Comforting Soups


It’s a soupy kind of day…I’m sitting by the fire listening to the horizontal rain pattering against the windowpane.  I’ve totally abandoned my plans for the afternoon…and I’ve decided to make a big pot of comforting soup instead.  Don’t we all love soup, I always have a few containers in the freezer – 2 portion pots that can be defrosted in just a few minutes in any emergency – a virtual hug in a bowl…

Everything from ‘chicken soup for the soul’ to Laksa, that Asian noodle soup you never knew you loved until you tasted it.   Slurpy noodles are super comforting too as is a ricey broth.  Just did a bit of research with Cully and Sully soups to check out what were their bestselling flavours – chicken and vegetable by a long mile, then vegetable soup followed closely by tomato – how perfect do they sound on a wet Sunday afternoon or evening after a stressful day at work…

To make really flavourful soup, you’re going to need good stock – chicken stock is my favourite  for making soups and broths but vegetarians and vegans will need to have a supply of rich vegetable stock.  Fresh ginger and lots of fresh herbs help to boost the flavour and if all else fails, there’s water but it’s difficult to compensate for the lack of a good base.  Nonetheless, Japanese dashi which forms the base of miso soup is really easy to make and accentuates the savoury umami flavour in many dishes.  Years ago when I first cooked in the kitchen at Ballymaloe House, Myrtle Allen showed me this brilliant formula used to make many of the delicious soups on the menu:

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped potatoes

3 cups of any vegetable of your choice or a mixture e.g. carrot, carrot, parsnip and celeriac…pea, bean and courgette…

5 cups stock or 4 stock + 1 cup creamy milk

This formula works brilliantly for a myriad of soups.  We’re in the midst of the root vegetable season now – Jerusalem artichokes are just coming on stream but it’s also great for greens – kale, chard, spinach, watercress, even the often-overlooked cabbage which makes one of my favourite soups of all.  These soups can be puréed or served in their brothy state, scattered with some freshly chopped herbs for extra zing. 

I also love to add a variety of seedy drizzles, a herb and chilli oil adds extra oomph and how about some tahini with sunflower, pumpkin and sesame on a squash soup to add a delicious cheffy touch. 

Soups provide the opportunity to be endlessly creative with ingredients you have close to hand, something to suit your every mood, light broths, purées, chunky vegetable soups, Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean.  Every country has its soup, enough to fill endless volumes.  But best of all in these challenging times – delicious, nourishing, wholesome soups can be made with a few inexpensive ingredients in minutes.  Involve the kids and turn up the music, get them chopping and having fun and then tuck into big bowls of delicious soup around the kitchen table.

Homemade Chicken Stock

This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets, then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get the best value for your fuel.

Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5 – 6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!

Makes about 3.5 litres (6 pints)

2–3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck, heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

1 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 peppercorns

Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3–4 hours. Strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.

Homemade Tomato and Basil Soup

The simplest and most delicious tomato soup of all, the cream softens the soup and helps to absorb all the nutrients from the tomato.

Serves 8

25g (1oz) butter

175g (6oz) onion, diced

1.2 litres (2 pints) puréed tinned tomato (3 X 400g/14oz tins)

425 – 600ml (15fl oz – 1 pint) homemade chicken stock

small fistful fresh basil leaves

salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

300 – 425ml (10 – 15fl oz) cream

5 fresh basil leaves

Melt the butter and sweat the onion until soft. Add the tomato purée, stock, and a small fistful of basil leaves. Season well with salt, pepper and lots of sugar. Simmer for five minutes. Add cream and simmer for two minutes. Liquidise until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning and check consistency. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Savoy Cabbage Soup

Crispy seaweed can be fun to serve with this soup but in many ways it’s also perfect unadorned.

Serves 6

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes, one third inch dice

110g (4oz) peeled diced onions, one third inch dice

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (scant 2 pints) light chicken stock or vegetable stock

250g (9oz) chopped Savoy cabbage leaves (stalks removed)

50 – 100ml (2 – 3 1/2fl oz) cream or creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, and turn them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil until the potatoes are soft, then add the cabbage and cook with the lid off until the cabbage is cooked. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour.  Puree the soup in a liquidiser or blender, taste and adjust seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk before serving.

Useful tip: If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.


Cabbage and Caraway Soup

Add 1 –2 teaspoons of freshly crushed caraway to the potato and onion base.

Crispy Cabbage aka Crispy Seaweed

A bit confusing but this is what Chinese restaurants serve as ‘crispy seaweed’.

Savoy cabbage



oil for frying

Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, remove the stalks, roll the dry leaves into a cigar shape and slice into the thinnest possible shreds with a very sharp knife. 

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 180˚C/350˚F. Toss in some cabbage and cook for just a few seconds.  As soon as it starts to crisp, remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle with salt and sugar.  Toss and serve as a garnish on Cabbage Soup or just nibble, it’s quite addictive – worse than peanuts or popcorn!

Chicken and Coconut Soup

Please, please make this soup – another really quick super, tasty soup.  All these ingredients can be easily found in Asian shops on most supermarket shelves and keep well in your pantry. 

Serves 4

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

1 x 400g (14oz) can coconut milk

8 thin slices of fresh ginger or galangal

2 lemongrass stalks

1 tablespoon red curry paste (we use Mae Ploy)

1 – 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2  onion (50g/2oz), thinly sliced

225g (8oz) crimini or brown mushrooms, thinly sliced and slivered if larger

5 tablespoons fish sauce

225g (8oz) chicken breast, very thinly sliced

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt

2 limes, juiced (at least 50ml/2fl oz or more to taste)

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

20g (3/4oz) fresh basil leaves (use Thai basil if available)

110 – 225g (4 – 8oz) cooked white rice (optional)

To Serve

fresh basil leaves

Remove the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass, use only the pale tender portion, chop into 5cm (2 inch pieces) and slightly crush with the back of a knife.

Place the chicken stock, coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, curry paste, sugar and sliced onion in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add the mushroom and fish sauce. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 4 minutes.

Add the shredded chicken, salt, lime juice, lime zest and basil.  Simmer for about 3 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through and changed from translucent to opaque – taste and add the rice if using.

Serve soup with a few fresh basil leaves.

Italian Sausage Soup with Kale

A gorgeous chunky soup – a meal in a bowl.

If you can buy fresh tortellini and Italian fennel sausages, this comes together in minutes but even with fresh mince, it’s very quick to make.

450g (1lb) mild Italian sausages

OR homemade sausages meat made from:

450g (1lb) pork mince

fennel seeds, roasted lightly and crushed

2 tablespoons fresh herbs, parsley, thyme, rosemary, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes

1 – 2 tablespoons tomato purée

900ml (1 1/2 pints) chicken stock

1/4 teaspoonred pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper and sugar

1 x 300g (10oz) bag tortellini, fresh (not dried)

110 – 175g (4 – 6oz) kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped

225ml (8fl oz) heavy cream

To Serve

Parmesan cheese (optional)

If you can’t source Italian sausage.

Mix the pork mince, spices and herbs for the sausage together and season well.

Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat.

Add the sausage meat, chopped onions and crushed garlic and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, chicken stock and red pepper flakes if desired.  Stir and bring to a boil, season well with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a good pinch of sugar, simmer for 12 – 15 minutes.

Add the tortellini and coarsely chopped kale and bring to the boil.  Pour in the cream.  Simmer for 3 – 5 minutes until the kale is wilted and the pasta is tender.

Serve with lots of Parmesan cheese.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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