Are you, like me, one of those who dread the darkness and get a sinking feeling in your stomach when the light fades in mid-afternoon now that Daylight Saving Time is over? Here’s an antidote: Make soup! There is nothing like homemade soup to warm the belly and lift the spirit.
Anticipating the time change, I got a head start. Not only were fresh, local vegetables still available in abundance and variety, but I also like to have some soups on hand in the freezer for those days when I need the comfort of soup but don’t have the time for the cooking.
Instead of pulling out my old standbys, I’ve been making the soups from “Soups and Sides,” by Cathy Walthers of Chilmark. It is filled with delicious, straightforward recipes for soups paired with a side dish that is well matched in taste and texture. It’s lavishly photographed by Alison Shaw, so even perusing the book makes you feel good.
First I made Carrot-Ginger Soup. Full of leeks, onions, ginger, and carrots sweetened by a little orange juice and maple syrup, each ingredient can be tasted and savored. The consistency is creamy and smooth even though there is no cream in it. It is delicious.
For a heartier soup — a stew, really, since I took the advice of Ms. Walthers and added shredded chicken — I heartily recommend making Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili with Cilantro Pesto. Paired with cornbread, this becomes an incredibly satisfying, stick-to-the-ribs meal.
The staff at Polly Hill Arboretum must know something about the power of soup as the days darken. Earlier this month, as part of a program called Nature and Nurture, Ms. Walthers led a soup-making demonstration and tasting, recipes included.
I’m hoping all this soup-making will give me a head start and help prepare me for the darkness. The cozy smell of soup on the stove certainly makes it easier to come indoors and settle in. I don’t understand the alchemy that transforms the smell and taste of soup into the feeling of being loved and cared for, but it happens every time, so I’ll keep making soup, especially when the dark comes on.
You can make a simple, creamy soup without cream — and this carrot soup is a perfect example.
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, and sliced
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into ½;-inch rounds
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
5 cups water
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (or more if needed)
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1. In a large soup pot, sauté the onion in the butter or oil over medium heat for 5 minutes until golden. Add the leeks and carrots and continue cooking, stirring, until the leek is softened, about 8 minutes. Mix in ginger and cook until fragrant, 1 minute longer. Add water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer soup until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool a few minutes.
2. Puree the soup in batches in the blender, adding orange juice and maple syrup. Blend each batch for I or 2 minutes to get the soup super smooth and creamy. Add additional water or orange juice if the soup seems a bit thick. Return the soup to the pot and heat gently. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed.
Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili with Cilantro Pesto
Katie Le Lievre, owner of HipShake Caterers in Boston, makes a vegetarian chili that combines black beans, corn, and butternut squash, that already has a cult following in my neck of the woods. (It also tastes good with shredded chicken.)
SERVES 6 to 8
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, with juices
4 cups 1/2-inch diced butternut squash(from about 1 medium squash)
2 to 3 cups water
2 cups cooked black beans
Kernels from 3 to 4 ears fresh corn (about 2 cups)
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt Cilantro pesto
(recipe follows) or chopped cilantro
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 bunch cilantro, washed and tough stems removed (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup canola or olive oil, or a mix
1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onions in oil until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add spices and continue cooking, stirring to prevent burning, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and break apart with a masher. Add squash and 2 cups of the water. Bring to a boil, turn down heat to a simmer, and cover. Let simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Add the black beans, corn, and the additional water if needed, and simmer to let flavors blend, 5 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Season with salt.
3. To make the pesto, purée the walnuts, cilantro, garlic, and oil in a food processor until smooth. Add salt to taste. Serve the soup with cilantro pesto on top or with plain chopped cilantro, if you prefer.