We had a hint of it last week when we walked out the door one morning and weren't slapped with dragon breath.
It was cool. Not frost-on-the-pumpkin cool, but nice enough to remind us that Florida's best weather is on its way. The slight, if teasing, drop in humidity combined with bins of winter squash at the grocery store have me thinking about fall food.
That means soup. A pot bubbling on the stove fills the house with welcoming aromas. A brimming bowl, with steam curling into the air, accompanied by bread, crackers or even breadsticks, is a decent dinner and the perfect lunch. A green salad bolsters it even more.
But it's not just mild weather that has affected the menu. Clipped budgets, ours and our government's, and pinched time make long-cooking soups filled with pricey ingredients more a dream than a realistic endeavor.
You'll get more flavor in your soups if you roast vegetables first or use dried beans soaked overnight. But for now, we want quick and relatively cheap soups that can be thrown together from what's already in the fridge, freezer or pantry. Some of us keep a simple larder, but others of you might have interesting fresh herbs and produce or oils and spices that need to be used up. Time to use them up for something I call dump soups with flair. • Before deciding on a soup, you'll need to figure out the liquid issue. Soups need liquid and lots of it if you're cooking lentils or tossing in water-hogging dried pasta. The liquid can come from chicken, beef or vegetable broth augmented with water; cans, jars or boxes, even scratch. I don't use bouillon cubes much and haven't tinkered with the soup bases I see near the boxed broths. They do look promising. This winter, I promise. • I use boxed broths mostly because they are convenient and taste good. • To get you started on your "fall" soup extravaganza, I've culled 25 simple soup recipes from various sources and some of my own invention that can mostly be made in less than 30 minutes. Substitutions are allowed and, in fact, encouraged. Most feed 4 to 6. • As far as the pot goes, use what you've got — saucepans, stock pots or Dutch ovens — just make sure it's big enough. Janet K. Keeler, Times lifestyles editor
Chicken Noodle Soup
To 4 cups each boiling chicken broth and water, add 1 large diced onion, 2 sliced celery stalks, 1 cup each sliced carrots and sliced parsnips. Simmer for 15 minutes and add 6 ounces egg noodles, cook for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups shredded cooked chicken and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
White Bean and Fennel Soup
Saute 1 diced onion and 1 small sliced fennel bulb in oil until tender. Add 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth, 1 (14-ounce) can each drained cannellini beans and diced tomatoes, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, pepper to taste and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until fennel is tender. Discard bay leaf. Add 3 cups spinach and cook until wilted.
Black Bean and Corn Soup
Saute chopped onion, 1 diced jalapeno and garlic in olive oil. Add 4 cups chicken broth, 2 cans drained black beans and 1 teaspoon cumin. Simmer for 10 minutes. Puree, return to the pan and add 1 cup frozen corn kernels. Heat through. Serve with sour cream.
Creamy Tomato and Tarragon Soup
Saute 1 medium diced onion in olive oil until soft. Add 28-ounce and 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Simmer for 10 minutes and then puree in a blender or use an immersion blender in pan. Return to pan over low heat and whisk in 1/3 cup sour cream and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried. Season with salt and pepper.
Lemon Egg Drop Soup
Bring 8 cups of chicken broth to boil. In a bowl, whisk together 4 large eggs, the juice of 2 lemons and a few shakes of lemon pepper. Slowly stir in 1 cup hot broth. Reduce heat and add egg mixture, stirring constantly. Do not boil or eggs will curdle. Heat through and serve with lemon zest and shaved curls of Parmesan.
Italian Wedding Soup
Bring 8 cups of chicken broth to a boil with rind of Parmesan (optional). Add 1 pound mini frozen meatballs, 1 cup orzo and 3 cups torn greens (escarole or spinach). Simmer until orzo is tender and meatballs are heated through.
Butternut Squash Soup
Saute 1/2 sliced onion in 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme and 2 tablespoons butter until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add 5 cups chicken broth and 2 pounds peeled and diced butternut squash. Simmer until tender and puree. Whirl in creme fraiche or sour cream and scatter with chives or parsley to serve.
Asian Dumpling Soup
Puree two cloves garlic with 2-inch piece peeled ginger and fry in oil with one bunch sliced scallions. Add 3 cups each chicken or vegetable broth and water, 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and sherry, and pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and add frozen dumplings, julienned carrots and snow peas.
Curried Sweet Potato Soup
Add 1 pound peeled, diced and cubed sweet potatoes to 4 cups boiling water. Simmer until tender. Meanwhile, saute 2 cups chopped yellow onions in 1 tablespoon butter until golden. Puree drained potatoes with onions plus 3/4 teaspoon curry powder, 1 cup skim milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return to pan; add another cup skim milk and 1 tablespoon butter. Heat through. Serve with a dash of cayenne and sour cream.
Potato Leek Soup
Saute 3 cups each sliced leeks and cubed potatoes in butter. Add 1 sliced garlic clove and pinch each of salt, pepper, thyme and nutmeg; cook 5 minutes. Add 5 cups chicken broth; boil until potatoes are tender, then puree. Reheat with 1 cup cream or half-and-half; do not boil.
Red Bean and Barley Soup
In a saucepan, saute diced celery, onion and garlic in olive oil. Add 7 cups beef or vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Pour in 1 cup quick-cooking barley. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add 2 cans drained and rinsed kidney beans and 3 cups torn spinach leaves. Serve with grated Parmesan.
