Friday, March 22, 2013

Scallop Soup

This is a model for almost any seafood you want to make into a soup.  The recipe has very few required ingredients and is darn fast to pull together.  Yes, it is a cream soup.  Your body likes dairy so don’t fret.  You can use a low fat version of milk here.  Also, the amount of butter used is minimal but if you are cutting back on that sort of thing, you can thicken the soup without a butter and flour-based roux.  I’ll show you how. 

Scallop Soup
Serves 4

Scant amount of butter or olive oil (enough to coat bottom of medium soup pot)
1 celery stalk, diced
½ medium onion, about ¼ cup diced
2 small baking (russet) potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 14-ounce can low sodium chicken broth
1 8-oz bottle clam juice
1 cup bay scallops, frozen is fine
¾-1 cup low fat milk
salt and pepper to taste, chopped parsley, dill or chives
Optional: ½ cup frozen or drained canned corn (cooked fresh corn is nice in season)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour

Or substitute 1 tablespoon corn starch stirred into an ounce of cold liquid (water is fine).   Remember, the starch in the potato also helps thicken the soup.

  1. In a medium-large lidded pot, sauté celery and onion until limp in a little olive oil or butter.   
  2. If you are using the roux method to thicken, add the tablespoon of butter and melt.  Once melted, stir in the flour so that it coats the vegetables.   
  3. Stir in potatoes, broth and clam juice. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer covered until potatoes are cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.  
  4. Add scallops or other uncooked fish.  It is OK to add the scallops frozen.  Bring to a simmer again, then add milk.  
  5. If using cornstarch to thicken your soup, stir a tablespoon of cornstarch into the milk- be sure it is dissolved, before adding to the soup.  (If you forget this step, just dissolve the cornstarch into a small amount of cold liquid and add to soup).  Cornstarch needs a few minutes to simmer in liquid to do its job as a thickener.  
  6. Stir occasionally while the soup simmers for another 3-5 minutes and seafood gently cooks.  
  7. At this point you can add any extra cooked vegetables (corn, asparagus, peas, etc) and/or additional fish (see below).  
  8. Taste your soup and add salt and pepper.  Be aware that clam juice adds some salty flavor. 

Just about any seafood can be used in this soup base instead of scallops.  Try chunks of cod or other white fish, bi-valves like mussels or clams, leftover cooked fish, like the broiled salmon in my fridge from last night, or canned fish like tuna or salmon. If the protein you are adding is already cooked, stir it in last and heat gently just before serving.  Adjust the seasoning to bring out the best of what you have on hand.  For whitefish, dill is nice.  Canned tuna can get perk-up form a little tarragon or thyme and mussels will flourish with some paprika (or a pinch of saffron).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Beef Vegetable Soup, Sort of Instant

This month’s soup celebration marches on with Beef Vegetable Soup you can make tonight.  Why? Because, this soup takes no longer to make than any other dinner.

If you already have tonight’s meal planned, consider making this tonight too.  Soup tastes even better the next day, so if you have some energy it’s a good idea to make soup while you are making tonight’s dinner.   Tomorrow, give yourself a night off. 

To make enough soup for four, count on about 8 cups of liquid.  Liquid includes broth, water, tomato or carrot juice, wine, pasta water and more.  A great base for beef soups is half chicken broth and half beef broth with some flavorings like a bay leaf, a smidge of thyme, basil or marjoram and a wink of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce.   That’s where we’ll being our story….

Beef Vegetable Soup
Serves 8
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds cubed stew meat (beef chuck), lightly salted and peppered
8 ounces water (or 2/3 cup water, 1/3 cup wine or tomato juice)
2 14-oz cans beef low-sodium broth
2 14-oz cans chicken low-sodium broth
Optional: 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes in juice (low-sodium)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
¾ teaspoons dried herbs: any combination of thyme, basil, dill
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
½ cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup green peas, frozen
Up to 1 cup of additional vegetables, any combination, like cauliflower, corn, cubed winter squash, lima beans, sweet potatoes, etc
Up to one cup cooed rice, pasta or beans
Salt, pepper
Optional: fresh herbs for garnish: basil, dill, parley or thyme

  1. In a large pot with cover or Dutch oven heat oil over medium heat.  Add beef cubes and brown 3-4 minutes on two sides. While browning, leave meat undisturbed so it can form a nice crust.  This will add flavor to your soup.  You may need to brown the meat in several batches to avoid crowding the pieces and steaming rather than browning them.  
  2. When all the meat has been browned, slowly stir in wine if using or juice and water.  Use the back of a spoon or spatula to scrape up any caramelized bits that the liquid has loosened.  
  3. Add broth, bay leaf and dried herbs.  
  4. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover.  Simmer meat for 15 minutes.  
  5. Add all remaining ingredients except frozen peas and salt.  Cook, partially covered, over low heat until vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes more.  
  6. Add peas and cook another 5 minutes.  If you are adding any already cooked vegetables, stir them in now too.  
  7. Stir in cooked rice, pasta and beans if using. (You may also cook small pasta like ditalini while the vegetables cook-- allow 10 minutes for pasta to cook.)
  8. Taste and add salt as needed- usually you will add about ½ teaspoon but start with half that.  Hold back on salt if you are not using low sodium broths.  You can also add any fresh herbs at this stage.  Chopped basil, dill, rubbed thyme are all nice or can be used as a fresh garnish at the table. 

Borscht, Sort of Instant
Not enough of us have had the pleasure of eating real homemade borscht.  It shows up at the supermarket during key seasons packaged in glass jars that look more like cranberry juice than hearty soup.  In truth, there are many recipes from the thin broths to chunky stews.  

