Love letters to soup

James Levin/The Diamondback

Published on October 24, 2014

Soup is the world’s watery best friend.

Throughout the millennia, we’ve pureed, mashed, creamed, chopped, cooked, sauteed, blended and poured for the sole purpose of the warm, liquid-y magic we slurp up together. Soup is a luxurious appetizer, but soup is also a comfy concoction for nights lounging on your couch.

As the campus swings into flu season, soup is the go-to feel-better medicine. It makes our sniffles a little better and helps our fevers subside.

So here’s to soup, and its ability to get us through the not-so-good times and the great ones.

Broccoli cheddar soup

By Angelo Bavaro | For The Diamondback

I claim to love Panera Bread even though I’ve only tried two items on its menu.

Until last June, I had never ordered anything other than the restaurant’s chicken Caesar salad, partially because I’m an extremely picky eater and mainly because I’m afraid of taking chances.

Now, I’m all about Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup.

It wasn’t an easy step for me to take. I almost always stick to my regular picks when I go out to eat. (And by regular picks, I mean either a chicken Caesar salad or a cheeseburger.)

That fateful June evening, my friend said, “You should probably try something new,” rolling her eyes after I told her I was going to order a chicken Caesar salad.

“Eh,” I shrugged. “What else is good?”

“You’d like the broccoli cheddar soup,” she said.

Because I trusted her taste in food and “broccoli cheddar soup” sounded simple enough for my tastes, I decided to go ahead and order a bowl. I took a nice, hard look at the soup before I actually put a spoonful in my mouth — reluctantly, of course. And suddenly, everything was right in the world.

The broccoli and cheddar melted together to create the most perfect blend of creamy warmth and comfort. It was a pairing greater than Hall and Oates, the duo behind the greatest song of all time, “You Make My Dreams.” It was more than just an exceptional representation of what soup should taste like.

The bowl also represented my embracing of the unknown, a world of which I have always been afraid. The unknown was no longer a dark and gated pit of blackness, but a yellowish bowl of broccoli cheddar soup full of life’s greatest joys and experiences.

In that bowl was a new man, a man unafraid to ditch his usual order of a cheeseburger and fries for a steaming plate of Thai noodles. In that bowl was a man who suddenly wanted to go skydiving and had confidence in his future. So, if you ask me what’s so great about broccoli cheddar soup, I’’ll respond with four simple words: Adventure is out there.

Butternut Squash Soup

By Zoë DiGiorgio | Staff writer

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cups cubed butternut squash, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Sea salt, ground black pepper, and Old Bay to taste

 

Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook until vegetables have begun to soften and onion turns translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in butternut squash, thyme, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree soup. Alternatively, let the soup cool slightly and carefully puree in batches in an upright blender.

In the midst of all the pumpkin spice-flavored products or the more recent trend of caramel apple-flavored everything, it is easy to lose sight of one of the richest, most savory fall flavors: butternut squash.

Butternut squash might be overlooked in favor of other, rounder gourds, but there is nothing that can warm a person from the inside out quite like butternut squash soup. Butternut squash is, on the whole, quite tasty, though it is easy to see why some might be reluctant to try it. In general, it seems daunting to cook.

Surprisingly, the best butternut squash soup I’ve ever had was at the South Campus Dining Hall my freshman year. Though I’m not a big fan of soup, it was so rich and flavorful that after a hearty bowl of the orange puree for lunch, I helped myself to the dish again for dinner with a side of pizza.

In the following months and even in the following year, I scanned the soup station often, waiting in anticipation of the return of perhaps the tastiest dish that has ever come from Dining Services.

I tried to find a replacement for the soup, but to no avail. Though Target carried some butternut squash soup, it wasn’t even close to matching what I had consumed that fateful autumn day; it was too sweet and nutty, and no amount of Old Bay or hot peppers quite managed to make the soup taste the same as the one I remembered.

To this day, I have yet to find one nearly as good, but there’s no harm in experimenting with new recipes. Here’s one for classic butternut squash soup, adapted from wholefoodsmarket.com with a slight twist.

New England clam chowder

By Danielle Ohl | Senior staff writer

The first time I remember having New England clam chowder, I was in its namesake — Boston, to be exact. I don’t know how old I was, but I was advanced enough to be voraciously curious about the steaming whitish stew that street vendors, upscale cafes and family restaurants alike seemed to be doling out left and right. Plus,  it was in a bread bowl. A bread bowl!

I had to have some, and as soon as I did, I knew what all the hype was about.

Creamy, hearty, earthy but not disgusting (yeah, I’m looking at you, truffles), New England clam chowder feels like a warm blanket for your soul (your cold soul, especially if you live in New England).

It will never be the most upscale item on the menu. It won’t be the most dangerous or daring choice. Hell, it might not even be the best thing you can order. None of that matters, though, because New England clam chowder is a versatile mainstay, and a tasty one at that.

