My partner and I have a new habit: These days, we almost always have soup for lunch. He started this new tradition a few weeks ago, when the weather started to turn cold, and I happily began to join in.
Soups and stews are very popular in Germany, where I’m from; thick lentil, pea, or potato soups enriched with smoked sausage (knackwurst, or knacker) are all German wintertime classics. But my relationship with liquid foods hasn't been the most harmonious. As a child, I ate soup, but I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I always felt that there was something missing, or maybe I just wasn’t ready for it yet.
Then the ‘80s came, nouvelle cuisine reached home kitchens, and all of a sudden, soups were always served puréed, and as bright as candy: yellow squash, purple beet, squeaking green peapod. Shallow bowls filled with colorful compositions, smooth and shiny, conquered the menus, but unfortunately not my palate. Despite their vibrancy, they didn’t excite me. So I took a soup break for many, many years, until I could find a kind that I like.
Fast-forward to today: Soup has become a constant in my weekly routine. In my new cookbook, 365: A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking, I share a recipe for each day of the year, following the seasons and rhythm of the week. This includes everything from quick and simple weekday dishes to luscious—and more time-consuming—roasts, stews, and cakes on the weekend. But soups are a constant thrum in this rhythm, weekday and weekends alike, especially during the colder part of the year.
And over time, I've developed a few simple shortcuts to streamline all my soup recipes, so they're ideal for weekday lunches, but special enough to serve to company. With the below guidelines, I've been able to make just about any soup I could dream of—most of them in 30 minutes or less.
I always have a vast collection of canned butter, cannellini, borlotti (cranberry), and kidney beans on my pantry shelves; as well as bags of black beluga lentils, dark green French Puy lentils, and yellow and red lentils. Legumes make a soup rich and wholesome, they add heartiness and a nutty touch. They’re what turn a light soup into a proper meal.
This drawer is an absolute treasure box—a treasure box that needs to be emptied every once in a while. Soup's the perfect destination for leafy vegetables, kale, chard, and spinach that starts to wilt; sturdy root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, and beets that aren't roasted or mashed; a whole range of winter and summer squash, alike; as well as fresh beans, peas, and tomatoes. Every season has its produce that’s just waiting to crown a soup. They all bring their own sweetness, sturdiness, and vegetal qualities to the mix.
My mother taught me to always cook my own broth: with leftover vegetables, chicken, duck, and beef bones; fresh herbs and whole spices, like allspice, peppercorns, and juniper berries; and a bay leaf—always a bay leaf. I boil these ingredients together with water until super-flavorful, then freeze them in 4-cup portions to have tasty broth on hand whenever I need it. Since broth, as the base of the soup, adds its taste to all the soup's other ingredients, it definitely deserves the utmost attention.
As we know, the ingredients in a soup can easily follow the seasons and the cook’s mood (and pantry). But regardless of the base, toppings are one of the easiest way to customize a soup and rev it up, making it a completely new dish. A peek in the pantry and fridge, and my mind starts playing with what flavors and textures I can add: crunchy bacon cubes or dukkah, a dollop of velvety mascarpone or ricotta, a fried or poached egg, or a crumbled hard-boiled egg. Fried herbs, like sage or rosemary, are also wonderful, or all kinds of roasted fruit, like grapes, apple, pear, or apricot.
So, with all this in mind, here are three soup recipes from 365 that follow these simple guidelines—and pack a lot of punch in hardly any time at all.
We'll start off with a cozy kale and borlotti bean soup, cooked in a flavorful duck broth (though a clear vegetable broth works just as well). It’s topped with a poached egg, and when you cut through the yolk and let it run into the broth, it adds a creaminess that’s even better than cream. As an added bonus: it only takes twenty minutes for dinner to be ready.
There’s also a golden squash, parsnip, and sweet potato soup—basically the tasty finds of a fridge clean-out—and it could be kept chunky. But with a nod to the good old Nouvelle Cuisine, I purée it. I also go for a more extravagant topping that makes this recipe fit for a Christmas table: Red grapes roasted with woody rosemary until soft and shriveled, and a dollop of whipped orange mascarpone turn this dish into a festive stunner. Crunchy bacon bites would make it even heartier and also quite appealing.
Last, one of my favorite soups is minestrone. With this format (flavorful broth + protein + vegetables + optional pasta), there are seemingly no rules or limitations. Every combination or permutation that the cook finds fitting seems to work. My partner's Maltese grandmother always makes her famous minestra using squash, carrots, potatoes, and kohlrabi, mashed a bit and sprinkled with a little Parmesan—a regional variation of the tomato-based soup we know and love—and the whole family enjoys it greatly.
My minestrone (or rather, one of them) is also a variation: It's green! In a flavorful broth, I toss in green beans, peas (which I always have in my freezer), and zucchini, but those vegetables are by no means set in stone. In the wintertime, when vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are abundant, I'll throw these into the soup instead. To these green vegetables I add tiny beef meatballs brightened with lime and arugula, to mimic the sausage sometimes found in minestrone. It gives the soup a fresh citrusy note, similar to lemongrass. This is the speediest of all weekday soups. Once the meatballs are mixed and shaped, the entire soup and meat only need to cook for about 5 minutes.
So, ultimately—what changed my mind, what made me fall in love with soups after so many years of skepticism—was finding soups that worked for me. Though I had to initially search to find exciting combinations, now that I've found them, there’s no going back. On top of their deliciousness, though, there’s something else that draws me to soups: Sitting in front of a bowl of steaming soup for lunch is one of the coziest things I can think of. It makes me feel good while I eat it, and this good feeling stays all day.