Thursday, December 6, 2012

Soup, Glorious Soup

During this season of overly rich foods, soup offers a healthy alternative meal when we’re not indulging in holiday excess (not that I mind a little indulgence every now and again). Soup leaves me feeling satisfied, but it’s light at the same time—unless it’s a cream based soup, in which case it qualifies as more of an indulgence. But hey, ‘tis the season.

When I was first learning to cook, back in my early twenties, I made a lot of soup. It was pretty fool-proof, although I scorched a few pots along the way. Some memorable meals stand out:  there was the lobster bisque I made to impress a new boyfriend, who turned out to be relatively short-lived. Thanks to Seinfeld, though, whenever I now have lobster bisque what comes to mind is Elaine’s quintessential line in the Yada Yada episode: “No, I mentioned the bisque.”

My Aunt Stanis’s tomato soup is another one.  I’ve been recreating that soup every year since she served it to me at a sendoff picnic in the parking lot of JFK airport, before I left for a summer work study program in Austria. I smile at the memory of that picnic--complete with folding table and chairs and white wine--every time I make her soup, which is usually in August when tomatoes are at their peak. I like to make up a giant pot of it so I can freeze several containers to pull out in the winter. Nothing brings back the late August sun during these shortest days of the year quite like a bowl of zesty tomato soup.

Lentil is another favorite. I’ve been making some version of this soup since I moved to Vermont in my mid-twenties. Chris and I lived in an apartment in Middlebury at the time and were a few years away from being parents. On Sundays during the winter, we’d often go for ski in the morning and then come home and I’d make up a big batch of lentil soup. 

We’d lay on the couch and read the New York Times while the aroma of simmering soup filled the apartment. We still ski and I still make the soup, but we haven’t spent a Sunday afternoon reading the Times since we bought a house and had a family. 

Then there was the turkey soup my roommate Anne and I made our first year out of college. We had hosted a holiday party in our Richmond apartment and had wanted it to be “grown up,” so we roasted a turkey. The next day on a whim, we decided to make soup. The bird’s carcass was sticking halfway out of the pot the whole time it was cooking since we didn’t own a large enough stockpot. Amazingly the soup turned out pretty well and didn’t give us food poisoning. 

At the time we were twenty-two and not sure what we wanted to do with our lives. We both worked for the same company, but knew we didn’t want to do that long term, so Anne and I spent many a night playing with our cat Beaujolais and wondering what our futures would hold. The following year, I went off to graduate school and Anne moved to DC, both of us setting off on paths that would lead to where we are now. But during that year we were in limbo: the world was all before us and we were overwhelmed by the options. 

With the wisdom that comes in middle age, I’ve advised several young people facing that situation to embrace it, to not be afraid of it, because it’s fleeting. Before too long your decisions lead you on certain paths—although they may be good and right for you—and that time of limitless possibility evaporates. It’s often hard to convince a young person that this is a positive situation to be in, and I remember well the anxiety of feeling directionless. But I stand by my advice. I guess that’s one of the many differences between youth and middle age.

Last week, I made soup from our Thanksgiving turkey and thought of that first time I attempted to make it with Anne so many years ago. 

I now have a much more accommodating stockpot, and a daughter who is not far from the age I was then. I hope she heeds my advice and embraces all of life’s possibilities.

Here’s my recipe for turkey soup that makes use of a variety of leftovers from the holiday table.

Turkey and Leftovers Soup

Carcass from a 15 lb. roast turkey, including skin
Water to cover carcass
Leftovers, such turkey meat, mashed potatoes, and mushroom gravy
4 cups of rice
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, chopped
10 sage leaves, minced
2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the carcass in a large stockpot, cover with water, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 3 hours. Let cool and discard the bones and skin. This can be tedious. I’ve found the best method to be scooping the bones out with a slotted spoon and using my hands to remove any meat, collecting it in a bowl. After all the bones and skin have been scooped out, pull the meat into small pieces and return it to the pot. (I also recommend chilling the broth after the meat has been removed and skimming off the excess fat before adding the meat back into the pot.)

Return the pot to the stove and bring it to a boil. Add the rice and mashed potatoes (we had about a cup  of leftover potatoes, which slightly thickened the soup). Reduce to simmer and heat the oil in a sauté pan. Sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and sage over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden, about 15 minutes.

Add the onions, carrots, and sage to the stockpot, and the leftover mushroom gravy. Simmer for ten more minutes or until the rice is cooked. Season with salt and pepper. This soup tastes even better the next day and also freezes well.


  1. Speaking of soup, thanks for that delicious celery soup the other day (et, aussi le savon!)
    Lovely post. I enjoyed this recipe the most: lounging on the couch, reading the Times, and letting soup simmer:)

    1. I enjoyed the celery soup too, Linda, and merci bien for the vintage book. I love it. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon on the couch while the soup simmers...I'll be sure to make time for that during this busy holiday season!