Here comes holiday madness &mdash but first, have some soup

It seems at times there is a Jewish imperative for soup. From biblical times, the value of a good soup is evident through the ages.

The famous healing properties of chicken soup (be it for stomach flu, heart or soul) have been corroborated by studies. The density of matzah balls has been responsible for the success of marriages (and for family rifts). Patriarch Jacob finagled his brother’s birthright over a pot of lentil soup. (Most useful, perhaps, during the holidays is the way a hot bowl of low-calorie soup before a party can discourage restraint during a rich meal.)

Before we get too involved in the craziness that this season of sharing brings, let’s calmly prepare some delicious, soothing and filling soups, and enjoy their restorative powers with our friends and families.

Hot and Sour Pumpkin Soup | Serves 8

3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbs. grated ginger
6 cups peeled pumpkin cubes or other winter squash
1 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. dried chili flakes
4 Tbs. chopped basil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger in the oil until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add pumpkin and wine, and bring to a boil. Cook until wine is reduced by half. Add stock and chili flakes and simmer until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.
Purée soup until smooth. Stir in the chopped basil, lime juice, soy sauce and sugar. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Chicken Coconut-Milk Soup | Serves 4

3 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. Thai chili paste
3 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 can coconut milk, shaken
4 Tbs. chopped cilantro

Place chicken stock, chili paste and lime juice into soup pot. Slowly bring to a boil, then immediately turn down heat and simmer slowly for five minutes.
Drop chicken pieces into simmering broth, cook for 7 minutes. Shake up the coconut milk and whisk into soup. Cook 2-3 minutes to heat through. Serve immediately, topping each portion with cilantro.

Stanley Eichelbaum’s Garlic Mushroom Soup | Serves 8

1 oz. dried wild mushrooms
1/2 cup Madeira wine
2 Tbs. olive oil
10 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, brushed clean and finely chopped
4 Tbs. chopped flat-leaf

2 tsp. dried thyme
5 cups unsalted vegetable stock
sea salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

Soak dried mushrooms for 30 minutes in the Madeira wine. Drain, reserving the liquid, and rinse mushrooms well. Slice mushrooms and set them aside.
Heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot and sauté garlic, onion and mushrooms for 8 minutes. Add parsley and thyme and sauté 5 more minutes. Add stock and strained Madeira, and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a sprinkling of cheese.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a Bay Area cooking teacher and food professional. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].