Thanksgiving in a Bowl

The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup

By Jan Leitschuh

Who wouldn’t love to curl up around a steamy, creamy bowl of soup on a raw November day?

I have a clever friend and avid kitchen gardener, Deb Tucker, who gathers the fall harvest from garden and market, and throws it together in marvelous combinations. She takes this abundance and turns it into a rich bowl of comfort food to ward off late fall’s chill.

The goodies in her cook pot are different every time. The nice thing about this soup is that the ingredients are fluid, and you don’t have to be a gifted chef to make a hearty and delicious potful — just a cook who likes to eat.

The markets reflect the abundance of fresh fall harvest available to us, from apples and squashes, to broccoli, to pecans, to sweet potatoes, to early collards, to fall green beans, to northern cranberries and more. And, of course, roasted turkey.

And my creative friend grabs onto it with both hands, crafting her free-form soup magic.

So, no precise recipes here. Soup is more of a narrative, anyway, a tale of your household’s leftover bits and bobs, with a tasty dash of this and that. To craft your Thanksgiving-in-a-bowl, follow the basic structure, unleash your inner Deb, and fashion a soup that fits your dietary needs and preferences.

Deb described her latest as “cream and cheeses and sherry and cranberries and onions and pecans and nutmeg and coriander and broccoli and cayenne and leftover seasoned turkey tenderloins. Basically . . . comfort food.”

Too rich for you? Back off the cream and cheeses. Avoiding alcohol? Eliminate the sherry. Vegetarian? Use vegetable stock and lose the turkey. Vegan? Vegetarian plus no dairy.

See? This is easy. So, commence:

1. Begin at the bottom of your soup pot. Add a bit of oil and “start as we do with nearly everything, sautéing/caramelizing onion,” Deb said. You might want to add a handful of chopped celery, if available. Thanksgiving spices such as sage are also good additions — a bit of chopped, fried sage is the “pumpkin spice” of our favorite savory Thanksgiving dishes.

2. You’ll need the stock for the soup’s broth. Chicken broth is the standard; vegetable stock could also suffice. A carton of squash soup might be an intriguing side trip into fall flavors. Add liquid to the soup pot and heat. Once your stock is established, start tossing things in.

3. Depending on your diet, you may or may not want to skip the dairy — my friend cooks like a Frenchwoman. On this chilly fall day, Deb’s tastes went right to rich by adding “a little heavy cream. You could also use both cream cheese and/or mascarpone,” she said, “though I wanted the tart bite of cream cheese.” Gilding the lily, as it were, Deb also used a second cheese, an extra-sharp shredded cheddar. “It was a cool, rainy day, and I just wanted some cheesiness,” she said. “I was out of any melty-type cheese, but that would be good, too.” Despite all the dairy, Deb used a light touch and called her concoction more of a “bisque, as it wasn’t as thick as a creamed soup, but not as broth-y as a clear soup.”

4. Add the protein. Deb tossed in leftover turkey, torn in pieces from a simple Butterball-type turkey tenderloin. (On another occasion, she sprinkled the tenderloins with chili powder and cumin, roasting them at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. She also added mashed sweet potatoes.) Vegetarians could add chunks of grilled portobello mushrooms, or perhaps stir some nut butter into the veggie broth.

5. Season the Thanksgiving bowl with spices and flavors. Deb loves sherry in soups, “many good splashes.” She tried a spot of nutmeg (“just a little . . . freshly grated is best”) and coriander. For a little more heat, she dashed in a little cayenne along with salt and pepper. Though she loves garlic in so many things, Deb steered clear of it this time. “I didn’t think it fit with this milder concoction,” she explained.

6. Add more stuff. Deb kept tossing in seasonal ingredients. A handful of chopped pecans are a soup surprise but very effective, adding “a little bit of the crunch of pecans, which can also be mild and creamy.” Another surprise is a scattering of dried fruits. For this latest creation, she used low-sugar dried cranberries. She adores adding Montmorency sour cherries at other times.

7. After simmering a bit to blend flavors, Deb added frozen broccoli florets near the end. She wants them cooked but still firm and green, “not too soggy. Sometimes I’ll throw some frozen florets into a skillet and brown it quickly, so it resembles roasted.” The result is “easy and quick, if you already have the leftover turkey.”

As a self-described experimental kitchen cook, I could see adding a few sautéed green beans, a cut potato or two, or perhaps some chunks of roasted sweet potato in some iteration. Your larder, tastebuds and imagination shape the outcome.

The result was so good, “I wish I had made enough to have the next day,” Deb said. “Oh, wait, I think I do have one bowl left. Don’t tell my husband. It might disappear when I settle down to watch a movie tonight.”

November leftovers don’t get much better than that. PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.

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