Soup Recipes

The quick answer:  To live longer, eat like a peasant—enjoy whole foods, which have more nutrients and fewer calories—beginning with soup.


The Folly of Metrics

You’ve heard the management truism about the value of metrics?  It says that whatever we measure will improve, that if we report the measurement it will improve more, and if we set goals for the measurement, it will improve faster.  I was a fan of metrics in my youth because of their power to direct behavior.  I’m still a fan but with this caveat—the most important things don’t lend themselves to measurement.  (Confession:  one metric in my life is the number of daily readers of this blog—your visits help to make my day.)

Love, for example, is essential to our happiness, but have you ever tried to measure it?  So there is this danger, you know, that in life we may be measuring the wrong thing.  Do you think money will make you happy?  It will definitely increase your options, but it tends to interfere with the source of true happiness: love.  So be cautious about counting your money too often. 

Here’s another example of a metric gone awry: calories.  In the early days of nutrition science, in the late 1800s, they learned to measure the calories in food.  Because it was easy to do and there were few other metrics, calories got a lot of attention.  The dominance of this metric led to the false idea that calories caused overweight and that the cure for overweight was to count and restrict calories.  If you look around, you can see the error of these assumptions—the more we focused on calories, the more overweight we became. 

In a prior post—The Skinny on Overweight—we posited that the quality of our calories was more important than the quantity.  If you wanted to reach a healthy weight, rather than count calories, you should change the nature of your food. 

The issue here is that whole foods are full of fiber and very filling.  They’re also high in nutrients and low in calories.  Processed foods are the opposite, high in calories and low in nutrients.  So if you eat mostly whole foods, you’ll get plenty of nutrients but not too many calories.  We won’t all have the same figure if we do this—that would be boring.  But we will achieve the goal of this blog:  Eat smarter, look better, and live longer.

Starvation Recipes

Making money a primary metric leads to foolish behavior.  Out of control borrowing, especially in Greece, has been a financial disaster for the European Community.  In street demonstrations, the Greeks have defied the reality of their plight, but nonetheless, hard times are in their future.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Though difficult, it’s essential to learn to live within one’s means.  Here in the US, we’re having our own hard experience.

So how do you survive in a tough economy?  If you read Greek, buy the new cookbook, Starvation Recipes, written by a woman of Athens.  During WWII, occupied Athens suffered severe food shortages and people became very creative about conserving food.  The author studied WWII era newspapers and collected ideas and recipes for surviving on less.  The book is selling well.  Which all leads to this week’s subject:  the nutritious economy of soup.

Living Longer

A friend suggested I listen to a podcast titled, Can We Reverse Aging?”  The podcast reminded me of other truisms:

  • Across all species, the larger animals live longer.  Blue Whales, the largest of mammals, can live 200 years; the mayfly lives but a few hours.
  • Conversely, within a single species, the smallest live the longest.  That’s good news for the beautiful wife, at 5 foot, 2 inches.
  • A longevity pill would be worth billions, so scientists are hard at work.  The research to date has shown just one way to slow aging—eat less calories.
  • Studies of varied species prove that as long as long as nutrients are adequate, life is extended, even doubled, by reducing calories. 

A word of caution—caloric restriction hasn’t been tested on humans.  There is interesting literature on longevity improvements in Denmark and Scandinavian countries during WWII food shortages.   The calorie-restriction findings are bad news for Americans because our daily calorie intake has steadily increased in recent decades.  As our diet has gone off the tracks, overweight has increased in step. 

An Interesting Woman

This all leads to a UCSF professor born in Tasmania: Elizabeth Blackburn.  Blackburn earned a Nobel Prize for discovering the enzyme that regenerates telomeres.  Telomeres, you will recall, are the protective tails on the chromosomes that protect the DNA within each of our cells.  Aging is linked to the shortening of our telomeres so the enzyme that restores them could also extend our lives.  (Shortened telomeres have also been linked to cancer risk.) 

Blackburn’s current interests are reported to include how stress harmfully shortens telomeres, the cancer risk of shortened telomeres, and how eating less calories helps to restore them.  The drug companies would love to discover a molecule that lengthens telomeres, thus lengthening life and reducing cancer risk.  A lot of money will be spent on telomere research, but I think it unlikely a pill is the answer.  Where is the answer more likely to be found?  By rediscovering recipes for traditional foods.

