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Building blocks for a superior soup

November 6, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Soup can be simple to assemble yet still offer sophisticated flavor if you think of your pot having three main components. You need the base, the substance, and the flavor boost.Whether you like yours smooth and creamy or hearty with crunchy vegetables, here are the ABCs of superior soup.

"Soup is one of the easiest things you can make," said Chef Denise Vivaldo. "Seriously, filled with nutrients and vitamins, and so simple. You can make it in ten, twelve minutes."

Author of "Do It for Less! Parties" and "Do It for Less! Weddings," Chef Vivaldo says stock is the base of your bowl. It is basically broth without the seasoning, yet both broth and stock contain flavor from vegetables and bones of beef or chicken. You can buy either in the store or make your own with chicken or turkey carcasse and leftover veggies. It's a great starter for an inexpensive meal.

"You can make a big pot of soup for under $5," said Vivaldo. "Ten people, with a small salad, and you know, a piece of bread, have dinner."

The substance of the soup consists of ingredients that provide a filling component, like animal proteins, beans, rice or pasta. Like one Vivaldo assembles with chicken broth, cheese tortellini and frozen vegetables.

"When the pasta starts to come right to the surface, 2-3 minutes, it's cooked," said Vivaldo.

Shaved Parmesan and fresh herbs add a little magic to the meal.

Carrots, onion or leeks, and celery are the trilogy of soup starters. Once browned, they can be blended with steamed broccoli or other veggies, along with stock for those don't like chunks or texture to their soup.

You can make a creamy carrot ginger soup with pureed carrots stock, ginger, and a little bit of cream for a silky texture. Nonfat sour cream, yogurt, even low fat coconut milk can be substituted to cut calories.

Finally, boost your soup's flavor with favorites like a squeeze of lemon, pungent ginger, or fresh pepper.

Don't just grab the salt shaker and start pouring. Smart chefs say the secret is to add the salt at the very end of cooking, if at all. Who knows your soup might be so tasty, you can do without it.

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Denise Vivaldo's Carrot Ginger Soup from "Do It for Less! Weddings":

Carrot Ginger Soup
Makes 12 servings

Do it ahead: This soup can be made 1 to 2 weeks in advance and frozen. Thaw in the refrigerator 2 days before serving. Reheat gently over medium heat and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serving size: 1/2 cup

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup leeks, white and pale green part only, sliced (about 1/2 leek)
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 ounces unpeeled)
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced (about 7 medium carrots)
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
6 chives, snipped in half

Set a large pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the leek, onion, celery, and ginger and sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and carrots, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the carrots are soft, about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the carrot mixture in the work bowl of a food processor or blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with chives.

Helpful hint: Serve this in demitasse or espresso cups, or in tiny bowls or sake cups.

Garnish: Top with a chive trimmed in half. Balance a toasted baguette round or breadstick cracker on the edge of each bowl.


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