Soup's on! In some traditions, soup is the perfect beginning to a culinary smorgasbord; in others, the end of an elegant meal. But on cold wintry days, soup can be a meal unto itself.

Nothing could be more comforting than a souped-up meal rich in a variety of nutrients. Substance can be added to any one of the soup family bases, which include bouillon, broth, consommé, clarified stock, jelly, cream, purée, fish, bisque, chowder, vegetable, and even fruit. Soup can be naturally thick with meat, seafood or vegetables, or it can be thickened with cream or a touch of cornstarch.

But the fundamental basis of any good soup is stock, the nutrient-rich and flavorful juices created when cooking meat and/or vegetables for an extended period. Meat and fish stocks are found in almost every food culture.

In many societies, rich chicken broth is a valued remedy for colds and flu, and scientific studies have confirmed that broth has mitigated infectious diseases. Wine or vinegar added during cooking supplies minerals needed to extract calcium, magnesium and potassium out of the broth and into the body. Meat and fish stock add the hydrophilic colloids in gelatin, which are organic molecules that attract liquid, actually drawing digestive juices into the food.

Stock can be made in bulk and stored until needed. This makes it simple to create a wholesome, tasty meal in minimum time. Add your favorite vegetables and spices to the stock, simmer for a while, include some warm bread or crackers, and you have a meal that will nourish you in body, mind and spirit—even on the coldest nights.

Curried Onion Bisque
Serves 4


Though mulligatawny is the most famous soup ever ladled in India, we love this simpler sibling. The final purée is colorful and subtly exotic in flavor.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
5 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup evaporated skim milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in large saucepan. Stir in thyme and curry powder. Cook for 2­3 minutes to release flavors.

2. Add onions and stir. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.

3. Add wine and stock; bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

4. Purée mixture in blender. Whisk in milk and serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 136
Fat: 4g
% fat calories: 2%
Cholesterol: 9mg
Carbohydrate: 2g
Protein: 5g

Chicken and Turkey Sausage Gumbo
Serves 10-12


Some people call gumbo the bouillabaisse of New Orleans, a link especially valid for seafood gumbo. This chicken and sausage variation comes from Cajun Country, away from the seafood-crazed cookery of the Louisiana coast.

1 3-pound chicken, quartered
1 1/2 gallons water
1 pound spiced turkey sausage
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups diced onions
2 cups diced green bell pepper
2 cups diced celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
3 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 green onions, diced
Steamed white rice

1. Cover chicken in water and boil in heavy stockpot for about 90 minutes. Remove and discard skin and bones, retaining meat and stock. Cut meat into bite-sized pieces.

2. In sauté pan, brown sausage. In a second skillet, heat oil over medium high heat and add flour, stirring until it becomes a nut-brown roux.

3. Add vegetables to roux and cook until limp, about 7 minutes. Combine vegetable mixture with 16 cups stock and browned sausage in soup kettle.

4. Simmer for 30­40 minutes, then add seasonings and chicken. Serve over steamed white rice.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 527
Fat: 13g
% fat calories: 23%
Cholesterol: 86mg
Carbohydrate: 68g
Protein: 32g

Lima Bean, Mushroom and Barley Soup
Serves 8


The beans and barley help give substance to this vegetarian delight, while the dried mushrooms contribute their smoky-earthy flavor.

1 cup large dried lima beans
3 tablespoons coarse pearl barley
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 cup sliced, dried mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Salt to taste

1. Wash lima beans and barley separately in cold water. Drain and transfer to soup kettle.

2. Add vegetable stock and remaining ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil.

3. Cook over low-medium heat until lima beans are soft, about 2 hours. Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 135
Fat: 0.4g
% fat calories: 3%
Cholesterol: 0mg
Carbohydrate: 27g
Protein: 7 g

Moroccan Harira
Serves 6-8


This soup is like Italian minestrone, kicked into a different universe by spices from the Arab World.

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped celery leaves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
3/4 cup dried lentils
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
2 pounds tomatoes, puréed
1/2 cup fine soup noodles
3 tablespoons semolina, mixed with
1/2 cup water
Lemon wedges for garnish

1. Heat butter in stockpot and sauté vegetables, pepper and turmeric for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Add cinnamon and chicken, turning until golden but not brown, 15­20 minutes.

3. Wash lentils. Purée cilantro leaves with a little salt and water. Combine lentils, cilantro purée and tomato purée with chicken and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

4. Add 1 1/2 quarts of water and cook until lentils are soft, about 1 hour.

5. Add salt to taste and cook noodles about 5 minutes before serving. Stir in flour-water mixture and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Serve in large bowls garnished with lemon wedges.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 343
Fat: 11g
% fat calories: 28%
Cholesterol: 93mg
Carbohydrate: 26g
Protein: 36g

Bouillabaisse
Serves 4


A rich seafood stock works best with this French classic, but a flavorful vegetable stock can work as well. For added taste and drama, include several mussels to the pot in Step 2.

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups seafood or vegetable stock
1 pound snapper or other white-fleshed fish, cubed
1/2 pound baby shrimp
1 pound sea scallops
Garlic croutons

1. Heat olive oil in stock pot and add shrimp. Sauté over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil.

2. Add remaining seafood. Cook for 5 minutes, or until seafood is thoroughly cooked.

3. Ladle soup into 4 large soup bowls, adding extra liquid around seafood. Garnish with garlic croutons.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 364
Fat: 7g
% fat calories: 19%
Cholesterol: 222mg
Carbohydrate: 10g
Protein: 61g

John DeMers is the author of 20 cookbooks, editor and publisher of EasyFood quarterly in New Orleans and co-host with Rhonda Findley of the weekly "Bayou Food and Wine Radio Show."
 

Photography by: Priscilla Montoya