Weeknight Cooking

10 Wintry Soups That Will Hold You Close When It's Cold

February 19, 2016

The radio is a dependable companion—comforting, customizable, often familiar. Kind of like soup. Warming up with chicken and noodles, listening to the light rock station: both pleasant sensory experiences, the good kind of predictable.

But like standout singles, there are some soups that make you furiously shush the room while you wait for Shazam to load, because you need details now. What's the secret ingredient? The genius technique? How can one humble vessel contain such complex notes?

We've queued up a list of our chart-topping, extra-comforting wintry soup hits, along with some intel about how they separate themselves from the background noise. Don't go away...

This is decidedly not a pantry meal, nor one that comes together in minutes (or even hours)—think more along the lines of "days." Is it worth the time, you might wonder, is it worth the planning, and the effort to find neck bones and gochujang? Dozens of commenters say "YES!" Other than bragging rights, your reward comes in the form of a spicy, smoky broth with tender meat that thanks you for every minute you committed to it.

The Greek soup avgolemono taps two pantry staples—eggs and lemon—to work their transformative powers on chicken stock, orzo, and some herbs. Transform they do, and simply: After making the soup base, temper the eggs with lemon juice, simmer, and serve. It's suitable all year round, but it's particularly lovely way to evoke the white sands of the Greek isles while gazing at the white sidewalks of wintery reality.

Nicholas Day deems this the "best" French onion soup. Why? Because it scorches the onions, not just simmers them. Because it has you deglaze, repeatedly, with white wine, not just stock. Oh—and because it contains a cup of cream. In his defense, Nicholas insists "you need a cup of cream to get through February anyway: what if you go and fall into a snowdrift tomorrow? This French onion soup may save your life." Life-saving? Unclear. Game-changing? Definitely.

In this fusion of Massaman curry and chicken noodle soup, the typical Massaman spices are cleverly pared down, just enough to be manageable without sacrificing flavor. It's soothing (with chicken stock, coconut milk, and ginger) but surprising (with curry powder, fish sauce, Thai chiles, and roasted peanuts). It's chicken soup that keeps you guessing—and coming back for more.

Garlic soup, says Marian Bull, is the old Spanish man of peasant fare: a little acerbic and brash at first, shiny with olive oil, and pungent-smelling—but as a little time and coaxing will reveal, a teddy bear at heart. This recipe draws maximum flavor from every ingredient, transforming the humblest of building blocks (you don't even need stock!) into a soup you'll crave well into spring.

For those of us lacking generations-old matzo ball soup recipes, we're pretty lucky to have Joan Nathan to point us in the right direction. Never made matzo balls before? Her recipe is straightforward: Make a stock, render some chicken fat, prepare the matzo dough, and boil away. As Joan herself says, "This isn't rocket science—it's love!"

A broccoli soup with no cream, you say? (Note: this is not austerity food; see: 1/2 cup of olive oil.) It is truly a dairy-optional dish, and as a result, one with amped-up broccoli flavor. The genius technique is to sear one side of the broccoli, leaving the other fresh and vegetal, so, as Kristen Miglore says, "each bite is at first bright, then downshifts to umami, then caramel."

Choose your own adventure with this restorative Chinese chicken and rice soup. The gingery base lends itself to toppings like Sriracha, soy or tamari sauce, fresh spinach or herbs, a fried egg—or nothing at all.

Once you hack your way through a butternut squash—a feat described by Kenzi as "the only real butchery of the vegetable world"—you'll be rewarded with a soup that thinks far outside the brown-sugar-maple box. The miso adds an unidentifiable savoriness; the coconut milk, richness; the cayenne, a serious kick.

This sweet-sour short rib stew is both hearty and hardy; Nicholas Day maintains it would "survive being buried." With stick-to-your-ribs beef, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes, the nuance comes from the crucial sweet-sour balance. It's cold weather fare at its best, says Nicholas. "Ideally, you’d make it, go outdoors for an entire day, then return famished and half-frozen and consume it. If that’s not possible, a few bracing moments on the back landing will do."

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marinda Boydstun
    Marinda Boydstun
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Annie Crabill

Written by: Annie Crabill


Marinda B. February 20, 2016
I read a book about a young girl in Austria, and it mentioned fruit soup. It sounded intriguingly good. A favorite wintry soup of mine is pumpkin(similar to squash, I know lol). I also read a reference to winter melon soup, so I tried making it(good luck finding a winter melon in our hick county in the Midwest). I liked it okay, but not a favorite.
Lorrie H. February 19, 2016
Last night I made an extremely easy Scandi inspired creamy chicken and wild rice soup. Saute onion, celery and carrots, add cooked wild rice, cooked chicken and chicken broth and milk or half and half as desired. When hot add frozen peas and salt and pepper to taste. Super yummy!
abbyarnold February 19, 2016
IMHO, this list should include https://food52.com/recipes/14443-pear-soup-with-pancetta-and-blue-cheese, my family's all-time favorite winter soup. We substitute Black Forest bacon for the pancetta. One of the top 10 recipes ever on Food 52.