There's a reason we tend to congregate in the kitchen: It's that warm spot in our home that feeds our soul as well as our hunger.

Whether kitchen duty is a longtime standby or a newfound luxury, there are many mealtime variations that take advantage of its daytime access. We'll tackle some of them in Taste over the next few weeks, but to start, I've got soup on my mind, the kind that's like a welcome hug at mealtime — and one that doesn't require 6 feet of separation.

Certainly, you can open a can of your favorite combo. I grew up on Campbell's condensed tomato, chicken noodle and its bean-and-bacon varieties. But — ding, ding, ding (right answer!) — you can fill your home with the fragrance of a soup-in-the-making, a lovely scent to behold and an even better dish when served.

Consider this: Soup is thrifty (waste not, want not, with the leftover tidbits that form its base). And, yes, it's even somewhat magical as you combine water and vegetables together, with or without protein, to create something entirely, and remarkably, new. The fable of stone soup (google the story, if you're unfamiliar) often comes to mind.

You can make soup from commercially made stock, of course. But if you've got the time — and many of us do these days — try making the stock yourself. Though it requires little effort to start the process, it does involve unwatched time on the stove, perfect while you're busy with something else.

When my kids were young, I prepared stock while they were at the dinner table, post mealtime, doing their homework. Today I start a batch before I boot up my computer for a day of office work from home.

Here are the basics: To make your own meat-based stock, for the best flavor, start with bones that have been roasted. (Save the carcasses from the $7 roasted supermarket chickens and really get your money's worth.) Cut off any meat on the bones that you will want to use in the final soup, since simmering the protein too long will make it tough. Initially, I add coarsely cut vegetables to the water (carrots, onions and celery — celery leaves are particularly flavorful), along with peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves, all of which will be discarded once the stock is done.

For a vegetable-based variation, consider a combination of celery, carrots, flat-leaf parsley, bay leaves, onions and black peppercorns and salt.

Cover the produce and any bones with cold water, so there's at least 2 inches of liquid above the ingredients. A tall soup pot is best (less water evaporates), but you can certainly use a smaller pot if that's what you have. Keep in mind that it doesn't take more effort to make a lot of stock than it does to make a little.

You'll want to bring the water to a boil, then drop it to a low simmer and keep it going, with the pot semi-covered, for as long as the meat and vegetables have something to offer. That's at least an hour and preferably several hours, adding water, if needed, as the liquid reduces.

Once the stock is done, strain it, discarding the bones, meat and vegetables, and cool the liquid in the refrigerator.

Then you're on to the next, step, which involves chopping and dicing, a sure way to relax. Sometimes I follow a soup recipe, and other times I let whimsy — and my refrigerator or pantry — take over. Will there be a starch (noodles, dumplings, rice, wild rice or potatoes)? Or meatless protein (think beans)? Will I use a blender to purée the final batch, or is this a chunky soup?

So many questions, but so much time.

Lee Svitak Dean • @StribTaste

Split Pea Soup

Serves 8.

Note: Dry split peas come in either yellow or green, with the former milder in flavor. Check through the split peas and rinse them before adding to the soup. When you're dicing the vegetables for the soup (which is different from when you are cutting them coarsely for the stock), make sure that they are all cut the same size. My preference is for them to be diced very small, but if you like larger chunks in your soup, by all means cut them that way. The larger the pieces of vegetable are, the longer it will take for them to cook. If you prefer to make bean and ham soup rather than split pea (with ham), just sub out cooked beans for the split peas. From Lee Svitak Dean.

For stock:

• Ham bone

• 3 carrots, cut in chunks

• 3 or 4 ribs of celery, with leaves, cut in several pieces

• 1 large onion, cut in quarters

• 1 to 2 tsp. peppercorns

• 2 bay leaves

For soup:

• 3 carrots, diced (or more)

• 1 large onion, diced (or more)

• 4 ribs of celery, diced (or more)

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1 (16 oz.) bag split peas, picked over and rinsed (see Note)

• 2 c. chopped ham


Fill a large pot with 20 cups water and add the ham bone, carrot chunks, celery and onion. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for at least an hour and up to 2 hours, watching the level of water, adding more water if the level drops too much. (The liquid will reduce by about half if you simmer it for 2 hours.)

Remove the soup pot from the heat and carefully strain out the solid ingredients, discarding them. Refrigerate the stock (put a potholder under the hot bowl in the cold refrigerator).

Once the stock is cool, lift off the fat that has solidified on top of the soup and discard it. Begin to warm the stock over medium heat.

Meanwhile, sauté the diced carrots, onion and celery in oil for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the cooked vegetables to the stock, along with the split peas, and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the soup for about 30 minutes, or until the peas are soft. Add the ham in the last 10 minutes or so.

If you prefer the soup puréed, use a blender to purée a few cups at a time. If you would like a little texture to the soup, skip that step.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories275Fat5 g

Sodium670 mgCarbohydrates36 g

Saturated fat1 gCalcium50 mg

Protein21 gCholesterol20 mg

Dietary fiber16 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 2 bread/starch, 2 lean meat.

