It is indeed deep winter here in the Northland. The snow is starting to come down out there as I write this, replenishing all the melted snow from our last 36ºF ‘heatwave’.  I’m also seeing a definite downward trend in temps coming up. Minnesota’s Winter Wonderland…

For our family that means comfort food cravings are in high gear; and that means soup. At least half our dinners are bowls of hearty, steaming soups. Which also means most of my lunches are soups too.  I know, I’m one lucky girl 😉

And the one thing all my soups have in common is a LOT of veggies.

The only other meals that come close to the daring amounts of vegetables in my soups are stir fry or salad. And soups are simply more satisfying when the snow is deep and the nights are long.

Even in Winter  I try to start with as many local ingredients as possible- the surest way to do this is by going to one of the many Winter Farmers Markets popping up- or grow surplus in teh Summer garden to freeze or can for Winter use.

*Kid Tip*
The way I sell even the most vegified soup to my kids?? Pairing it with homemade biscuits/breads/grains + cheese. They will slurp every last drop to get another toasted cheesy anything!

My quitclaim; I am pathetic at sticking to recipes. This is very possibly why I love making soup so much. It’s like I get to play chemist with flavor layers. In my kitchen, a soup is never really ‘done’. I often add a few extra ingredients to a soup while heating it up for leftovers the next day. Ohh, I see you there garbanzos, leftover broccoli or peas.

I wish I’d started my cooking education with soups… they are massively forgiving and as simple or complex as you make them. You can feel in control of the outcome and learn so much about flavors as they mix and mingle in that bog old pot.

In that vein of brewing up something good, I’m going to state loud and clear the following are RECIPE OUTLINES ONLY. Just like my vegetable garden plans (that I am knee deep in right about now) you might veer off course while you’re putting it together, but end up exactly where you were supposed to be when you dig in. Trust your soup gut. (that should be a thing)

Soup Starters…

Bloom your Soup
I’m going to share a little soup starting MAGIC: Sauté the onion/garlic/leek/scallion/scapes in plenty of fat (oil/butter/bacon fat etc.) then add dry herbs + spices to let them ‘bloom’ (I love that term for letting the spices come to their full potential) which deepens their flavors fast. Then add the other veggies, for a quick sizzle and spin with the oil and spices- then add your tomatoes and other liquids.  This is typically an Indian cooking technique (ohh curry, how I love you) that truly adds oomph to any dish you’re making.

But we’re making soup… so onto a common question:
Stock vs Broth
Are they the same thing?
The easy answer; kind of…

Broth has been made with meat, Stock with bones. Also, Broth is usually seasoned, salted etc more. If you’re buying from a store, I’d recommend stock because you can play with seasoning and sodium. But if you make your own you don’t have to play by the rules- just go for the most delicious liquid you can get from simmering whatever meat and veg scraps (like carrot, onion, celery) you have and call it whatever you’d like. Craving more stock/broth info? the Kitchn has all the info and a good ‘how to’ HERE.

Let’s start with the veggy best, a good old fashioned everything but the kitchen sink vegetable soup. This recipe uses so many garden veggies that are lingering in the deep freeze in mass quantities- yes I’m looking at you chopped and/or shredded zucchini. Frozen diced bell peppers, all manner of beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet corn, tomatoes and edamame are other usual suspects. Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and even rutabaga and parsnip (in small amounts) are all fabulous additions.

The trick to an over the top veggie soup is to get a variety of textures and sizes all done at about the same time, so remember that you can add in veggies at different times to keep them from mushing out on you, hence the handy dandy cheat sheet over there. Or you can just think of how long you’d cook each veggie to serve as a side dish and gauge by that instead.

Of course you’ll need a broth to add another layer of flavor, your choice-  broth or stock.

Very Veggie

I had some leftover Chicken that made it into this batch too!

1-2 onions or leeks (white only for soups) diced
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
herbs- sage, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaf (or whatever)
2 ribs celery, chopped
½ -1 bell pepper, chopped
6-8 C veggies (see list above)
1-2 tsp salt (start with 1 and taste)

Saute onions and garlic, and then use the “Bloom” method from above with your choice of dried herbs/spices. Sizzle any veggies that won’t get too overdone, add your broth/stock and tomatoes, potatoes and simmer for 20 minutes, then add remaining veggies (green beans broccoli etc) and simmer for 5- 10 minutes.

And, if you want to bulk up this soup even more, add in some barley, quinoa, brown rice or even noodles. Yummy in my tummy. I’ve gotten into making these GF Corn Muffins from Gluten Free on a Shoestring with my veggie soups, probably because they use frozen (or fresh) corn kernels and bake up moist and fluffy (I’ve substituted plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream and they still worked great!)