You can spice it up with cayenne or coarsely ground black pepper. You can thicken it with your favorite crackers or a bit of crusty bread. You can amp up its savor with bacon bits and chives. It’s always an option, whether you’re  embarking on a whale-watching expedition off the Rhode Island coast or just sitting around in your living room in Pennsylvania, as it is for me. New England clam chowder is your jovial old friend whom you bump into every now and again as the soup of the day, or when your mom says, “Guess what we’re having tonight?” The experience is comforting and satisfying every time.

Plus, it’s better than Manhattan clam chowder. That stuff is gross.

 

French onion soup

By Michael Errigo | Senior staff writer

When French onion soup comes out of the kitchen, a small bowl with cheese overflowing its sides like a mini-volcano of flavor, the first thing you notice is the smell. It’s not great.

I’ve tried a lot of French onion soup in my day — I’d say it’s my go-to appetizer — and the smell is the only reason to take issue with the best soup on the planet. Stemming from the cheese, it’s usually a pungent force, one that only gets stronger as you bring the first beautiful spoonful to your mouth. But don’t let this dissuade you. Don’t let something so trivial stand in the way of tasting greatness.

I remember receiving a cup of French onion soup at a restaurant in Ocean City that smelled like death. Just awful. But it was one of the best bowls I’ve ever had, and, like I said, I’ve tried plenty.

The basis of the soup is simple. It’s broth — usually beef — mixed with caramelized onions and topped with a crouton and some kind of cheese — often Gruyere or Swiss. It is often served gratineed, which the Internet explains as “cooked with a golden crust of cheese.”

Do I need to say anything more? The very construction of the soup involves the phrase “golden crust of cheese.”

But the cheese isn’t the only highlight. The broth is a perfect mix of hearty beef flavoring and the delicate touch of soft onion. The mixture tastes like warmth would taste if it were a food. Not warmth as in temperature — plenty of soups are hot — but warmth, the feeling. Sitting in the broth is a piece of French bread. Once a symbol of strong, crusty perfection, the bread becomes a delicate sponge under the spell of the soup.

French onion does that. It changes things.

When I tell people my soup of choice, the reaction is extreme and usually goes along one of two lines.

1. “So you, too, live in the light? Then I shall call you my brother.”

2. “I hate French onion soup and I hate you.”

This soup is like the president — people feel strongly about it one way or another, and it possesses more power than any of us could imagine. I stand firmly on one side of this heated debate. I will never waver in my love for French onion soup.

Pho

By Warren Zhang | Senior staff writer

Pho is about contrast. Contrast in texture, between the soft brisket, chewy tendon and crunchy bean sprouts, and taste — sweet, sour, savory and spicy. Even the colors of the soup complement one another well.

Perhaps it’s more educational to talk about what pho isn’t. Pho isn’t chicken noodle soup — it’s just as comforting, but its blend of cinnamon, star anise and other spices lend it far more intrigue than your grandmother’s old family recipe.

Pho isn’t wholly Vietnamese: You can easily identify its various French influences (the use of beef as the protein, the dark brown color lent by caramelized onions). Pho isn’t one recipe; chances are you’ll never have two bowls that are exactly the same. But above all else, pho isn’t just a bowl of soup.

Pho has a wholeness about it. From soup to noodles, meat to basil, pho just feels like a complete dish. A bowl of it is incredibly filling to the point that draining it to the very last drop will leave you wanting for nothing.

Finding a pho joint is easy, but finding a great one is difficult. Even a mediocre bowl of pho, however, is still a transformative experience. Though I’ve had bowls of it during the summer, winter is really when pho shines.

I’ve trudged down Route 1 through cold sleet, slush and snow for a bowl of the good stuff, and it’s been worth it every time.

I know it as soon as I sit down. The waiter slides an impossibly large ceramic bowl toward me. I squeeze a bit of lime, add a handful of bean sprouts and squirt a touch of hot sauce. Before the first mouthful, I’m already happy.

 

Saaru

By Beena Raghavendran | Senior staff writer

When I head home to Ohio on breaks from college, I usually text my mom while I’m in the airport.

“What do you want for dinner?” she’ll message me excitedly, probably with food-related emojis.

She doesn’t even need to ask anymore, because my answer is unwavering: saaru.

It’s an Indian dish that takes me straight home to the golden walls and lights of my kitchen, where I’ll eat a big bowl of it with my family at our kitchen stools with my dog begging for some of the savory creation. It’s known in restaurants and across India by other names, such as “rasam,” and Wikipedia calls it a “South Indian soup,” but that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

Making saaru seems complicated to me, because I can never make it the way my mom does. It’s chopped tomatoes and spices in a pot, plus water and curry leaves. Lentils and tamarind pulp and my mom’s secret ingredient — which I can’t reveal, sorry — complete the dish. It’s served warm and usually over rice, with my mom’s fabulous recipe for spicy Indian green beans and ghee (essentially melted butter).

