Soups to Cure What Ails You (Even Homesickness)

Happy New Year!  This year the column will have a slightly different focus.  I’ll be concentrating on those foods that you might miss from your childhood – comfort foods, holiday foods, and the like.  I’d like to know what foods all the vegans out there miss.  If you’re not vegan, is there a food that’s stopping you?  Is it your mom’s Sunday pot roast?  Fried chicken?  Grilled cheese sandwiches?  Rice Crispy Treats?  I know that it’s the New Year and there are probably a lot of new vegans out there.  Whatever you miss (or are afraid you’ll miss), e-mail me and let me know.  I’ll try to come up with a good vegan approximation of your “homesick” favorite.

I don’t know about you, but the time when I get most homesick is when I’m physically sick.  If I have a bad cold, all I want to eat is tomato soup.  Fortunately for me, even commercial canned tomato soup is vegan, but it’s full of all sorts of unhealthy ingredients and it’s too sweet.  I’d rather make my own.

For those of you who miss chicken soup, I have a wonderful, healing garlic soup that is so easy you can make even if you’re feeling under the weather.  It is full of all sorts of antioxidants and antimicrobials and will help loosen up chest congestion.  It’s also just plain good to eat no matter how you feel.  If you’re already feeling great, garlic soup can only make you feel better!

I really don’t like eating salads in the winter.  Does that make me a bad vegan?  I need to be warmed up from the inside out.  Vegetable soup to the rescue!  For those times when you want a warming bowl of veggie soup, I’m giving you my Granny Campbell’s basic soup recipe.  It’s pretty simple – just a template, really, for whatever you have on hand.  Bonus – If your New Year’s resolutions include dropping some extra pounds, eating a bowl of vegetable soup before dinner can help fill you up with very few calories.

For those days when it’s really cold and miserable, I’m including my favorite split pea soup.  I use mushrooms and some barley miso to mimic the traditional ham flavoring.  No bits of Babe are used, yet it is still hearty enough to see you through whatever winter can dish out.

Soups are endlessly adaptable.  Have some fun – use up whatever you have on hand.  Add or subtract herbs and seasonings.  Throw in some canned beans to make a thin soup more substantial.  Add broth to thin a stew into a soup.  Cook your soup on the stovetop, or adapt it to the crockpot or the pressure cooker.  Be creative.  And stay warm.

(I know, I said I’d cover mac ‘n cheese this time, but I’m still testing recipes.  Give me another month and I’ll try to give you a couple of delicious versions.)

Tomato Soup
Almost as easy and WAY better (and better for you) than that stuff in the red and white can.
Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, diced
1 28 oz can tomatoes, diced or crushed
1 tablespoon flour  (all purpose, whole wheat, spelt, or rice)
3 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon neutral sweetener (see note) or more to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)

1.  Heat the olive oil in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan.   Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

2.  Add the tomatoes.   Mix the flour into a small amount of the water and make a smooth paste.  Stir the flour mixture into the tomatoes.

3.  Add the water, basil, sweetener, and sea salt.  Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

4.  Puree soup in a food mill if you have one, or in a blender.  If using an immersion blender, the soup can be pureed hot, right in the pot.  If using a regular blender, let the soup cool first, puree it, then return it to the stove to re-heat.  Be very careful and don’t overfill the blender.  Don’t try to blend hot soup.  Steam can cause the lid to blow off and the soup can scald you (or decorate your walls and ceiling in unintentional ways!)  Taste and add lemon juice if necessary to balance flavor.
Notes:    The sweetener can be dry or wet.  I like agave nectar, but you can use unbleached sugar or rice syrup.  Most other sweeteners are too strongly flavored.  You might need as much as one tablespoon of sweetener to balance the flavors.

During the summer, you can use 3-4 pounds of fresh tomatoes instead of the canned ones, but in the winter, canned tomatoes are far superior in flavor and nutrition to the pale “fresh” ones in the markets.

I like Muir Glen Organic Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes, but the plain Muir Glen tomatoes are also very good.

For Tomato Rice Soup, add 2 cups cooked brown rice to the soup after pureeing.  Or leave the soup chunky and add rice.

For Chunky Tomato Soup, skip the pureeing, but cook the soup about 10 minutes longer.

Spanish Garlic Soup

Cooking mellows the garlic so that it’s sweet, not sharp.  This is a miracle cure for sore throats, colds, flu, and the winter blahs.
Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett
Serves 4
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

12 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or a pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs (oregano/thyme/basil)
1 bay leaf
5 cups water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 slices whole grain bread (or 1 cup cooked rice)
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1.  Combine everything except the bread and nutritional yeast in a 2- to 3-quart pot..  Bring the soup to a boil, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
2.  Crumble bread into the soup and return to a boil.
3.  Stir in nutritional yeast and serve hot.
Notes:    If you’re wheat sensitive, you can add any cooked whole grain that you like, or you use the broth without bread or grain as a base for other soups.

Fresh, pre-peeled garlic cloves are a real time saver in the kitchen.  I love them.  Don’t, however, ever use that pre-minced garlic in a jar.  You’ll lose a lot of flavor that way, not to mention health benefits.

Granny Campbell’s Vegetable Soup
My Granny C. always canned tomatoes, okra, and corn together every summer to use as a soup base for the winter months.  The canning jars looked beautiful on the shelves in her kitchen with their festive red, green, and yellow contents.  Most of us don’t can vegetables these days, so I’ve made this adaptation of her classic combo.
Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett
Serves 8
Preparation Time:  1 hour

2 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes
6 cups (or about 2 tomato cans full) water or light vegetable broth
1/2 pound frozen okra, sliced
1/2 pound frozen corn kernels
whatever other vegetables you have on hand (see suggestions)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together in a big pot and simmer for 30 – 60 minutes, or until the vegetables are all tender.

You can add any or all of the following:  diced onion, celery, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, summer squash.  Try to cut the vegetables a similar size so they will cook evenly.

You can also add any herbs you like, in moderation.  This should be mostly about the vegetables, but a little basil or thyme wouldn’t go amiss.  A couple of garlic cloves also wouldn’t hurt.

Vegetables to avoid:  Broccoli and green peppers will overpower the other vegetables.  Red cabbage will dye the whole pot a murky purple, and beets will color it all red, and beets taste weird with okra.  Red onions become bitter when simmered.

Thick Split Pea Soup
The mushrooms add a “meaty” texture and savory flavor.  Serve with crackers or corn muffins for a hearty lunch.
Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett
Serves 8
Preparation Time: 2 hours
2 cups dried split peas
8 cups water
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 leafy celery tops, washed and chopped
1 large bay leaf
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup dried mushrooms, whole or sliced
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons miso (barley or brown rice)

1. Add the peas and water to a pot and bring to a boil.
2.  Wash and prep the other vegetables (except for dried mushrooms) in the meantime and add to the pot.
3.  Put the mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Let them soak for 10 minutes.  Lift them from their soaking water, which will now be a bit sandy.  Rinse the mushrooms and chop them.  Add them to the pot and let the soup simmer over very low heat, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the peas are very soft.  Remove from heat.
4. Mash the soup with a fork or a potato masher.  Leave a few carrot flecks for color if possible.
5.  Put a bit of the hot soup in a cup.  Add the miso and stir them together to thin the miso.  Stir the thinned miso into the soup.
Notes:    This soup thickens a great deal upon standing.  You may thin it with water or vegetable broth, or you can mix leftovers with pureed tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, or tomato juice to make a new soup.

The miso will retain more of its health giving properties if you don’t boil the soup after it’s added, but the flavor is the same either way.