Food & Wine

Nutritious, warming winter soups you can make in a flash

Photos Courtesy of Rita Held
Rita Held’s Lentil Soup, left, and Butternut Squash Soup, above, are both simple and nutritious winter soups that take advantage of an immersion blender. The Butternut Squash Soup recipe includes only four ingredients.

Wintertime is homemade soup time. The following recipes are nutritious, delicious and easy – yes, “cooking simply” is my motto.

For both soups, I use an immersion blender (also known as a hand blender or stick mixer), which makes it a breeze to puree the soups right in the pot. Buy one at Cooks’ Junction at 261 Main St. in downtown Los Altos. If you don’t want to use an immersion blender, let the soup cool a bit before you puree it in a regular blender.

Butternut Squash Soup

It takes just four ingredients to make one of my favorite soups, a fall-and-winter regular at my dinner table. Of course, it’s tasty, too. Leeks have a robust garlic and onion-like flavor, and too much leek overwhelms the butternut flavor. I often use half a small leek and freeze the remaining sliced leek for next time.

This recipe, which makes 7-8 cups, is a great make-ahead soup to take to parties, or to freeze and enjoy months later. And the recipe is very flexible – use a smaller or larger squash, and more or less butter to suit your taste. Use broth and water, as I do, or all broth. Let your taste buds be your guide. You cannot ruin this soup; just enjoy its flavor and simplicity.


• 1 butternut squash, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds

• 1 small leek

• 3 tablespoons butter

• 1 can (14.5 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth


Use large, heavy sharp knife to cut stem off squash. Cut squash in half and then in half again, slicing the neck down its length to expose any seeds. Use spoon to remove seeds and strings.

With same knife (or sharp, heavy-duty vegetable peeler) remove skin. Cut squash into cubes. Smaller cubes cook faster.

Cut dark-green top off leek and cut off roots. Cut leek in half lengthwise and rinse well between pieces to remove dirt. Slice leek or coarsely chop. Melt butter in a 6-quart pot (or 4-quart, if using small squash). Add leeks and sauté over medium heat until leeks start to brown.

Place squash in pot with leeks; add broth. Add water just to top of squash; stir. Cover pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and boil, covered, 15-20 minutes or until squash is very tender.

Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender. Season soup to taste with salt. If desired, swirl a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt into individual servings.

Lentil Soup

Lentils are an excellent source of protein and fiber. And because they are small, they cook quickly, which is why I often use them for soups, much like split peas.

For this recipe, the soup is slightly pureed, making it a bit “creamy” without dairy. But the carrots are added later, in pieces, to maintain their texture. You have the option of skipping the blending step entirely.

Depending on your preferences or whim, you can try 1/2 teaspoon dried sage in place of thyme and rosemary. It’s also OK to use water in place of some of the chicken broth, if desired.

My favorite ham for this soup is Niman Ranch applewood-smoked uncured petite ham, available at Draeger’s Market in Los Altos. I buy one or two each year, then dice half of it and slice the rest. Both get frozen so that they’re ready to use for soups and as sides with eggs or pancakes.

This recipe will make two main-dish servings or four to six side servings. It works well doubled, and leftover soup can be frozen. When heating up, stir in water if too thick.


• 1 cup dried lentils (approximately 7 ounces)

• 1 clove garlic, chopped

• 1/3 cup yellow onion, chopped

• 3/4 cup carrots, diced and divided

• 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

• Pinch of dried rosemary, crushed

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) low-sodium chicken broth, or 1 32-ounce box

• 1/2 cup (or less) diced ham


Rinse lentils and drain; set aside.

In 4-quart pot, sauté garlic, onion, some carrots, thyme and rosemary in olive oil.

Add rinsed lentils and broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add water to thin, if needed.

Use immersion blender just a bit, then stir in ham and remaining carrots. Simmer 10 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and fresh-ground pepper.

Los Altos resident Rita Held offers more cooking ideas on her blog at

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