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January brings with it a bounty of good intentions to eat better. The problem is that for those of us in cold climates, it’s winter which means that we rarely want salads and smoothies.
(Even if occasionally a citrus, avocado, and shaved fennel salad or a pineapple mango ginger green smoothie is worth the chill.)
Which means that our best vegetable delivery systems come in the form of soups and stews and pretty much anything warm that gets ladled into bowls.
This collection is mostly vegetarian, calls for the kind of produce that’s generally abundant in grocery stores in winter, and is meant to be doable for people with busy lives and only so much energy to devote to getting a meal on the table.
There’s a range of flavor profiles here. If you like Italian go for the pasta e ceci or the roasted cauliflower soup. If Chinese or pan-Asian flavors are your thing try the hot and sour soup with (optional) bacon or the carrot ginger soup.
And the tart apple and squash soup is lovely for fans of contemporary American cooking.
And that’s only half of the stuff on the list.
You don’t need much fancy equipment for these.
I tend to make most of my soups and stews in a Le Creuset Dutch oven, but any large and heavy-bottomed pot will work.
If you like any soups pureed or even partially pureed for extra body, an immersion blender will make your life so much easier.
And a nice ladle will make dishing out any of these recipes a pleasure.
Healthyish Cold Weather Soups and Stewy Things
These cold weather soups and stews are generally healthyish and vegetable-focused (even if some of the call for chicken broth, a little bit of fish sauce, or some optional bacon).
They are all feasible on a weeknight, and most of them get better with age, which make for excellent make-ahead flexibility and leftover options.
These are the sorts of dishes I turn to when I'm looking for something that feels nourishing that still manages to warm you from from the inside.
This soup has some real savory flavor from the onions, garlic, soy sauce, peanut butter, and fish sauce. It has some heat from the ginger (both the fresh and the pickled) and the red pepper flakes and sriracha, but while the heat is perceptible, I wouldn’t call the soup spicy (heat fiends can add more sriracha if they want). It is a smooth soup, but it is not a heavy creamy soup. It actually feels quite light. The garnishes are essential to this soup, the bits of pickled ginger, the sesame oil, and the scallions. This soup is gluten free if made with tamari rather than soy sauce and vegetarian/vegan if made with vegetable stock and without the optional fish sauce. It is dairy free as written. If you’re going with vegetable stock, I like the flavor profile of Imagine Organic’s No-Chicken Broth for something like this. Because I generally avoid cans and hate having odd amounts of coconut milk leftover, I love using little boxes of coconut milk–they’re the perfect size for this recipe.
This soup is a hearty, brothy riot of hot, sour, salty and sweet flavors. It comes together quickly and doesn’t need to spend hours simmering on the stove, but it keeps well for several days. It is gluten free if you use tamari instead of soy sauce and it could be vegetarian if you omit the bacon and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock–there is still plenty of flavor and enough protein in here that I’m confident it would still be satisfying. This is definitely not the most traditional version of hot and sour soup out there, but it stays true to the spirit of homestyle Chinese cooking and I think it’s delicious.
This parmesan rind broth is simple to make, but you can skip it if you like and use a chicken stock or vegetable stock or water (in that case, use about 4 cups). In Chicago, I’ve found parmesan rinds for sale at Whole Foods and Eataly. You can also save your parmesan rinds and store them in the freezer for months. This soup really benefits from the balsamic-glazed shallots, so don’t be tempted to skip them. They’re really simple to make. I especially love this drizzled with a little smoked olive oil. In Chicago I buy mine at City Olive. But it will be lovely with any olive oil you like.
This is an unpretentious weeknight kind of soup. The amount of black peppercorns is right, but don’t be alarmed. They give the soup a nice background heat. But because of them, this isn’t the kind of soup that you want to leave simmering on the stove for hours (I did that once, and the black pepper flavor took over). This is vegan if you make it with water or vegetable stock and gluten free if the stock you use is certified gluten free (or you could always use water).
