Local pros share tips for making soul-warming soup

Goodfood.’s roasted cauliflower soup defines comfort in a bowl (Credit: David Benthal)

There is perhaps no greater joy on a cold winter’s day than a hot bowl of soup. With your sleet-covered boots kicked off, each slurp invites a wave of warm comfort as you cozy up on the couch.

From the healing power of chicken noodle to the nostalgic tomato served beside grilled cheese, soups not only have the ability to turn hunger to satiety but lift moods by the spoonful — even on the coldest of days.

Preparation for the line of hearty vegan and plant-based soups offered at Sang Lee Farms begins long before the first frost. The Peconic farm stocks its farm stand in the warmer months with bounty grown from its fields but also fills its commercial-grade freezer with produce that is turned into soup after peak season has ended.

“Making soup helps us eliminate food waste,” said Sang Lee Farms manager Lucy Senesac. “You can use the produce that is going to go bad or has a mark on it that would otherwise not be good to sell. We not only freeze the vegetables we have in the field, but we freeze the soups already made in pint containers so we can sell them all winter.”

In the spring, when spinach is plentiful, Sang Lee stores extras in airtight freezer bags for its sweet spinach soup. In late summer, the farm freezes whole heirloom tomatoes in bags that are eventually used in the turmeric lentil. The freezing process makes it easier to remove the skin once it thaws. These tips are easy to copy at home the next time you find yourself at a bountiful summertime farm stand, Senesac added.

(Credit: David Benthal)

“The reason why it is good to freeze a lot of vegetables is because you’re not so worried about their texture once it is in the soup,” she said. “Most of the things we freeze are going to be blended. For example, you wouldn’t want to freeze potato chunks that you’d want to keep whole in a soup.”

Sang Lee began producing soup nine years ago with owner and founder Karen Lee’s carrot ginger. The line has since grown to more than 10 varieties, each addition a compilation of employee recipes tweaked and tested in the on-site kitchen to give it a signature Sang Lee touch. In fact, it was a longtime family recipe from Senesac’s grandma that inspired the hearty kale, a perennial favorite along with the farm’s spicy Asian cabbage.

Luchi Masliah, who founded the specialty market and café goodfood. in Mattituck in 2015, was also inspired by family, friends, colleagues, and cookbooks when building and tweaking her soup recipes. The restaurant’s rotation of from-scratch soups includes French lentil, butternut squash, minestrone and, in the summertime, gazpacho. The latter is a tomato-based Spanish soup made with North Fork tomatoes hand-delivered by the employees of Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue.

(Credit: David Benthal)

“Making soup is something I have been doing for a very long time,” Masliah said. “Part of growing up was making soup at least once a week. It is comfort. I think of it as a one-bowl meal.”

Her chicken noodle closely resembles her mother’s recipe — with some minor adjustments. “The great thing for home cooks to know is that once you know the method you can easily put your own stamp on it,” she said. “The key is taking your time to figure out the flavors.”

Masliah boils a whole chicken to make the stock for her chicken noodle. In the water, she adds onion, carrots, celery and bay leaves to develop the flavors for the stock and simmers it for “a long time” before discarding the carcass and vegetables. She uses the meat from the chicken in the soup and adds in more fresh veggies for the final product.

“There is an art to it,” she said. “It takes time.”

Most of the soups at goodfood. are vegetarian, with the noted exception of the chicken noodle. Masliah even opts out of adding ham to her split pea.

“It doesn’t need it,” she said. “It is best to keep it simple.”

Luchi Masliah of Goodfood. (Credit: David Benthal)

The soups are also free of additives and flavor enhancers and, like Sang Lee, all are dairy-free. Even the roasted cauliflower doesn’t contain a drop of cream. Masliah says slow roasting the vegetables before brining them gives it thickness without dairy. She suggests massaging olive oil, salt, and pepper into the veggies prior to the oven to lock in the flavor.

“It is an extra step that adds a lot of flavor and creaminess,” she said. “It is worth it.”

After more than 25 years of running Salamander’s in Greenport, former owner Claudia Helinski launched her line of preservative- and gluten-free soups earlier this year. Claudia’s Farmhouse Soups, which include classic and exotic varieties like Indian Dal and Hungarian Wild Mushroom, are produced in a leased commercial kitchen.

“Every year we travel to Asia and you get to learn the flavors,” she said. “I have no formal culinary experience, but you can teach yourself how flavors work together. I encourage everyone to go to the grocery store or the farm stand and start experimenting with tastes they enjoy. You can be adventurous. Rules are made to be broken with soup.”

Flavor combinations like tomato and basil are a favorite of Helinski, who emphasizes the seasonality and healthfulness of soup.

“They are low in calories and many are low in sodium, so to bring out the flavor of any soup, all the ingredients must be cooked in the broth,” she advised. “They are also packed with vitamins, which is another reason soups are great in the winter.”