Take the chill off of winter with some super soups

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

“The dead of winter” has such an ominous tone; you never hear that said about summer. I suppose that the bare trees, the cold temps and incessant fog that settles after the temperature tries to climb make this description credible. It also makes me want to stay indoors and seek comfort. I’m sure I’m not alone.

For now, I don’t really mind. I like to use this time of year to get my inside chores done, then head to the kitchen to make soul-satisfying soups with some warm, yeasty bread to accompany. For me, soup making is cathartic (and also a great way to clean out the fridge) and is an ideal vehicle for delivering the much needed vitamins and minerals.

Soups are the multipurpose dish: Whether served for lunch with a sandwich or salad, as a first course for an elegant dinner or ladled from a steaming soup pot for a hearty meal, there’s a soup for every occasion. Meaty or meatless, they can be pureed to a silky smooth texture or served chunky with lots of protein and vegetables.

In fact, my soup pot stays permanently on the cook top awaiting whatever ingredients I care to add and making my weekly menu so much easier to plan. And because there are so many versions of soup to create, I could make one every day this season and not make the same one twice.

Indeed, a pot of soup is a great place to experiment; marrying flavors and adding a variety of ingredients. For instance, a squeeze of lime gives a bowl of sweet potato and bacon soup vibrancy. That jar of dill pickles hiding in the fridge gets new life, thanks to the addition of potatoes and carrots to make a piquant dill pickle soup. A serving of roasted red pepper soup drizzled with orange cream looks so luscious when served in a delicate tea cup for a light luncheon and a generous splash of sherry is just what an ordinary mushroom soup needs to satisfy.

Also, don’t hesitate to use convenience products such as canned chicken broth, jarred roasted peppers, minced garlic, frozen vegetables or dried mushrooms to make your soup experience stellar. Add a variety of pasta shapes to make the soup pot fun and a sprinkle of cheese (or, keep that Parmesan cheese rind in the freezer to pop in the pot for depth of flavor) or dollop of pesto or sour cream and minced fresh herbs for the perfect garnish.

Besides the soup pot, another kitchen tool that rarely sees the inside of a cupboard this time of year is my immersion blender. This handy device saves me time and prevents the possibility of mess because I don’t have to transfer hot liquid to a blender. (If you’ve ever had the top of a blender come off when the hot liquid erupts you’ll understand.)

Armed with these recipes your never-ending quest for a seasonal meal served simply will be solved. And the winter chill won’t stand a chance.

Kate Lawson is the retired Detroit News food writer.

Dill Pickle Soup

Created by Cathy Pollak for

5 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 3/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 cups chopped carrots (smaller dice)

1 cup chopped dill pickles (smaller dice — about 3 large whole dills)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sour cream

1/4 cup water

2 cups dill pickle juice (See Note)

1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Garnish (optional)

Sliced dill pickles

Fresh dill

Black pepper

In a large pot, combine broth, potatoes, carrots and butter. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add pickles and continue to boil.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sour cream and water, making a paste. Vigorously whisk sour cream mixture (2 tablespoons at a time) into soup. (This will also break up some of your potatoes, which is okay. You might see some initial little balls of flour form, but between the whisking and boiling, all will disappear. Don’t panic.)

Add pickle juice, Old Bay, salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook 5 more minutes and remove from heat. Garnish if desired. Serve immediately.

Note: All pickle juice is not created equal. Some is saltier than others. Taste your soup after adding the pickle juice and final seasonings. It’s possible you will not need any salt or would prefer more or less. Serves 6.

Per serving: 378 calories; 23 g fat (14 g saturated fat; 55 percent calories from fat); 40 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 57 mg cholesterol; 1,667 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Bacon Sweet

Potato Soup

Recipe adapted from

4 slices bacon, chopped

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne (optional)

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Juice of 1 lime

In a large pot over medium heat, cook bacon. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve 1 tablespoon fat. To pot, add onions and cook until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne, if using.

Add sweet potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Blend with immersion blender or transfer to a blender in batches and blend until smooth. Stir in lime juice.

Serve warm topped with chopped bacon. Serves 4.

Per serving: 242 calories; 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 30 percent calories from fat); 34 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 12 mg cholesterol; 822 mg sodium; 10 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Orange Cream

Recipe adapted from

1 tablespoon olive oil

2/3 cup sliced shallots (about 4)

1 15-ounce jar roasted red peppers packed in water

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons whipping cream

3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel

Thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté 5 minutes. Add red peppers with their liquid. Stir in sugar; sauté 2 minutes. Add 2 cups broth and simmer 5 minutes. Cool soup slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Return soup to pan. Bring to simmer; stir in orange juice. Thin soup with additional broth, if desired. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk whipping cream and orange peel in small bowl until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle orange cream over. Sprinkle with basil and serve. Serves 4.

