Once upon a time, I was a single girl living in the city all alone for the very first time. I had found a terrific little box of an apartment on a popular street just off the Magnificent Mile in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. It had a pool on the roof, a doorman, a view of a sliver of Lake Michigan (if you stood in just the right place, smashed into a corner between the wall and a beam) and a teeny tiny little kitchen. It was here that my interest in cooking began to take shape. At first, I cooked really simple dishes that didn’t require too many pots, pans or spices. Simple pastas. Salads. An occasional baked chicken dish.
By the time I’d moved up to an actual one bedroom a few neighborhoods north – with a full kitchen and a working dishwasher – my desire to cook had also grown. I remember asking for only cookbooks and CDs that year for Christmas. I wanted to spend the bitter winter days holed up in my apartment with the stereo cranking out a steady stream of really good music and the kitchen filled with the smells of equally good food. I just needed the right mix of CDs to make the music happen and a few carefully selected cookbooks to teach me what I did not yet know. I had visions of filling my apartment with hungry friends who would bring over bottles of wine and settle in for the evening, ready to tuck into the feast I’d prepared. Two of the books I received that year – The Joy of Cooking and The New Basics Cookbook – remain on my “A list” cookbook shelf today.
I learned to make lasagna several different ways – with meat, without meat, with vegetables in place of the pasta. I made vats of soups – vegetarian, meat-based, stews, soups with pasta, creamy smooth soups that required a blender, chunky hearty soups that practically required a fork and knife. I experimented with chili. When I was feeling adventurous, I tried my hand at phyllo dough (an advanced move). When it was cold, which was almost every day from October to May, and I needed a surefire hit, I defaulted to soup. Even recipes with long ingredient lists were simple to make – brown some veggies, add stock, add a lot more ingredients and simmer for a long time. Simple. Soup was filling, for the most part cheap, healthy and it lasted a long time. It was easily stored in the freezer for later. It was easily packed into smaller containers for lunch. A pot of soup could easily feed a crowd with a loaf of bread, a salad and a few bottles of wine. Soup became my signature for the winter whether I was cooking for myself or for a crowd.
Perhaps you are wondering why I’m telling you about making soup in the depths of Chicago’s depressing winters? Clearly, it is summer. And I now live in a city for which “winter” has an entirely different definition. But the truth is that my early days of culinary intrigue have left their mark on my style of cooking today, which is much less budget-focused and much more centered on using fresh, seasonal foods. It turns out that no matter the season, soups continue to make for an amazing meal. Soups offer an easy way to get a serving (or two!) of vegetables or fruit. They provide a way to fill the belly with nutrient-dense food before the more tempting, nutritionally devoid foods have a chance to take up space. Ever packable and freezer ready, soups still make the top of my list whether I’m expecting guests or just getting ready for a busy week. I’ve selected a few of my favorite summer soups here. Just because the weather has turned balmy doesn’t mean it’s time to retire the soup pot. Consider these winners (some of which are pictured above in various states):
Chilled Cucumber Coconut Soup
Chilled Peach Soup with Goat Cheese
Chilled Cantaloupe Soup from Whole Foods Market Cooking
Cold Curried Squash Soup
Grandma Beki’s Gazpacho
Pea Soup with Leeks, Mint and Creme Fraiche
Roasted Tomato Soup
Spring Vegetable Soup
What’s the first thing you learned how to cook? And do you still enjoying making it today?
So long for a bit! I’m heading out for a summer break! I’ll be back in a few weeks.