Soup nights are a stress-free way to bring friends together. The host provides two or three pots of soup, while the guests bring their own dishes and silverware, and perhaps a salad or some bread. Neighbors get to know each other by name and people of all ages can connect and socialize. This practical guide encourages you to start your own soup group, with scores of recipes for soups and sides that your friends will be lining up to taste.
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About the Author
Maggie Stuckey is a writer who grows vegetables and cooks up a storm in her Portland, Oregon, home. The author of Soup Night, The Bountiful Container and seven other books on gardening and horticulture, she is happiest when tending her vegetable garden and using the outcome to create new soups.
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Soup Kettle Basics
I know you want to get right to the recipes — don't worry, this is a short chapter. Here I pulled together some general comments and tips about making soup, so I wouldn't bore you by repeating them over and over later on. Some of these ideas may already be in your repertoire, but I hope you'll find a few new things too.
The Glory of Soup
You already know many of the wonderful things about soup:
It's healthy. With a strong reliance on vegetables and protein-rich legumes like beans and lentils, relatively small amounts of meat, and almost no fat, soup is a nutrition lollapalooza. It's also a great way to sneak veggies into kids' diets.
It's inexpensive. Soup is a particularly delicious way to feed lots of people.
It's easy. Sophisticated culinary techniques are not needed. In fact, I can hardly think of any soup recipe that requires a special skill; many can be prepared by children (assuming an adult supervises the knife work).
It's versatile. Soup for lunch. Soup for supper. Soup for a crowd. Soup for a party. Soup for unexpected visitors — I'm betting you can create something delicious from your pantry and fridge in short order.
It's easy to expand. The recipes in this book are planned for 6 to 8 servings, because I know you'll want to make some for your regular family meals. But almost all of them — almost all soups, really — can easily be expanded to feed a crowd. You may not always want to double the amount of the more expensive ingredients (and it hardly ever matters), and you probably should increase the spices and herbs incrementally, tasting as you go, but in other respects, just double or triple the ingredients. In fact, even if you're not cooking for a crowd, you might want to make a double batch and freeze half. If you do, here's a tip from Sonia in Portland (page 81): "Separate the solids from the liquids before freezing. When reheating, start with the liquids, and then add the solids. This prevents the solids from getting overcooked."
It's a great use for leftovers. A little bit of pot roast, a cupful of mashed potatoes, half a zucchini, two tomatoes that won't last another day ... just about anything can be the start of a wonderful soup. Just add imagination, and stir.
It's forgiving. Precise measurements hardly ever matter. In fact, many great cooks don't even bother.
It's flexible. Soup nicely lends itself to improvisation. Don't have kale? Use spinach. Weather unexpectedly warm? Many hot soups are also good cold. Don't like something? Leave it out. I confess — I cannot abide the taste of cooked celery, so when it shows up in any recipe I just ignore it. And you can turn just about any vegetable into a nutritious soup in a jiffy; for example, see Cream of Anything Green Soup (page 32).
It's easy to convert for vegetarians. Leave out the meat and substitute vegetable broth or plain water for the stock.
It warms your soul. For all the above reasons, plus one more: it makes tangible the many meanings of "community." Read Martha Bayne's eloquent note about the "community-built nature of soup" (page 140).
Set Up a Soup Pantry
I'm guessing that you already have on hand many of the staples — such as onions, garlic, and olive oil — for making soup on the spur of the moment. Check over this list for ingredients you might not have thought of:
* Canned beans of all kinds (and see page 27 for the alternative: dried beans)
* Quinoa, bulgur wheat, and other filling grains
* Canned tomatoes: diced, whole, stewed, with chiles, with basil and garlic, etc.
* Cream-style corn (if you're worried about dairy products, it doesn't contain actual cream)
* Dried pastas in small shapes: orzo, shells, elbows, radiatore, penne, rotini, alphabet
* Pesto in a jar or tube (refrigerate after opening)
* Good-quality bouillon (I am very fond of a product called Better Than Bouillon. It's a paste that comes in a jar, highly concentrated, and lasts forever. And what I especially like is that the first ingredient on the label is what you would want to see listed first: chicken, beef, vegetables, turkey, etc. — not salt! Refrigerate after opening.)
