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Comforting Soups for the Fall Paddler

You may not believe it, but at this very minute, I’ve never been as close to the subject of my monthly food column, writing my text on my laptop while a pot of steaming tomato-lentil soup is simmering by my side on the camp stove. It is 6 o’clock in the morning on this chilly (44 degrees F.) and somewhat foggy Saturday morning and the only reason why I’m up and running so early in the morning is the promise of a glorious 3-day kayak trip in the Buzzard Bay-Nantucket Sound of Cape Cod that will start with a thermos full of soup to keep me warm and satisfied at lunch.

The context that I’m in right now as a kayaker was enough to change the subject of my story for this month. I had planned to talk to you about legumes and how easy they are to prepare when you leave for a paddling adventure in the early fall. But the fact that I’ve been freezing almost every single day so far during my last three weeks of kayaking and camping along the New England coast, changed the focus and made me crave hot soups that could stand as complete meals for paddlers. We’ll talk about chick peas, coral lentils or black beans some other month, I promise. But for now, anyone who is camping and paddling in the Northern Hemisphere certainly might need the comfort of soup for dinner, just as much as I do...

Proteins and carbs in sufficient amount for a meal

Contrary to an appetizer-type-of-soup, soup that is a complete meal needs to meet specific nutritional requirements to fulfill its promise of nourishing the body and help it function properly for the next couple of hours of paddling.

First, it has to be filled with easily digestible proteins (legumes, cheese, dry meat, fish, tofu, etc.) in sufficient amount. This translates roughly into 15-20 grams of proteins per person per meal, or the equivalent of a 3-4 oz portion of meat or substitute.

The other essential elements are carbohydrates, either in the form of bread, noodles, rice, corn, potatoes or whole grains. One half cup of any of the above mentioned carbs is a good fuel that helps the body stay warm and brings sugar to the brain and the muscles, which is crucial for good performance and to avoid fatigue. Whole grains carbs will also help you feel fuller longer, thanks to their high content of fibers.

Vegetables for the taste and texture

The third key elements are vegetables, which bring more fibers, but also vitamins and antioxydants, along with palatable pleasure and texture. The choice is endless and varies according to your taste, the season, the length of the trip and the time you want to spend with cooking and preparation. A good basic selection would include celery, carrots, onions and garlic, all considered as the foundation of any soup. They are called “aromatic ingredients” by French chefs. You might want to bring along root vegetables and green cabbage because they keep easily for more than a week.

During this kayak-camping trip, I came to realize that even vegetables considered to have a short shelf life, like bell peppers, zucchini, cauliflowers or broccoli, do keep a long time indeed without refrigeration (5-7 days) if bought at their prime and kept in the bottom of your boat. Mushrooms are delicious and light weight. They are also good travelers and could be used either in the fresh of dry form. In the latter, a little bit goes a long way and brings amazing flavor to any soup preparation. Equally interesting for a camping-paddling trip are potatoes and leeks.

Lastly, don’t forget beef, vegetable, fish or chicken broth cubes and dry herbs (thyme, parsley, marjoram, oregano, basil work well). When I camp, I like to carry dry vegetables or dry tomatoes too because they pack so much taste and take up almost no space. You might also want to consider carrying either a can of diced tomatoes or tomato paste for more variety to your soup regimen.


The following recipes are all created to serve as a complete meal-in-bowl and serve four hungry paddlers.

Extra-thick New England chowder

  • 3 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large potato, chopped
  • 1 leek, white part, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 can cream corn
  • 2 cans small clams, drained (keep the juice)
  • 1 can small shrimps, drained
  • 3 cups milk (UHT, reconstituted from dry or evaporated)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth or more, to taste

Over medium heat, sauté vegetables in olive oil for 10 to 15 minutes until tender. Add flour and thyme and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add juice from clams, vegetable broth and milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, add cream corn, clams and shrimps, and cook until hot. Serve immediately with whole wheat croutons.

Indian-inspired easy lentil soup

  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
  • 3 tbsp fresh ginger, grated (or 1 tbsp dry ginger)
  • 4 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 8-10 cups chicken broth

In a large pot, over low heat, mix lentils, spices, garlic, ginger and olive oil until fragrant. Add onion, celery and heat 2 to 3 more minutes. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat, add basmati rice and simmer, covered, until lentils are done. Serve immediately.

Mushroom-tofu soup

  • 2 French shallots, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery diced
  • 1 parsnip, diced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 oz dry mushrooms
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 8 oz extra-firm tofu, finely chopped
  • 4 oz dry sausage, chopped
  • 1 tsp dry marjoram
  • 4 tbsp dry parsley
  • 2 tbsp dry chives
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking noodles

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté French shallots in olive oil with dry mushrooms, garlic, carrot, celery and parsnip until tender (10-15 minutes). Add fresh mushrooms and cook 5 more minutes over high heat. Add beef broth, marjoram, parsley, chives, and bring to a boil. Add noodles and cook 5 more minutes. At the last minute, add tofu and dry sausage and heat through. Serve immediately.

Get some more soup recipes from Anne in this archived Food Column article from November 2005.

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