The changing of the seasons is often difficult to notice in the Bay Area, compared to other regions of the United States, but the arrival of autumn is definitely marked by shorter days and cooler temperatures.

Appetites increase with the colder weather, and working people, who may have discovered easy short-cuts for light, summer menus now find it difficult to prepare warm, satisfying, and nourishing food after a busy fall day.

Soups are among the simplest of food preparations, yet they can also be creative, attractive, tasty, and nutritious. And soups can act as entrees or even whole meals. On a chilly evening there is nothing as welcoming to come home to as the smell of hot soup simmering on the stove! After working in a stuffy office, or a long commute, soups can satisfy and hydrate our bodies.

Soups can be made using almost anything you find in the kitchen. Soup recipes are flexible and versatile, enabling adjustments to meet all kinds of individual preferences or dietary requirements. Vegetarians and vegans can easily omit meat from a soup recipe without compromise. Tofu, soymilk, or soy yogurt can be substituted for meat, cream, sour cream, or yogurt to lower cholesterol. Bean or lentil-based soups contribute significantly to a healthy vegetarian diet. Served with rice or bread, soups can provide a complete protein-rich meal.

Here are three soup recipes from three countries. Each of these soups can be prepared quickly, especially if you have their common denominator, the chopped and sautéed vegetables made ahead of time. So prepare the vegetables in your spare time and refrigerate them. When ready, use them to make a hearty soup in minutes. Enjoy!

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of  Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student.


Make Ahead Vegetable Preparation

A few days or even a week in advance, prepare the vegetables for the soups as follows. Other vegetables can be added or substituted, depending on availability and preference.
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Ingredients:
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets, cut  small
2 cups each carrot, celery, and zucchini, cut into ¼” cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, corn, safflower or olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons, freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and saute the chopped onion briefly until limp. Add the bell pepper and garlic. Stir fry for a few minutes. Then add rest of the vegetables.
Saute the vegetables for several minutes until they begin to soften and are coated with oil. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, and sprinkle them with the lemon or lime juice.
The above list of ingredients makes approximately 9 cups of vegetables.
Refrigerate the vegetables in a covered container until you are ready to make the soup.

Greek Lentil Soup with Red Wine or  Vinegar

Ingredients:
6 cups water
¾ cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
3 to 4 cups of the prepared vegetables
¼ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
½ teaspoon minced fresh or dried oregano
a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
cup red wine or vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the lentils. Cook the lentils over moderate heat until just soft, about 20 minutes. Add the prepared vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more until all of the ingredients are well blended. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and wine or vinegar.

Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Check seasoning and serve with rice or bread.

Sambar

Sambar is a type of South Indian dal (an Indian lentil-based soup) that can use many vegetables to create a substantial one-pot meal.
Ingredients:
8 cups of water
1 cup toor dal (yellow lentils)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 fresh hot chili such as jalapeno,minced after removing core and seeds
½ teaspoon each coriander and turmeric powders
2 whole dried tamarind pods (with their shells intact)
or 1 tablespoon unsweetened tamarind concentrate
or juice of 1 lemon mixed with a tea spoon of sugar (a sweet and sour substi tute)
3 cups or more of the prepared vegetables
1 tablespoon dry, shredded coconut
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon peanut, corn, or safflower oil

For tempering:
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 whole dried hot chilis
a pinch of asafetida

Rinse the lentils in very hot water a few times to remove dust and any oil they may have been coated with. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot and add the lentils. Simmer briskly for 15 minutes. Add the salt, powdered spices, ginger, and minced chili. Cover and cook the lentils for about 30 minutes on a moderate flame while preparing the other ingredients.

If using whole tamarind pods, remove the outer shell. Then take out the pits from the pulp and discard. Soak the pulp in ½ cup of warm water for 15 minutes to obtain a sweet and sour sauce.

Add the previously prepared vegetables, shredded coconut, tomatoes and the soaked tamarind sauce, tamarind concentrate, or the sweet and sour substitute to the soup. Simmer the soup while preparing for the last, important step, tempering—which sets the dal apart from other soups.

For tempering, heat the oil in a small saucepan. (A stainless steel measuring cup works fine for this step.) Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds and dry chilies. Add the asafetida, and then quickly pour all of this smoky oil mixture into the pot of soup. Dip the small pan right into the dal to get it all off quickly, then immediately cover the pot. Turn off heat and keep the pot covered for five minutes. Uncover, retrieve the small saucepan and stir to mix.

Garnish the sambar with chopped fresh cilantro. Check seasoning and serve. Instruct your diners to remove the whole chilies from sambar before they eat.

Minestrone Con Pesto

Ingredients:
½ cup kidney or pinto beans soaked in 3 cups of water overnight or for 6 hours, then drained
Or l 12 oz. can of beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups of water
2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto, a basil paste (recipe below)
3 cups of the prepared vegetables
1/3 cup uncooked pasta noodles (any type) or rice
½ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

For pesto:

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thick stems removed
3 tablespoons parsley, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
a few pinches of salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the drained beans. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
To prepare the pesto, place the pesto ingredients listed above in the jar of a blender or food processor and puree thoroughly. (As you will need only a small portion of the pesto, store the rest in a jar and freeze for the future use.)

Add the prepared vegetables, pasta noodles or rice, tomatoes and a few tablespoons of pesto to the cooking beans. Cook for 20 minutes more until all the flavors are well blended. Taste for spiciness, adding salt, pepper and/or more pesto to taste. Pass around parmesan cheese for garnish.

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