By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Late last month in Prospect Park, I ran past a patch of purple crocuses practically glowing in the sun. March temperatures may slouch below freezing and snow may blanket the ground, but nothing can stop the lengthening days from enticing shoots from the soil and people’s moods out of their wintry doldrums. It can snow all it wants, but come the thaw those crocuses will still be fresh and upbeat.
It’s at this time of year when I like to embrace lighter, more buoyant broths filled with the season’s most vibrant produce — and little, if any, meat. The key to the deepest, richest flavors in any soup is building complexity at every step. These do just that, as well as using the right techniques to bring out the best of winter’s last crop of vegetables.
For example, roasting roots before adding them to a soup pot is a classic way to release their flavor. A stint in a hot oven caramelizes their sugars and condenses their essence so they taste even more distinctly of themselves. Sweet potatoes and carrots, in particular, emerge from the oven browned at the edges and sticky with their own syrupy juices.
Recipe: Coconut Curry Sweet Potato Soup
Extra sweetness is a perfect counterpart to the pungent mix of red curry paste, ginger and garlic in my recipe for coconut curry sweet potato soup. It takes some time for the diced root vegetables to turn golden, but that gives you ample opportunity to sauté the shallots and other aromatics that will form the foundation of the broth.
Another important player is coconut milk, which renders the whole thing wonderfully fragrant and silky, and accentuates the sweetness of the roasted roots. Then, for a crunchy note, take some fat flakes of freshly toasted coconut (the big kind, not the shreds) and float them on top right at the end.
Recipe: Parmesan Cabbage Soup
Lean and juicy vegetables like green cabbage, on the other hand, require a different approach, such as a generous infusion of Parmesan. You can use the Parmesan in two ways: A chunk of the rind is simmered with the broth to give it a jolt of umami funkiness and depth, then grated cheese is showered on top right at the end, adding salt and some creaminess when you stir it in.
There’s also a small amount of rice in the broth to thicken it slightly. It’s not enough to bring it into porridge territory, but it does give the broth a little body and a nubby bite.
Recipe: Golden Beet Borscht
Although borscht can refer to a variety of different soups from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia, the ones Americans are most familiar with are made from dark red beets that turn the broth vividly — almost terrifyingly — fuchsia.
Not this one. Instead, I opt for underappreciated golden beets, which have an earthy, almost carrotlike flavor that’s less sweet than their crimson cousins. Infused with caraway and coriander seeds, and garnished with sour cream for richness and tang, it’s a mellow soup that softly warms you from the inside out.
These soups are on the light side, but, packed with vegetables, they still make a satisfying dinner, perhaps rounded out with good crusty bread and olives, or a little cheese or salami.
And if you have any left over, you can store these winter soups in the freezer. Like crocuses after a spring snowstorm, they will be none the worse for the wear and just as vibrant in your bowl.
Coconut Curry Sweet Potato Soup
By Melissa Clark
The secret to this rich, deeply spiced soup is roasting the sweet potatoes and carrots before adding them to the pot. Roasting caramelizes the vegetables, concentrating their flavors and making them particularly sweet, which helps mellow the fiery chiles in the Thai red curry paste. Toasted coconut flakes, fresh sliced chiles and cilantro make a simple but bright and crunchy garnish for this plush soup, which is dense and creamy from coconut milk. The recipe feeds a crowd, and leftovers freeze well for up to three months.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- 6 tablespoons coconut oil or neutral oil, such as grapeseed
- 1 3/4 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
- 1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
- 5 to 8 tablespoons red curry paste (use the lesser amount if you have a very spicy paste)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 cup chopped shallots or red onion
- 1 serrano chile or jalapeño, seeds removed if you like, minced
- 3 fat garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 quart vegetable stock
- 2 (13-ounce) cans coconut milk
- Fish sauce, for serving (optional)
- 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, for serving
- 1 red (Fresno) chile or jalapeño, thinly sliced
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together 4 tablespoons coconut oil, the carrots, sweet potatoes, 4 tablespoons red curry paste, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the black pepper until the vegetables are well coated with the curry paste. Spread the vegetable mixture in an even layer on two rimmed baking sheets (lined with parchment if you like). Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and caramelized, about 35 to 45 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, add the coconut flakes to a large soup pot without any oil, and toast, stirring often, until they are fragrant and pale golden at the edges, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
3. Add remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil to the pot and heat until it thins out, about 20 seconds. Stir in shallots and the serrano chile, and cook until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 to 4 tablespoons red curry paste until well combined.
