Winter Beer Soups

Cooking with Beer by | Jan 2015 | Issue #96

Photos by Sean Z. Paxton

There are those dishes that, when made, create such a wonderful aroma that your house feels like home. Fresh-baked bread or cookies, a roasted chicken and a good stew or soup all qualify as aromatherapy, in my opinion.

The liquid that makes up the base of any soup comes from water or stock. Adding the right beer can enhance a soup’s flavor profile while the alcohol works to infuse the flavors across the palate. Beers lower in IBU are better, as the heat and longer cooking times will intensify hop bitterness and add a harsher element to the final bowl. Brown Ales, Bocks and Dopplebocks are all wonderful with caramelized vegetables, enhancing the melanoidin malts from the grist. Smoked beers, like Rauchbiers or smoked Porters and Stouts, will add a rich meaty undertone that no stock can duplicate. A Scotch Ale or Wee Heavy can add a rich caramelized essence from the malts and long boil in the brewing process, and bring in a savory element that mimics those found in roasted root vegetables. Or change it up by using something with peat smoked malt to enhance the flavors that would come from cooking over an open fire.

Try these soup recipes that will warm your friends and family on cold winter nights.

Cream of Root Vegetable Soup
This soup is designed to be a canvas for a variety of creations. It’s fine on its own, but adding different elements to the base will change its culinary direction and offer a wonderful platform for flavors to spring off. Soup also needs texture, little nuggets to surprise our palates. This recipe does all of the above.

Makes: Eight 16-ounce servings

2 each large yams
3 tbsp olive oil
1 each large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 tsp kosher salt
1 each leek, washed, cut in half and sliced
2 each parsnips, peeled and chopped
4–5 each carrots, peeled and sliced, about 2 cups worth
6 cups vegetable, chicken, or pork stock, preferably homemade
1 cup heavy cream, preferably organic (or coconut cream for vegan version)
12–22 oz Scotch Ale or Wee Heavy, such as Oskar Blues Old Chub or Founders Backwoods Bastard

Wash the yams and place them into a preheated 400°F oven for about an hour, or until fully cooked.  This will caramelize the sugars in the root vegetable more than boiling them, while creating a similar essence found in Scotch Ale, giving more richness to the finished soup.

As the yams are roasting, place a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the oil, onions, leeks and salt. Sauté the onions and leeks until they are transparent, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the parsnips, carrots and stock and place a lid on the pot. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Once the yams are done, remove them from the oven and carefully peel them with your fingers. The skin should come off in sheets. Cut the yams into smaller pieces and add to the soup. Add cream and stir to combine.

At this point, an immersion blender can be used to purée the soup in the same pot. I like to use a high-speed blender, such as a Vitamix, to make a silky smooth soup. When puréeing any hot soup, precautions are advised. Do not fill the pitcher to the top. It will take a few batches to process all the soup. Also, place a clean dish towel over the closed lid to prevent hot soup from flying all over you and the kitchen. Starting with the blender on its lowest speed, slowly increase the speed to high. This will prevent the sudden buildup of steam that will make the soup into a splatter bomb. Then pour the puréed soup into a clean pot. Repeat this process with the remaining soup.

Once the soup is puréed, add the Scotch Ale. Depending on the beer, start with 12 ounces and increase the amount until you get a nice underlying caramelized flavor emerging from the beer as it infuses into the soup. Taste and adjust the beer and salt to get the right balance. Adding beer will also thin out the soup. When you are happy with the flavor and consistency (you can add more stock or hot water to the finished soup to get the desired viscosity if needed), it is ready for serving.

This soup is great as is, but the addition of texture and flavor can transform it into something special. Here are some ideas, but feel free to experiment.

Croutons and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
5 slices bread, preferably artisan, cut into cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp mixed peppercorns, freshly cracked
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and salted
3–4 tbsp orange oil or blood orange-infused oil

Place the cubed bread into a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Next, spread out the cubes onto a sheet tray and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 6–10 minutes or until golden brown. Divide the croutons among the serving bowls and garnish with pumpkin seeds, then drizzle the oil over the soup’s surface and serve.

Sriracha Sour Cream
1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
1–2 tbsp Sriracha hot sauce or your favorite brand
1/2 tsp white pepper, cracked
2 tbsp crystalized ginger, diced

In a small bowl, blend 1/4 cup of Sriracha hot sauce and white pepper with a small whisk. Using a spoon, drizzle this sauce in circles over each soup bowl. Repeat this step with the remaining 1/4 cup of sour cream. Then, using the tip of a knife, swirl the sauce and sour cream, to make a pattern. Garnish with a pinch or two of crystalized ginger and serve.

Curried Prawn
1 pound prawns, shelled and deveined
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp yellow curry powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup coconut shavings, toasted
1 bunch cilantro leaves

Toss prepared prawns in a medium bowl with olive oil, curry powder and salt. Let them marinate on the counter as the soup is cooking. Once it is finished, preheat a sauté pan over high heat for a few minutes. Add the prawns to the hot pan. Using tongs, arrange them so they are all lying flat and cook for 2–3 minutes, then flip each prawn over to brown the other side (prawns will be pinkish-orange in color). Cook for another 2 minutes. Remove them from the heat and place in a clean bowl to prevent overcooking. Add 3–5 prawns per soup bowl and garnish with coconut shavings and cilantro; serve.


Lentil Soup
I love a soup with layers of flavor and texture. Each bite of this lentil soup will satisfy the soul as the kielbasa sausage melds with the meaty smoked Dopplebock’s complexity.

Makes: Six 10-ounce servings

3–4 tbsp olive oil
2 each medium yellow onions, peeled and diced
2 each leeks, washed and sliced
3 each bay leaves, preferably fresh
3 each carrots, peeled and diced
14–16 oz kielbasa sausage, diced (omit for a vegetarian/vegan version)
2 cup crimini or button mushrooms, washed and quartered
1 tsp dried thyme
4 each garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
16.9 oz Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche smoked Dopplebock or another smoked lager
2 cups black or beluga lentils, washed and inspected
1 bunch kale, dino or lacinato, stems removed and sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil for garnish

In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil, onions, leeks, bay leaves and season with a few heavy pinches of salt. Sauté vegetables for 7–9 minutes or until the edges of the onions start to brown. Next, add the carrots, sausage, mushrooms and thyme. Sauté for another 5 minutes to lightly brown the sausage and release some of its fat. This will season the vegetables and add texture. Add garlic and sauté for about a minute, then add the stock and beer, increasing the heat to high. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the washed lentils and stir to combine.

Place a lid on the pot and lower the heat to create a gentle simmer. Cook for 20–25 minutes. Add more salt if needed. Check the consistency and the doneness of the lentils; they should be tender, but not falling apart. If the liquid is too low, add more stock or water. When the lentils are done, add the kale, stirring to combine. Let the soup rest for 5 minutes. To serve, garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a few cracks of fresh pepper. Refrigerate and rewarm any leftovers; this soup does get better the next day.