Making soup is nearly foolproof

You may be thinking this is great soup weather. For many of us, soup is comfort food, especially when the temperature drops.

Soup can be a snack, a first course, an accompaniment to a sandwich or a meal in itself.

And soup comes in endless variations.

Souper Jenny is the Buckhead cafe that serves hundreds of bowls of soup each day, six days a week. The menu changes daily and offers at least six options.

When we asked owner Jenny Levison what can’t go into a soup, her answer was, “I can’t say I’ve found anything that doesn’t go in soup. You can always come up with something. Try it. You really can’t mess up.”

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She offered the example of her grilled cheese-sandwich soup in which a day-old baguette is added to tomato soup and cooked until it starts to dissolve, then cheddar cheese and fresh basil are stirred in.

“It’s a big gloppy mess,” she said with a laugh. “And it’s good!”

There’s also her vegetarian lasagna soup, a rosemary-scented combination of squashes, tomatoes and spinach cooked with bits of lasagna noodles, fresh mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan.

“It’s a great recipe for getting your kids to eat vegetables,” Levison said.

Vegetable soups are particularly satisfying, and Levison said they’re becoming more popular.

A version of her absolutely everything veggie soup is on the menu every day.

A soup can be the ultimate seasonal eating, using vegetables straight out of the garden or from the farmers market, or it can be as timeless as a tomato soup featuring luscious canned Italian tomatoes.

Levison is a big believer in using what’s in season.

“So many people are growing their own vegetables these days. What’s better than soup to use those vegetables?” she said. The cafe’s offerings change each day according to what she finds fresh and enticing in the market.

If you’re paying attention to getting extra servings of vegetables and grains into your diet, soup is an easy solution.

A simple stock, homemade or store-bought, can be the basis for any kind of soup you like.

Add a little barley or a cup of rice, a half-cup of chopped carrots, a diced sweet potato or a handful of green beans and you’re on your way to a delicious, hearty soup that’s healthy, too.

“It’s hard to mess up a soup,” Levison said. “If you’re willing to put in the work of chopping, the rest is easy.”

Souper Jenny

56 E. Andrews Drive N.W., Atlanta. 404-237-7687, www.souperjennyatl.com

Souper Jenny’s soup-making tips

● A soup can take 15 minutes, or it can cook all day. Find a recipe that suits the time you have.

● A heavy-duty, large stockpot is an essential piece of kitchen equipment.

● Invest in a hand-held or immersion blender. An immersion blender goes right into the soup pot and blends everything in a flash — no more ladling hot soup into a blender.

● Make soup ahead. Most taste even better the next day.

● It’s OK to use store-bought stock. Buy the highest-quality low-sodium stock you can find. The fewer the ingredients, the better.

● Sauté onions first, then add the garlic. Garlic burns quickly, so starting with the onions will temper the heat.

● Sweating vegetables in a sauté pan or roasting them before adding to soup releases some of their liquid and concentrates the flavors.

● Sauté or roast bitter vegetables such as eggplant and peppers before adding to soup.

● Clean mushrooms by putting them in a colander and shaking out loose dirt. Use a clean cloth to wipe each mushroom individually. Rinsing under water will make them rubbery when cooked.

● Unless the soup will be pureed, cut all ingredients into spoonable pieces.

● One way to make a vegetable soup creamy is to melt in low-fat cream cheese.

● Taste everything as you go.

● Use recipes as a guide. Read through them. Substitute if you need to adapt to what you have on hand or to your taste, and then try it!

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Easy Vegetable Stock

Hands on: 15 minutes Total: 1 hour, 30 minutes (includes 1 hour of simmering) Makes: 12 cups

Great quality stocks are on the market, but if you have an afternoon to be in the kitchen, this vegetable stock is easy to make and delicious. It’s so good you could just strain off the vegetables and add a little orzo or other small pasta for a light and delicious soup that would make a perfect starter for an elegant dinner party, or a side dish for a grilled sandwich. Leftover stock will freeze for up to three months.

12 cups water

4 ribs celery, chopped, including leaves

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 large tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, rinsed

In a heavy stockpot, combine water, celery, carrots, tomatoes, onion, garlic, white wine, salt, peppercorns and parsley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until vegetables are tender. Strain stock, discarding all solids. Use immediately or refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Adapted from “Souper Jenny Cooks” by Jenny Levison (Schroder Media, $19.95)

Per cup: 48 calories (percent of calories from fat, 8), trace protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 105 milligrams sodium.

