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SOUPS : Now that you've had your fill of the rich sweets and other spectacular holiday delights, take a break with a comforting bowl of hot soup.

December 28, 1986|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

With just one more big celebration to get through, most of us are already suffering the letdown that follows holiday overkill. We crave good, familiar comfort foods. Foods we don't have to think about . . . pay much attention to as they cook. Foods that are easy to serve. Foods that take little preparation time . . . foods that can be refrigerated or frozen if there are leftovers.

When you've had your fill of all the rich and opulent goodies that are so prevalent this time of year, a simple, hot soup can be the most satisfying meal you've ever eaten. And if, by chance, that nice simple soup can be quick to prepare, so much the better.

Fill out an easy menu with a crisp, tossed salad, some hot buttery bread or warm flour tortillas that have been rolled into convenient cylinders and you'll dine well.

Soups make wonderful catchall meals. Leftover meats and vegetables find happy homes in soups. So do small amounts of leftover cold pasta or rice. Even stale bread can be used in soups if you cut it into cubes and toast the cubes to serve as croutons. Bread cubes sauteed in garlic butter and sprinkled over soup add a wonderful flavor filip to some of the blander soups such as pea soup or potato soup.

Soups do not, of course, have to be relegated to family meals. In fact many soups are excellent menu choices for company. All that is necessary is that the soup be a good one, and that it be presented attractively.

The following soups have one thing in common. None take long to prepare, thus they are good choices when time is limited. Some, such as the Chili Soup or the Onion-Potato Chowder with Italian Sausage, would make excellent main dishes for a bowl-watching party. They can be kept warm in a slow cooker, ready for hungry guests to dine on at will. The Cream of Turkey and Mushroom Soup is another that will please hungry visitors, and it has the added attraction of giving the cook the opportunity to use up some of the leftover turkey that's usually on hand this time of year.

For a small group, when you want something that is a little showier, whip up a batch of Baked Onion Soup. Served in individual ovenproof soup bowls, this one is delicious with a good crisp salad. Fresh fruit and a cheese tray will provide a sufficiently elegant ending to make this a fine party menu. Consider this one for a special New Year's Eve midnight supper. Keep it warm until you're ready to transfer it to individual casseroles and add the toast and cheese. Then while it undergoes the final baking, there will be plenty of time to toss the salad and set up the fruit and cheese platter. Here are recipes for a number of simple soups designed to provide a comforting meal for family and friends in the midst of the holiday hullabaloo. BAKED ONION SOUP

1 quart sliced onions

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans beef broth

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth

1/4 cup dry Sherry

Salt, pepper

12 small slices French bread

Parmesan cheese

1/2 pound shredded Jack cheese

Saute onions and garlic in butter in large Dutch oven over low heat until browned and tender. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Add beef and chicken broths; heat to boiling, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add Sherry and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toast bread slices and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Ladle hot soup into 4 individual ovenproof casseroles. Place 3 slices toasted bread on top of soup in each. Sprinkle with Jack cheese. Bake at 375 degrees about 30 minutes or until soup is bubbly and cheese is browned. Makes 4 servings. SPINACH SOUP

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen leaf spinach

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup butter or margarine

3 tablespoons flour

3 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt, pepper

2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced crosswise

Place spinach in heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 5 minutes or until spinach is completely thawed and tender. Saute onion and garlic in butter in skillet until tender but not browned. Stir in flour until cooked through and smooth. Add 1 cup whipping cream and cook, stirring, until mixture is well blended. Stir onion mixture into spinach and broth. Blend in remaining 2 cups whipping cream and heat just to a simmer. Puree mixture in 2 cup quantities in food processor until smooth. Return to pan, add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with hard-cooked egg slices. Makes 4 to 6 servings. CRAB AND CORN SOUP

4 (14-ounce) cans chicken broth or 7 cups homemade chicken broth

1/2 (10-ounce) package frozen corn

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup water

1 (6-ounce) package frozen cooked crab meat, thawed

1 tablespoon Sherry

1 egg white, beaten until stiff

Few drops sesame oil

Finely chopped green onions

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