A Word About Recipes

Going off-subject for a moment, UNESCO has compiled a list of world heritage sites, seen here.  Checking out the sites on the list is to take an exotic vacation without leaving your home.  Traditional recipes (returning to our subject) are also a world heritage.  The other day, the beautiful wife was making Christmas cookies with a recipe handed down from her mother.  The recipe is in her deceased mother’s handwriting so I saw it as a family heirloom.

If you’re mathematically inclined, you can figure out that inventing a simple recipe of, say, 8 ingredients with each tested at three different amounts, requires over 6000 batches to test all the combinations.   This is an impossible task.  So a well-evolved recipe, tested by time in many kitchens, is truly a heritage.  Can you see a good recipe as a treasured algorithm distilled from eons of cooking experiments?

I subscribe, from time to time, to Cooks Illustrated.  They have a great test kitchen and like to improve or invent recipes.  If I’m currently subscribed, it’s because I like all the background information about why you do certain things, or use certain ingredients.  If I’m not paying for it, it’s likely because they don’t focus enough on health, or because they may over-complicate recipes in search of a certain taste most of us can’t discern.  For everyday cooking, recipes must be kept simple.

I’ve looked for blogs that offer recipes with the idea of linking to them.  It’s been a disappointing search.  I’m wary of commercial blogs.  Only a few blogs have a real focus on health.  To catch people’s interest many blogs use exotic ingredients and my focus is to be more practical.  Here are the recipe essentials I look for:  Healthfulness, Value, Simplicity, and Taste. 

So I was pleased to see the blog, Peasant Food.  Two sisters are putting ideas we support to work by combining traditional healthy foods with the tools of the modern kitchen.  They have a love affair with legumes (the best value in food) and offer their Butterbean and Bacon Soup recipe, shown in the picture above. I’m going to try their recipe.

Skip’s Recipes

My approach to recipes is to make a statistical survey.  I look at dozens of recipes and search out trends in ingredients.  When a trend is visible, I look at the healthiness of the ingredients.  Then, I look for simplicity and value (yeah, no truffles).  Finally I make the recipe and convene a tasting panel.  (Another source of recipes is our readers—we're making a list of the best to share.)  Sometimes the panel is the beautiful wife, but my favorite panel is a bunch of grandchildren.  They love tasting food—kids don’t usually get to give out the grades. 

I once was working on a homemade macaroni & cheese recipe and though I didn’t find the perfect recipe, I was pleased the grandchildren liked my efforts more than the Kraft version we used for comparison.  Kids will eat packaged foods, but they prefer real food. (This was a single-blind test, meaning the grandkids didn’t know the origin of the tasting samples.) 

Soup Recipes

Soups vary around the world, according to the ingredients at hand.  In the US the most popular soup recipes are tomato, chicken, potato, onion, clam chowder, and perhaps black bean soup.  Campbell’s would argue Cream of Mushroom, but I think it is used more as an ingredient than as a soup.

We previously offered recipes for split pea soup, and chicken soup.  We don’t have a recipe for tomato soup; we usually buy Trader Joe’s.  “Is this an example,” I asked the Beautiful Wife, “of a soup that’s just as well purchased as made at home?” “Perhaps,” she said, “but you can’t beat the tomato soup served at Nordstrom’s.”  She’s right.  Nordstrom’s recipe was published in their cookbook and versions can be found on the Internet so I decided to make potato soup the subject of this post. 

Potato Soup

The humble potato—like wheat, rice, or corn—is a dietary mainstay in certain regions of the world.  Potato soup is a heritage dish, economical, tasty, and easy to make.  You can make it with any variety—Idaho russets, the red new potatoes, or even sweet potatoes.  The russets are softer when cooked; the new potatoes are firmer.  The following recipe worked with both.  (Caution: If you store potatoes, keep them out of the sun and remove any sprouts or green spots before using, as they contain the toxin solanine.)

