Charles mackem_ a request from a reader, and a great idea _ lifestyles _ themountainpress. com

A friend of mine called last week and said she really enjoyed reading my column, and requested a recipe for a simple, tasty vegetable soup. We hadn’t talked in a while, and it was really nice to catch up with her. Now, I don’t usually take requests. In fact, this is the first column I have written because of one.

This isn’t because I have anything against requests in general, or that I don’t want to write about what

people actually want to eat, but because nobody had ever asked before. As a matter of fact, after 50-odd columns, subjects are getting a bit harder to come by than they used to be, and I was really happy have a good idea for a column (thank you, Linda!), and happy to oblige.

Besides, this was a great idea, one that I really should have thought of before. The weather has turned chilly, and having a good supply of tasty soup is essential for keeping up morale. Soups and stews are some of my favorite types of food to cook: They’re generally healthy, they usually aren’t too terribly difficult to make, and they come in an almost infinite variety. For any type of mood, there is a soup or a stew to match.

There’s something super satisfying about making a tasty batch of soup. It’s nice that a whole meal comes in one pot. It’s also nice to get a variety of vegetable and meat together. There’s just something comforting about the whole process. In the words of A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh, only the pure of heart can make a good soup.

Anyway, this is a favorite of mine, but it has a lot of areas that are certainly open to interpretation. I’ve made it without the wine many times when my cupboard has been unfortunately bare. If I plan on freezing some, I’ll do so before adding the potatoes, which never come out of a freezer in particularly good condition. Pork can be substituted for the beef with no problem at all.

In other words, make this recipe your own, and only use the elements in it that appeal to you. I really like cabbage, but leave it out if the thought of that particular vegetable makes you shudder. The same goes for the mushrooms. In fact, the only single thing that I really think is essential is making sure that the meat, whatever it is, has been really well browned. It makes a huge difference in flavor.

So as winter approaches, let us raise a bowl of soup to the oncoming season. Let’s face it with cheer in our pure hearts, as evidenced by our excellent soups. We don’t actually have any say in the matter, anyway.

Season the chuck with half of the salt, pepper and basil, and in a large sauté pan on medium heat, brown thoroughly on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then cut into ½-inch cubes. Meanwhile, add garlic, onion and mushrooms to the same pan and sauté for 3 or 4 minutes, taking care to scrape all the fond (caramelized brown bits) off the bottom. Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup of the red wine and transfer to a large stock pot. Add the stock and all the remaining ingredients except for the peas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Add the peas; increase the heat to medium and cook for 5 more minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve.