Dining with Don Bingham: Winter suppers by the fire

by Don Bingham

Now that all the Christmas candy is finally gone, much of the snow and ice from January is melted and our diets are well under way, it’s a grand time to celebrate the more simple forms of winterized dining.

What could be more comforting than soups! 

Recently, we invited all the family over for soups and cornbread. My wife, Nancy, prepared three different soups (the soup fare that day happened to be Turkey Vegetable, Split Pea Soup and Ham and Bean). I supplied the buttermilk cornbread in three shapes of family heirloom black iron skillets. We added cabbage coleslaw and coconut cream pie for dessert. The menu was simple, but offered choices for everyone — with the option of being "good" with calories and fats, or still celebrating the wonderful lust of the culinary life!

Not many make stock from "scratch" these days, but we were able to salvage and freeze the ham and turkey bone broth from the holidays. This was our beginning. There are very good canned stocks and broths available now, so the lack of stock-base should not keep you from enjoying full-bodied soups and stews.

We are soup people! Not only do we enjoy the simplicity of the meal, but it also becomes our favorite gift to freeze in smaller bags to distribute to relatives on cold wintry nights when overcoming the effects of colds and flu bugs. And who does not need that occasional "go to" meal from the freezer at the last minute? All of the soups given here are workable for freezing to pull out when schedules demand this welcomed short cut for dinner.

Soups are so uplifting! When you combine good chicken broth with healing ginger, you end up with a soup that is truly restorative. Add chicken, shitake mushrooms, rice and vegetables and the dish is filling enough for dinner! Add a tossed green salad and you’ll feel like a new person.

While I readily admit that this Christmas gift to my wife was not exactly a “personal’ gift,” it was a gift that "keeps on giving" — under the tree this year was the newest version of the Le Creuset Dutch oven. It is a work of art! It was not inexpensive — I’d sooner consider it an investment! This having been said, we have already used this amazing pot for several soups/stews and have plans for chicken and dumplings in the near future.

We plan on leaving the Dutch oven sitting out on the burner — it’s fun to look at and dream of what might be looming around the corner for dinner. Whatever your choice of cooking utensils, try some of these wonderful soups during these colder months. They are sure to please. Invite the family to stop by, take leftovers to shut-ins and reserve a serving or two for those quiet nights by the fire. My wife’s grandmother always declared "Jewish Penicillin" (chicken stock-based soup) was the best remedy to cure anything!

Crispy Golden Patties

2 cups corn meal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup to 1 1/4 cups boiling water
Vegetable oil (for frying)
8-10 teaspoons of soft butter

Mix first four ingredients. Stir in half-and-half and oil.

Boil water. Gradually pour boiling water into batter and stir until the batter is the consistency of grits. Start heating a heavy frying pan and pour vegetable oil to a depth of 1/2-inch and cook over medium-high heat. Scoop batter using a 1/4-cup measure and fry in batches, three minutes on each side or until golden. Drain well. Serve with soft butter.

Yield: Eight cakes.

Low Country Fish Stew

1 cup cleaned, sliced fresh carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced white onions
4 cups stock (beef, chicken or tomato)
2 cups diced canned tomatores
4 fish fillets of choice

Sauté vegetable mixture in 1/4-cup olive oil.

Add four cups stock (beef stock, chicken stock, tomato stock — any combination). Add two cups diced, canned tomatoes. (May strengthen stock with chicken bouillon cubes, but adjust any salt addition.)

Optional: Add white wine. Optional seasonings: salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley and garlic.

Cook to reduce to desired consistency. Stir in fish of choice (catfish, cod, shrimp, flounder or salmon). Continue to poach until fish is tender, flakey and cooked through.

Optional additions: Sliced turkey links, sliced sausage links and squashes.

Ladle in bowl and serve.

Bean Soup

1 fryer cooked, deboned
1 cup dried beans
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried whole basil
1/2 teaspoon dried whole oregano
1 tablespoon catsup

Sort and wash beans; place in a large Dutch oven. Cover with water two inches above beans; let soak overnight. Drain beans; combine beans, five cups chicken broth, celery, onion, carrots, parsley, bay leaf, basil and oregano; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes or until done.

Add catsup and chicken; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Makes about six cups.

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

8 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped celery
6 tablespoons chicken soup base
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup margarine
8 egg yolks
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cooked white rice
1 cup diced, cooked chicken meat
Lemon slices

In a large pot, combine the chicken broth, lemon juice, carrots, onions, celery, soup base and white pepper. Bring to a boil on high, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Blend the margarine and the flour together. Gradually add it to the soup mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes more, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks until light in color. Gradually add some of the hot soup to the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Return the egg mixture to the soup pot and heat through. Add the rice and chicken. Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with lemon slices.

Holiday Turkey Soup

Bring five cups water to a boil (two tablespoons of chicken base may be added if desired).

Add one package Uncle Ben’s Chicken and Wild Rice, cook 10 minutes.

Add fresh or frozen broccoli (10 ounces). Add two shredded carrots and one small diced onion.

Add cream cheese (eight ounces) and stir until melted. Add one can of cream of chicken soup. Add 1/2 cup whole almonds. Stir in cooked turkey or chicken.

Catfish Stew and Rice

2 medium potatoes
1 14 1/2-oz. can tomatoes, cut up
1 cup chopped onion
1 8-oz. bottle (1 cup) clam juice or water
1 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 lb. catfish fillets
1 1/2 tablespoons Hot `N Spicy Seasoning (see next recipe)
Sliced green onion for garnish (optional)
2 cups hot cooked rice (white or brown)

Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. In a large pot combine potatoes, tomatoes and their juice, onion, clam juice, water and garlic. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

Add cabbage. Return to boiling. Reduce heat; cook, covered, over medium-low heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cut fillets into two-inch lengths. Coat with Hot `N Spicy Seasoning. Add fish to vegetables. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, for five minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve in soup plates, garnished with sliced green onion. Top with an ice cream scoop of hot cooked rice. Or, ladle stew over hot cooked rice in soup plates and garnish with green onion.

Hot ‘N Spicy Seasoning

1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons dried oregano, crushed
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Mix together all ingredients. Store in airtight container. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Lentil Soup with Curried Vegetables

6 cups water
1 pound lentils
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 cups low-fat milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
4 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Combine water, lentils, cinnamon, bay leaf and crushed garlic clove in heavy large saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Working in batches, transfer lentil mixture to processor and puree until smooth. Return to same saucepan. Add milk; bring to simmer over low heat.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over low heat. Add onion, bell pepper, carrot and one tablespoon garlic and stir to coat with oil. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high and sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about five minutes.

Add curry powder and stir one minute.

Stir vegetable mixture into lentil soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls. Garnish each serving with yogurt and chopped cilantro, if desired.


Recognized throughout the state as an accomplished chef, Don Bingham has authored cookbooks, presented television programs and previously served as the executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion. He is now the director of special events at the University of Central Arkansas.