Broccoli Cheese Soup
Saute 1/2 diced onion in 1/4 cup melted butter until soft. Stir in 8 ounces frozen broccoli and add 2 cans chicken broth. Simmer until broccoli is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat, and stir in 8 ounces processed cheese (like Velveeta). Mix in 1 cup milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder. To thicken, mix 1/3 cup cornstarch with 1/2 cup water in a small bowl and stir into soup.
Sausage, Spinach and Lentil Soup
Bring six cups of your choice of broth to a boil. Add 10 ounces lentils, 1 cup diced carrots and 2 minced garlic cloves. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until lentils are soft. Add 1 pound sliced cooked kielbasa and fresh or frozen chopped spinach.
Hamburger Rice Soup
Brown 1 pound ground beef. Drain fat, return meat to pan and add 2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, 2 cups cubed potatoes, 2 sliced carrots, 1 chopped onion, 1/2 cup rice, 6 cups water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for about 25 minutes.
Thai Coconut Soup
Saute 3 garlic cloves, 3 tablespoons grated ginger, 1/4 cup chopped lemongrass, 1 teaspoon each cumin and coriander, and a hot chili in oil. Add 1 sliced, raw chicken breast and 1 sliced onion; cook 5 minutes. Add shredded bok choy, 4 cups water, 1 can coconut milk, chopped cilantro and 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Simmer for 8 minutes.
Spicy Poblano and Corn Soup
Bring 1 cup corn and 1 1/2 cups milk to a boil. Microwave 4 seeded and chopped poblano chilies, 1 cup diced onion and 1 tablespoon water on high for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, place 2 cups corn and 1/2 cup milk in a blender; process until smooth. Add pureed mixture to corn mixture in pan. Stir in chili mixture and salt, and heat through over medium heat. Serve with grated cheddar cheese.
Super Vegetable Soup
In a saucepan, sweat chopped onion, green pepper and minced garlic in 2 tablespoons butter. Add 6 cups broth of your choice. Bring to a boil and add 1 cup each diced carrots and potatoes, cook for 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup each diced zucchini and trimmed green beans plus 1 or 2 cans of diced tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of thyme or Italian dried seasoning. Salt and pepper. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve with floating croutons.
Potato and Bacon Soup
Cook 8 slices of chopped bacon. Drain bacon and set aside, reserving 2 tablespoons of grease in pan. Saute 1 small, diced onion. Add 6 cups chicken broth or water and 3 cups cubed potatoes, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree and return to pan. Add 1 (14-ounce) can evaporated milk and cooked bacon pieces, stir. Serve with snipped chives.
Turkey Sausage and Gnocchi Soup
Brown 6 ounces bulk turkey sausage. Add 2 cups water, 16 ounces frozen gnocchi, 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth and 1 (14-ounce) can Italian-style stewed tomatoes, chopped and with juice. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Garlic Shrimp Soup
Make a garlic broth by smashing and peeling 2 heads of garlic and simmering on medium about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 8 cups of chicken broth and a bundle of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, oregano); simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and strain solids. Return liquid to pan and add 1 pound of small, peeled shrimp. Other additions could include shiitake mushrooms, frozen, shelled edamame, fresh chopped mint or parsley.
Sweet Potato, Leek and Ham Soup
Saute 1 cup diced cooked ham in olive oil. Set meat aside. Add 1 large, sliced leek and cook with 1 tablespoon water until tender. Add 3 cups cubed, peeled sweet potatoes, 1 cup chicken broth, 2 cups water and 1 (5-ounce) can fat-free evaporated milk. Bring to boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove half and puree, then return to pan. Return ham and heat through. Serve with sliced leeks or scallions as garnish.
Tortellini and Pea Soup
Bring 6 to 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth to a boil and add a bag of cheese tortellini; cook for a few minutes until pasta is floating. Add frozen peas.
Cream of Crab Soup
Saute 1 small, diced onion in 2 tablespoons butter. Add 1 can cream of potato soup, 1 can cream of celery soup, 2 soup cans of milk, 1/2 soup can of water, 2 teaspoons Old Bay and 1 pound crab meat. Mix thoroughly and heat through, stirring frequently. (Substitute 1/2 pound of cooked fresh shrimp for crab.)
Mushroom and Brown Rice Soup
Saute 1 medium, finely chopped onion in olive oil until soft. Add 8 ounces sliced white mushrooms, 4 ounces baby bella mushrooms and 1 cup shredded carrots. Cook for 10 minutes. Add garlic clove, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, salt and pepper; cook 1 minute. Add 4 cups vegetable broth, 3/4 cup quick-cooking brown rice and 2 cups water; cover and heat to boiling on medium-high. Reduce heat to medium; cook, partly covered, 5 minutes or until rice is tender.
Asian Chicken Noodle With Snow Peas Soup
Cook and drain 8 ounces rice noodles. Combine 3 inches smashed lemongrass, 1 inch fresh ginger peeled and cut in matchsticks and 3 cups water. Bring to boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Strain broth, return to pan and add 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in strips and 8 ounces trimmed snow peas. Cook for 5 minutes. Finish with fresh lime juice, mint leaves and Asian chili sauce such as Sriracha.