Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: Love Soup

When I started this blog a year ago, my reasons then were the same as they are today; soup is frugal, soup is simple and soup is loved. Anna Thomas has made her own very similar feelings known in her newest cookbook, Love Soup, 160 All-New Vegetarian Recipes from the Author of The Vegetarian Epicure.

Vegetarian and omnivore alike will find recipes to treasure in this book, along with tips on cooking and serving soup. I love the reasons behind the start of soup-making in Anna Thomases life, beginning with a very small temporary kitchen and ending with a renewed love for soup and renewed bonds with friends around the soup table.

Please don't let the fact that these are vegetarian recipe dissuade you from looking at this book. The soups are all complex enough in flavor to stand on their own and lest you think not, there is a whole section titled 'From Soup to Meal' that will take any one of those delicious soups to a glorious and full repast for even the heartiest of appetites.

I chose the 'Green Soup' for two reasons; first is the fact that Anna Thomas wrote often of it in the beginning of the book and with such a fondness that I found myself wanting a bowl right then. The second reason is that it's the mother of several other soups, each one as delicious as the first.

I also picked her Black Bean Quesadillas because I thought they would go wonderfully with that particular soup, and I was right. What a wonderful meal!

Here are the recipes for both, reprinted with permission courtesy of Anna Thomas, Love Soup: 160 All-New Vegetarian Recipes from the Author of The
Vegetarian Epicure, and W. W. Norton & Company.

Green Soup
The Original
Printable Recipe

This is one of the first green soups I made, and the template for many that followed: loads of greens, some caramelized onion, a potato, and a bit of lemon juice and cayenne to spark the flavors. There are many wonderful soups, but when I’m eating this one I can’t think of one I like better.

Serves 4–6 This soup can easily be doubled—and should be!

1 bunch chard or spinach, (8 oz.; 225 g)
1 bunch kale, (8 oz.; 225 g)
4–5 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
½ cup (25 g) loosely packed cilantro
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1 medium Yukon Gold potato (5 oz.; 140 g)
1 medium yellow onion (225 g)
1 ½ Tbs. (22 ml) olive oil
Marsala or dry sherry (optional)
1–2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Wash the greens thoroughly, trim off their stems, and slice the leaves. Combine the chard or spinach, kale, green onions, and cilantro in a large soup pot with 3 cups (750 ml) water and a teaspoon of salt. Peel the potato, or just scrub it well if you prefer, cut it into small pieces, and add it to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, turn down the flame to low, cover the pot, and let the soup simmer for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onion with a small sprinkle of salt over a medium flame until it is golden brown and soft. This will take up to half an hour. Don’t hurry; give it a stir once in a while, and let the slow cooking develop the onion’s sweetness. If you like, you can deglaze the pan at the end with a bit of Marsala or sherry—not required, but a nice touch.
Add the caramelized onion to the soup. Put the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in the pan and stir the chopped garlic in it for just a couple of minutes, until it sizzles and smells great. Add the garlic to the pot and simmer the soup for 10 minutes more.
Add enough of the broth to make the soup a soup—it should pour easily from a ladle—and puree it in the blender, in batches, or use an immersion blender. Don’t overprocess; potatoes can turn gummy if you work them too much.

Return the soup to the pot, bring it back to a simmer, and taste. Add a pinch more salt if needed, grind in a little black pepper, and add a pinch of cayenne and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir well and taste again. Now use your taste buds—correct the seasoning to your taste with a drop more lemon juice or another pinch of salt, and then serve big steaming bowls of green soup.

I always finish this soup with my all-time favorite garnish, a thin drizzle of fruity olive oil. This garnish is not a decoration, it is an essential part of the soup. The taste of the fresh, unheated oil is entirely different from the taste of cooked oil, and I deliberately use a modest amount of oil for sautéing so that I can add some fresh oil at the end.

Other garnishes can be added. Crumbled white cheese is a natural; I like Cotija, a dry Mexican white cheese, or feta. Croutons are great, especially if they’re made from rye or pumpernickel bread. Garlic croutons are the bomb, as my kids used to say.

Another way . . .

Rice instead of potato: I often eliminate the potato and instead add 3 tablespoons of Arborio rice to the greens when I cook them. That little bit of rice distributes its starch into the water and purees beautifully. No fear of overblending with rice, so you can have a soup of truly velvety texture.

Black Bean Quesadillas
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

Quesadillas are the food my kids lived on through most of grade school, the one thing they were always willing to eat. It is the easy, infinitely adaptable tortilla version of the grilled cheese sandwich. The most basic quesadilla is a flour tortilla folded over some melted cheese and toasted lightly on both sides. From there, the variations are endless.

This quesadilla is the basic version with delicious refried black beans added, along with a little salsa, the most frequent addition to any quesadilla.

For the refried beans:

2 cups (400 g) cooked black beans
1 medium yellow onion (250 g)
2 Tbs. (30 ml) olive oil
sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup (25 g) chopped cilantro
½ tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
¼ tsp. spicy smoked paprika
2–3 Tbs. (30–45 ml) Table Salsa (p. 442) or Simple Chipotle Sauce (p. 439) (optional)

For the quesadillas:

6 whole-wheat tortillas (180 g)
6 oz. (180 g) grated jack cheese or crumbled queso fresco
Simple Chipotle Sauce or other salsa

To make the refried beans, it is ideal to start with black beans you have cooked yourself—they taste much better than canned beans and are no trouble to cook as long as you allow the time for them to simmer. But in a pinch you can use canned beans.
Finely chop the onion and sauté it in the olive oil with a pinch of salt, stirring over medium heat, for about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, lower the heat, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the cooked black beans with about 3/4 cup of their cooking liquid (if you are using canned beans, add some vegetable broth or water), the cilantro, cumin, and paprika. Cook the beans for 10 to 12 minutes, mashing them a little with a potato masher. They should have the consistency of a soft paste, with some of the beans smashed and others whole. Add salt to taste (this depends on how salty the beans are to start with) and, if you like, a few tablespoons of salsa.

To assemble your quesadillas, first lightly heat the tortillas on a griddle or in a pan to soften them. Spread about 2 heaping tablespoons of the beans over half of each tortilla and sprinkle an ounce of cheese over that. Spoon on as much salsa as you like.

Fold the tortilla over the filling and cook the quesadillas in batches in a hot pan or on a griddle, about 1 1/2 minutes on a side, or until they are nicely browned and hot through. A large pan should hold 2 or 3 quesadillas at a time, and if you cover the pan, the cheese will melt a little faster.

Serve the quesadillas hot, with additional salsa. Cut them into wedges if you like.

Love Soup is available today at the following online booksellers:

W.W. Norton & Company

Barnes and Noble Booksellers


Anna Thomas said...

Hi Anne!

Thanks for the lovely comments about my new book -- I was so happy to see this. And thanks for knowing that soups need a blog of their own. Yes -- a hundred soups (my book) is just a start. I'll be checking in with you on a regular basis as we slurp our way to a thousand!

I love soup!


Anna Thomas

Anne said...

How wonderful of you to stop by! I am more than thrilled to have reviewed your book, but barely did it justice. It's become a fast favorite.