I don’t go there often, but I do love the Olive Garden for their Zuppa Toscana and salad combo. Back at home, I make mine with WAY more veggies, and WAY less cream- and I’m happy to report that making it healthier does not make it any less fabulous. Also, a great way to use up lots of that frozen kale that’s hiding in the back of your freezer.

I’ve also found my favorite pork sausage to use in this recipe, from Gilbertson’s Farm.  They’re over in Wisconsin- hormone and antibiotic  free. Bam that’s good!

Vegified Toscana

16 oz pork sausage,
1 onion diced 4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 medium potatoes sliced thin
½-1 bell pepper chopped
1 C white beans (I had navy) par boiled/cooked
½ -1 zuchini chopped
1-2 C chopped tomatoes
1 big bunch of kale
24 oz stock or broth
1 C milk
Cream to drizzle into bowls
Parmesean to garnish
Salt + white pepper/red pepper flakes

In a large pot sauté onion and sausage, adding minced or crushed garlic towards the end.
Remove and set aside onion and sausage draining most of the fat (I totally save this).
Add stock and boil potatoes until tender; 5-10 minutes. Add in remaining veggies and beans (use whatever veggies you have, still fabulous without all of them too) simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add in sausage/onion mix and kale- simmer for 5+ minutes. Add milk/cream as you want
I don’t need to add many spices to this one; a little salt + white pepper or red pepper flakes usually does it, to taste after cooking.

Crusty whole grain loaf and muenster please.

The Christmas Ham that made the soup. All homegrown veggies for our intimate meal.

This next soup is my family’s favorite way to make use of that Christmas ham bone. Simmer that sucker for a day and enjoy the hearty flavors. This can be a salty soup, depending on the saltiness of the ham so be sure to taste before adding any salt. This is a version of my Mother in Law’s family recipe- Hi Claudia! I’ve made this with both brown and red lentils. Did you know the red lentils are really brown lentils that they’ve removed the hull. That’s why red lentils tend to get mushy, they don’t have any skin to hold them together! You can feel free to use other beans and/or peas- just make sure to simmer them long enough to be past al dente.

Ham & Lentil:

Ham Bone with some ham still on it
1 Diced Onion
3-4 Garlic cloves, sliced
2 Cups Dry Lentils, rinsed (brown or red)
2 Cups shredded zuchinni (frozen or fresh)
½ to 1 diced green pepper (frozen works too)
4-5 celery ribs sliced
1 Tbsp Mustard- (prepared yellow or dry mustard + vinegar- 1 Tbsp each)

If there’s any good white fat on the ham, save a bit to sauté the onions and garlic later.

In a large stock pot, cover with water and simmer that ham bone as long as you can; MANY hours, like most of a day. Just give yourself time to let the meat left on it cool off before trying to pull off the bone (ask me how I know). I run the broth through a fine sieve to catch the unappealing bits. With the juice in a bowl and the ham on a plate waiting for me to pick it clean, I get the onions and garlic going.  Then the celery and green peppers for a quick sizzle, then I add in the rinsed lentils (it might just be me but I think frying these guys first adds a bit more depth) then add back in the broth and mustard.

This is killer with a rustic multi grain and swiss cheese!

And, because soups are my life right now, here are links to some of my other favorites:

Kowalski’s Turkey Wild Rice Soup

Oh, Kowalski’s White Bear Lake Market, you are so dangerously close to me that I have foregone making my own soups from time to time… and their Turkey Wild Rice is one of my family’s favorites. But of course I vegify it when I make my own 😉 I add at least quadruple the celery and carrots (and I chop the carrots, b/c shredded always get too mushy for me) and often throw in some frozen shredded zucchini, and use either all whole milk or some 2% milk and some cream or half and half.

Why yes, those are roasted beets next to squash soup- they went surprisingly well with the meal!

Sublime Squash Soup

The folks over at Serious Eats know their way around a soup bowl. Roasting the squash and carrots makes this so much more flavorful (I’ve roasted it in quarters before to avoid all that peeling and it was still amazing) – I’ve also roasted cauliflower along with the squash and carrots and tossed it into the mix (only about ¼ of the amount of squash) which lightened up the color but was pretty undetectable in taste. The spiced cream make it feel so fancy!

Roasted Acorn Perfection!

On my list to make by the weekend, squash and pear puree, and roasted beet and garlic soup.

I hope you try a new soup or two, or maybe try a twist on one of your favorites! If you find a new soup favorite, pass it along… I love trying new soups!

Can’t wait to Dig In (but with spoons not forks) to my next hearty bowl of soup.