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   In January, Comfort on
   the Stove or in a Bowl

   By Nigella Lawson

  It has never been my practice to concentrate on any one ingredient or foodstuff. Somehow, it would seem like giving a class rather than suggesting a real meal.

  Now, I might as well confess that all the recipes here are for soup, but there is justification for it.

  There are variations in the ingredients in soups, of course, but also in the way soups are eaten. Soups have such different characters. The sort you make by putting a few ingredients into a pan and then into a blender for a quick and easy supper, like the effortless pea soup here, is very different from the clear and light tom yum, which in turn has little in common with the split pea and frankfurter soup, itself the best plain but wintry main course imaginable.

  At this time of year, it can feel as good to have a stockpot of hot soup on the stove as it is to eat a bowl of it. Something simple and warming is just the food you want when someone in the house is feeling below par. Even when I am busy, I love making soup. You just chuck a few ingredients in a pan, add liquid and let it bubble. Nor does soup call for exactitude in measuring ingredients: this is not a precision art.

  One of my regular near-instant meals is pea soup, which I make by tossing sliced scallions in a little garlic-infused oil (or using regular olive oil and mincing a clove of garlic into it) and then by adding peas from the freezer.

  Once they have warmed a little, add some broth and let everything cook for 10 minutes or so before blending it all with freshly grated Parmesan or Cheddar.

  You can add to this as you like: if you have bacon, chop two or so slices into the pan along with the scallions. If, like me, you often have dried-out Parmesan rinds lingering in the fridge, add one to the broth. (Remove the rind before putting the soup in the blender.)

  You can be even fancier by adding ground cumin to the scallions and some coconut milk and a spritz of lime juice at the end when blending. But the best thing about this soup is the fact that it is made from ingredients that can be kept on standby.

  The tom yum soup is about as different in character and content from the others as you can get, though it is not much more effort to make. The greatest part of the labor is shopping, for you are unlikely to have the ingredients on hand. Still, once you have gone out for tom yum paste, lime leaves, lemon grass, fish sauce and shrimp, you are really only about five minutes from a sinus-clearing, light but sustaining supper.

  This is pretty much a Thai version of the more familiar Chinese hot and sour soup. You can make it as mild as you like, but the version here is emphatically heat-giving.

  My favorite soup, yellow split pea and frankfurter, is more comforting to eat than you can imagine, providing ballast and warmth for icy days and nights. I often forgo the frankfurters and just wallow in golden, grainy bowls full.

  It takes a good hour to make, but requires very little effort. Into a large pan goes some oil, followed by chopped garlic, carrot and celery (I use a processor and really pulp them) and then a pinch of mace and just about two full cups of yellow split peas. Then I add bay leaves and chicken or vegetable broth.

  I find mace to be the key here, though if you do not have any at hand add a little grated nutmeg toward the end of the cooking time. The split peas cook to a grainy purée, so there is no blending required. You can make vats of the stuff, reheating just enough for a bowl when you want it. With a little water added, it thickens enormously on standing. And believe me, you will want it. I could not get through January without it.

  • Recipe: Easy Pea Soup
  • Recipe: Yellow Split Pea and Frankfurter Soup
  • Recipe: Tom Yum Soup

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