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My New Favorite Soup

The only thing I like better than soup is enjoying soup in cold weather. It’s like I have an internal switch that turns on right after the first frost. I instinctively reach for my soup pot and usually have something new simmering every few days until summer.

Soups are wonderful. They’re easy to make, economical, and satisfying. I usually favor substantial soups that can pass for a meal: a thick and hearty black bean soup or a brothy minestrone crowded with vegetables, beans, and tiny soup pasta.

Sometimes I crave Asian flavors and that’s when a tangy laksa, made with chewy rice noodles and chunks of tofu, is on the menu. Like the old song, Love the One You’re With, each soup I make is my favorite while I’m eating it. This week, I made a pot of my current favorite: spicy and flavorful callaloo.

With its Caribbean origins, traditional callaloo is made with greens and seasonings native to that region, so I’ve developed a recipe using easy-to find ingredients. I call it Close to Callaloo. If you add some beans and rice, it becomes hearty enough to call dinner.

Close to Callaloo
This luscious soup pairs colorful vegetables with a spicy coconut broth. If your hot chiles don’t give off enough heat to suit your taste, add some cayenne to amp it up. To make it more substantial, add the optional kidney beans. Some cooked rice added to the bottom of each bowl is another good addition for turning it into a one-dish meal. This recipe is adapted from Vegan Fire & Spice.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 hot chiles, seeded and minced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into small dice
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 bunch spinach, coarsely chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
Cooked rice (optional)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, chiles, and sweet potato. Cover and cook until softened, 10 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, thyme, and allspice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk and greens and season to taste with salt and pepper. (The amount of salt you need will depend on the saltiness of your broth.) Continue to cook until the greens are wilted, pushing them down to cover with the broth, about 10 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings.
To serve ladle into soup bowls over a large spoonful of cooked rice, if using.
Serves 4

Cold Day, Hot Soup

There’s nothing more comforting than a steaming bowl of hot soup when the weather’s cold. I especially love a good hearty soup that can be a meal in itself, like this escarole soup with cannellini beans. It’s one of my favorites, probably because it’s an old family recipe that I’ve enjoyed since childhood, but also because it’s easy, delicious, and versatile. You can substitute any dark leafy green for the escarole, such as chard or spinach (or some of each) or use a different bean to replace the cannellinis (chickpeas or kidney beans are great in this.) I usually put in a carrot or two, but I didn’t this time. You can add more garlic if you like, too. The amount of salt you will need depends on if you use water or vegetable broth and how strong the vegetable broth is, so be sure to taste to check the seasonings — you’ll probably need at least 1 teaspoon of salt, maybe more. For the pasta, I used small elbows this time, but any small-shaped “soup pasta” works great. If you have cooked leftover pasta, you can just add that instead, when ready to serve, or eliminate the pasta altogether in favor of some cooked rice or other grain.

Escarole Soup
My mother learned to make this soup from my grandmother who came from the Abruzzi region of Italy. I carry on the tradition at my house. The mellow cannellini beans provide the perfect balance to the flavorful broth and peppery greens. This recipe is from my newest book, Vegan Fire & Spice: 200 Sultry and Savory Global Recipes.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
6 cups water or vegetable broth
1 head escarole, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
3 cups cooked or 2 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup small, dry pasta

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the hot red pepper flakes and the water and bring to a boil. Add the escarole, bay leaves, and marjoram, and simmer 20 minutes. Add the beans, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Serves 4