Find oxtails at Mexican grocers for this barley soup laden with carrots. - MCT

Hooked on Soup

Rule No. 1 of good soup, says chef Constance Jesser, is "always, always start with a good stock."

The thrifty cook who simmered stock from the holiday's turkey has a head start on ladling up soups — beyond turkey noodle. Whether light or hearty, simple or complex, soup recipes calling for chicken stock are nearly identical with turkey stock instead, says Jesser.

To make stock from the bird, put the carcass — bones, skin and all — in the largest stockpot available. Toss in a couple of halved onions, carrots, celery stalks, bay leaves, garlic cloves and a few sprigs of thyme. Let it simmer for two hours, then strain through a fine sieve.

"If you have turkey stock, use it," says Jesser. "I find turkey to be really mild."

The chef and co-owner of Jacksonville Mercantile plans a Tuesday class on soups, such a popular topic that it's the second in the past month.

"Everybody has a soup recipe, but they're always looking for more ideas," she says. "It's also something that people can throw together right after they get home from work."

This time, Jesser plans to demonstrate carrot-ginger, hearty minestrone and a little-known classic, chestnut soup. The puree is smooth and creamy without the addition of any dairy, meaning it's also low-calorie, says Jesser.

"It's got a beautiful mouth feel to it; it's a real old-fashioned recipe," she says. "Most people have never had it, but when they do, they're hooked."

Particularly when they've purchased cooked, peeled, vacuum-sealed chestnuts from specialty retailers such as the Mercantile. In season this time of year, chestnuts usually are sold in their papery shells, which take a lot of time and effort to remove for little to no monetary savings, says Jesser.

Canned tomatoes are another convenience item Jesser uses in soups, namely minestrone. Or don't add tomatoes, she says.

"It has to have carrots, celery and onions, and everything else is optional."

Her version likely will feature star-shaped pasta, roughly the same size as Puy lentils, which she plans to substitute for beans. Regardless of ingredients, chopping them approximately the same size makes for the most visually and texturally appealing soups, says Jesser.

Frequently requested for her classes are mushroom and barley soups and "of course, any recipe for squash soup," says Jesser. For the accompanying oxtail-barley soup, Jesser recommends purchasing the oxtails at a Mexican grocer.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email

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