In cold weather, I perk up simple suppers with a bit of smoke — that delicious flavor addition we associate with the grilling days of summer. I would happily enjoy smoked or grilled foods every day. Ditto for homemade soup. Melding the two together proves a match.
Here are two soups with subtle smoke flavors from smoked proteins, such as ham, turkey or fish. Sure to beat the cold-weather blues no matter where you live.
In our family, a leftover holiday hambone tucked away in the freezer means a pot of split pea soup later. A smoky bone, with plenty of meat still clinging, transforms the lowly pea into a satisfying one-pot meal that is part soup/part stew. Lacking a hambone, I will purchase smoked ham hocks from the meat case in large supermarkets or order hocks in advance from the butcher. Smoked turkey drumsticks work well here, too. Whatever bone you choose, any meat that clings to them will render soft when nestled in with the peas, broth and vegetables. I dice the tender meat and add it back to the soup before serving.
These days, I usually opt for yellow split peas in my soup rather than green — my audience holds them in higher regard. I think it’s a color thing. To underscore the pea’s natural sweetness and color, I add carrots and sweet potato.
The second recipe is inspired by a soup I enjoyed at my uncle’s French bistro in Connecticut — a classic, creamy cauliflower soup surprisingly topped with a smoked fish toast. Guy, the chef, topped crusty toasted slices of French baguette with whipped cheese and thin curls of smoked salmon. Bites of the toast between spoonfuls of soup took the bite out of a wintry evening.
The soup proves super easy to make — simply combine everything in the pot, and simmer until the cauliflower is soft. Chopping the cauliflower takes a bit of time, but frozen cauliflower florets can stand in if that helps. For a meatless soup, I use a rich vegetable broth made with lightly roasted onions.
Of course, you can skip the smoked fish toasts and simply serve the soup topped with crunchy croutons and a shower of fresh herbs. Floating a dollop of whipped creme fraiche or plain Greek yogurt and a swirl of fruity olive oil is another way to go.
Part of the pleasure of eating well-made soup are the add-ons that accompany the bowl. At home, I think about swirling in flavorful oil or pesto, chili paste or chopped fresh herbs for another level of flavor. I think about crunch, too, for a textural element. Not just croutons, but fried onions, crumbled toasted chiles, roasted nuts.
All good soup starts with good broth. While I do take pleasure in simmering bones and a few vegetables in water, packaged broth in the grocery store saves time. I look for brands with clean labels, no preservatives and that are made with real ingredients. Check the freezer, too, as there are several good options there now. I really like to use the homemade broth sold at the local butcher shop.
We’re cooking for chilly weather, but with the subtle flavors of warmer days.
Smoky yellow split pea soup with crispy anchos
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 1 1/4 hours
Makes: 6 servings
1 bag (16 ounces) yellow split peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large sweet potato, about 1 pound, peeled, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 celery rib, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 quarts vegetable broth or low-sodium chicken broth
2 small ham hocks or shanks, about 1 to 1 ½ pounds (or smoked turkey drumsticks)
2 to 3 cups diced smoked ham or smoked turkey breast, optional
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup expeller pressed canola, sunflower or safflower oil
3 dried ancho chiles, cored, seeded, each torn into 4 pieces
2 medium shallots, halved, very thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Grated zest of 1 orange
Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro
Rinse split peas in a colander and check them for stones or pebbles. Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, sweet potato, celery and onion. Cook and stir, 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, rinsed peas and broth. Nestle the ham hocks into the pot. Heat to a simmer and cook, partly covered, stirring often, over medium-low heat, until the peas are tender and falling apart, about 1 hour.
Remove the ham hocks, chop any meat on them (no fat or gristle) and return the meat to the soup. Stir in the optional ham. Taste the soup, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, for the soup topping, heat canola oil in small heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Use tongs to toast ancho pieces in the oil for just a few seconds, until they change color and start to crisp. Drain on paper toweling. When cool, use your fingers to roughly crumble the chiles into small pieces.
Add shallots to the canola oil. Cook and stir over low heat until shallots are tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cumin seeds. Cook another minute or so until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, plenty of black pepper and the orange zest.
Serve the soup in warm bowls with a dollop of the yogurt, some of the shallot-cumin oil and crumbled anchos. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Nutrition information per serving: 480 calories, 18 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 64 g carbohydrates, 15 g sugar, 18 protein, 242 mg sodium, 21 g fiber
Creamy cauliflower soup with smoked fish toasts
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Makes: 10 cups, 6 servings
2 small or 1 large head (about 3 pounds total) cauliflower, outer leaves removed
3 medium (9 ounces total) golden potatoes, peeled, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1/4 cup whipping cream or creme fraiche
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
Smoked fish toasts:
20 slices (each 1/4-inch thick) French baguette, about 6 ounces total
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 or 3 ounces smoked salmon, crumbled into large pieces
Chopped fresh chives
Use a large knife to cut cauliflower heads in half. Cut out the tough cores and discard. Roughly chop the florets. Put chopped cauliflower, potatoes, onion and garlic into the bottom of a large (4 or 5-quart) Dutch oven. Add broth. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cover loosely, and cook until vegetables are fall-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Use an immersion blender to puree soup. (Or puree soup in small batches in a blender.) Add cream and cayenne; heat soup to a simmer. Season soup with salt and pepper.
While soup simmers, make the toasts: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush both sides of the bread slices with oil and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake, turning bread slices over, until golden and crispy, about 10 minutes.
Spread cream cheese over toasts while they are still warm. Top with a few pieces of salmon and a sprinkle of chives.
Serve bowls of soup sprinkled with chives and accompanied by the toasts.
Nutrition information per serving: 316 calories, 14 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 37 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 12 protein, 447 mg sodium, 4 g fiber