Soup Stories

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It’s dark by 4:00, there is no baseball, the virus is still raging, the election is still raging—what to do? Make soup. Soup is the ultimate comfort food: cream of tomato soup—a hug in a bowl; lentil soup—a hearty greeting when you walk in the door after a brutal day; chicken soup—the only thing when you’re flat on your back with a runny nose and bleary eyes.

Cream of tomato soup:
When Tommy was alive, the Sweetie and I would drive from Tacoma through Bremerton, over the bridge and through the woods, to Lariat Loop. The boys were usually in school; Ali was working, hoeing in the garden, mowing the lawn, or baking muffins; Tommy was in the garage working on a car, in his woods chopping down a tree, on the roof fixing the gutters, or up in a tree building a treehouse. Feets, the cocker spaniel, or later Skittles, would race around the house from the backyard and greet us in the driveway with enthusiastic wags and wiggles. Whenever we arrived, it was time for lunch: cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. We still remember those lunches whenever we eat a grilled cheese sandwich. Here’s thinking of you, Tommy.

City Restaurant cream of tomato soup 

  • 2 tablespoons butter  
  • 1 medium onion, julienned or sliced  
  • 1 large fennel bulb (optional) you can also use 1⁄2-1 teaspoon fennel seeds  
  • 2 teaspoons salt  
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper  
  • 1⁄2 cup Pernod (optional)  
  • 4-6 ripe Romas, seeded & chopped or 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes (best quality possible)  
  • 2 cups chicken stock  
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream  
  • 1⁄2 cup half & half 
  • Dash of Tabasco  

Trim fennel, discarding stem. Thinly slice stalks.

Melt butter over moderate heat in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onions and cook with salt and pepper until soft, about 10 minutes. Add fennel, reduce heat to low, cook additional ten minutes. 

Add Pernod and reduce liquid by half.

Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Reduce to simmer and cook, covered about 20 minutes.  

Puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot and add cream and half and half. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Add Tabasco. 

Fennel bulb and Pernod are optional. I usually don’t have either so almost always make the soup without. Good quality canned tomatoes are preferred, but I often use regular old grocery store Hunt’s. The imported Italian are the best but cost plenty more—San Marzano or Muir Glen are both good brands.  Heavy cream and half and half make for a silky delicious soup, but you can substitute less caloric milk for part of the dairy or leave it out and use only stock. Thin to your preference. Restaurants make many variations on this method for soup of the day, substituting any other vegetable: broccoli, mushroom, spinach, asparagus, potato/leek, squash, beet, carrot, etc.  

Lentil soup:
In 1974 when I started working at Sound Food, I was no stranger to lentils. Dick’s dad, Pop, made Umjudada, Lebanese lentils and rice, on a regular basis so it became one of my rotating dinner favorites. Surprise then, when a few years later lentils showed up on every “Hippie” communal table. Our friend Ted, regaled us with stories of the lentil loaf served at a counterculture Thanksgiving dinner on the Everson-Goshen Road and the gastric distress that followed. Back at Sound Food, Jeffrey’s vegetarian lentil soup (finished off with fried onion bits), a lunchtime favorite with both locals and hippies, has been on my rotating favorites ever since.

Nick Stellino’s lentil soup with sausage

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 5 cloves garlic, cut thickly 
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrots 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar 
  • 1 pound cooked sweet Italian sausages, cut into 1/4” dice 
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 1 cup dry lentils 
  • 2 cups beef or chicken stock 
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
  • 1 cup ricotta 
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper  

Stir the oil and the garlic in a nonstick pot over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes, stir, and cook for about 1 minute until the garlic starts to brown.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, carrots, and brown sugar. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the sausages and cook for 2 minutes, stirring well.

Pour in the wine, stir, and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and cook for 1 minute.

Add the beef stock and tomato sauce, Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Add red wine vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes.

Top each serving with a tablespoon of fresh ricotta.

Chicken soup:

Chicken soup—liquid penicillin, comfort served up steamy and fragrant, guaranteed to warm both body and soul. When I was in fifth grade, despite Daddy’s misgivings about my reliability, I started a paper route (A girl could always use a little money). Every weekday at 5:00 pm (5:00 am on Sundays) I rode my bike down the street to Mr. Connor’s house to load up my bike sack with the day’s edition of the Sioux City Journal. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, the paper had to be delivered. At the end of the route, I would start looking in the windows of those houses that had a television. Captain Video and His Video Rangers was on at 7:00 so I would pick up the pace to be home on the couch when the theme song began.

Daddy was right—I hated that paper route and complained daily. One especially severe winter day I whined into the kitchen, shoulders slumping, sad-faced and droopy. “Please take me in the car!” Daddy relented, we finished off the route in no time, and came home to Muth’s chicken noodle soup in our warm kitchen and Captain Video’s rangers in the living room. No greater love…

Thai chicken noodle soup

  • 1 cup cooked shredded chicken 
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, 2 tsp sesame oil 
  • Kosher salt 
  • ½ lb rice noodles (I also have used both udon and ramen—cooked separately and added at the end)
  • 1/2 onion, diced 
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced 
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced 
  • ½ lb mushrooms, diced 
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic 
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger 
  • 1 tbsp minced lemongrass (I rarely have lemongrass but I’m sure it would be good)
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste or panang curry paste (try a little more if you like spicy)
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar 
  • 1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk (don’t worry if the coconut milk is solid at the top. Just pour it in a bowl & whisk)
  • 1 ½ qt chicken stock 
  • 3 limes, juiced 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce 
  • Garnishes: Thinly sliced scallions, cilantro leaves, lime wedges 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rice noodles one minute less than the package’s instructions. Drain the noodles and run under cold water. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom. Add the onion and shallots. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until tender and slightly caramelized. Season with a pinch of salt. 

Add the carrots and mushrooms. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook for a minute until fragrant. 

Add the red curry paste and stir well to combine. Whisk in the coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes, stirring often. 

Stir in the shredded chicken and cooked rice noodles to heat through. Taste for salty, sweet, sour, hot balance and add where necessary. Right before serving, stir in the lime juice and fish sauce. Serve the soup hot with scallions, cilantro leaves, and a squeeze of lime.



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4 Responses to Soup Stories

  1. Jenni says:

    What a perfect post for this day! Thank you. I never thought of fennel and Pernod in tomato soup, but I can taste the perfection already!

  2. Becky Ehrlich says:

    Perfect timing, it’s soup weather!

  3. Kathy says:

    These recipes sound so good! Especially the tomato soup and the lentil soup. Yum! I will have to try them. I don’t think I have ever made lentils. A new experience!

  4. Inger says:

    Hi Aunt Marla,
    I love all your writings but when I catch one that has a memory of Dad it is very special to me. I miss him every day as I am sure you guys do as well. Hope you and Uncle Bob are doing well thorough this crazy difficult year. Miss you and lots of hugs and love, Inger

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