Simple Soups for When You Need Them Most

I'm gonna be on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" tonight! As some of you know, I'm not the most excitable person, but I'm legitimately excited about this. I'll be talking about Dinner for Everyone (and, I'm sure, some other stuff)—hope you'll watch.

So: on Friday, we made the case for winter grilling. Today, I want to propose an even more radical and controversial idea for cold weather cooking: soup. “Soup? At this time of year?? Is he crazy???”

Fine. So maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking topic, but for those of us who live in places where winter is actually wintry, it’s more or less necessary. (I’m making some as I write. Really.) I’ve been meaning to do this piece for weeks, but put it off until I got this note from a reader: “It is winter in Chicago and this year I am getting one cold, cough, sore throat, sinus infection, fever, flu, virus after another! Would you perhaps have some ‘sick soup’ recipes to share? Not too labor intensive please because...well I’m sick.” (There were also some very ill-looking emojis sprinkled in there, which are hard to say no to.)

“Sick soups” are no less tasty and comforting for perfectly healthy people, so even if you’re not currently buried in a pile of tissues, please continue reading: There’s universally useful stuff here.

Above all else, these kinds of soups should be easy. That not only applies to the kitchen labor required to put them together, but also extends, in my mind, at least, to the act of reading the recipes themselves. (Daniel once tried to watch the Pixar movie Wall-E when he had the flu, and had to shut it off after ten minutes because “following that loveable damn robot all over the screen was way too intense.”) Navigating long, complicated recipes is generally unpleasant, so the best soups I can offer here are those that barely require recipes at all.

So: I’m including two pieces I wrote for the New York Times Magazine (one with 12 different versions of vegetable soup, the other with 9 different stocks you can make on the fly) and, for good measure, my recipe for “Boiled Water.”

The vegetable soups (divided into four categories: creamy, brothy, earthy, and hearty) are easy-to-follow, paragraph-long instructions for throwing together complete soups with common ingredients. The stocks are similarly short, with simple directions for whipping up flavorful, fast broths that you can turn into full-fledged soups simply by adding whatever quick-cooking ingredients you have lying around—some combination of chopped greens or other tender vegetables; cooked grains, beans, or noodles; tofu; shellfish; or thinly sliced meats. They’re adaptable and require minimal forethought, both good qualities in a sick soup. “Boiled Water” is the only traditional recipe here (meaning a list of ingredients followed by numbered instructions), but it’s just about the simplest one I’ve ever written, hence the name.

A quick word on storing: Many soups can be made in advance, or at least partly so, and freeze brilliantly for a month or more, so there’s rarely a reason not to double or even quadruple a given recipe to have around for another time. Generally, it’s best not to freeze or even refrigerate a soup once you’ve added starches like rice and pasta. Since they continue to absorb water even during storage, they break down, becoming soft and thickening the soup unnecessarily (of course, if you like these qualities, go right ahead). Nor should you freeze soups made with dairy, which are likely to curdle when reheated.

To my under-the-weather friend out in Chicago, feel better! To everyone else, hope you’re healthy, eat some soup, and see you Friday.

— Mark


Yunhee Kim

I’m not anti-recipe (obviously), but some things just don’t need them — and most vegetable soups fall into that category. Here are easy-to-follow instructions for making vegetable (vegetarian and, for the most part, vegan) soups with common ingredients, a variety of choices and terrific flavor. You’ll need no special techniques, no advance preparation and, for the most part, not much time. You can use just about any vegetable (or bean) you have on hand. These are not stone soups, but they’re close.

VEGETABLE SOUP, 12 WAYS


Sam Kaplan

I'm obsessed with homemade stock, but here’s the problem: It’s so good that it doesn’t last long. What’s needed is something you can produce more or less on the spot. Here are nine fast, simple recipes for flavorful stocks you can whip up on the fly.

QUICK STOCK, 9 WAYS


This Mediterranean classic, as ancient and almost as simple as boiling, is the quintessential beginner’s or just-plain-basic soup. It’s one you’ll cook forever.

BOILED WATER


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Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.