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Horseradish Cheddar Beer Soup

Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 1 hour Serves: 8

Jenny Levison likes to use a dark beer like Guinness in this recipe. Substitute a lighter beer if you wish. Cheese can get a little grainy if frozen, so if you’d like to make this soup ahead of time, wait to include the cheese until you’re heating it up to serve.

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups (1 large) chopped onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

8 tablespoons all-purpose flour

6 cups vegetable stock

1 (15-ounce) can roasted red peppers, drained and finely chopped

2 (12-ounce) bottles beer

3 cups (3/4 pound) sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

Chopped parsley, for garnish

In a heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, heat olive oil for 60 seconds. Add onions and sauté 5 minutes or until onions are soft, then add garlic. Cook 5 minutes more, then add flour and cook, stirring often, for additional 5 minutes. Add stock slowly and stir to make sure all flour is dissolved. Add roasted peppers and beer and bring soup to a boil. Lower heat and simmer soup for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off heat, slowly stir in grated cheese and add horseradish, then use immersion blender to make a smooth soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Adapted from a recipe provided by Jenny Levison

Per serving: 437 calories (percent of calories from fat, 48), 17 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 22 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 46 milligrams cholesterol, 814 milligrams sodium.

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Absolutely Everything Roasted Veggie Soup

Hands on: 20 minutes Total: 2 hours (includes time for roasting and simmering) Serves: 8

A version of this soup is almost always on the Souper Jenny menu. Adding a can of pumpkin to the soup was just serendipity. “I probably had a can on hand and tried it out. It doesn’t add a lot of flavor, but it does a great job of thickening the soup,” Levison said. She’s not a fan of broccoli in soups, but if you can’t find the broccolini listed here, you might find broccoli an acceptable substitute. Levison said anything will work here except eggplant and peppers. Leftover soup will freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat gently.

1 cup peeled and diced carrots

1 cup peeled and diced parsnips

1 diced sweet potato (peeling optional)

1 bunch broccolini, cleaned and chopped

1 zucchini, diced

1 yellow squash, diced

1 bunch asparagus, tips only

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

12 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, broccolini, zucchini, yellow squash and asparagus with olive oil. Spread on rimmed cookie sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until edges of vegetables turn golden brown. Remove from oven.

In a heavy stockpot over high heat, combine roasted vegetables with mushrooms, tomatoes, pumpkin puree, spinach and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leave the soup chunky, or use an immersion blender to puree the soup to desired consistency.

Adapted from “Souper Jenny Cooks” by Jenny Levison (Schroder Media, $19.95)

Per serving: 216 calories (percent of calories from fat, 29), 23 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 10 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 257 milligrams sodium.

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Tomato Spinach Soup

Hands on: 5 minutes Total time: 1 hour (includes time for simmering) Serves: 8

Tomato soup is a universal favorite and easy to make. High-quality canned Italian tomatoes make all the difference. Jenny Levison likes the Cento brand. Easy variations are substituting canned artichokes for the spinach, or in summer adding a roughly chopped bunch of fresh basil. Leftover soup will freeze for up to 3 months.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

4 (28-ounce) cans low-sodium chopped Italian tomatoes

12 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach

Salt and pepper

In a heavy stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes, then add garlic and sauté for 5 minutes more or until soft. Add tomatoes, vegetable broth and spinach and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adapted from “Souper Jenny Cooks” by Jenny Levison (Schroder Media, $19.95)

Per serving: 167 calories (percent of calories from fat, 28), 22 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 127 milligrams sodium.

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Wild Mushroom, Spinach and Barley Soup

Hands on: 15 minutes Total: 1 hour, 30 minutes Serves: 8

Barley continues to expand as it sits, so this soup is best served right after it is cooked. Be sure not to boil the soup once the barley has been added. If you want to store the soup, cool it quickly. Freeze for up to three months, and reheat gently.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

4 cups (about 1/2 pound) shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

4 cups (about 1/2 pound) oyster mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

1/2 pound (8 ounces) button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 cup dry sherry

16 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, or more as needed

2 cups fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped

21/2 cups dry barley

Salt and pepper

In a heavy stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, then garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add mushrooms and sherry and sauté about 15 minutes or until mushrooms are soft. Add broth and spinach and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in barley and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add more broth or water if the soup is thicker than you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adapted from “Souper Jenny Cooks” by Jenny Levison (Schroder Media, $19.95)

Per serving: 645 calories (percent of calories from fat, 12), 41 grams protein, 128 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 124 milligrams sodium.

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