Common ingredients from our survey of potato soup recipes:

  • Potatoes, onions, celery—this is the basis of nearly every recipe.  Sometimes the 3rd mirepoix ingredient, carrots, is added. 
  • Chicken broth.
  • Milk, thickened with roux. (An alternative is to thicken by adding cheese at the end of cooking.)  Older recipes include cream but I used whole milk.
  • If you’re feeling prosperous, bacon or ham. (But add less salt.)

Potato soup recipes require little flavoring.  Typically they include thyme, salt and pepper, and a little chopped parsley as garnish. Other flavor combinations:

  • Garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes.
  • Mustard/Worcestershire sauce, allspice.

Warning:  You can tell the recipes from the ‘50s and ‘60s, when food began to go off the track.  Chicken stock is replaced by bouillon cubes in water; butter (for the roux) is replaced by margarine; and celery salt is substituted for fresh chopped celery.  In this era, convenience blindly passed from virtue to vice.

Skip’s Potato Soup


  3 C. potatoes, washed and cubed

  1 C. white onion, chopped

  2/3 C. celery, chopped

  3 C. chicken stock

  3 strips bacon

  2 C. milk (some recipes include cream)

  2-3 T healthy fat (to sauté)

  2 T butter or bacon fat (for roux)

  2 T flour

  ½ tsp. each thyme, salt, and ground pepper


  1. Place stock in large soup pot and heat to boil.  While stock is heating cube potatoes (washed, but unpeeled) and place in soup pot.  Chop the onion and celery. 
  2. In a frying pan cook the bacon; chop and set aside.  Leave 2-3 T bacon grease in pan. 
  3. Sauté the onions and celery in pan, starting onions first.  Add the sautéed onions, celery and flavor (thyme, salt, pepper) to the soup pot. 
  4. Reusing the frying pan, make roux with butter/bacon fat and flour; cook about a minute.  Stir in milk and cook 5 minutes to thicken (do not boil).  Add to soup pot. 
  5. Continue cooking soup until potatoes are tender.  Remove about half the soup to a blender and puree.  Return to soup pot.  Add chopped bacon, adjust salt and pepper if needed, and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serve.

We served this with a spinach salad and corn bread.  This morning the Beautiful Wife returned from walking and talking with her friends; she exclaimed upon entering the house, “It smells so good!”  So this recipe will also make your home smell good.  I took some of the soup to the grandchildren for taste testing (one mom had just delivered a new granddaughter; the other was gone on a photo shoot).  Grandchildren love soup.  If there’s extra soup, freeze a quart for later.

Please comment:  Share your favorite soup recipes.  Oh, one other comment, did you think this post too long?  If so, my apology; one thing just led to another.

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Reader Comments (30)

Loved this post. I really enjoyed all of the background/side info.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

Love the post - now to convince my husband that soup IS a good thing! :)

I did like all the info, but I also thought it was a little too long. I remember one post a long time ago when you first started the blog where you said something like, "I'm going to go over my word limit," or something... I thought that was smart to have a "word limit". That said, I also love all the content. So maybe give and take? Don't listen to me. I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Oh, I have a question - Are you going to stop posting once the year is over? I would be so sad if you did!

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRik

Rik and Ann—The beautiful wife has tactfully confirmed that sticking to the word limit would be good. It's just that there are so many interesting things about good food and only 104 posts in a year. We do plan to continue the blog next year, with some improvements.

Readers have requested a list of the Healthy Changes with links to posts and we hope to provide that in the form of a report card where you can check your progress as the list develops. Another idea was a daily minipost, pearls of food wisdom, so there would be something new each day.

Any other suggestions? Merry Christmas.

December 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

My recipe for clam chowder is similar to your potato soup recipe, only I keep it to one pot. I render the bacon in a large pot, remove it, and then saute the veggies in half of the bacon drippings. I sprinkle 1/4 cup flour over the sauteed veggies, cook for a bit, and then add chicken stock (or clam juice) and simmer until potatoes are cooked, then add 4 cans of chopped clams. (Since we're landlocked, fresh clams are too special to put into a chowder, I save those for linguine.) A little cream (1/3c.) or milk to finish. Serve with the parsley and crumble in the bacon. Delicious.