White Bean, Chicken and Pesto Soup

Serves 8.

Note: Think of this as a "from the pantry" soup. Substitute any kind of canned bean or leftover meat, such as ham, pork or beef. The vinegar at the end of cooking heightens the flavor. From "300 Sensational Soups," by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds.

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1 onion, chopped

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 rib celery, chopped

• 1 carrot, chopped

• 1 tsp. dried oregano

• 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

• 6 c. chicken stock

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 2 cans (each 14 to 19 oz.) cannellini or white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (see Note)

• 3 c. shredded cooked chicken (see Note)

• 1/4 c. pesto (store-bought or your own), divided

• 2 tsp. white wine vinegar

• Extra-virgin olive oil


In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, celery, carrot, oregano and cayenne; sauté for 2 minutes.

Stir in stock, salt and black pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes. Add beans, chicken, 2 tablespoons pesto and vinegar; heat until steaming, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, if necessary.

Ladle into heated bowls and garnish each with a small dollop of remaining pesto and a drizzle of olive oil.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories280Fat11 g

Sodium690 mgCarbohydrates21 g

Saturated fat3 gCalcium77 mg

Protein25 gCholesterol46 mg

Dietary fiber5 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 bread/starch, 3 lean meat, ½ fat.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serves 6.

Note: If preferred, substitute 4 cups chopped fresh broccoli instead of frozen. From "Soup's On," by Valerie Phillips.

• 3 tbsp. butter

• 3 tbsp. flour

• 2 (14.5-oz.) cans (3 1/2 c.) chicken or vegetable stock

• 2 c. milk or half-and-half

• 1 large chopped onion

• 2 (12-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped broccoli, or broccoli cuts, thawed (see Note)

• 2 c. shredded Cheddar cheese

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• Pinch ground nutmeg

• 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese or sour cream, for garnish


Melt butter over medium heat in a 4- to 6-quart stockpot.

Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, to make a roux.

Add stock, milk, onion and broccoli and stir well. Turn up the heat and allow mixture to come to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let mixture cook until the broccoli is tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool a few minutes. Purée until smooth in 2 batches in a stand blender, or with a hand-held blender.

Return to pot and add the Cheddar, stirring until cheese is melted. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Ladle into heated bowls and garnish with a heaping tablespoon of Parmesan or sour cream, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories350Fat22 g

Sodium560 mgCarbohydrates17 g

Saturated fat14 gCalcium460 mg

Protein22 gCholesterol65 mg

Dietary fiber4 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: ½ milk, 2 vegetable, 2 high-fat meat, 1 fat.

Lasagna Soup

Serves 8 to 10.

Note: A creamy mixture of ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese melts underneath a flavorful sausage, tomato and pasta soup. From Meredith Deeds.

• 2 tsp. olive oil

• 1 1/2 lb. Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings and crumbled

• 1 large onion, finely chopped

• 4 garlic cloves, minced

• 2 tsp. dried oregano

• 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

• 2 tbsp. tomato paste

• 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes

• 2 bay leaves

• 6 c. low-sodium chicken stock

• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 8 oz. fusilli pasta

• 1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil leaves

• 8 oz. ricotta

• 1/2 c. grated Parmesan

• Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

• 2 c. shredded mozzarella


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes, and cook 1 minute more. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring for another 3 or 4 minutes or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.

Add the diced tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for about 8 minutes or until it's al dente. Stir in the basil and season to taste, with salt and black pepper.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan cheese and pepper.

To serve, place a dollop of the ricotta cheese mixture in bowl. Sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top and ladle the hot soup over the cheese. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories410Fat17 g

Sodium940 mgSaturated fat7 g

Carbohydrates29 gCalcium360 mg

Protein34 gCholesterol86 mg

Dietary fiber2 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 bread/starch, 4 medium-fat meat.

Easy Chipotle Chicken Soup

Serves 6.

Note: Chipotle chiles are smoked jalapeños, often found canned in a vinegary tomato sauce called adobo. Look for them in the Mexican aisle of your grocery store. Freeze leftover chiles by dropping them by spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets and freezing until solid. Then transfer to freezer bags. From Meredith Deeds.

• 6 c. chicken stock

• 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

• 1 to 2 chipotle chile peppers in adobo sauce, minced (see Note)

• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 2 (14 to 19 oz. each) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

• 3 c. shredded cooked chicken

• Salt

• 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro

• 1 avocado, diced

• Crispy tortilla strips (see below)

• 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges


In a large pot, bring stock, garlic, chipotles to taste and pepper to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to blend the flavors. Add chickpeas, chicken and salt to taste.

Ladle into heated bowls and garnish with cilantro, avocado, tortilla strips and lime wedges. Diners may squeeze the lime over their soup, if they desire.

