Eric Akis: Soup’s on, with a minimum of fuss

Three easy-to-prepare soup recipes for cold winter days

Eric Akis

A reader, Margot, wrote that she had tried my recent mulligatawny soup and turkey pho recipes. She said she enjoyed them, but noted that she was 91 and it took her a bit of time to prepare them.

Margot’s note, in a very sweet way, challenged me to come up with some recipes that were a little simpler to prepare. I told her I would, so today’s column features three tasty and easy-to-prepare soups.

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The first one simmers together chickpeas and kale, nutritious ingredients that provide protein, fibre, iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and B6. The only chopping required is to cut up the onion. The fresh kale is torn into pieces with your hands.

The soup is flavoured Italian-style, with a bit of tomato paste, Parmesan cheese and basil- and garlic-rich pesto, which can be store-bought.

With regard to the tomato paste, I like to buy the type sold in a tube, because you can squeeze out what you need for the recipe, then seal and refrigerate the rest until you need it again.

The chickpea kale soup makes a nice meal when served with Italian bread.

For my second recipe, a one-pound bag of mini (also called baby-cut) carrots was simmered and blended into a simple soup flavoured with curry powder. For added body and richness, I also blended some protein-rich almonds into the soup.

Carrots, among other things, contain beta-carotene, fibre, minerals and a range of vitamins, including A, C and K. Mini carrots, of course, are small and sold peeled and ready-to-cook. The only chopping required is to cut up the onion and, if you use choose to use it, the cilantro.

To balance the carrots’ natural sweetness and the spices in the curry powder, I topped servings of the soup with a dollop of tangy yogurt. If you don’t eat dairy, you could replace the yogurt with cultured coconut milk.

To make a meal of the curried carrot soup, serve it with naan bread, which you can buy at most supermarkets.

In my last recipe, frozen corn kernels, cubed potatoes and diced onion are simmered together into a stick-to-your-ribs, hearty soup flavoured with thyme and garlic.

Also adding a world of flavour to the soup are the crispy bits of bacon and sliced green onion you top bowls of it with just before serving. To make a meal of this soup, serve it with soft dinner rolls or soda crackers.

All of the soups freeze well. Once the soup has cooled to room temperature, ladle it into freezer containers, label and date, then freeze for up to three months.

Chickpea Kale Soup with Pesto and Parmesan Cheese

This is an easy-to-make, nutritious, Italian-style soup flavoured with basil-rich pesto and tangy cheese.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 small to medium onion, diced

2 Tbsp tomato paste

• pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

3 3/4 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or stock

1 (19 oz./540 mL) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well

2 cups loosely packed torn kale leaves (see Note)

2 Tbsp store-bought or homemade pesto

• salt and freshly ground black pepper

• freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat oil in a medium pot set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about five minutes. Mix in tomato paste and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook one minute more.

Add the broth (or stock), chickpeas and kale to the pot. Bring to a simmer and simmer 10 minutes, or until kale is very tender.

Mix in the pesto and heat through one minute. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and let diners top theirs, to taste, with the Parmesan cheese.

Note: Depending on the size, two to four whole kale leaves, washed well and with the tough centre rib of each leaf removed, should yield the torn kale needed here. Torn means to pull apart into smaller pieces. Any leftover kale from the bunch you bought for this recipe could be torn and frozen. To do so, freeze that kale on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. When it’s frozen solid, transfer kale to a freezer bag and keep frozen.

You can add that frozen kale to another soup, stew, pasta or other dish requiring it.

Curried Mini Carrot Soup with Almonds

Simple, nicely spiced, carrot soup, blended with almonds, and topped with tangy yogurt or cultured coconut milk. Serve with warm naan bread.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 30 minutes

Makes: four servings

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 (1 lb.) bag mini (also called baby-cut) carrots

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 to 3 tsp mild or medium curry powder

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

3 3/4 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

1/3 cup slivered almonds

• salt, to taste

• thick plain yogurt, or plain cultured coconut milk, to taste (see Note)

• sliced green onion or chopped cilantro, to taste

Place oil in a medium pot set over medium, medium-high heat. Add carrots and onion and cook and stir five minutes. Mix in curry powder and flour and cook one to two minutes more. While stirring, slowly pour in one cup of the broth (or stock). When mixture thickens, mix in the rest of the broth (or stock).

Mix in the almonds, then bring the soup to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Simmer soup 20 minutes, or until carrots are very tender.

Purée the soup in a food processor, or right in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender. Return the soup to a simmer and taste and season with salt, as needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each bowl with a dollop of yogurt (or cultured coconut milk), sprinkle with sliced green onion (or cilantro), then serve.

Note: Cultured coconut milk is a dairy-free, yogurt-like product sold at many grocery stores.

Corn and Potato Soup with Bacon Bits and Green Onion

Hearty, stick-to-your-ribs soup you can make a meal of by serving it with soft dinner rolls or a pile of soda crackers.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 25 minutes

Makes: four servings

3 to 4 strips of bacon, diced

2 Tbsp butter

1/2 medium onion, diced

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp garlic powder (see Eric options)

3 3/4 to 4 cups chicken broth or stock

1 cup frozen corn kernels

2 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 3/4 cups)

2/3 cup milk

• salt and white pepper, to taste

• thinly sliced green onion, to taste

Place bacon in a skillet, set over medium, medium-high heat and cook until crispy. Lift the bacon bits out of the pan and drain on paper towel. Set bacon aside until needed.

Melt butter in a pot set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook five minutes, until tender. Mix in the flour, thyme and garlic powder and cook one to two minutes more.

While stirring, slowly pour in one cup of the broth (or stock). When mixture is thick, slowly mix in the rest of the broth (or stock). Now add the corn and potatoes, bring soup to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Mix in milk and heat it through one minute. Taste soup and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle each serving with bacon bits and sliced green onion, and enjoy.

Eric’s options: If you prefer to use fresh garlic, replace the garlic powder with 1 medium to large garlic clove, minced, and add it to the pot with the flour and thyme.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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