It’s soup weather.
Waking up in the morning, the sky is still dark and it’s nearly impossible to convince myself to leave the warm pocket of my blankets and the little heaters that are my cats, snuggled in close. When I get home from work, it’s dark again, the house chilly until I get the heat cranked up, and often dinner is eaten right there, chair pulled up in front of the heater as the rest of the house warms up.
It’s the kind of weather that calls for warm oatmeal in the morning, and that makes me want to eat bowls of warm comfort food when I get home at night. And while I would love to have a giant bowl of macaroni and cheese for dinner almost every night, January is also the month many of us spend recovering from the holiday season — trying to shed a couple of pounds to fit back into our warm winter clothes.
My solution to this is soup. And after weeks of eating the canned stuff that you can dump in a pan on the stove to heat up while feeding cats, I decided to make a couple of batches and freeze. My goal was to make something that was as easy as throwing something on the stove without a lot of prep, but tasty enough to not find myself having fantasies of piles of pasta or plates of nachos when I was done eating. These two soups fit the bill. Both have a hint of spice, which, for me, tames the craving for more calorie-rich foods, and both have a heartiness without being loaded with a lot of heavy ingredients.
I started off with a chipotle-bean soup from one of my favorite cook books: the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special.
Start by sauteing 2 cups finely chopped onions and 4 cloves garlic in a bit of olive oil. When they are translucent, add 2 cups peeled, diced carrots and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin. Cook for a few minutes and add 1 cup chopped celery and 1 green bell pepper, chopped. Cook for this for another few minutes and then dump in 2 15 oz. cans undrained black beans, 1 14 oz. can chopped undrained canned tomatoes, 1/2-1 chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup water. Simmer all of this for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding liquid if needed.
Serve this up with a little cilantro and, if desired, a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt on top.
The second soup is something I hadn’t attempted to make before, a hot and sour Asian-style soup.
This soup calls for a lot of mushrooms, and I think I took it even a step farther than the original recipe, which I found online. I started with half of a 2.64 oz. package of dried oyster mushrooms, which I soaked for about 15 minutes in warm water to soften. While those soak, chop the rest of the ingredients: 7-plus large white mushrooms, one carrot, peeled and julienned, 1 package firm tofu, 1 can sliced bamboo strips, cut into smaller strips.
Bring 6-8 cups of vegetable broth to a boil. When the dried mushrooms are soft, cut them into small pieces and dump them, along with all the other vegetable and tofu, into the boiling broth. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons corn starch and 6 tablespoons water. Stir until mixed and then add slowly, stirring constantly, to the boiling soup. This will thicken everything up. If you want thicker soup, add more cornstarch mixed with water.
In another bowl, combine 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 4 tablespoons rice vinegar (I used white vinegar and it turned out fine), 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon chili oil or chili garlic sauce (I used chili garlic sauce, since I had it in the fridge) and 1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil. Add this mix to the soup.
If you taste the soup and want it to be more spicy, this is the time to finesse it with more chili oil or ginger or whatever suits your taste. Let everything simmer together for a few minutes. Finally, if you want, beat an egg and add it to the boiling soup in a thin stream, stirring constantly to make little egg ribbons in the soup. It doesn’t really affect the taste of the soup, but I like the texture it adds and it just seemed to make the soup feel authentic to me.
This soup is insanely good and actually pretty healthy. Although this isn’t by any means an official number, my nifty new calorie counter app said it has approximately 260 calories per serving, which is a bowl, not a cup, like the canned stuff.
• Fresh is a photo/food column by Yakima Herald-Republic photographer Sara Gettys. She can be reached at email@example.com.