Saaru’s essence is tomato with a spicy kick, and it’s warm enough to heat up your soul and wash away your problems. It becomes just you, the bowl of saaru and the people you’re with.

I’ve grown up eating it, through summer days and cold winters and SATs and play practices and stuffy noses and all-nighters and celebrations and hard times. Saaru has always been there, and I know it always will be.

My mom’s recipe for saaru is legendary. Family craves it. Friends come over to our house not for our company, but to eat a bowl of saaru with rice. People drink it from mugs because it’s that good.

And me? I slug through cooking dinner in my South Campus Commons apartment on chilly fall nights, knowing that trying to replicate my mother’s saaru would leave me disappointed and distraught and homesick.

So I whip up something else and count down the days until I’ll be back home with my favorite comfort food that’s so much more than food.

 

Soups when you’re sick

By Julia Reed | For The Diamondback

There is something nice about being sick, burrowing beneath your blankets and watching countless hours of Netflix while eating a nice hot bowl of soup. However, one poor decision has the potential to destroy this perfect picture.

Don’t let it happen to you this year. Choose the best soup to make you feel better, or risk making yourself feel worse.

After my first cold of the year, I decided to spend a recovery night at home, where I was free to cough without covering my mouth and discard my dirty tissues on the floor. But I was mostly excited for the soup. Every cold-ridden person dreams of a huge bowl of chicken noodle soup to eat while watching whatever movie FX happens to be playing that night.

And I got my soup. My pantry was full of an array of Progresso: cream of mushroom, split pea and clam chowder. Somewhat disappointed in my choice of options, I grabbed the can of split pea and hoped for the best.

Well, it turns out that eating something that looks like the product of illness while you’re sick produces a logical result: feeling even more sick. Despite being slightly amused that my soup looked identical to what I had been blowing into tissues, I found it pretty repulsive. So learn from my mistakes: Stay away from split pea during cold season.

Consistency is key. Avoid the thick soups in general. These include any type of chowders or cream of *insert food here* or its more appropriate title, cream of mucus. At this point, your phlegm is thick enough; there’s no need to enhance it.

It’s OK to add a little spice to your soups to clear up the sinuses, but be careful. When you’re sick, your stomach can only take so much. You want to be sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket, not on the toilet. Also, the little floating pieces of spice can get caught in your throat the wrong way, causing you to cough more than you already have been. So, if you were even considering chili, don’t. And maybe it’s not the best idea to try your mom’s experimental spicy tortilla soup.

If you want that warm fuzzy feeling, stick with the classics.

Vegetable soup. It’s easy, unoffensive and low-risk. To make up for lost time in school, grab a can of alphabet soup. You can work your brain from home. Another safe option is plain chicken or beef broth.

But the real choice is obvious: chicken noodle soup. Eighty percent broth, 12 percent noodle, 8 percent carrot. There is nothing more perfect for a sore throat than the thin, benign, hot sensation provided by the chicken broth. Chicken noodle soup gives you the option for solid food as well. With the consistency of baby food, it’s easy for any sick person to eat, but the chunks of noodles and carrots can be picked around by those not quite ready for solid food. Chicken noodle soup is more than just soup, it’s iconic. It’s romantic. It’s everything good about being sick.

Soup can make or break your experience with a cold. Choose wisely.

 

Tomato soup

By Dustin Levy | Staff writer

When you’re sick, you don’t ask for tomato soup. No one on Top Chef ever wowed the judges with a dope bowl of tomato soup. And your friends never recommend a restaurant because “you just have to try the tomato soup.”

 

And that’s because the unheralded soup really isn’t anything spectacular. It tastes like SpaghettiOs without the adorable noodles. But what tomato soup lacks in flair, it makes up for in clutchness. Maybe tomato soup isn’t all that great on its own, but it’s the ultimate sidekick.

Take, for instance, the combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup, basically the best non-Reese’s blend in food history. Not only does this bring out the best in tomato soup, but your grilled cheese also benefits as well.

How about Fritos? They’re fine, but clearly the bridesmaid to Doritos or Cheetos. But dump a bag of Fritos into tomato soup and you’ve got the best snack on Earth.

Tomato soup also ticks the most important box when it comes to soup — the way it blends with cheese. French onion soup may get all the attention, but tomato soup truly shines with a cheesy counterpart. Ever sprinkle a little Parmesan over your bowl of Campbell’s creamy? You’re very welcome.

So next time you’re at the supermarket, don’t think about what soup you’d enjoy. Think about what you’d enjoy with your soup while grabbing that can of creamy tomato.

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