Saturday, February 22, 2014


Soups from round the world: Mexican tortilla soup.
On my calendar, February is Soup Month. When the weather is too chill for my daily salad lunch, what I want is soup. Spain is big soup country, so I have a lot to choose from.

While this blog is dedicated to Spanish cooking, Spanish is not the only food from my kitchen. So, this month, I’m taking my soup pot right around the world.

It started with a Facebook link to Saveur for a recipe for Mulligatawny, a spicy soup from India, by cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey (see the recipe here). The soup with red lentils, spices and coconut milk is topped with a sauce of more spices fried in butter. Except, I replaced the butter in the recipe with olive oil.

Not authentic! you say. Well, no. But, authenticity was never my criteria for a good soup, whatever it’s origin. I´m after big flavor, plenty of vegetables, and  stick-to-the-ribs satisfaction. In my humble opinion, olive oil is an improvement on butter!

Mulligatawny (Mediterranean-Indian)

Red lentils are flavored with ginger, garlic, onion, chilies, coriander, cumin and turmeric and finished with coconut milk. The red sauce on top is made with olive oil, Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander and black mustard seeds. Made with vegetable stock, this is a hearty vegetarian soup.

 Mediterranean-New England Fish Chowder

  For this chowder, saute onions, celery and carrots in olive oil, add potatoes, zucchini and corn kernels and simmer in (homemade) chicken broth. Enrich the soup with evaporated milk. Add chunks of white fish and cook them until flaky. Serve with crisped bits of bacon or serrano ham.

Middle Eastern Meatball Soup

This recipe by Faye Levy, author of Feast from the Mideast, recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post (about Faye here ). I like that the meatball mixture includes chickpea flour. Poaching the meatballs in soup makes it unnecessary to fry them. The only tweaking to Faye’s recipe was to add some olive oil to the soup and to make the meatballs with ground chicken thighs instead of beef.

Middle Eastern Meatball and Vegetable Soup, by Faye Levy (used with permission).

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Vegetable Soup:
 7 cups water, more if needed
 Salt to taste
 2 medium potatoes, peeled if desired, cut into chunks
 ½ to 1 cauliflower, divided in medium florets
 4 carrots – 2 sliced and 2 diced
 2 squash, green or yellow, halved and sliced
 1 onion, chopped
 1 or 2 small celery ribs, diced
 1 or 2 Tbsp. chopped ginger root (optional)
 2 garlic cloves, chopped
 A few parsley stems (optional)
 1 tsp. ground cumin
 ½ tsp. turmeric
 ½ tsp. ground pepper

Beef and Chickpea Flour Meatballs
 350 gr. (¾ pound) lean ground beef
 ¼ cup chickpea flour
 1 fairly small onion, coarsely grated (about ½ cup)
 2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
 ½ tsp. salt
 ½ tsp. ground pepper
 ½ tsp. turmeric
2 cups baby spinach leaves, or coarsely chopped large spinach, stems removed (to finish)
3 or 4 Tbsp. chopped green onion (to finish)

Bring 7 cups water to a boil with a pinch of salt in a stew pan. Add potato chunks and cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Add cauliflower and sliced carrots, return to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes.

Add squash slices, return to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon.

Add onion, diced carrots, celery, ginger root, garlic and parsley stems to vegetable cooking liquid.

Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add cumin, turmeric and pepper. Discard parsley stems.

To make meatballs: In a medium bowl combine the beef, chickpea flour, grated onion, parsley, salt, pepper and turmeric. Knead until thoroughly mixed. Shape mixture in meatballs, using about 1 tablespoon of mixture for each one. Add them one by one to the simmering soup.

If there is not enough broth to cover the meatballs, add ½ to 1 cup hot water, pouring it near the side of the pan, not over the meatballs. Cover and cook the meatballs over low heat for 45 minutes, or until soup is well-flavored. If soup is too thin, uncover for the last 15 minutes of cooking; if it is too thick, gradually add ¼ to ½ cup hot water.

Just before serving, add spinach to soup and heat for 1 minute or until wilted. Return cooked vegetables to soup and heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve soup sprinkled with chopped green onion.

 Chunky Ukrainian Borscht

 With the news from Ukraine this week, I have been thinking about Mila, who was from a small village in Ukraine. Mila smuggled herself into Spain to work for two years to earn enough money to help pay for a son’s wedding. (Yes, we have illegal immigrants in Spain, too.) She worked as a caregiver for a dear friend of mine. I learned to make this hearty version of borscht from Mila. (A similar recipe can be found  here .)