I love the way this soup balances sweet squash and tart apples. It’s a marriage of two of fall’s most iconic vegetables and fruits, and it really works. Use any orange-fleshed winter squash you like. Red kuri is one of my favorites, and it’s what I used here, but butternut, Kabocha, delicata, acorn, carnival would all be good here as well. Choose a tart apple for this–empire was my choice. This can be made with either chicken or vegetable stock, and it’s vegetarian if you use the latter (I’ve had good experience with the Swanson brand for both chicken and vegetable stock). I highly recommend making the spicy maple pepitas–they add a great crunchy texture to the soup. This soup is gluten free as is. If you avoid dairy, you could swap in olive oil for the butter, coconut milk for the half and half, and skip the creme fraiche garnish (then the soup would be vegan). This calls for 5-6 cups of stock. I know most stock comes in 4-cup packages–feel free to use 4 cups of stock and add water for the rest of the liquid. This freezes well, but squash soup that’s been frozen tends to think out a little after it thaws. If you plan to freeze this, make it slightly thicker than you want it so you have the right texture later. Oh, and while you can do this in a standing blender, it’s so much easier with a stick blender.
Pasta e ceci is a traditional Roman dish that's a humble stew of pasta and chickpeas. This version uses canned chickpeas and skips the tomatoes and anchovies that sometimes appear in the dish.
Here, half of the chickpeas get blended with an immersion blender to make a thick stewy texture.
I call for ditalini here, but you can use any small pasta you like. You could easily make this gluten free with a gluten-free pasta.
The parmesan rind is optional, but I encourage you to give it a try because it adds great flavor. (Without the parmesan rind, this dish is vegan and dairy free.)
This dish takes a simple head of savoy cabbage and transforms it into something tender and rich and savory and delicious. I wouldn’t red cabbage here, and while I think you could get away with green cabbage it's worth noting that savoy is more delicate both in texture and flavor than the other two. I have made this with both chicken and vegetable stock and it’s excellent either way. It’s vegetarian if you make it with vegetable stock; it’s a bit richer with chicken stock. For the cheese, Stevens uses Saint Marcellin, which comes in little individual rounds. I’ve made this with the much easier to find (and cheaper) Saint Andre, and one of my favorite soft cheeses Delice de Bourgogne and it’s been wonderful both ways. Don’t be intimidated by the fancy French cheese names. What you want is a soft, triple cream style of cheese, like Brie or Camembert but with more complex flavor. There are plenty of options out there, but I know that what’s available at any given grocery store varies widely. I think the most widely available cheese in this style is Saint Andre, which I have seen at Trader Joe’s and at our local Jewel. We usually eat this as a light main dish, but it would also be lovely as a vegetable side. As a main, it’s nice with a hunk of crusty bread.
This is a simple soup that plays on the sweet and savory qualities of sweet potato. The heat here is noticeable, but still relatively mild. If you like things extra spicy, feel free to throw in a little extra cayenne or jalapeño. Note that if you intend to make this vegetarian/vegan you should be sure to use vegetable broth or water, and if you’d like to make it gluten free be sure that whatever broth you use is certified gluten free.
This meal is a simple weeknight staple. The trick is to bloom the cumin and smoked paprika in oil along with the onion and garlic to bring out the flavor, use the liquid in the canned beans to create a full-bodied sauce, add a bit of savory umami flavor with soy sauce (or tamari to keep it gluten free), and add of bit sherry vinegar at the end to brighten the flavors. You can make this with white or brown rice. When using brown rice, I prefer to use the short grain variety for its pleasing nubbly texture. The sky's the limit on the toppings. Use whatever you like. I usually top it with some plain Greek yogurt, salsa, avocado, and a dash of hot sauce, but shredded cheese, sour cream, scallions, diced tomatoes, pickled onions, a runny egg, are a few of the topping that I'd recommend. Use whatever you like. This recipe is for two servings using a single can of beans, but it would be easy to double or triple to feed more people. The more you scale it up and the narrower and deeper the the saucepan you use, the longer it may take for the liquid to reduce, so keep an eye on it and allow a few more minutes for it to thicken if necessary.
This is a reliable, warming, easy-to-make, mostly-from-the-pantry meal. You can adjust the spices to your preference. I start with whole spices and grind them in an inexpensive coffee grinder that I dedicate to spice grinding (you probably don’t want cumin and brown mustard seed powder in your coffee). You can use pre-ground spices if you prefer, but cut the amounts in half because whole spices take up more volume in a measuring spoon. You can make it with any Indian curry powder you like. I usually make this with coconut oil because I love the subtle added coconut fragrance when I’m cooking with Indian flavors, but you can use a neutral oil or ghee if you prefer. I use frozen peas because I usually make this dish in colder months when fresh peas are scarce. I usually serve this over basmati rice (either white or brown), but it’s also good with naan or pita or on its own. You can top with a dollop of plain yogurt if you want to add some creaminess. This is a great make-ahead meal–it keeps well and the flavor deepens as it sits.