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As Exciting as Vegetable Soup

March 02, 1995|FAYE LEVY

Vegetable soups have long been family supper favorites in practically every cuisine. Their charm lies in their simplicity. With only two or three vegetables, cooks have created delicious soups like French potato and leek soup with a balance of flavors and textures.

Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips and potatoes are perfect for hearty vegetable soups--they lightly thicken the soup and make it satisfying. Choose at least one vegetable from the onion family--onions, leeks, shallots or garlic. They give the soup a lovely aroma and enhance the flavor.

You might think that homemade vegetable soups take long to prepare, but your soup can be ready in less than 30 minutes if you proceed efficiently. Undoubtedly you will find it convenient to prepare enough soup for more than one meal; vegetable soups reheat beautifully.

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Even if you use water as the cooking liquid, these easy, warming soups will be tasty. For greater depth of flavor, use commercial vegetable, chicken or meat broth. At the supermarket you'll find a broad selection of ready-made broths (canned, powdered and frozen), including low-salt and nonfat varieties. Of course, if you happen to have poached a chicken, that chicken broth will contribute the best taste to vegetable soups.

To round out the flavor of a vegetable soup, add one or two herbs. Dried thyme, bay leaves, oregano and dill are good choices and are probably in the pantry. So are nutmeg, ginger, cumin, curry powder or a few drops of hot pepper sauce.

Chunky soups are the quickest to prepare. An added bonus is that the vegetables keep their identity. Sometimes I like to vary the texture and taste by pureeing half the vegetables to thicken the soup.

Crusty bread is soup's classic partner. If your bread basket contains a loaf of French or Italian bread that has become dry, cut it into cubes and sprinkle them in the soup at the last minute as fat-free croutons. Other good accompaniments are steaming hot rice, couscous, barley or wheat berries.

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One way to get ahead in preparing soup is not to cut all the ingredients ahead. If the carrots need to cook for five minutes before you add the onions, chop the onions while the carrots are cooking. Mince any garlic while the soup is simmering. It's practical to have a large cutting board so you can work comfortably, and a heavy, sharp knife to make chopping easy.

Busy cooks will enjoy another useful quality of these classic comfort foods: No special shopping trip is required. As the ingredients needed are likely to be in the kitchen, you can make these soups on the spur of the moment.

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It's hard to believe you can make such a tasty soup so easily and with so few ingredients. And it's very inexpensive too. You can double the recipe and serve a chunky soup the first day, then puree it and turn it into a smooth soup for another day. This soup is great with hot cooked rice spooned into each bowl.

QUICK CARROT SOUP WITH ONIONS AND THYME

1 pound medium carrots, peeled, if desired

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken or vegetable broth, or 2 cups homemade broth

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

2 medium onions

4 cloves garlic, coarsely diced, optional

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt

Freshly ground pepper, optional

Cut wide part of carrots in half lengthwise. Cut carrots into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in saucepan with broth, water and bay leaf. Bring to simmer.

Meanwhile, dice onions. Add to broth along with garlic and thyme. Bring to boil. Cover and cook over medium-low heat so that soup cooks at low boil or until carrots are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

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