* Canned broth: chicken, beef, vegetable; search out reduced-sodium varieties
* Roasted peppers in a jar
* Bacon bits
* Canned tuna, clams, crabmeat
* Canned green chiles
* Sun-dried tomatoes
* Tomato spread intended for bruschetta (adds a strong tomato punch to soup; refrigerate after opening)
* Tapenade in a jar (refrigerate after opening)
In addition to the pantry, look to your fridge. Several staples that need refrigeration will help you make a delicious impromptu soup. Here are a few I try always to keep on hand:
* Nonfat sour cream. It's real sour cream, but made from nonfat milk, so it's lower in calories. One big spoonful stirred in at the end adds amazing creaminess. One small container lasts a long time, even opened.
* Fresh lemons. A splash of lemon juice brightens the flavor of many foods, and almost all soups benefit from a squeeze. I keep bottled lemon juice on hand for emergencies, but frankly it's a very poor second best.
* Fresh limes. For many things, I like lime juice even better than lemon. It has that lovely citrus sparkle but with a slight undertone of sweetness. Wonderful in fruit soups, for instance.
* Cheese. Any type of hard cheese, grated right on top of the soup in the bowl, adds immensely to the flavor. I especially like Parmesan, but many others work equally well.
And of course we haven't said anything about herbs and spices. But that's another book, and I'm sure you have a good selection in your cupboards, ready to explore.
People who like to make soup tend to be especially ingenious and resourceful. Here are a few shortcuts, to go with the ones you no doubt have already discovered:
* Bread cubes intended for stuffing can be croutons in a pinch.
* Baking mix (like Bisquick) makes dumplings in a jiffy.
* The salad bar in your supermarket is a good place to find vegetables ready to go.
* Rotisserie chicken from the supermarket — not only for the meat but also a source for stock.
* Frozen hash browns can take the place of russet potatoes, eliminating the peel/dice/shred steps.
Making and Freezing Stock
True to the improvisational nature of soup, the stock that serves as its liquid basis is very much a product of a cook's ingenuity and thriftiness, more than it is of a specific recipe. I know that will seem heretical to some serious chefs, those folks who purchase veal bones just for stock, for instance. Instead, let's talk about what you can easily and realistically do.
When you work with fresh vegetables, save the trimmings. Carrot scrapings, potato peels, the leafy tops of celery, the stalks of broccoli, leek tops (leaves), onion peels — all that stuff. Toss them around in a bowl with a small amount of olive oil and roast in a 4000F oven for about 10 minutes. Run the whole thing through your blender with a little water, strain, and freeze. Don't forget to label. Do this a few times, and you have the basis for a wonderful vegetarian stock.
For any entrée that starts with a cut of meat that has bones, cut away the bones first. Sauté them in vegetable oil until very well browned, then add water (or tomato juice, or wine, or a mixture) and a couple of bay leaves and simmer for at least an hour (a slow cooker works well here). Strain off and reserve the liquid, set it in the refrigerator until cool, and remove the fat after it congeals on the top.
Roasting a chicken or turkey for dinner? Not making gravy? After removing the bird, add water to the pan, scrape up the bits from the bottom, and simmer for about half an hour. Strain, cool, and skim off the congealed fat.
Those rotisserie chickens from the supermarket, so very handy for a quick supper, also have the makings of a great soup stock. Remove the skin, the bones, and the juices that have collected in the bottom of the container, and put them all into a soup pot with water to cover. Add some whole spices (bay leaves, cardamom, or your own favorite), a smashed clove of garlic, or a bouquet garni of fresh herbs (see below), and simmer for about an hour. Strain and discard all the solids, refrigerate, and skim off the congealed fat.
