Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Humble Soup Amid the Hullabaloo

I have many reasons to love November. November brings with it crisp fall days, the onset of sweater season, an entire holiday devoted to good food, and my birthday. It’s also the “official” start of the winter holiday season, thus setting in motion a flurry of shopping, decorating, and cooking across America. For me, the holiday season does not start until the day I buy my ticket to fly home to Michigan. That day was yesterday. I finally worked up the courage to tell my boss that despite the approaching deadline for the resubmission of my manuscript, I will be leaving to spend Christmas with my family. Whew! I felt so much better after I did that until I booked my flight. My goodness, the flights are expensive this year. That expense, friends, is how I found myself buying a flight that leaves Chicago Midway Airport at 7 AM on December 23. Yes, I said 7 AM. Horrifying! That means I will be riding a Red Line train at 3 AM to get to the airport by 5. There is only one thing I should be doing at 3 AM, and it ain’t riding the damn el across the city!

Amid all of this holiday hullabaloo, one needs a little bit of homemade comfort. During a season defined by liberal uses of alcohol, cream, butter, and sugar, it’s best if that comfort can also be healthy and thus guilt-free. And what if that comfort also comes in a cheery holiday color? Even better!

I have loved tomato soup for a long time, but I always wondered if perhaps it could be lighter and sweeter. Canned tomato soups, while acceptable, always struck me as overly tangy and thick. I wanted a soup in which the tomato flavor sings harmoniously without breaking my eardrums. This soup is my dream tomato soup. Since it’s made with canned tomatoes, it’s a great soup for winter days. The tomato flavor is robust without being harsh or one-dimensional. I love the flavors that onion, celery, and carrots give this soup; they complement the tomatoes quite well. The color is gorgeous: a bright orange-red imparted by the tomatoes and carrots. That’s natural beauty. No artificial colors here!

So make a pot of this soup and stash it in the fridge. When the holiday hullabaloo has frazzled your nerves and emptied your wallet, you can have a big bowl of Homemade Tomato Soup for Winter Days and feel pleasantly warm and relaxed. Maybe even relaxed enough to tackle the last pile of presents that need to be wrapped!

Homemade Tomato Soup for Winter Days
Adapted from Tomato Soup, p. 162, The New Laurel’s Kitchen
Makes ~3-4 servings

1 onion
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots, scrubbed well with water
1 tbsp. canola oil or another mild vegetable oil
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
~2 cups of vegetable stock or water (I recommend using vegetable stock if you can because stock adds a lot of flavor to this simple soup)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Chop onion, celery, and carrots. The carrots don’t need to be peeled unless you think the peel looks especially funky and unappetizing.
2) Heat oil over medium heat in a medium-sized pot. Add the chopped onions, celery, and carrots, stir to coat the vegetables in oil, and cover the pot to cook the vegetables for several minutes.
3) Add the tomatoes to the pot. Add the stock or water to cover the vegetables; you can add more liquid if you would like a thinner soup. Bring the soup to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the soup at a simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the carrots are quite tender. Turn off the heat.
4) Puree the soup in batches in a blender. As always, be careful while you are pureeing hot liquids. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can turn off the heat and let the soup cool as it sits for a while before you puree it.
5) Add the soup back to the pot. Taste for seasonings and adjust the seasonings to your taste. Eat your soup, preferably with grilled cheese sandwiches!

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