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Food for thought: ethnic soups

By Jason Wong
On September 18, 2013

Now that we're three weeks into the semester, the weather is starting to make the transition to the balmy mid-30s that we have become accustomed to at UConn. In my opinion, the cold is best avoided, but when that's not possible, there's nothing like coming back inside from the chilly weather to find a nice, hot bowl of soup waiting for you. I'm sure I don't have to sell the virtues of a savory, nostalgic chicken noodle soup or the warming qualities of a good bowl of minestrone, but what about those other soups that don't share as much of the public eye?
One great soup to try in the cold fall and winter months is borscht, a classic Eastern European beetroot soup. Beetroot is the main ingredient, giving it a dark, reddish-purple color, but the broth is often beef or pork-based. The best borscht I've ever had hidden potatoes beneath its opaque surface, and it was flavored with garlic and dill. It was garnished with a sprig of coriander, and a dollop of sour cream was added to taste. This is a hearty soup, perfect for warming up after a hard 10-minute walk across campus.
For those of you who like a little more kick in your food, I recommend Tom Yum, a Thai soup. The basic broth is made of stock and fresh ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir, lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed chili peppers. The soup often includes meats such as chicken, beef, pork or shrimp, though prawns are the usual choice. The flavor is both hot and sour, which is something of a departure from most Western soups, but I definitely recommend anyone who's a little adventurous giving this one a try.
Those who are not quite so adventurous might be inclined to settle down with a big bowl of gumbo. Originating from southern Louisiana, gumbo is a versatile soup that can include all different kinds of meat or be entirely vegetarian. Gumbo commonly consists of a strongly-flavored stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener and seasoning vegetables, which can include celery, bell peppers and onions. The soup is then thickened with one of the following: the African vegetable okra, the Choctaw spice filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves) or roux, the French base made of flour and fat. I personally prefer okra, but any of the others are definitely worth a taste.
If you're looking to cut calories, a nice light soup to try is miso soup, a classic traditional Japanese soup. At its most basic, miso soup consists of a stock called "dashi" into which softened miso (traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans with salt and the fungus kōjikin, the most typical miso being made with soy) paste is mixed. Miso soup typically contains mushrooms, daikon (an East Asian radish), carrots, potatoes, tofu and fish.
There are of course tons of other delicious soups from all over the world that all merit attention, but I hope my readership takes the time try the ones I've plugged today. You won't regret it!

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