4. Add stock, coconut milk and roasted vegetables to the pot. Bring liquid to a simmer. Cook, over medium-low heat, partly covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until everything is very tender.
5. Use an immersion blender (or a regular blender, working in batches) to purée the soup. Taste and season with salt or fish sauce, if using, to taste. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with cilantro, toasted coconut flakes and sliced fresh chile.
Parmesan Cabbage Soup
By Melissa Clark
This warming, nourishing soup, thickened with rice, is full of soft strands of green cabbage. Parmesan is used here in two ways: The rinds are simmered in with the broth, and the cheese is grated and sprinkled on top, adding complexity and body. If you like a kick, you can increase the red-pepper flakes, or leave them out entirely for a supremely gentle broth. Add a squeeze of lemon right at the end if you like your soup on the tart side.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 40 minutes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
- 1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving (optional)
- 1 small head of green cabbage (about 1 1/4 pounds), cored and coarsely chopped (about 9 cups)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- 5 thyme sprigs
- 2 Parmesan rinds, or use another 2 tablespoons grated cheese
- 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- 1 cup chopped fresh dill or cilantro, or a combination
1. In a stock pot or large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and red-pepper flakes (if using), and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cabbage, salt and pepper, and cook until cabbage wilts slightly and begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in stock, rice and thyme. If using the Parmesan rinds, add them now, and bring everything to a simmer. Cook, partly covered, over medium-low heat until cabbage and rice are very tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Discard thyme sprigs and Parmesan rinds. Using a Microplane or other fine grater, grate in the zest from the lemon. Stir in grated Parmesan and dill.
4. Halve the lemon and squeeze in the juice from half of it. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges for serving. Taste soup and add more salt and pepper, if needed. To serve, ladle into soup bowls, and garnish with more grated cheese, a lemon wedge and more red-pepper flakes, if you like.
Golden Beet Borscht
By Melissa Clark
Borscht is a name for many different types of soup found across Ukraine, Russia and more broadly Eastern Europe. The ones we know best in the United States are often made from red beets. But this version uses underappreciated golden beets, which are earthier and less sugary than their red cousins. Seasoned with coriander and caraway seeds, it makes a savory, wintry soup. Carrots add a touch of sweetness, while a dash of apple cider vinegar gives it just the right zip. A generous dollop of sour cream or yogurt makes the broth nice and silky. This soup gets better as it sits, so, if you can, make it a day or two ahead of serving.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 50 minutes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts diced (about 2 1/2 cups), or use white onion
- 1 large celery stalk, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
- 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 1/2 pounds medium golden beets, peeled and grated or shredded (about 6 cups)
- 1/2 pound medium carrots, peeled and grated or shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 teaspoons fine sea or table salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 thyme sprigs
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, dill or parsley, leaves and tender stems, plus more for serving
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
- 1 lemon
- Plain sour cream or whole-milk yogurt, for serving
1. In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add leeks and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, coriander and caraway, and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add beets, carrots, 2 teaspoons salt, several grinds of pepper and thyme. Stir in stock and bring to a simmer.
2. Cook over medium-low heat, partly covered, until vegetables are very tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in cilantro and vinegar, and squeeze in the juice from half of the lemon. Taste and add more salt, pepper and vinegar, as needed.
3. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges. To serve, ladle into soup bowls, and garnish with more cilantro, a dollop of yogurt and a lemon wedge.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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