Monday, March 6, 2017

Soup Swap

A few months ago one of my favorite food writers Kathy Gunst released a new cookbook. With 60 different recipes, "Soup Swap"covers everything from basic broth preparation to vegetarian soups to a variety of Asian, Italian, Portuguese and French recipes. The book includes suggestions for sides, garnishes and toppings to bring your soup to the next level. My husband bought me a copy of “Soup Swap” for Hanukkah and I love it. It’s a must-have for all soup fans.

What I find most compelling about this book is the inspiration - the soup swap supper club that developed in Kathy's New England neighborhood during a particularly long and harsh winter.  When you live in New England, you become one with the changing seasons and you adapt your lifestyle to the ebb and flow of the climate. The long, cold, dark days of winter are perfect for cooking. I learned how to make bread during a particularly unforgiving winter when we lived in Concord, New Hampshire. I ask you - is there anything better than a steaming bowl of homemade soup and freshly baked bread on a freezing winter day? Soup is one of those things, like Sunday gravy or beef stew, that is best when made in a large quantity and it’s easy to get burned out on leftover soup long before you finish eating a batch. The good news is that soup is perfect for sharing. Kathy's group of soup-swappers met monthly during the winter and they soon found some unintended and delightful consequences. Winter became more tolerable, even exciting and challenging for those food-loving neighbors as they researched all kinds of soup recipes. Also, broth is high in nutrients and there are a lot of great soup recipes that have very little fat and are low in calories, so it was good for their diets. Most importantly, Kathy and her friends felt a renewed sense of community. Soup had brought them together, but it became about much more than tomato bisque and fish chowder. Kathy wrote an article for Yankee magazine about her soup-swap suppers which inspired others to start their own soup swaps and the idea for the cookbook was born. 

I love soup. I usually have at least two quarts of homemade chicken broth in my freezer in case the mood strikes me. Last year I brought a group of my neighbors together for a holiday party and I've been looking for a way to keep that good vibe going. The soup swap turned out to be the perfect vehicle. The idea is that everyone brings a big pot of soup and several to-go containers so that you can take samples of your favorites soups home with you. The goal is to leave the party with every kind of soup but the one you brought.

I got a great response to my soup swap invitation. Some neighbors brought soup, others brought bread, salad, dessert and wine, but they all brought a great attitude and willingness to try something new.  We had a selection of 10 soups that were all quite different and unique. One of the interesting things is that four of us used smoked turkey for our soups. I typically use a smoked turkey wing in my broth because it adds a depth of flavor and a rich, golden color. Turns out I am not alone. We all discovered that smoked turkey can be the soup-makers secret weapon. Here are the highlights of my March soup swap:

Matzo ball soup - This was my contribution and its standard fare in my house during the winter months. If you're a novice chicken brother maker, here is a good recipe. For the matzo balls, follow the directions on the back of the matzo meal container. Your matzo balls will be more fluffy and soft if you put all the liquid ingredients into a bowl and mix very thoroughly before you add the matzo meal. In fact, some recipes call for separating the eggs, beating the whites and folding them into the final mixture. That's an extra step I don't think is necessary. I've been using an immersion blender to beat my wet ingredients before adding the matzo meal with excellent results.  I also like a little fresh dill and parsley in my matzo balls. 

Lasagna soup - My neighbor Ellen made this delicious concoction. She browned some ground beef, garlic and onions in a big pot, added chicken broth, jarred tomato sauce, spices and dried pasta and let it cook until the pasta was done.  She served it with grated mozzarella cheese as a garnish.  This one was stick-to-your-ribs satisfying. I'm having it for lunch today. 

Lemon dill chicken soup - This hearty chicken soup was the contribution from my neighbor Adam. The put was filled with shredded chicken and it had a light, slightly lemony broth with lots of fresh dill, orzo pasta and some ginger that added a bit of warmth to the flavor. It was more exotic than your typical chicken soup. 

Thai carrot soup - My neighbor David brought the only completely vegetarian soup to the party and it was very well received. Made with vegetable broth, a little bit of peanut butter and fresh basil and mint for garnish, this carrot soup went down so easily.  It was certainly a hit and not just for vegetarians. 

Split pea soup - I had two neighbors bring their own versions of split pea soup.  Susan's soup was not a typical pureed split pea.  It was chunky and the pieces of vegetables were easily visible as well as chunks of kielbasa that made this soup really hearty. My neighbor Bonnie made her version of split pea soup based on a Swedish recipe. It was very thick and smooth, almost like porridge, and she used a smoked turkey leg to make her broth. It also had an interesting slightly sweet flavor that came from a secret ingredient - I am sworn not to divulge. 

Thanksgiving soup - My neighbor Yvonne blew everyone away with this original creation. It was a smoked turkey soup with lots of veggies and she made little stuffing balls as a garnish. The smoked turkey played a starring role, but those stuffing balls were a spectacular addition.

Bean soup - Surely bean soup is a classic vehicle for many different kinds of flavors. The two versions we had couldn't have been more different.  My neighbor Zilda is from Brazil and her black bean soup was sublime.  It was smooth as silk and she served it in small shot glasses with a sprinkling of crispy bacon and a pickled Brazilian Biquinho pepper on top. The peppers were not at all spicy but added a fabulous pop of vinegary freshness to this black bean soup.  Adrian's bean soup was more traditional and was made with smoked turkey tails and was faintly reminiscent of barbeque. 

Tuscan white bean soup - This one made by my neighbor Mike was full of chicken, white beans and kale, which might be my favorite vegetable for soup.  By itself, kale can be bitter and kind of stringy. But when added to soup, kale takes on a softness that is absolutely delightful and it adds a little bitterness to the rest of the soup. Mike served his Tuscan soup with garnishes of grated cheese and fresh parsley. 

Instead of big bowls, I put out small cups so everyone could have a taste without filling up on one kind of soup. When the soup swap was over and everyone took their crock pots home, I had a variety of soups in my fridge and nothing to clean up except a bunch of wine glasses. The soup swap is an excellent way to bring people together and I thank Kathy Gunst for sharing her inspiration and her recipes!