Nothing takes the chill out of a dark evening like a steaming bowl of stew and a fresh loaf of bread.
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The winter forecast calls for deliciously healthy, hearty soups and stews, especially since soup season involves flavorful herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. Virtually any kind of culinary herb is suitable for soup—either featured as a solo act or as a tasty combination of herbal flavors. From the simple to the sublime, seasoning herbs are as foundational to a soup’s overall flavor as a tasty stock.
A steaming bowl of homemade soup can be simmered to perfection and then served, or prepared the day before so it’s ready and waiting to be served at your convenience. In fact, homemade soups and stews are the kind of comfort meals that actually taste better when made a day or two in advance, refrigerated and then reheated just before serving. Allowing the ingredients more time to marry is an excellent way to maximize their flavors for an even greater taste sensation.
What’s more, homemade soups and stews provide the whole- food essentials needed to energize and replenish your body during winter, especially with ingredients such as complex carbohydrates and complete proteins in the form of legumes, whole grains, lean meats, roots and other fresh winter vegetables. So go ahead and simmer up a delicious dimension of herbal-infused soups and stews. The aroma alone is guaranteed to arouse anyone’s appetite.
The quality of stock or broth can make a difference in the overall flavor of a soup or stew. A good stock imparts a depth that can never be achieved from a water-based soup. While bouillon cubes or granules may serve in a pinch, ready-made stock (usually sold in cartons by the quart) or homemade stock is always better.
Poultry, beef, fish or vegetables serve as the foundational ingredients for a tasty soup stock. All it takes is a pot of simmering water, plus meat, bones, a sliced onion, a couple of celery stalks, a carrot or two, a bay leaf and any other vegetables or seasonings that sound appealing. You can also make a specialty seafood stock by using a combination of clean fish heads, shells, bones and trimmings.
Rev up the flavor of your homemade soup with instant flavor enhancers. Try a dollop or two of pesto, nut butter, miso, tomato paste or honey. Or add depth with white or red wine, herbal vinegar, Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce.
Garnishes are another way to enhance the quality of a soup. Croutons or oyster crackers used to garnish chowders are a classic. But why stop there? Try topping soup with shredded cheese, a dollop of yogurt or swirl low-fat ricotta cheese into the soup. How about a sprinkling of fresh herbs, toasted nuts or seeds?
Prepared soup can be refrigerated for several days, but wait to add any cream or garnishes until the day the soup is reheated and served.
Kris Wetherbee is a contributing editor to The Herb Companion. She cooks and gardens in western Oregon.
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