My favorite is an enhanced beef vegetable soup tricked out with the signature ingredient- beets- plus extra potatoes, cabbage, dill, lemon juice and sour cream.  For borscht, you can build on the recipe above or take a canned beef vegetable soup as your base.  Instead of adding peas and extra cooked vegetables, add cooked beets and potatoes.  Cabbage can be added raw, very thinly sliced.  It will wilt down as the soup heats.  Squeeze lemon juice into the mixture before serving and top each serving with sour cream and dill.  Fresh dill tastes wonderful but dried is a fine option. 

A few little tricks to know
Give canned broth a fresher taste by adding some herbs—fresh or dried.  A pinch of thyme, oregano or dill can liven up a canned soup.  Add leftover cooked vegetables, beans or leftover chopped meat too. With cooked rice or noodles, you have a lovely soup. 

In fact, with few fresh ingredients like fresh herbs, more chopped, steamed vegetables or a touch of spice and you can enhance almost any prepared soup.  Experiment by adding one fresh ingredient to your favorite soup and see where it takes you.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Irish Flag Bean Soup

This is a pretty soup that will drive off the chilly winds of March’s cool parade routes.  The orange, white and green comes from carrots, white beans, celery and green split peas.  Skip the ham and use vegetable broth if you are aiming for a vegetarian meal. 

Irish Flag Bean Soup
Makes 2 quarts of soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 stalks celery, with leaves, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
½ white onion, peeled and diced
½ cup white wine
8 cups broth (chicken, turkey, vegetable)
2 cups water
ham bone (if available)
½ pound dried white beans (soaked)*
½ pound split green peas
½ teaspoon each thyme and marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups cubed, cooked ham
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

  1. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add celery, carrots and onion and cook 4-5 minutes until tender and just beginning to brown.  
  2. Lower heat and deglaze with white wine, using a spoon to scrape up any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pot.  If you are not using wine, deglaze with a few ounces of water or broth. 
  3. Add broth, water, ham bone, herbs and soaked white beans.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes.  
  4. Add split peas and simmer another 20-30 minutes.  Taste beans.  It may be necessary to cook the beans another 15-20 minutes to obtain a soft texture.  The beans should be just breaking down and thickening the soup.  
  5. Remove the bay leaves.  Add cube ham and taste.  Add salt to taste (depending on saltiness of ham) and a good grind of black pepper. 

*You may substitute 2 14-oz cans white beans aka, navy beans, if you do not have dried white beans.  Drain the beans and add after the split green peas have cooked 20-30 minutes and are just softening.

Add-ins and variations: My husband will add hot sauce and if there is some leftover cooked rice, a scoop of that.  Or, stir in some curry powder to create Flag of India Bean Soup. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Avgolemeno kicks off March

March promises to be full of rain and sleet around here.  These are soup days.  It feels like it should be spring but instead, the weather leaves us chilled.  Soups have the appeal of stews with a light touch.  They are satisfying on these days when many of us step out for a run or hike and the promise of warmer, more active days ahead.

We are planning a number of soup and salad dinners this month.  Happily, there are better and better choices for canned, frozen and shelf-stable soups with more attention paid to lower sodium and better ingredients.  Still, nothing beats homemade and even the most fast-food tainted among us can taste the difference.  Throughout March, we’ll show off some fast soups and “short cut” soups to get more soup ladled out into bowls everywhere.

The Broth Question
The first short cut is to find your favorite low sodium broth that you can go to as a base.  We prefer broth over bouillon cubes and low-sodium whether canned or in aseptic packages.  You can always add more salt later (and herbs and spices) but you cannot take it out so start with a broth that tastes of vegetables, poultry, beef or whatever is on the label—not just salty water.  Buy a few different brands and have a little taste test to find your house brand.
(To make your own broth from scratch, see the simple method from November 27, 2009’s post at

This recipe for Avgolemeno Soup, the famous Greek soup using only broth, rice and lemon thickened with eggs, is a great example of an easy yet impressive “homemade” soup.  It is nothing short of amazing with your own homemade broth, but you will be happy with what can be done at the end of a work day using a canned low sodium versions. 

Sometimes, just before serving, we add spinach to extend the meal or cooked chicken leftovers which help to deepen the broth's flavor.  For a vegetarian version, vegetable broth can be used in place of chicken broth.  Now, no matter how it sleets outside, a bowl of Avgolemeno and a salad will make you feel better. 

Serves 2, may be doubled and tripled

1 14-oz can low sodium chicken broth
2-3 ounces water
½ cup cooked rice*
2 eggs
juice of half a lemon
salt, black pepper, dill (dried or fresh)

*orzo, the tiny pasta that is shaped like rice can substituted.  Cook it in the simmering broth for about 8 minutes before adding egg-lemon mixture.

  1. Heat broth and water in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add rice and stir to break up any clumps.  
  2. While broth heats place the eggs in a small bowl and add lemon juice.  Whisk to combine as you would with scrambled eggs.  
  3. Ladle a ¼ cup of hot broth into the eggs.  This will “temper” the eggs so that they will not curdle when poured into the hot broth.  
  4. Remove broth from heat and using a fork or wide spoon stir the broth and rice while pouring the egg mixture into the broth.  The soup will thicken and each rice kernel will don a coating of lemon0infused eggs.  
  5. Taste the soup and add salt, cracked black pepper and dill to your taste.  
Serve immediately.  Promptly cover and chill any leftovers.
Bonus: this is good reheated for breakfast!