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ST. CLAIRE DONAGHY|INDEX-JOURNAL

Soup can be a hearty, filling meal on its own, or a side to pair with just about any main dish.


Since Abdel and Andrea Dimiati opened Kickers Takeout in 2003, the Greenwood restaurant has become known for its fresh cuisine with international flair and array of soup selections. 

"We have four staple varieties daily, plus two alternatives," said self-taught chef Abdel Dimiati, 50, who owns and manages Kickers with his wife, Andi. "Growing up in my household, soup was an economical way to use up leftovers and create another meal for the family. Plus, a bowl of soup and a sandwich is a quick and simple meal to enjoy."

When weather turns cool, Dimiati said among Kickers' best sellers are Thai chicken noodle (thickened with peanut butter), gumbo and a creamy sweet potato clam chowder. Each of those, Dimiati said, can be tweaked to fit a home cook's favorite tastes. 

"You can do a straight up chicken noodle, or go more Asian," Dimiati said. "You can do a New Orleans-style gumbo with sausage and shrimp, or just chicken. With the chowder, you can vary ingredients too."

Sweet potatoes were a happy accident for Dimiati's popular chowder that have worked out well, he said. "They're colorful and good for you too," Dimiati said. "Typically, clam chowder uses white potatoes instead."

Dimiati said since he makes soups fresh daily, and doesn't always go by precise recipes, versions of soups might differ slightly from one batch to the next. 

"The chowder is also good with the additions of corn and crab meat, in addition to clams, and a little white wine." Another tasty accompaniment for the chowder -- cooked, crumbled bacon on top.

A recipe is not needed for great soup. Get creative with leftover bit of vegetables, meats, rice and pasta in your refrigerator. Combine those with a carton of broth, a little butter and oil, and seasonings, for a hearty, warming bowl, fast.

"I don't measure," Dimiati said. "I just throw things together. Even our 'Oops' soups are popular with customers. If we don't have enough for full batches of two to three soups, we will sometimes combine them together. For instance, we have combined our gumbo, tomato blue cheese and black bean and it turns out really good."

Dimiati said he makes chicken and beef stock from scratch when he can, but he said there are good starter bases and stocks available, if you don't have time for homemade.

It's also fairly easy to freeze soups to enjoy later. Do be mindful of holding back ingredients that won't freeze well. Take stock of these tips from the kitchn.com, a daily food magazine on the web:

-- Hold back the cream and milk. It could separate and become grainy.

-- Pasta could get mushy. It's better to cook fresh pasta and add it directly to reheated soup.

-- Hold back any ingredients you add during the last 5 minutes of cooking time that are particularly delicate, such as fresh herbs and eggs.

-- Slightly under cook vegetables so that they don't overcook when you reheat the soup.

-- Freeze smaller portions. Be sure to label and date containers.

Soups that freeze well include: bean soup, vegetable soup, broth-based soups, soups with brown or wild rice, pureed soups and beef and chicken soups.

If you love homemade soup, consider hosting a soup swap: invite a bunch of friends together and have everyone bring a soup. Extras such as crackers, fresh bread and salads would be great, too. Serve with wine and let everyone go home with some soup.

 

SWEET POTATO CLAM CHOWDER, (a take on a Kickers favorite recipe)

2 dozen medium clams, such as Manila, or 3 dozen small clams, such as Littlenecks, or 2 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, juices reserved (about 12 ounces)

1 and 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil, or 2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour for making a roux, to thicken chowder

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 and 1/2 cups raw sweet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced, into 2-inch chunks (about 1/4 pound)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

3 cups half and half

white wine, optional

If using fresh clams, scrub clean. Spread in clams in an even layer in a 12-inch fry pan with a lid. Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Cook clams until shells open, about 2 to 5 minutes. Carefully removed opened clams and transfer to a bowl, using tongs. Reserve for later in the cooking process, along with cooking liquid. Discard any unopened clams.

(If using canned clams, set aside until ready to add to the saucepan.)

Heat oil or butter in a stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute. Whisk in flour until lightly browned. Gradually whisk in water, until pot 1/3 full. (Add clam juice if needed) and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in potatoes.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.

Stir in half and half and clams until heated through, about 1-2 minutes; season with pepper, to taste. If soup is too thick, add white wine as needed, until desired consistency is reached.