Per serving: 117 calories; 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 54 percent calories from fat); 12 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 10 mg cholesterol; 485 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Sherried Mushroom Soup

Recipe adapted from

6 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, thinly sliced

12 ounces button mushrooms

4 cups light chicken stock or broth

1 sprig of flat parsley

Salt and pepper

Freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces good-quality sherry (don’t use the cheap grocery-store variety; it’s salty and unappetizing and will ruin your soup)

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, then add the mushrooms and the remaining butter. Let the mixture sweat for about 8 minutes, taking care that the onion doesn’t take on any brown color. Stir in the chicken stock and the parsley and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour.

After an hour, remove the parsley and discard. Let the soup cool for a few minutes, then transfer to the blender and carefully blend at high speed until smooth or use hand blender.

When blended, return the mix to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and bring up to a simmer again. Add the sherry, mix well, and serve immediately.

Note: To astound your guests with a Wild Mushroom Soup, simply replace some of those button mushrooms with a few dried cèpes or morels, which have been soaked until soft, drained, and squeezed. Not too many; the dried mushrooms will have a much stronger taste, and you don’t want to overwhelm the soup. Pan sear, on high heat, a single small, pretty, fresh chanterelle or morel for each portion, and then slice into a cute fan and float on top in each bowl. And if you really want to ratchet your soup into pretentious (but delicious), drizzle a few tiny drops of truffle oil over the surface just before serving. Serves 6.

Per serving: 139 calories; 12 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 78 percent calories from fat); 4 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 30 mg cholesterol; 380 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Wonton Soup

This is a great soup to create on a cold day when you’re not in a hurry and want something soothing and delicious. Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, plus 3 tablespoons finely chopped

10 cups canned low sodium chicken broth

1/2 pound ground pork

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

About 30 wonton wrappers, thawed, if frozen

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced bok choy

1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushroom caps

1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the garlic and 1 tablespoon of the ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup of sliced scallions and the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, so that the broth just simmers. Allow broth to simmer for at least 20 to 30 minutes while the wontons are being assembled.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining teaspoon of minced garlic, remaining tablespoon of chopped ginger, 3 tablespoons of finely chopped scallions, the pork, egg yolk, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and crushed red pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Working on a flat work surface, lay out a few of the wontons. (Keep remaining wonton wrappers covered with plastic wrap. Fill a small bowl partially with cool water and set aside. Using a teaspoon measure, place a heaping teaspoonful of the meat filling in the center of each wonton. Using your fingers, lightly wet the edges of the wonton. Bring 2 opposite corners of the wonton together to form a triangle and enclose the filling, pressing edges firmly around the mound of filling to eliminate any air pockets and seal. Moisten opposite corners of the long side. Curl moistened corners toward each other, overlapping one on top of the other, and press the edges together to seal. You should now have a rounded stuffed wonton with a triangle poking up at the top. Assemble the remaining wontons in the same manner. When the wontons are all assembled, set aside.

Add the sliced bok choy, mushrooms bamboo shoots to the broth and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Using your hands or a slotted spoon, gently add the prepared wontons to the simmering broth. Increase the heat slightly so that the broth returns to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally (very gently), until the wontons float and the pork filling is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Per serving: 287 calories; 14 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 27 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 64 mg cholesterol; 477 mg sodium; 14 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Garlic Soup

Fight back that winter cold with a hearty and tasty garlic soup. Recipe adapted from New York Times.

4 garlic cloves, minced, plus 1 garlic clove, cut in half

Salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons)

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, or a few sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup pasta, such as elbow macaroni, orecchiette or fusilli

1 cup frozen peas

4 slices country-style bread, cut in half, or 8 slices baguette, lightly toasted

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese

Bring 6 1/2 cups water to a boil in a 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Add minced garlic, salt, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt. Remove bay leaf, and fresh thyme sprigs, if using. (Dried thyme will be difficult to remove.)

Add pasta to pot. Stir, cover and simmer until al dente, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on pasta type. Stir from time to time so that pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add peas and simmer 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, rub toasted bread slices with cut garlic clove and place 2 pieces in each bowl.

Beat together eggs and olive oil. Temper the egg: Spoon 2 ladlefuls of the hot soup into eggs and stir together.

Turn off heat under soup and slowly stir in tempered egg mixture. Add pepper and parsley. Ladle soup into bowls over bread, sprinkle cheese over the top and serve. Serves 4.

Per serving: 274 calories; 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 26 percent calories from fat); 39 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 96 mg cholesterol; 1,483 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 3 g fiber.