Soups are generally divided into two groups: clear soups and thick soups. Clear soups primarily have a broth or consommé base; thick soups have more of a sauce base with added or blended ingredients. Add the cultural diversity of the Bay Area and doors open to a world with varied international soups as commonplace.
Like food dishes in general, the distinct "personality" of a soup usually relates to the region of the country from which it emanates - spicier in the warmer micro-climates, heartier in the colder climes. For example, the Thai Shrimp Soup features unique spices - galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass - and offers a hearty, low-calorie dish. Miso Soup from Japan is a lighter broth soup, with the unique ingredients of jombu, a kind of seaweed; shiso, a form of mint; and miso, a soybean paste. Miso comes in many varieties, ranging in color from red to yellow: the darker the miso, the stronger and saltier the taste. The Black Bean Soup (Cuban) is mild flavored and, served with cornbread or warm tortillas, is robust enough to be its own meal.
For truly authentic tastes, you may have to visit local ethnic markets to find some of the specialty ingredients but the outcomes will be well worth the food-shopping adventures.
The soup recipes here are a mix of cultures and "personalities" but each invites the chance to stay inside, savor the smells from the soup pot and be warmed by the tasty flavors. Serve each as a meal starter or with a salad or sandwiches for a total meal.
Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Thai Shrimp Soup): 4 servings
1-1/2 pounds medium shrimp, uncooked
9-1/2 cups water, divided
1/2 cup chopped peeled fresh galangal, about 2 oz. (Note: If you can't find galangal, substitute ginger.)
1/2 cup (2-inch) pieces of peeled fresh lemongrass, about 4 stalks
6 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves (Note: If you can't find the leaves, substitute three 2-inch lime rind strips.)
1/2 cup fresh or canned straw mushrooms, quartered
2 Tbsp roasted red chili paste (such as Thai Kitchen)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Thai chilies
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
6 Tbsp chopped dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
4 lime wedges
1. Peel and de-vein the shrimp, reserving shells. Combine shells and 6 cups water in a large pot or Dutch oven; bring to a simmer and cook 1 hour.
2. Strain broth through a sieve into a bowl, discarding the solids. Combine broth and remaining 3-1/2 cups water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil.
3. Add galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to the pan; simmer for 10 minutes. Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids and return liquid to pan.
4. Add mushrooms, chili paste, fish sauce and chilies; bring all to a boil and stir in shrimp, green onions and cilantro; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done.
5. Discard chilies; stir in fresh lime juice. Place rice noodles into 4 bowls and ladle 2 cups soup into each bowl; sprinkle with peanuts and serve with lime wedges.
Black Bean Soup: 10 servings
2 bay leaves
1 pound dried black beans
12-1/2 cups water, divided
1 Tbsp canola oil
3-1/2 cups chopped green pepper (about 3 medium)
2-1/2 cups coarsely chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped shallots (about 2 small)
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups diced peeled avocado
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1-1/2 cups chopped smoked ham, fully cooked (and preferably 33%-less sodium)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup light sour cream
10 tsp unsalted pumpkinseed kernels, toasted
1/3 cup finely chopped seeded jalapeno pepper (about 2 medium)
Lime wedges, optional
1. Place bay leaves and beans in Dutch oven; add 12 cups water to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2-1/2 hours or until beans are tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion and shallots to pan; cook 10 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in cumin, dried and fresh oregano; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Place seasoning mixture in a blender; add remaining 1/2 cup water and puree until smooth.
3. Add seasoning mixture, sugar and salt to the beans; simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves. Combine avocado and juice, toss gently.
4. Ladle 3/4 cup bean mixture into each of 10 bowls; top each serving with 3 Tbsp avocado mixture, 3 Tbsp red onion, 2 Tbsp ham, 1-1/2 Tbsp cilantro, 1-1/2 Tbsp sour cream, 1 tsp pumpkinseed and 1/2 tsp jalapeno pepper. Serve with lime wedges, as desired.
Miso Soup: 4 servings
Dashi (Japanese broth base):
8-1/2 cups water
1 3/4 oz. kombu (kelp), cut into 4-inch pieces
2 Tbsp miso (soybean paste)
1/2 cup straw mushrooms, rinsed and halved
4 oz. silken firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 (1/2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
3 oz. thinly sliced shiso (Note: If you can't find shiso, substitute spinach.)
1. To prepare dashi: combine 8-2/3 cups water and kombu in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer, about 1 hour, until reduced to about 4 cups liquid. Strain dashi through a sieve over a bowl; discard the solids.
2. Place 1/4 cup dashi in a small bowl; stir in miso. Return dashi to pan; bring to simmer. Add mushrooms, tofu and ginger to pan. Simmer 10 minutes; discard ginger. Stir in green onions and shiso. Serve immediately.