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HOME COOKING : Respect Your Soup

February 27, 1992|MARION CUNNINGHAM

If I were to teach some basic cooking lessons, first on my list would be soup-making. The possibilities are endless: thick, thin, creamy or clear; as plain as vegetable broth or as rich as oyster stew.

You can be as creative as you like, but do make sure you taste each ingredient for freshness and flavor before adding it to the pot. Putting every old thing from the refrigerator into the soup, as some people do, is a dreadful idea.

The kind of soup I make is a main supper dish, so substance is needed. You can improve meatless vegetable soups by using chicken or beef broth for the liquid. Occasionally I make a large pot of chicken broth and freeze it in separate containers for single batches of future soups.

If meat is used, brown it well on all sides and use the drippings and bits from the pan for flavor. Aromatic vegetables such as onion, celery and carrots are wonderful flavor additions, as are herbs such as parsley, thyme, marjoram--any, in fact, that enhance the other flavors in the soup.

If the soup needs thickening, you can add things: Pureed cooked vegetables, a cup of rolled oats or small pastas or potatoes are always good. I also like to stir a little cold water into some cornmeal and add it. And if your cupboard is bare, remember that bread was used for centuries in Europe as a soup thickener.

Two important rules: First, don't forget to salt the soup! Soup, like bread, is dismal without salt. Second, always bring soup to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer, which means that only a few bubbles are breaking on top. The late James Beard called this "a feeble ebullition." Hard boiling will overcook the ingredients and will also cause too rapid evaporation. Partially cover the soup with a lid. Many soups take only about one hour to cook, and most soups improve with time, so today's soup may become even better tomorrow.

The following Cabbage and Beet Soup is an easy rustic soup to make; the Cream of Carrot Soup is quite different, a good example of thickening soup by pureeing the vegetable. Both soups make a very good supper, and because I like something crisp with soup, buttered toast is a good accompaniment.

Coffee Custard is one of those simple desserts that can be made a day or two in advance and hold their own well. The most important point about making a tender custard is to remove the custard from the oven when the center is still slightly shaky; overbaking makes an unpleasantly tough custard.

CREAM OF CARROT SOUP

1/4 cup butter

1 onion, chopped

6 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1/3 cup chopped parsley

5 cups chicken broth

1 cup half and half

Salt, pepper

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and parsley and stir until coated. Stir in broth and cook, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and put mixture through vegetable mill. Or puree in blender or food processor. Return to pot. Stir in half and half. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat without boiling. Serve hot or cold. Makes 7 cups or 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

316 calories; 1236 mg sodium; 54 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 58% calories from fat.

CABBAGE AND BEET SOUP

1 quart beef broth

2 cups peeled and diced raw beets

1 onion, chopped

2 cups coarsely chopped cabbage

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/2 cup sour cream

Combine broth, beets, onion and cabbage in soup pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, replacing any liquid that evaporates with additional broth or water. Simmer about 30 minutes or until beets are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer another 5 minutes, stirring to blend in seasonings.

Stir in vinegar and remove from heat. Serve hot or cold and dollop each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream. Makes 8 cups, or 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

116 calories; 778 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 29% calories from fat.

COFFEE CUSTARD

3 cups milk

2 tablespoons instant coffee powder

2 egg yolks

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Butter 8 custard cups. Set shallow pan large enough to hold baking cups in oven and add 1 inch hot water.

Stir together milk and coffee in saucepan. Heat over low heat until very hot, stirring frequently. Beat egg yolks and eggs together just enough to blend. Stir in sugar and salt and slowly add hot, coffee-flavored milk, stirring constantly.

Strain about 1/2 cup into each custard cup. Place in prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees about 15 to 20 minutes, or just until outside edges are set and center still trembles. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Custard may be baked in buttered 1-quart baking dish. Allow about 40 minutes baking time.

Each serving contains about:

425 calories; 146 mg sodium; 163 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 54 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0 fiber; 45% calories from fat.

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