredients into a silky soup.
It’s not difficult to make and it’s good on its own, but the look and taste rise to a new level once it’s ladled into bowls and dressed up with easy garnishes, including pumpkin and pomegranate seeds, thick yogurt and mango chutney.
The second soup is also straightforward to make. Simply simmer canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, stock and flavourings a while, before puréeing them into a smooth and comforting tomato soup. Like the yam soup, it’s fine on its own, but becomes even more comforting, flavourful and filling when bowls of it get topped with a grilled cheese sandwich, cut into small squares that look like croutons.
My last soup is the easiest to make. You start by placing cooked tortellini in soup bowls and pouring hot chicken stock over them. That simple, nourishing combination goes gourmet in my recipe when you add bits of Italian sausage, small spoons of pesto and nuggets of Gorgonzola cheese. It’s a wonderful creation that would make a fine dinner on a wet and dreary West Coast November night.
Note: If you want someone else to cook the soup while you donate to a good cause, attend Souper Bowls of Hope, Nov. 10, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Inn at Laurel Point, 680 Montreal St.
This annual event helps fund Victoria’s Youth Empowerment Society, which provides skills, training, housing and counselling services to at-risk youth.
For a $25 ticket, attendees get to select a handcrafted bowl, enjoy soup prepared by local chefs, listen to great music and bid on live and silent auction items. Tickets for Souper Bowls of Hope can be purchased at several locations around Victoria and online. For a complete list and to learn more about the event, go to souperbowls.com.
Curried Yam Soup All Dressed Up
Nicely spiced, earthy and aromatic yam soup all dressed up with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, thick yogurt and chutney. Serve the soup with naan or papadams for dunking.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 25 minutes
Makes: four to six servings
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp mild or medium curry powder
3 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 cups peeled and cubed yam (about 3 small to medium yams)
• salt to taste
4 to 6 Tbsp thick yogurt, or to taste
4 to 6 tsp mango chutney, or to taste (see Note)
4 to 6 tsp pumpkin seeds, or to taste
4 to 6 tsp pomegranate seeds, or to taste
Heat the oil in a pot set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Mix in the garlic, flour and curry powder and cook two minutes more. Slowly mix in one cup of the stock. When the flour mixture is thick, slowly stir in the rest of the stock. Now add the yam. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until the yam is very tender, about 15 to 18 minutes.
Purée the soup in the pot with an immersion blender, or transfer it to a food processor or blender and purée it there. Thin the soup with more stock or water if it’s too thick. Return the soup to a simmer and season with salt.
Ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Set a dollop of yogurt in the centre of each bowl. Top the yogurt with a spoon of chutney. Top each bowl of soup with some pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and serve.
Note: Mango chutney is sold in bottles in the Asian foods aisle and pickle aisle of supermarkets.
Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons
Comforting tomato soup made even more so by topping it with hot, cheese-filled slices of bread cut into croutons.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Makes: two servings
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
• pinch granulated sugar
• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 slices white bread, crusts trimmed off
2 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
100 grams old cheddar cheese, cut into thin slices
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
Place the oil in a small- to medium-sized pot set over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about five minutes. Mix in flour, tomato paste, garlic and oregano and cook one minute more. While stirring, slowly add stock.
Add diced tomatoes and sugar, bring to a simmer, and simmer 10 minutes. Purée the soup in the pot with an immersion blender, or transfer it to a food processor or blender and purée it there. Season the soup with salt and pepper, cover and reserve on low heat until the grilled cheese croutons are ready.
Butter one side of each bread slice. Divide and top the unbuttered side of two of the bread slices with the cheese slices. Set on the other bread slices, buttered side up. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the sandwiches and grill three to four minutes per side, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. Rest the sandwiches a minute, and then cut each one into one-inch cubes.
Ladle the soup into two bowls. Top with the grilled-cheese croutons, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Eric options: For a richer soup, whisk 2 Tbsp of whipping cream into the soup just before serving.
Tortellini Soup with Pesto, Sausage Meatballs and Gorgonzola
Serve this hearty Italian soup for supper with crusty bread and red wine.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 12 minutes
Makes: four servings
2 mild, medium or hot Italian sausages (about 85 grams each)
1 tsp olive oil
1 (350 gram) pkg. cheese-filled tortellini
4 to 5 cups chicken broth or stock
1 Tbsp pesto
100 grams Gorgonzola cheese, pulled into small nuggets
• pinches of crushed chili flakes and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste (optional)
Remove the casing from each sausage and pull the meat into small, thumbnail-sized nuggets.
Place the oil in a nine-inch skillet and set over medium, medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the pieces of sausage and cook until nicely browned and cooked through, about five minutes. While the sausage cooks, set a large pot of water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil to cook the tortellini.
When the sausage is cooked, remove from the pan from heat and set aside for a moment
Add the tortellini to the boiling water and cook until tender. While the tortellini cooks, place the stock in another pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
When the tortellini is cooked, drained well and divide among four large and wide soup bowls. Set the sausage meatballs back on the heat and warm them up a minute or two.
To serve, ladle the stock overtop the tortellini. Drain the fat from the sausage meatballs, and then add some to each soup bowl. Now top each soup with some nuggets of Gorgonzola cheese. Set a few small spoonfuls of pesto into each soup bowl and serve.
If desired, at the table, also top the soup with pinches of crushed chili flakes and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.