Savory Soups

What could be a tastier excuse for friends or neighbors to gather?

It’s a ritual they call soup night. Usually on the last Sunday evening of each month, residents in a certain neighborhood gather at one house—they take turns hosting—and to minimize cleanup everyone brings a bowl and a spoon. Volunteers, if they feel like it, contribute wine, strawberries, cheese, garlic bread or cookies. But most important, the host prepares two huge pots of soup, one of which is vegetarian. The idea is a no-fuss, no-stress get-together designed to promote community, letting everyone share a good time and in the process feel more connected. And it works.

“People no longer feel like strangers,” writes Maggie Stuckey as she ticks off the benefits of Soup Night in a new book of that name. The concept works because it’s easy and friendly and fun. It works because in an age of instant electronic contact we all still need old-fashioned human contact. And—oh yes—Soup Night works because of soup.

What other food category is more variable and convivial? In any season, but particularly when that first autumn nip is in the air, soup can be a hearty warm-up, a salve for the soul and an unexpected combination of unlike ingredients that turn out to converse quite eloquently. (Beans with bananas? Pumpkin and chicken?) If the mood is right, it’s heaven in a bowl.

The five soup recipes come from Stuckey’s new book. We hope you’ll find them as tasty and intriguing as we did. Whether one of them becomes your new favorite or they serve as touchpoints for your own culinary creativity, they’re guaranteed to satisfy—and occasionally surprise. Soup’s on!



Pumpkin Chicken Chowder (Shown Above)


2 Tbs. canola or vegetable oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken broth
2 (16-oz.) cans pumpkin purée
1 cup frozen corn
2/3 cup uncooked rice
1 tsp. dried basil
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. add the chicken, onions, bell peppers and garlic. Sauté until the chicken is no longer pink, 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Add the broth, pumpkin, corn, rice, basil, salt and pepper. Stir well and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.


Havana Banana Black Bean Soup


2 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 (15-oz.) cans black beans; or 6 cups cooked black beans with 1⁄2 cup of the cooking liquid
4 cups chicken broth
1⁄2 lb. cooked ham, cut into bite-size pieces
1 (15-oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 Tbs. white vinegar
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
Dash Tabasco
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ripe bananas, sliced, as garnish (4–5 slices per serving)

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute longer.

2. Drain two of the cans of black beans, and then add them plus the third can with its liquid to the pot. Mash the beans lightly with a potato masher; you want a mixture of whole beans and bean pulp.

3. Add the broth, ham, tomatoes with their juice, vinegar, cumin, Tabasco, salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer to heat everything through and allow the flavors to blend, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

4. Top each serving with banana slices; have extra banana slices on the table so folks can add more if they wish.


Creamy Cauliflower Soup


8 leeks, trimmed and finely chopped, white part only
2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cauliflower head, finely chopped (about 6 cups)
4 bay leaves
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
22/3 cups nonfat milk, heated
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh chives, for garnish.

1. Combine the leeks, onions, cauliflower, bay leaves and chicken broth in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, covered, until the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

2. Add the hot milk, salt and pepper, and transfer the soup to a blender (careful, it’s hot) and purée until smooth, then return it to the pot. Or use an immersion blender and purée the soup right in the pot.

3. Serve hot with a sprinkling of chives.


Italian Bean and Pasta Soup


1 lb. dried cranberry or pinto beans (about 3 cups), picked over and rinsed
10 cups water
1⁄2 cup plus 2 Tbs. olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
2 medium onions, chopped
13⁄4 tsp. salt
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
1⁄4 tsp. black pepper
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, roughly 2 by 3 inches (optional)
3⁄4 lb. dried small pasta

1. bring the beans and water to a boil in a large heavy soup pot and boil for 2 minutes. remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. do not drain the beans or discard the soaking liquid.

2. Heat 1⁄4 cup of the olive oil in a wide, heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, and then add the onions and 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, rosemary and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

3. Add the beans with their soaking liquid and the cheese rind (if you have one on hand) and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very tender. This could take 11⁄2 hours to 21⁄2 hours, depending on the age of your beans. Add more water if necessary to keep the beans covered, and stir more frequently to- ward the end of cooking. Remove from the heat and stir in 1⁄4 cup of the oil and the remaining 11⁄4 teaspoons salt. Cool, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

5. Remove and discard the cheese rind. Transfer the soup to a blender (careful, it’s hot) and coarsely purée until smooth, then return it to the pot. Reheat over moderately low heat, stirring frequently. Add water to thin if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. While the soup is reheating, cook the pasta until it’s al dente, and then drain in a colander and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and pepper to taste.

7. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with spoonfuls of pasta, and then drizzle with additional olive oil.


Hot and Sour Soup


6–8 oz. boneless chicken or pork, cut into bite-size chunks
4 Tbs. soy sauce
5 Tbs. water
11⁄2 tsp. sherry or white wine
21⁄2 Tbs. cornstarch
1⁄2 cup dried wood ears or dried black mushrooms (optional; see note)
8 cups chicken broth
1⁄2 (12-oz.) package medium firm tofu, cut into 1/3-inch strips
1⁄2 cup canned bamboo shoots, cut into thin strips
3 eggs n 1⁄4 cup distilled white vinegar
11⁄2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sugar
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

1. In a bowl, combine the meat with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the water and the sherry. Mix well, then add 1⁄2 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Mix again, coating the meat pieces with cornstarch. Marinate for 20 minutes on the countertop.

2. If using wood ears or dried mushrooms, soak them in a small bowl of very hot water for 10 minutes. Drain and discard the water. Slice the mushrooms into strips, discarding any tough ends.

3. Bring the broth to a boil in a large soup pot. Drain the meat and add it to the soup, stirring to separate the pieces. Return to a boil, then add the tofu, bamboo shoots and dried mushrooms, if using. Return to a boil, and then simmer until the meat is cooked through.

4. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch with the remaining 4 tablespoons cold water; add to the soup and stir to thicken just a bit.

5. Lightly beat the eggs and slowly add them to the soup in a thin stream while stirring gently with a spoon. Turn off the heat.

6. Mix together the remaining 3 ta- blespoons soy sauce, the vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, sugar, and black and white pepper. Pour the mixture into the soup, stir to combine, and heat through.

7. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve topped with scallions.

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