Soup is a transformative food. It has the power to heal, comfort and fortify, making it the ideal winter nourishment. There is a veritable kaleidoscope of soupy soul-cures out there, from the classic to the exotic, and at this time of year we need all of those things in a big way. We’ve gathered a few delicious steaming bowls sure to ease and please on even the darkest, coldest day. You’re welcome. All prices are for a bowl unless otherwise indicated.
PHO IN THE PARK
Wok in the Park
This adored neighborhood eatery serves a wonderful list of Asian soups: egg drop, hot and sour, lobster bisque, curry coconut, wonton, Thai punch, and our go-to, Vietnamese pho. This apocryphal hangover remedy and general cure-all starts with a lightly sweet, gently spiced beef broth and a nest of springy rice noodles at the bottom of the bowl. Make it your own with an array of DIY condiments: lime, sliced jalapeno, mung bean sprouts and purple-leaved Thai basil. Choose from chicken, beef, shrimp and a vegan option; we stick with traditional beef and doctor it up with lots of herbs and Sriracha sauce. You’ll be addicted in no time, but that’s OK, because winter is long. $10 for chicken or beef, $12 for shrimp.
BISON SIRLOIN CHILI
Bison is showing up on local menus more and more—it’s cherished for its rich flavor, high protein and low fat content (less than chicken!). It’s a perfect base for chili, sturdy enough to take the fieriest of peppers without losing its own earthy accent. At McCoy’s, bison sirloin is ground and mixed with black beans, tangy white cheddar and a hearty infusion of spice. A crown of crunchy tortilla strips and a tender, house-baked corn muffin make the whole experience even better. $9.
This thick Italian vegetable soup is warming as all get-out—full of starches like pasta and beans (which also pack some protein), and stuffed with veggies like carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes. Dating back to early Roman times, it uses what’s on hand, in the garden or leftover from other meals, an emblematic example of cucina povera, (literally, “poverty kitchen”). It makes a generous, filling and delicious meal, especially with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and a bit of good Italian bread for dunking. $4.95.
Yum! Kitchen and Bakery
Yum! Kitchen is a premier soup stop, offering daily specials as well as tasty standards like cream of mushroom, chicken and matzoh ball soups. We most look forward to the gumbo with andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp. The thick, stew-like soup dates back to 18th century Louisiana with roots in African, French, Spanish and Choctaw cuisines. It starts with a thickening roux and a sautéed vegetable dice known as the “holy trinity”: onion, bell peppers and celery. Andouille is a spicy Cajun smoked pork sausage with a coarse-grained, rustic texture; shrimp and grilled chicken complete the protein trifecta. White rice adds body and ballast. The late chef Paul Prudhomme brought gumbo to widespread popularity in the 1980s, for which we are ever grateful. $8.95.
Taste of India
Lentil soup is a stalwart on Indian menus; it’s also called dal, meaning “split” in the Sanskrit language, which refers to the lentils that form the bulk of this warming brew. There are a gazillion and one ways to make a dal; every region in India has a distinct version, as does Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. At Taste of India, mixed lentils go for a long simmer with a deft blend of Indian spices (we detected turmeric, ginger and cumin for sure), garnished with a bright pop of fresh cilantro. It somehow manages to be both exotic and reassuring at once. It’s an excellent starter or a lovely light meal, especially with some just-baked naan bread. $3.99.
WILD RICE AND HAM
Lunds & Byerlys
Wild rice is a local crop and rich in good stuff like protein, lysine and fiber. The indigenous Ojibwe people hold wild rice sacred; the rest of us cherish it for its nutty, chewy goodness. A Minnesota classic, wild rice soup is a calmative in any season, especially with that bolstering shot of local pride. Lunds & Byerlys’ version with ham is justifiably famous. It’s thick and creamy, crowded with nutty wild rice grains and smoky with ham bits. If you need an immediate infusion, you can get a pint of the hot stuff from a bubbling cauldron on-site. Otherwise, bring home a few quarts to heat up for a gang, et voilà: instant cozy night indoors. Large refrigerated container, $7.99, small container, $4.49.
TOMATO BASIL PESTO
Crave updates the classic cream of tomato soup (grilled-cheese dipper, anyone?) with an ingenious infusion of garlicky pesto. The pine nuts and Parmesan cheese in the pesto add body and robust flavor, basil being a tomato’s best complement. Vibrantly flavorful and with a slight roasted note, this is a decidedly adult soup that begs for an accompanying glass of red wine. $6.95
This is a simple tomato- and lentil-based soup flavored with celery, onion, parsley and cilantro. Fragrant spices make it deliciously distinctive: ginger, pepper, and especially cinnamon. We love its warming depth in winter. $9.