Hi, gang. January is National Soup Month. And why wouldn’t it be? In the summer, we may scream for ice cream, but in winter, soup is what really hits the spot. It’s warming, comforting, and re-energizing.
Frankly, I like soup any time of the year. Some look at me oddly when I eat it in the summer, but the fact is that eating hot soup (or any hot food) in summer actually adjusts your internal body temperature, making external heat more bearable. Then again, a lovely chilled soup can be quite refreshing in the sweltering summer heat.
But we’re talking about January now, and I think everyone would agree that it’s a very good time for soup. In fact, back in the 1990s, Campbell Soup did a survey about soup eating. Yes, indeed. And they had the results analyzed by psychologists. Some of the findings were quite interesting. For example, of those surveyed:
29% use a small spoon, and these people are “cautious connoisseurs”—reliable, well organized, and don’t make a fuss.
1% drink it from a bowl. The bowl‑sipper is the “free‑spirited enthusiast”―unself‑conscious and unconcerned with what others think.
More results are in my cookbook in the introduction to the Soup section.
This week I made a soup that was not only tasty but filling and satisfying for wintry, cold weather, such as we’ve been suffering through quite a bit lately here in New York and elsewhere. It’s a barley-amaranth soup. I got the original recipe somewhere online, but it called for putting a few things—barley, amaranth, potatoes, onions, water, and some spices—in a crock pot and letting it do its thing. There is a beauty in simplicity, but as appealing as simplicity may be, it doesn’t always yield flavorful results. I could be wrong, but it just seemed to me that I would end up with a bland soup. So I altered the recipe.
First, I made sure that there were layers of flavor by first sautéing some vegetables one at a time in a regular pot. Along with the onions, I added some minced garlic and chopped carrots. Then I stirred in some tomato paste. The remaining ingredients went into the pot along with water and a couple of vegetable bouillon cubes. It was great. The recipe is below. The only problem with a soup like this is that the barley soaks up all the broth, so either add a lot more water (and additional bouillon) when you’re cooking it, or add a little water and stir it in when you’re reheating it.
By the way, you may be wondering what amaranth is. The amaranth grains that can be purchased are actually tiny seeds from several species of plants of the amaranthus genus. They can be cooked and used whole, just like quinoa, or used as a flour. Also like quinoa, amaranth has a higher protein level than most grains. Other nutritional benefits of amaranth are high amounts of dietary fiber, iron, calcium, lysine, methionine, and cysteine, as well as other vitamins and minerals. In certain areas of Peru, where it is a staple food, amaranth is used to treat toothaches and fever. Plus, it’s a gluten-free product.
Amaranth leaves make a great side dish or soup ingredient. It can be found under the names Chinese spinach and callaloo. For more detailed information about the history, health aspects, and growing information about amaranth, check out Chet Day’s Health and Beyond Online page.
Amaranth cooks up tender yet firm and adds a nutty little crunch to whatever you use it in. You can find it at some natural food stores and markets like Whole Foods. Let me know how you like it. And eats lots of soup. It’s good for you. Peace out.
1 tbsp canola oil
½ cup chopped onion
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups chopped carrots
1 tbsp tomato paste
1½ cups barley
1 cup amaranth
1 medium potato, diced
2 bouillon cubes
½ cup corn
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans
¼ cup mined parsley
Heat the oil in a medium pot. Add the onion, garlic, and carrots. Sauté until softened. Stir in the tomato paste until well blended and cook 1 minute.
Pour in 5 cups water and add remaining ingredients, except parsley. Stir to mix. Cook, stirring, until barley and amaranth are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Add water as needed and, if you add more than an additional cup of water, more bouillon. Stir in the parsley and cook another minute. Serve hot.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.