Cook: Turning soup from meal starter into star attraction

On the next chilly day, present a bowl of soup to start the meal and watch faces light up with anticipation and gratitude. Or better still, make soup the entire meal, the ultimate in warming, satisfying comfort food.

To get the best-ever soup meal, start with a flavorful stock, add the freshest seasonal vegetables, and include a good amount of protein, such as meat, poultry, fish and/or beans. If you’d like, finish with some carbs like pasta or rice. And there you have it … easier than saying “Is it soup yet?”

Select either of the following soups and you can rest assured you have developed a nourishing meal in a bowl. Let’s start with chicken soup and tweak it so that it becomes the star attraction of the menu.


Chicken Soup with Chard and Chicken Dumplings

Serves 8 Dumplings

1⁄2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut up

2 Tbs. oil

1⁄2 small onion

1⁄2 cup fresh (not dried) bread crumbs

1 egg plus 1 egg white

1⁄2 tsp. salt

1⁄8 tsp. cayenne

1⁄4 tsp. grated nutmeg


2 Tbs. oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1⁄2 lb. chard

15-oz. can garbanzos, rinsed and drained

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

salt and pepper

To make dumplings, combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until puréed. Chill mixture about 1 hour. With wet hands, form into balls, using about

1 Tbs. of mixture for each. Drop into a large pot of boiling, salted water. Reduce heat and simmer until dumplings float to surface, about 12-15 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

To make soup, in a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and sauté onion and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Separate stems from leaves of chard and cut stems into 2-inch pieces. Add to onion and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in  stock and bring to a boil. Cut chard leaves into thin strips and add to soup along with garbanzo beans. Simmer 5 minutes. Purée about 1 cup soup mixture and stir into remaining soup. Taste for salt and pepper. Place 4 or 5 dumplings in each soup plate, ladle soup over them and serve.


Tomato-Eggplant Soup with Ravioli

Serves 8

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 leek, white part only, thoroughly washed and chopped

2 small Japanese eggplants peeled and diced

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 Tbs. tomato paste

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano

1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme

6 cups vegetable stock or water

salt and pepper

12 oz. cheese raviolini, cooked (store-bought)

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook leek and eggplant until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, oregano and thyme. Cook until bubbly, about 4 minutes. Add stock and simmer 30 minutes. Purée in a food processor. Taste for salt and pepper. Place 4 ravioli in each soup bowl and ladle soup over them.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to

Louise Fiszer