 Tender chunks of beef go into the soup with beets, carrots, turnips, onions and cabbage cooked in beef broth. I used olive oil instead of butter and substituted Greek yogurt for the sour cream garnish.

 Chinese-Style Hot-and-Sour Soup

My favorite Asian grocery store closed up shop recently, so I was without the sesame oil, tree-ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots and lily buds that usually go into this soul-satisfying soup. No problem. I added broccoli and chard stems and a drizzle of olive oil. Olive oil is surprisingly good in Chinese cooking. I use it in stir-fries as well. (A recipe for hot-and-sour soup is here .)

Strips of pork, cubes of tofu and beaten eggs go into a peppery  soup with mushrooms. Here, it’s served with white rice and bean sprouts on the side.

 Spanish-Mexican Tortilla Soup

This is one of my favorite winter soups, when avocados are in season. My tortilla soup is based on a recipe I clipped from Gourmet magazine (December 1990). Way back then, I couldn’t get corn tortillas in Spain (in Spain, tortilla is a potato-egg cake), so I brought fresh ones back from the US and stored them in my freezer. Then as now, I ad lib to the recipe to suit my mood. I almost always add a vegetable—zucchini or cut-up green beans, for instance. And, of course, I use olive oil instead of lard or other vegetable oil. Here’s my basic recipe.

Serves 4 to 6.

4 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
12 ounces boneless chicken thighs
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 or 2 fresh jalapeño chilies
3 cloves garlic
1 can (14-ounce) whole tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup sliced zucchini
½ teaspoon salt
6 corn tortillas
Olive oil for frying
To serve
2 avocados, sliced
Sour cream or Greek yogurt
Chopped cilantro
Quartered limes
Sliced radishes
Chopped green onions
Jalapeño chilies

In a soup pot combine the broth and water. Bring to a boil, add the chicken thighs, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes. Skim the chicken out of the broth and let it cool.

In a food processor combine the onion, chilies, garlic and tomatoes. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small skillet and add the onion mixture. Fry on high heat until mixture is reduced and beginning to stick to the pan, about 12 minutes. Add ½ cup of broth to the skillet and stir. Add the skillet mixture to the soup pot with the zucchini and simmer the soup 15 minutes.

Shred or chop the chicken and return it to the soup.

Cut the tortillas in half and into crosswise strips. Heat the oil in a small skillet and fry the strips, a few at a time, until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the soup garnished with fried tortilla strips, sliced avocado, a dollop of yogurt and cilantro. Serve limes, radishes, onions and chilies on the side.

Here are links to just a few of the Spanish soups that have previously appeared in this blog.
Cream of Pumpkin Soup

Lentil Pot with Sausage

Galician Soup with Beans and Greens (caldo gallego)

Chicken Soup (Sopa de picadillo)

Basque Leek Soup (porrusalda)

Spain's garlic soup (


  1. These look wonderful, Janet. I've already shared this post on my Facebook page. I don't cook as much as I used to due to swelling in my hands, but I've always loved to make soup. I'm from NYC (though I've lived in Spain for 25 years) and soup helps us through those cold winters! I like your alternative borsch. I find it much more appealing chunky and with yogurt instead of the typical goopy thick kind topped with sour cream. (I used to hang out a lot in downtown Manhattan in the 80's, where the best cheap, filling food was found at the Ukranian coffee shops.) The meatball soup is also great. It reminds me of this:
    The above of course has a zillion variations, including with the type of pasta; I prefer the mini-bowties. But the tiny meatballs are always there. Thanks for all the great ideas!

    1. Lee: Glad you liked the global soup ideas. Sounds like you enjoy an international soup kitchen too.

  2. Hola Janet,

    I have just stumbled on your blog, great stuff! I will have to dedicate some time to have a good look around!

    Sorry to hear that your Asiatic store is no longer there. I buy most of my stocks from a shop in Sevilla, or online at Ibero China, not only do they stock Oriental ingredients, they also have South East Asian (Thai, Vietnamese) items too.

    I was directed to your blog via google in my search for a Fababa recipe, which I will have a go at this week.


    1. Laocook: Thanks for the tip about buying Asian ingredients on-line. Enjoy the fabada.