To flavor all these, add your own favorite spices and herbs. If you want stock that is completely clear when it is finished, rather than speckled with bits of green or brown, use one of the following techniques to contain the spices:
* For fresh herbs, a simple bouquet garni is made by tying whole sprigs of herbs together with kitchen twine. Or fold fresh herbs into a square of cheesecloth, which you then tie with twine.
* Whole spices are almost certain to be more flavorful than the ground versions that may have been in your cupboard too long. To release their goodness, crush lightly with the bottom of a glass or the flat side of a knife, and then place them into one of those screw-together metal balls meant for brewing tea.
By the way, be careful with whole spices; don't add them, intact, to soup — or any other food, for that matter — without some way to easily remove them. Some whole spices can be unpleasant to bite down on (think peppercorns), but there can be more serious problems. People can choke on whole cloves. And don't try to break bay leaves into small, edible pieces; they will stay firm and the edges are sharp: there have actually been reports of people getting cuts in their throats and even along their digestive tracts. Always leave them whole, count how many you put in, and take care to remove them all.
Reduce Your Stocks
Now for freezing. First of all, if your freezer space is limited, simmer all the prepared stocks until they are thick. This reduces the volume, so they take up less room in the freezer. It also provides you with a handy concentrate, ideal for those times when you want to add flavor but not a lot of extra liquid.
To store the concentrated stocks, you probably know the trick of freezing them into ice-cube trays, and then storing the frozen cubes in a ziplock freezer bag. If you have a large quantity of stock, another method is to place the cooled liquid into quart-size freezer bags and lay the bags flat in the freezer. Once frozen, the bags are easy to store upright in a freezer basket. Label the bags near the top, and you can easily flip through them, like those of us of a certain age used to do in record stores.
Finally, be sure to label the bags. You may think you can remember, or tell them apart by looks, but trust me, after a while you can't.
In many of the recipes in this book, you will find suggestions for specific garnishes that complement the flavors of the soup itself. But in fact, a garnish or two enlivens just about every kind of soup. Use your "good cook" sense to imagine which ones would go well with which soup. Think about color as well as taste: something white or creamy with dark red soup, for instance, or a bright green garnish with a pale soup. Here are several reliably delicious garnishes:
* Crème fraîche. An alternative to sour cream and easy to make (see page 237).
* Pesto. You can make your own, if you have a lusty crop of basil, but several commercial versions are available, and they freeze well, so you can use just a small amount.
* Parmesan lace (see page 37)
* Croutons (see page 248)
* Grilled bread. If you have your outdoor grill going in the summer months, spread thick slices of a hearty artisan bread with olive oil on both sides, and grill — heavenly.
* Herb butters. Mix softened butter with an herb that complements your soup, chill until firm, then slip a half teaspoonful into each soup bowl.
* Red pepper purée. Dump a jar of prepared red peppers into the blender, liquid and all, and process to desired texture. Easy and delicious.
* Goat cheese. Slice crosswise into thin rounds, and float one on top of the soup in each bowl.
* Goldfish crackers. Kids love them, but so do adults.
* Roasted nuts. In a 350°F oven or in a dry skillet, toast whole nuts until fragrant; watch carefully, they go from fragrant to burned awfully fast. Cool, and then roughly chop.
* Seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame.
* French-fried onions. Yes, those crunchy bits your Aunt Grace uses for the green bean casserole on Thanksgiving are delicious with soup.
* And of course, the standards: chopped chives, parsley and cilantro, scallions, sliced radishes, diced avocado, celery, tomato, cucumber, grated cheese.
Fresh or Frozen or Canned?
It's become something of a cliché in recent years: fresh and local is always better. But is it really?
Local, absolutely. Something that came from a farm seven miles from your house is bound to be fresher than something that traveled for three days in two separate refrigerated trucks halfway across the continent. Besides, those local farmers need our support. And of course, if you are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden yourself, or smart enough to make friends with someone who does, that's best of all. That's about as local and fresh as you can get!
