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Cold-weather soups from the pantry (Recipe: pear and parsnip soup)

Tortilla lime soup. 

In the house where I grew up, soup meant chicken soup.

We had chicken soup when we were sick. I'm still not sure how or why it worked, but it always seemed to make us feel better. (So did Hershey milk chocolate bars, but that's a subject for another day.)

We had chicken soup at Passover, with lumpy-bumpy matzoh balls that my family dubbed "depth charges."

And we had chicken soup -- egg drop, but sometimes wonton soup -- at Chinese restaurants, where we'd go for dinner on Friday nights.

So it's a bit unexpected that I've grown up to be a pretty well-rounded soup maker, and more important, a lover of soups from every culture and cuisine. For cold weather, there's nothing better, and with a well-stocked pantry, you can make soup out of anything, or out of almost nothing.

Here are some of my favorite cold-weather soups, made with basic ingredients from the pantry.

Soups marked (v) are vegetarian or can be made so by substituting a rich, homemade vegetable broth for chicken broth.

Chile peppers
Mexican tortilla and lime soup
(v, without the chicken)
Hot and sour soup
Tom Yom Koong (hot and soup shrimp soup)

Pasta and noodles
Turkey escarole soup
Wonton skin soup (v)
Vietnamese pho bo
Lentil noodle soup (v)

Lentil noodle soup.

Beans and pulses
One-of-everything lentil soup (v)
Meat-free split pea (v)
Split pea, sausage and preserved lemon soup
Black bean and peach soup (v)
Curried mushroom, green bean and barley soup (v)
Twisted Three Sisters soup (v)

Canned tomato
Vegetable-beef soup

Curried mushroom, green bean and barley soup

Homemade or store-bought stock, and some vegetables
Leek, potato and salmon soup (v, without the salmon)
African inspired squash and peanut soup (v)
Avgolemono (chicken soup with rice and lemon)
Vegetable beef soup
Butternut squash, apple and vadouvan soup (v)

What soups are you making this winter? What are your favorites?

Pear and parsnip soup

Pear and parsnip soup

One of our very favorites, from the archives. Also great for lunch, with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. Make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock. Serves 6.


2 lbs parsnips, ends trimmed, peeled
1 medium red or sweet onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, whole but not peeled
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large pear (or 2 medium), any variety, peeled and cubed
2 cups homemade chicken stock, or low-sodium store-bought (I use Swanson 99% Fat Free)
1-2 Tbsp minced fresh thyme (or parsley, marjoram, chives, or a mixture), to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional; I usually omit this)
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place parsnips, onion and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt, pepper and olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are lightly browned. Remove pan from oven, and set aside for 10 minutes.

Cut parsnips into chunks and put in a soup pot on the stove with onion, peeled garlic, pear, and chicken stock, plus water to almost cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, until the pear is tender (15 minutes). Add herbs; cook 5 minutes more. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot (or purée in batches in a blender). Add cream if you wish. Season with sea salt and lots of freshly-ground black pepper, to taste. Serve hot, garnished with snips of fresh herbs.

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I'm a big fan of creamy soups (not from cream necessarily but from being pureed) -- squash, sweet potato, mushroom... and I like having fun garnishes on top. This soup is right up my alley!

Have a wonderful holiday season filled with kitchen successes, peace and joy. I would be warmed by some comforting soup.

I made a similar soup for a soup-potluck recently and it was a big hit. My recipe calls for quite a bit less onion and more pear, it seems, but not for roasting the veggies, which would be a superb enhancement! A pinch of nutmeg also helps deepen the flavor. Thanks for sharing all the soup ideas!

Definitely going to have to make some of your soups. We hardly ate soup when I was growing up, but I love it. A bowl of soup cheers me up.

I have gotten better at Asian soups, thanks to guidance from the Perfect Pantry. Growing up, I was a huge fan of bean soup in the can! I always marvel at what seem to be exotic combinations like pear and parsnips - mainly because I'm not sure I would recognize a parsnip if I saw one! Isn't that what grew in Mr. MacGreagor's garden?

Pear and parsnip, what an intriguing combination!

Julia, same here. I seldom use cream to thicken soups, but I often stick my immersion blender into a soup for just a few seconds to partially puree a soup.

Val, thank you. I wish you the same.

Lydia, I hope you find some new recipes here. It's definitely soup weather!

Alta, I don't know why, but soup cheers me up, too. I like making it almost more than I like eating it.

TW, the secret to soup making is to be fearless. Combine anything; you can always make adjustments that bring the flavors into balance. Many of my favorite soups begin by combining leftovers of the most improbable dishes.

Natashya, the combination is surprising, and delicious. Try it!

Pear and parsnips in a soup- I would not have thought of that combo, but it sounds fabulous! If it's half as good as the asparagus soup we made at your house last month I'll be in for a treat. Have a wonderful holiday!

I was curious as to the sweetness factor of the soup due to the pears. Does it make its presence felt or its just a hint of sweetness?

I have a friend with a parsnip addiction - she and I will love this soup!
She will garnish with little strings of deep fried parsnip!

Soup to me growing up came from a Campbell's can and each of us had our favorite. Thanks for this great collection of soups. I know they'll come in handy after the holidays to help us decrease the size of our midsections! Happy Holidays ; )

I made this soup for a dinner party the other night and it was fabulous! The pear adds a nice touch without adding too much sweetness. Even my 17-year old said that it was quite good!

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