To make crispy tortilla strips: Cut 6-inch corn tortillas in half, then crosswise into matchstick strips. Put vegetable oil in a pan to 3/4 -inch, and place over medium heat until it reaches 350 degrees. Fry tortilla strips in several batches until crisp and lightly golden, about 30 to 45 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels. Season with salt. Cool and use within 3 hours.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 380Fat 13 gSodium 440 mg

Carbohydrates 35 gSaturated fat 3 gCalcium 83 mg

Protein 33 gCholesterol 60 mgDietary fiber 8 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 2 bread/starch, 3 1/2 lean meat, 1/2 fat.

Cream of Celery Soup

Makes about 8 cups.

Note: Here's another option for your homemade chicken broth. Or use canned broth for a quick and luxurious soup. From "Come One, Come All/ Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus," by Lee Svitak Dean.

• 3 tbsp. olive oil

• 1 pkg. (1 large bunch) celery, trimmed of leaves, peeled and coarsely cut (reserve celery leaves for garnish)

• 2 medium onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 c.)

• 2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 1 1/2 c.)

• 6 c. chicken broth

• Salt and freshly cracked pepper

• 1/2 c. cream

• Sour cream, for garnish

• Celery leaves or minced parsley, dill or fresh chives, for garnish


In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat oil and cook celery and onions for about 15 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Set aside to cool slightly before pureeing.

In a blender, purée the vegetables and broth and return to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made in advance to this point.)

To serve, add cream and heat through. Garnish with a dab of sour cream or sprinkle with celery leaves or herbs.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 158 Fat 11 g Sodium 705 mg

Carbohydrates 12 g Saturated fat 4 g Calcium 60 mg

Protein 3 g Cholesterol 19 mg Dietary fiber 3 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 2 fat.

Quick Chicken Stock

Makes about 14 cups.

Note: From "300 Sensational Soups," by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds.

• 16 c. store-bought chicken stock

• 2 lb. chicken parts (necks, backs, breast bones, wings, etc.)

• 2 onions, sliced

• 2 garlic cloves, crushed

• 1 carrot, sliced

• 1 rib celery, sliced

• 6 whole black peppercorns

• 3 parsley stems

• 1 bay leaf

• 1/2 tsp. dried thyme


In large stockpot, combine stock, chicken parts, onions, garlic, carrot, celery, peppercorns, parsley stems, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook at a very low simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and degrease stock.

Nutrition information per 1 cup:

Calories 50 Fat 2 g Sodium 150 mg

Carbohydrates 4 g Saturated fat 0 g Calcium 10 mg

Protein 6 g Cholesterol 3 mg Dietary fiber 0 g

Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 lean meat.

Slow Cooker or Electric Pressure Cooker Roasted Chicken Stock

Makes about 3 quarts stock.

Note: Whether you have all day or you need your stock fast, these easy methods will deliver deep chicken flavor to any soup, stew or sauce you add it to. From Meredith Deeds.

• 3 lbs. bone-in chicken pieces (leg quarters, backs and/or wings)

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 medium carrot, chopped

• 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

•1 medium rib celery, chopped

• 1 tbsp. soy sauce

• 3/4 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns

• 1/4 c. Italian parsley leaves

• 2 bay leaves


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the chicken, onion and carrots on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and toss to coat. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until the chicken is browned.

Slow cooker method: Transfer roasted chicken and vegetables to a 6-quart slow cooker. Pour 1/2 cup water onto the baking sheet and scrape up any browned bits. Transfer the liquid to the slow cooker with celery, soy sauce, salt, peppercorns, parsley and bay leaves. Add about 11 1/2 cups water, cover and cook on high heat setting for 8 to 10 hours.

Strain the stock, discarding solids, and cool before using or storing.

Electric pressure cooker method: Transfer roasted chicken and vegetables to a 6-quart electric pressure cooker. Pour 1/2 cup water onto the baking sheet and scrape up any browned bits. Transfer the liquid to the pressure cooker with celery, soy sauce, salt, peppercorns, parsley and bay leaves. Add 11 1/2 cups water. According to manufacturer's instructions, cook on High Pressure for 1 hour and release pressure using Quick Release method.

Stockpot method: Add the roasted chicken, vegetables and remaining ingredients to the large pot, adding enough additional water to cover ingredients. Simmer on low heat for 3 hours, adding more water if necessary.

For any method: Strain the stock, discarding solids, and cool before using or storing.

Vegetable Stock

Makes about 7 cups.

Note: From "Come One, Come All: Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus," by Lee Svitak Dean.

• 3 ribs celery, with greens, coarsely chopped

• 3 to 4 medium carrots, cut in chunks

• Handful of flat-leaf parsley

• 2 bay leaves

• 2 large onions, quartered

• 6 or more black peppercorns

• 3 garlic cloves, chopped

• 2 tsp. salt


In a large pot, add 14 cups water, celery, carrots, parsley, bay leaves, onions, peppercorns, garlic and salt. Bring liquid to a boil and simmer uncovered for about an hour or until liquid reduces by half. Strain stock and refrigerate until ready to use.