I'm finding that a great base recipe is a bit of meat, a green, and a legume. Bacon, butterbean, spinach? Sausage, kale, white beans? Simple and filling.

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarina

Whenever I find fresh shellfish for a good price, l love to make this soup: Tomato and Kale with Shrimp (or Mussels or Clams). I start by shelling and deveining the shrimp. Then put the shells in a pot with about 1 1/2 quarts water, the skins and trimmings from an onion, a crushed garlic clove, and a bay leaf. Let that simmer to make a nice broth, and put the chopped kale in a basket steamer in the same pot. Then cut up the onion and saute (different pot) in 2 Tbs butter until tender. Throw in 2 Tbs of flour and brown it a little, pour in a quart of bottled tomatoes (you can use canned) and stir it in. At this point I usually like to blend it up with my hand blender. When the kale is tender, add it to the soup with the raw shrimp and strain the broth into it. The shrimp should only take a couple of minutes to cook. Add salt, pepper, and about 2 Tbs sugar and you're done!

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenay


I enjoy your blog. I love the blog title "Peasant Food."

One of the most excellent food blogs I've discovered lately is Pamela Salzman: Kitchen Matters. She incorporates traditional, old world cooking methods and ingredients into modern life. I love her ingredients and philosophy, and our families eat a lot alike. I think you will enjoy her!

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Your comments about the tomato soup reminded of a book I recently read and loved (I call it a memoir cookbook). It's called Make The Bread, Buy the Butter, and the author set it to figured out which things you should purchase and which things you should make yourself, based on hassle to make them and the cost.

Here are a few soup recipes we've been eating over and over.

The pear and butternut squash soup was our 18-month old's favorite.

I didn't think it was too long, but I'm fascinated by any discussion food/nutrition related so it would be tough to lose my interest :)

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Funny, I was wondering the same thing about Tomato soup. that's the only soup we often eat as is- with a few additions.

I thought you'd be happy to know that as a result of this blog I made my first chicken stock last week. I bought one of the $5.00 rotisserie chickens from Costco, we ate part of the chicken with baked potatoes and salad the first night, then on sandwiches, then I used the carcass to make stock and then we made portabello mushroom and spinach risotto and then chicken noodle soup -with the stock and dark meat! What a great use of 5.00 dollars and the flavor was SO delicious!

The stock was completely gelatinous when chilled. Is that typical? Should I have added more water while making the stock?

Thanks for this blog! I look forward to reading it each week. We have been eating LOTS of soup around here- bean, veggie, potato, lentil, squash- you name it! Our 10 month old baby likes to eat what we eat, and soup works perfectly for healthy soft meals.

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKjirsti

Two of my favorite soups to make are Tortellini Soup and Butternut Squash Soup. Everyone in my family eats both happily. If you're interested in my recipes, you can find them here:

(Sorry for the long links. I don't know how to be comment-savvy and turn my words into links.)

Squash Soup:

Tortellini Soup:

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGerb

Kjirsti—Congratulations on completing the chicken cycle. Good stock is gelatinous when chilled (the stuff in the store is rather thin). The Costco chickens are larger and should make 2+ quarts of stock. Making such economical and complete use of the chicken is a way of showing respect, don't you think?

To Jenna and all who shared recipes—we'll combine these in a soup recipe post with links, to make them easy to find. Best to you all.

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

The post wasn't too long. My only basis is that I read the whole thing...if it was too long I would have skipped ahead, but I didn't (I credit the content).
I don't have a recipe but I would like to say that my favorite addition to soup is kale. It's absolutely delicious in soup and is sturdy enough to hold up. I highly recommend it.

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDee

Loved the post, as usual.

I've come across a wonderful book...much like the Greek book you alluded to. It is called "An Everlasting Meal" by Tamar Adler. And is inspired by the book "How to Cook a Wolf" which was written by M.K. Fischer during the food shortages of WW2. This new book is all about cooking like a peasant, getting all of the value out of your food, using stems and cores of veggies for broth, using your meat bones, lots of great ways to eat beans. Not really a cook book but a book on food philosophy. Beautifully written and all about enjoying whole foods in simple recipes, using what you have and eating like a peasant. Delicious!

