For Olga Massov, that looks like a fragrant, restorative chicken-and-rice soup; G. Daniela Galarza shared a version of Italian wedding soup; and I developed a recipe for an easy farro-and-kale soup with peanut butter and a hint of spice.
Each brings all of the warmth, comfort and flavor you might desire this time of year without leaving you feeling weighed down and ready for a nap immediately after eating. So if you are looking for a recipe or three to help kick things off on the right foot, soup’s on.
Restorative Chicken and Rice Soup
As a Russian immigrant, I grew up with a familiar collection of Eastern European and Ashkenazi Jewish recipes: latkes, sharlotka, borscht. But it’s the chicken soup, a.k.a. Jewish penicillin, that I remember most vividly from my sick days as a child (and I got sick a lot). Eating the soup made me feel like I was slowly being brought back to life.
A few years ago, I was working as an editor at Phaidon, and my boss asked me to edit a manuscript from Elizabeth Street Cafe, the popular Vietnamese-inspired restaurant in Austin. One of the recipes was a comforting, congee-like chicken-and-rice breakfast soup. Eating it made me feel nourished and restored. I made it over and over, tweaking here and there, and finally creating my own version, an amalgamation of the Eastern European and Asian traditions: looser, brothier, but still every bit as aromatic as the original.
Visually, the soup is a feast for the eyes: bright green leaves of aromatic Thai basil and cilantro, as well as thin rings of chile, crunchy mung bean sprouts, bright white slivers of onion and deep red dots of sambal oelek. Fish sauce and brown sugar form a strong umami backbone, making you crave another spoonful even before you’ve swallowed your first. At home, we jokingly call this soup “the corpse reviver,” and for good reason. Whatever ails you, a bowl of this elixir — heady broth, aromatic with ginger, star anise, clove and cinnamon, thickened with glutinous rice, and fortified with pieces of chicken — instantly makes you feel revived and nourished.
Italian Wedding Soup
Nothing, it seems, about the dish we call Italian wedding soup is straightforward. Not its name, which is an imperfect translation of “minestra maritata,” meant to refer to the careful marriage of its ingredients — not its place on a wedding menu. And not its ingredients and preparation, which vary widely from region to region in Italy. In the United States, it’s best known, and well-loved, as a soup of greens, tiny pasta and meatballs, flavorful and fortifying.
As a child, it was a soup my babysitter, whose family came from Southern Italy, made for me and my brother on cold winter nights when my parents worked late. I remember helping shape the meatballs, tucking the squishy meat into my cupped palms. I remember the sound of her chopping crunchy greens and tender herbs and the smells that filled the kitchen, pungent and rich: garlic and pork and a tickle of spice. There would always be sausage in the soup, too, but I’d count the tiny meatballs in each bowl, pick around the greens and ask for extra cheese to sprinkle on top. Mostly, I remember it being a warming comfort, as all great soups should be.
This recipe is dedicated to those memories. There are several steps, but they lead to a satisfying soup that can be on the table in under an hour. While the broth simmers with spicy sausage, carrots and celery, mix up the meatballs, then roast them; tiny meatballs cook quickly. When they’re done they go into the soup along with tiny pasta — orzo or ditalini or whatever you’d like — and lots of chopped leafy greens. Escarole is traditional, but kale, spinach, chard, collards or any dark leafy vegetable works well. Lemon zest and juice perk up the dense, meaty broth. I like to serve each bowl topped with chopped herbs and lots of grated cheese.
Farro, Kale and Peanut Butter Soup
This is my first recipe for Voraciously, so I developed a dish that is very representative of my style — not too many ingredients, straightforward instructions, and flavors that intrigue and excite.
I tend to think of recipes more as guidelines than prescriptions. While, yes, everything that I publish should work and taste delicious as written, you know your tastes better than I do, and you should make adjustments as you see fit. Salt and spice are two components that first come to mind in this regard, but this idea extends to the remaining ingredients, where I will try to point out ideas for substitutions, as appropriate, that can help you make use of whatever you already have on hand, what is more easily accessible or what aligns more with your palate. In the style of Tabitha Brown, it’s your business.
Back to this particular dish: The ingredients listed in the recipe title do the bulk of the work in flavoring this soup, while a handful of pantry basics, along with a lone jalapeño, round everything out and add a hint of background heat. The result is simple, comforting and full of nutritious grains and dark, leafy greens. (This soup also happens to be meat- and dairy-free for anyone who is looking for vegan recipes.) And though you might be skeptical of putting peanut butter in your soup, I’m sure you’ll turn into a believer after your first spoonful.