Soup is good food, part 1: Cream of spinach soup

Cream of spinach soup, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.

In the newly reworked NYTimes Magazine, Mark Bittman is writing a recurring food feature that will be exploring ways to eat tasty, sustainable, healthy food. The first article is one on soup.

The first question I had upon reading this article was, “Where’s the potato soup?” Surely, potato soup — particularly potato and leek soup, or vichyssoise — is one of the fundamental soups, a perfect thing to show to a beginner soup-maker and soothe any fears he may have.

It turns out that potato soup, though easy and hearty and delicious, was not pretty enough for the NYT Magazine. I was already unhappy that the Magazine had dropped my favorite columnists for its new format; now I have greater doubts.

But still, I’m going to work my way through the soup matrix and see how it is. The recipes look simple enough, and cheap/easy/tasty food is always appealing. (I’ll also be making a humble potato and leek soup. It may not be eye-catching, but it’s the best soup anyone can make.)

My first foray into the soup matrix was the cream of spinach soup. And immediately, there were questions. One chopped onion: What size onion? Can’t I have at least a hint? You’re willing to specify water to the half cup and 10 ounces of spinach, but you can’t be more specific about the major aromatic in the dish?

I used a smallish onion, about a third cup diced, and I concluded in the end that it was too little. If you try this, please shoot for at least 1/2 cup onion, maybe more.

The soup came together quickly but didn’t taste like anything special until I added the Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is tangier than the standard-issue stuff in US stores, and that tang was a big part of the flavor of the dish. Seek it out in the health food part of your megamart grocery.

The suggested garnish for this soup was more yogurt, but I’d used up my one cup. Also, I wanted a little more substance. I decided to garnish with chicken — 3 ounces of shredded roast chicken breast. Some may say that’s more of a major element than a garnish, but all I can tell you is that it ensured the dish was filling and made it seem complete.

Another garnish I plan to try is toast topped with a poached egg. I’m tempted to poach an egg directly in the soup, but since the yogurt is already added, I fear that won’t work well.

Overall, I give this recipe 3 stars out of 5. It’s definitely easy, at least. But I worry for any starter cooks who try this soup before any of the others in the soup matrix. Better they should jump ahead to egg drop soup: Then they’ll have that sense of accomplishment of creating something delicious at home that they can at least recognize from restaurants past.