What about "fresh"? That one's a little more complicated.
Of course, no one in their right mind would deny that the summertime wealth of fresh vegetables and fruits is a huge blessing. I happen to live in an area with a rich agricultural heritage, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have so many family farms and U-Pick fields nearby. Every year, I start counting down the days until they open.
However, it is possible to get so entangled in the "fresh" mantra that we lose perspective and common sense in favor of culinary political correctness. Is "fresh" always best? In my opinion, not necessarily.
To grow vegetables that can withstand days of travel and handling at several stages along the way, growers have created cultivars that look great but suffer in taste. A "fresh" tomato that was picked green, then treated with gas so it turns red, can taste like cardboard. On the other hand, green beans transported to a frozen-food processing plant within hours of being picked are in fact fresher and more nutritious than their "fresh" counterparts that were trucked from someplace like California and then stored in the supermarket chain's distribution center for who knows how long before you bought them. Fresh pumpkins are great for jack-o'-lanterns, but something of a pain to cook and not appreciably better tasting than canned pumpkin.
So don't automatically reject frozen or canned vegetables. Unless you have your own garden or a nearby farmers' market, frozen or canned veggies may be your best bet for quality and nutritional value, especially in the off-season. And they're super-convenient to have on hand. Many of the recipes in this book call for canned tomatoes, for instance, and frankly I can't imagine my pantry without them. On the other hand, I've never seen frozen or canned eggplant; frozen bell peppers are very disappointing; and there's no way to preserve fresh cucumbers except as pickles, which is not always what you want in your soup. It's all a question of how to get the very best of what you need when you need it. And it's also a question of common sense.
With all that said, there is still nothing like a vine-ripened tomato that really was allowed to stay on the plant until dead ripe. You'll be hard pressed to find them anywhere except your own garden or your local farmers' market, but once you taste one, you'll never be satisfied with supermarket tomatoes again. An old country song claims that homegrown tomatoes are one of only two things in the world that money can't buy (the other being true love).
The other local treasure is fresh corn. And I mean fresh. The sugars in corn start to turn to starch within hours of picking, so if you don't have a big vegetable garden, try to find a farm stand or U-Pick place near home and go on the same day you're having your party. By the way, I have no real scientific evidence, but I'm quite certain that fresh corn you freeze yourself maintains its "country" taste much more than commercial frozen corn. So when you go to the farm stand, buy lots, and freeze half.
Beans: Dried or Canned?
The fresh/canned debate doesn't apply to beans as widely as some other vegetables, but it does have its own decision seesaw: should you use dried beans or the canned versions?
Here are the pros and cons.
For convenience, canned wins hands down. And since the fundamental idea of a soup pantry is to enable you to whip up a nutritious soup on short notice, you probably want some of your favorite types on hand.
On the other hand, canned beans often are high in sodium, and the liquid in the can might ruin the look and taste of your wonderful homemade stock. To deal with both these drawbacks, rinse the beans thoroughly before adding them to your soup.
Excerpted from "Soup Night"
Copyright © 2013 Maggie Stuckey.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Welcome to Soup Night!
1. Soup Kettle Basics
6. Start Your Own Soup Night
Metric Conversion Charts
What People are Saying About This
I want to start a soup night in my neighborhood and, thanks to this book, the strategies as well as delicious-sounding recipes are all laid out for me. Now I just have to decide whether to start with Tortilla Turkey Soup or Red Bean and Red Pepper Soup or….
An innovative way to reweave the fabric of community that today’s children and families desperately need — block by block, bowl by bowl.
Maggie Stuckey lovingly — and deliciously — relays the story of a single street’s neighborly tradition of gathering over bowls of hearty soup. Soup Nightwill warm your heart and your stomach.
A delicious recipe for a new way of building community. By addressing our hunger for nourishing food, soup nights respond to our universal hunger for connection and purpose.
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We are having the best time with this book. I love the concept, and the recipes we've cooked have been different and so delicious. This cookbook is a treasure.