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

Thank you! I'm eager to try this. I love homemade soup---and the leftovers. And, yes, Nordstrom's tomato soup can't be beat.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

Your comment about food blogs made me think of one I love, You've probably seen their cookbook at Deseret Book. My husband and I have been pleasantly surprised by how good their recipes are and how much quality food they use. They have some standby ingredients they love: lime or lemon, cilantro, ginger, butter instead of margarine and a few others. Of course some of their ingredients could be replaced by even better things, like chicken stock instead of bouillon, but as a whole I think their recipes are healthy as well as extremely tasty. I've been particularly impressed with their soups. They have a black bean one that is just delightful, and also a chipotle chocolate chile that is rather fantastic. I tend to almost half the sugar in their desserts because that brings the taste to a less sweet point that I think is more edible, but they really do seem to have a talent for making quick, very tasty dishes. You might take a look and see what you think.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJolena Ashman

Our new favorite, healthy soup...
Ranch-Style Turkey Chili
Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray
Some small modifications by Allen O.
Total Time:
35 min, Prep 10 min, Cook 25 min, Yield: 4 servings, Level: Easy
• 4 poblano peppers (or pasillo)
• 2 large corn muffins, store-bought (or homemade corn bread – not sweet)
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 pounds ground turkey
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons cumin
• 1 tablespoon coriander
• Two 14-ounce can pinto or white beans (cook your own)
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1/4 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
• 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
• 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
• Hot sauce
• 1 cup sour cream

Optional Toppers:
• Shredded sharp Cheddar
• Minced red onion
• 4 to 5 slices crispy bacon, chopped
Char the peppers over a gas flame on high heat or under the broiler with the oven door cracked for steam to escape, turning with tongs. Place the charred peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Let them cool, then peel, seed and finely chop.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Crumble the corn muffins, arrange on a cookie sheet and toast until crispy and extra golden, about10 minutes. Set aside.
Heat the EVOO in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown and crumble the meat. Add the garlic and onions to the pot and cook to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander, then stir in the chopped peppers. Add the beans, stock and herbs and simmer 5 minutes. Season with hot sauce.
Turn off the heat and stir in the sour cream to combine. Top with crumbles and other toppings you like.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy O

have you checked out
This was new to me...lots o lovely photos.
I put in soups in the search bar and got lots of nice looking results.
The French Onion with a Canadian twist might be interesting!
You could put in any vegetable and get results too.
We are coming to see the lights at D-land this week.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy O

Marie, you stole my morning. When i refreshed myself on M.F.K. Fisher and "How to Cook a Wolf", I learned of her childhood, camping in tents at Laguna Beach during the '20s. I knew about the tent camps on the beach, I believe I have studied old pictures of the camp where she stayed, right by the old Occidental College Marine Laboratory. John Steinbeck also lived in Laguna during this time, when he was writing "Tortilla Flat", I think, and I wondered if the Marine Laboratory hadn't inspired the marine biologist in Steinbeck's book.

This all resonated with me because I wrote a book about the founding of Laguna Beach by heretic Mormons in the 1800s called "Zion by the Sea." So I had work to do this morning, a post to finish, and you took me on this wondrous adventure, following the muse through Fisher's wanderings to Provence, France, Switzerland, and St. Helena in California's wine country. I admire food writers who make an adventure of cooking, and who realize that good food comes from good thinking. Thank you for a morning's adventure.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSkip Hellewell

Nancy O: I love the photography at taste spotting dot com. I'll try your recipe as I happened to pick up some pasillo chiles this morning. Best.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

Jolene: I don't know about best bites dot com. Really fun girls, for sure. The homemade snow globe looked like an adventure for kids. We have their cookbook, "Our Best Bites", and I have the Black Bean Soup marked for us to try, but overall they aren't focused on health issues. On the blog the first recipes posted were for fancy versions of a Jello pie, and rice krispie treats. Best.

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

Wow, a lot of really great links and recipes...bookmarked! Thanks again for you kind mention of our new blog, Peasant Food.

Last night I made some stock from the left overs of our pork roast--it smelled great, so if the soup I make from it tonight turns out good, I'll post it on my blog!

December 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

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