Creamy Spinach Soup
Put 1 chopped onion, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 3 cups water and salt and pepper in a pot over high heat. Boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Add 10 ounces chopped spinach and ½ cup parsley leaves; cook until the spinach is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup Greek-style yogurt and purée. Garnish: A spoonful of Greek-style yogurt and chopped parsley.
Substitute 1 tablespoon minced ginger for the garlic and 4 cups chopped butternut squash for the spinach (it will take longer to soften). Skip the parsley and substitute half-and-half or cream for the yogurt. Garnish: A spoonful of cream.
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Substitute 1 tablespoon minced ginger for the garlic, 2 cups cauliflower florets for the spinach (they will take longer to soften), 1 tablespoon curry powder for the parsley and coconut milk for the yogurt. Garnish: Chopped cilantro.
Vegetable Broth With Toast
Put 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped onions, 1 small chopped potato, 2 chopped celery ribs, 2 garlic cloves, 10 sliced mushrooms, 1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine), 10 parsley sprigs, ½ ounce dried porcini, 8 cups water and salt and pepper in a pot over high heat. Boil, lower heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft, 30 minutes or longer. Strain and serve over toasted good bread. Garnish: Chopped celery leaves.
Egg Drop Soup
Beat 4 eggs. Boil the strained stock, lower the heat so it simmers and add the eggs in a steady stream, stirring constantly until they’re cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup chopped scallions, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Skip the bread. Garnish: Chopped scallions.
Boil the strained stock, lower the heat so it simmers and add ¾ cup white rice. Cook until tender, then add 2 cups fresh or frozen peas; cook for a minute or two. Skip the bread. Garnish: Grated Parmesan
Put 1 1/2 cup dried beans, 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery ribs, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 6 cups water in a pot over high heat. Boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the beans are soft, at least 1 hour, adding more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish: A drizzle of olive oil.
Substitute chickpeas for the beans and rosemary for the thyme and add 1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine). When the chickpeas are almost tender, add ½ cup small pasta. Cook until the pasta and chickpeas are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish: A few chopped rosemary leaves.
Spicy Black-Bean Soup
Use black beans and substitute fresh oregano for the thyme. When the beans are done, add 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 dried or canned chipotle and the juice of a lime. Garnish: Cilantro and sour cream.
Sauté 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped celery rib and 1 teaspoon minced garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups cubed potatoes and salt and pepper; cook for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine) and 5 cups water. Boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 1 cup chopped green beans; simmer for 20 minutes. Garnish: Chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.
Substitute 1 1/2 pounds sliced mushrooms (preferably an assortment) for the potatoes; sauté until they brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Substitute ½ cup white wine for the tomatoes, skip the green beans and add a fresh thyme sprig with the water. Garnish: A few thyme leaves.
Use 2 tablespoons minced garlic and substitute 2 tablespoons tomato paste for the celery. Skip the potatoes and green beans; use 3 cups tomatoes and 3 cups water. Cook the tomatoes for 10 to 15 minutes. Garnish: Lots of chopped or torn basil
All of these recipes serve four, and you’ll want about a 2.5-to-4-quart (medium or large) pot. Most can be cooked for a while — but not so long that the freshness is gone. Most will taste as good or better the next day, so consider making a double batch and refrigerating (or freezing) the leftovers. But never boil a soup after you’ve added dairy to it; instead, reheat gently.
If you want a supersmooth soup (and just about any of these soups can be puréed if you like), use a standing blender — let the soup cool a bit first — which creates a finer purée than an immersion blender does; you might even strain the soup after puréeing it.
Garnishes are all optional, though herbs add a dimension that will be lacking otherwise. If you taste as you’re cooking, you’ll be fine, because there is really nothing to go wrong here.