Soups to get you through the winter
'Tis the season for shoveling, sledding, and snow emergency alerts. As flakes accumulate outside and the stocking cap becomes a staple of your wardrobe, you start to crave hot and hearty foods but not necessarily ones that will give you that hard-to-lose layer around your midsection. The simple answer? Soup! From broth-based to cream-finished, chunky to pureed, these are just a few of the comforting, restorative bowls we look forward to all year.
Lentil and sausage at Black Forest Inn, $8.25
Ah, the humble lentil. So small that the tiny internet sensation Marcel the Shell uses one as a hat, yet when you bathe a few handfuls of them in rich broth, they make the hearty meal you need to power you through these cold, wet days. Black Forest Inn's main draw has always been its patio dining (though obviously not right now) and massive servings of gravy-covered meat, but the satisfying, sausage-studded lentil soup should really get more love. Between the meat, beans, veggies, and thick, chunky texture, it's almost like a German version of chili. Did you know that existed? It does, and it's delicious.
Squash and coconut soup at Parka, $8
Marshmallows are not just for hot chocolate this season. Erick Harcey of Victory 44 and Parka in Longfellow is a big fan of the unexpected savory marshmallow. He used a ras el hanout one last year in his fanciful, re-imagined version of chicken wild rice soup and is taking a similar approach with this elegant squash and coconut soup, garnished with house-made five-spice-powder marshmallows. Additional textural contrast comes from a little toasty coconut and sesame granola, an umami boost comes in the few dots of soy gel, and the whole bowl is offset by the fresh herb flavor of micro cilantro. This is modern Midwestern comfort.
Tomato basil soup at Caffe Biaggio, $6
When listing the Twin Cities' favorite Italian restaurants, for some reason Caffe Biaggio often gets left out, but never by the customers who have been seduced by the signature Caffe Biaggio tomato basil soup. This simple soup succeeds by staying utterly well-balanced, managing to underline the tomato's sweetness and acidity. An anise breath of basil comes through toward the end of each taste, but it's the slight creaminess that keeps it from veering into marinara territory. A temperate bowl with an order of toasty arancini or their fabulously sharp goat cheese torta, ribboned with basil pesto and fig jam, makes an ideal lunch. Side note: If you like a chunkier, more homestyle version of tomato basil, drop by any one of Turtle Bread's locations. Theirs is excellent too, so make sure to get a big hunk of crusty bread on the side. You'll need it to help get every last bit from the sides of the bowl.
Kaeng Pa at On's Thai Kitchen, $10.99
There's a lot to love about the soups at the fabulous and under-recognized On's Thai Kitchen near the intersection of University and Snelling in St. Paul. Adventurous guests might like the traditional Tom Saap, a sour and spicy soup made with tripe, or the Ka-Praow-Pla, a chicken soup with fish bladder and diminutive soft-boiled quail eggs. The one we like best is the Kaeng Pa, a spicy, brothy, slightly fishy curry that is restoration personified. Every bold bomb of northern Thai flavor is in the mix here: Loads of lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, and abundant chiles do a little dance with peas, greens, and eggplant. Add in chicken or pork for a little more substance. Though it's technically more a curry than a soup, we'll give this one a pass and also a high five.
Lobster and sweet potato bisque at Union Fish Market, $10
Soup need not always be rustic or based in a bone-deep broth to be soul-stirring. The wonderfully refined lobster and sweet potato bisque at Union Fish Market is evidence of that. This elegant starter arrives as a large lump of delicately poached lobster in the bottom of a bowl with a lacy cage of sugar on the rim. The structure slowly melts away as the velvety sweet potato puree is poured through it, table-side, by one of the Fish Market's attentive servers. You wouldn't think that seafood and root vegetables would go together, but they make a fine marriage of sweet indulgence in this bisque.
Mulligatawny at Gandhi Mahal, $3
Most people know it as Kramer's requested order in the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld, but if you've never experienced this turmeric-tinged soup of Indian origin for yourself, there's no better version than the one at Gandhi Mahal. This tart and tangy tomato-based soup (rather than the coconut milk or cream-based versions some other restaurants serve) is packed with lentils, carrots, and apples. It's a light and nourishing bowl served with a crisp little papadum for dipping, which really shows up the usual sad package of oyster crackers.
Pozole at Nico's Taco and Tequila Bar, $7
There are so many great places to pick up a pint or two of pozole in the Twin Cities. La Perla, Mercado Central, and Los Ocampos are among the best, but we love the DIY nature of the pozole at Nico's Taco and Tequila Bar. The spicy, soothing broth is chock full of shreds of tender pork and poufs of hominy and served with a sort of mezze plate of shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, wedges of lime, and dried oregano to sprinkle and squeeze in at your discretion. Elect to get your bowl with either a pile of warm corn tortillas or a pinto bean tostada covered in cotija cheese. It's a mid-winter escape.
Avgolemono at Christos, $5.35
Though warm and filling, this Greek soup looks forward to spring with all its lemony zestiness and is traditionally served at Easter. It uses whole eggs (and usually a few extra yolks for richness and color), which are emulsified in lemon juice, much like the process of making Hollandaise sauce — sort of what avgolemono tastes like, in fact. The soup is further thickened with a scoop of rice and begs for a plate of Christos's freshly made pita bread. If you want to continue the custard-y trend through to dessert, get the Galaktoboureko — a nutmeg-flecked custard-y cousin of baklava that's wrapped in flaked phyllo and drizzled with honey.
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