I love the fall season. The hot days of summer have given way to misty mornings and gentle afternoons, and this autumn slowly but surely eases all of us into the cold winter days ahead. The leaves begin to turn yellow and brown, and the sun goes down with pink and orange hues, as a perfect backdrop to our Fall festivals.660febc570f6013963f525012a5f406e-2

On a cool fall day, I crave soups. A soup is a wholesome liquid meal traditionally made with stock, vegetables, and/or meat; the origin of soups is unknown and dates back to when the first utensils were made.

An essential ingredient for any kind of soup is a good flavorful stock. Fresh vegetable stock can be made and frozen in ice cube trays and stored in the freezer for up to three months. Soups can be thickened by using cream, butter, corn flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and ground nuts.

Thickeners add texture to the soup. A garnish not only adds color but also enhances the taste and flavor of the soup. Croutons, fresh herbs, cheese, grilled bread, vegetable crisps, fried onions, shallots, crème fraiche, and sour cream are all garnishes used for soups.

There are many kinds of soups: chilled soups like gazpacho, clear soups like tom yum, creamy bisques, chunky soups like clam chowder, noodle soups, and even dessert soups like blackberry soup.
Here are some of my favorite soup recipes for your chilly evenings.

Feisty Lemongrass Soup

This clear soup gradually blossoms in your mouth as the lemongrass and galangal slowly release their flavors. You can add ½ lb of raw shrimp and substitute the vegetable stock with chicken stock for a seafood version. You can also substitute 2 teaspoons of red curry paste (Thai Time brand) for the roasted red chili paste.

4 cups vegetable stock
3 stalks lemon grass, cut into 2-inch pieces and crushed
3 thin rounds 1/8 inch fresh galangal (Thai young ginger)
10 kaffir lime leaves, torn into strips
3-4 Thai green chilies (optional)
1 tablespoon roasted chili paste (see recipe)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 8oz can of straw mushrooms
½ cup baby corn
3 green onions, sliced diagonally
juice of 1 lime
 

Garnish:
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

Heat the vegetable stock in a soup pot along with the lemon grass stalks, galangal lime leaves, and Thai chilies. Let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Now add the roasted chili paste and brown sugar. Let it simmer for a few more minutes. Then add straw mushrooms, green onions, and baby corn, and let simmer. Add lime juice to taste. Garnish with cilantro and serve warm.

Roasted Chili Paste

4-5 whole shallots
4-5 cloves garlic
3-4 dry red chilies
¼ cup oil

Heat a teaspoon of oil and roast the shallots and garlic on low heat along with the dry chilies for about 5 minutes until they are soft. Blend to a smooth paste in a blender.

Heat the rest of the oil in a pan; place the blended shallot mixture into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes until it is a deep brownish red sauce. Remove and keep along with the oil in an airtight container. The shelf-life for this paste is about 1 month.

Mamma’s Minestrone Soup

This is my all-time favorite chunky soup. It’s hearty, healthy, nutritious, and a wholesome meal.

4 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1 medium sized red onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, peeled and chopped fine
1 small zucchini, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
3 fresh sage leaves
3 cups fresh vine ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (place 6-7 vine ripe tomatoes in hot boiling water for 10 seconds, remove and peel off the skin, squeeze out the seeds, and then puree in a blender)
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 cup garbanzo beans, cooked and rinsed
1 cup red kidney beans cooked and rinsed
½ cup small elbow pasta, cooked
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:
1 tablespoon fresh pesto sauce or 1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a stock pot and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic, carrots, and zucchini, and sauté for a few minutes. Now add the bay leaf, fresh oregano, sage, and basil leaves, and sauté for a few seconds. Then add the tomatoes, garbanzo beans, red kidney beans, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. Now add the cooked pasta. Garnish with pesto and parmesan cheese and serve.

Simply Sweet Corn Soup

This soup is very popular in Indo-Chinese restaurants. To make it a little hardy, I use the starch water left over after I cook rice for this recipe. If using starch water, there is no need for a corn flour thickener.

4 cups of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon oil
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup canned corn, ground into a paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, diced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
1 teaspoon corn flour, mixed in water (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine

Heat oil in a stock pot. Then add garlic, fresh corn, carrots, and peas, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the ground corn, vegetable stock, soy sauce, white pepper, and salt. Thicken with corn flour, only if the soup is watery. Check seasonings, and let the soup simmer for 10 minute until it is well blended.

 

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She was Associate Chef at Green’s Restaurant, San Francisco. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com 
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