I grew up in Southern California, where winter has a completely different meaning than when you live in New England. When the temperature does not fall below 50 degrees very often, you find that all the seasons seem to blend into one continuous warm sunny stretch, and a T-shirt and shorts are standard attire for much of the year.

Even with the warm weather, however, one of my favorite meals was a good hearty soup, and to this day, my family loves to sit down to soup, salad, and good crusty bread on a cold winter night. You just can't beat it. Soup really makes a good meal. It's a great way to serve some unpopular but super healthy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale) in a tasty dish that has loads of vitamins, protein, and fiber. It's also an opportunity to make a vegetarian meal, if that's ever your goal.

The key for me to making a soup that's a meal is that it should have a hearty base. Clear or runny broths make excellent soups, but when soup is the main course, in my opinion, it should really stick to your ribs and make you feel full. Serve it with a good, crusty bread and a small salad and you're all set.

Here are some of our favorites soups that we enjoy all year 'round, but especially in the cooler months:

Hearty Broccoli Cheddar Soup

  • 2 good-sized heads of broccoli, washed and chopped coarsely
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (optional)
  • 4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken), or water
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp fresh pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese, cheddar or Monterey Jack
  • 1/2 cup milk (can substitute rice or soy milk)

Sauté the onions and carrots until tender. Add liquid, broccoli, salt, and pepper. Broccoli should reach the top of the liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Blend the soup. You can use a hand blender or pour into a blender and process until smooth. Put the soup back on the heat and add the cheese. Mix until melted, turn off heat, and then add milk. Adjust salt to taste and serve.

Note: You can mix cauliflower in with the broccoli, or make cauliflower cheddar soup.

Braised Cauliflower and Kale Soup

  • 1 head of cauliflower, washed and chopped coarsely
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic (or to taste), minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 cups broth or water
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 cup kale, chopped coarsely

Sauté the onions and carrots until their tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté 2 minutes, then add the cumin and sauté 1 minute. Add cauliflower and cook until the cauliflower gets slightly browned, stirring regularly, about 10 minutes. Add liquid, potato, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Blend the soup, adjust salt, and return to the heat. Add the kale and simmer on low for about 10 minutes. Serve.

Note: Kale freezes well and can be chopped and stored for months in the freezer. When making the soup, simply add the frozen kale and cook.

For the salad, a simple green salad of chopped lettuce or mesclun is plenty, or you can make a more involved salad of your choice. The bread is best fresh, and if you bake your own, that's outstanding. Bread freezes well and can be thawed a couple of hours before the meal and eaten that way, but for best results, heat it for 10 minutes in a 325 degree oven and it will be crispy and delicious.