Here in Vermont, we have arrived at winter's bottom: The snows are their snowiest and the cold is as cold as it's likely to get. That's life a month out from the solstice, frozen days when the sun's disappearing act catches up with our thermometers and our moods. It's time for fires and down comforters. For books and conversation. And for good soup.
In my book, soup is the ideal winter food. A steaming bowl of rich broth dotted with savory morsels of this and that warms better than the thickest blanket. Soup feeds the bones, lightens the heart, and insulates the soul. But I have a difficult time ascribing these mysterious powers to soup from a can. To me, they come only from soup I've made myself.
Homemade broth, like most of the best things in life, doesn't happen instantly. Its first ingredients require patience and planning. We eat whole chickens and turkeys for supper during the week, and once they're picked clean for lunches, put their remains in a big pot, cover all with water, and simmer the works down to about half its starting volume. Vegetarians can make an excellent broth by similarly simmering onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, turnips, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, leeks, and almost anything else. (Scraps from meal preps will boost your mileage.)
Meat or veggie, strain what comes after an afternoon of slow cooking and return the resulting liquid to the stove. Now the fun starts. In my house, we begin by adding onions, carrots, potatoes, yams, and other root vegetables. Maybe some garlic. Herbs and spices come next. We tend to use classics like basil, thyme, rosemary, savory, and oregano, but it's up to your own taste buds. Curry spices are good. Or give your soup an Asian spin with ginger and cardamom.
Then it's wherever you feel like going. Might be a meat soup with bits of ham or bacon, or chicken or turkey saved from other meals. Maybe it's a fish thing with salmon or shrimp. Or a vegetable soup loaded with garden goodness. Beans will work. You can add cooked whole grain pasta. Or pre-cooked whole grains like brown rice, barley, or quinoa. You might add mushrooms or kale. And always broccoli because it's so healthy. The sky is really the limit, and it's hard to go wrong. You can even just toss in whatever leftovers are lying around and see what happens. (Soup is a great way to avoid food waste and a very forgiving food, too). Simmer the works until the vegetables are tender and serve with hearty whole grain bread. You'll never eat canned again.
Of course, there are cook books and websites with recipes. But I find the best soups are spontaneous, freelance creations born of whatever is on hand. It's as easy as simmering some bones, chopping some produce, and bringing it all to a boil. (If you don't have bones, start with conventional or organic vegetable, beef, or chicken stock.) Take the time, and you'll see the difference homemade makes. It's as nutritious as it is delicious. And what could possibly be more comforting than that?