Comfort Soups and Cooking Basics by the Soup Sisters

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Photo by Shallon Cunnigham, Salt Photography from The Soup Sisters Cookbook (Random House). 

HOW are the New Year’s Resolutions going? Sticking with the diet resolutions?

Winter is an awful time to restrict yourself. Winter can be harsh, and food is one of the most comforting things there is to ward off cold while you nurse that bruise from slipping in the ice.

In comes soup. Soup is nourishing, warming, and easy on the waistline if you wish it to be so. In come the Soup Sisters.

The Soup Sisters was a non-profit before it was a cookbook. Sharon Hamptom is a natural born soup-maker whose gifts of soup to neighbours and friends have become more than a habit; soup-making is part of her identity. She rallied her friends to a cook-off for her 50th and donated the resulting creations to her local women’s shelter. She and her friends then served the women and children in residence there, reminding them, as she says in her introduction, that they are part of a caring community.

I’m pleased that this book manages to both chase away the January blues and continue the charitable spirit of Christmas. Before we get too bogged down in the results of our own excesses, from Christmas debt to extra pounds, why not think about how something as simple as a bowl of soup can make a difference? Make some soup and continue to give to others in the small, everyday ways that mean at least as much as the more grandiose yearly displays of generosity. Nobody turns down a bowl of soup, in my experience.

The Soup Sisters Cookbook is a collection of 100 soups gathered from both Soup Sisters volunteers and Canada’s culinary elite. I was delighted to find some recipes I’d been looking for but couldn’t remember where exactly I’d seen them first. Lucy Waterman’s Silky Jerusalem Artichoke, for example. (Lucy never, ever steers me wrong).

But the great thing about this book, for those of you who really like to play with your food, is that it features variations on a theme. There is a Sweet Garlic and Sunchoke soup recipe (sunchoke is another word for Jerusalem artichoke) that roasts the root vegetable rather than simmering it, as Waverman does. I was keen to learn how the flavours change with the various techniques, so I had to make them both. No clear winner, except He-who-gets-to-eat-each-batch, my beloved taste-tester hubby.

There are sections on common ingredients, soup-making techniques, classic stock recipes, storage and freezing. This book is really good for neophyte cook, or perhaps a student out on his own for the first time. When you really want to make soup for them and can’t.

As an experienced but curious soup maker, I found several recipes to entice my sense of novelty. Dutch Meatball, Salt Fish and Fennel, Weekday Hamburger (with barley), and Curried Squash and Coconut are some fine examples. There are wonderful basics, including a borscht, gumbo, mushroom and black bean, all of which belong in any decent cook’s repertoire. Most wonderfully, Chilled Cherry for when summer comes again.

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Dutch Meatball Soup

Photo by Julie Van Rosendaal

I’ve not yet tried the Budapest Night Owl, or the Lapsang Tea, Lemon and Miso. Dill Pickle is going to take some courage, but apparently it’s traditional, not an oddball attempt at innovation. Who am I to turn up my nose at a soup that’s fed thousands before me?

I’m pleased to see a large number of bean soups in this book. Whenever some forward-thinking foodie starts talking about the need to eat bugs, I say “hey but beans!” My only criticism of this book, which embraces recipes both elegantly gourmet and humbly homespun, is that there is a little repetition of the subject of minestrone and pasta e fagioli. I don’t at all mind very different takes on both these recipes, as they exist in many varied incarnations across Italy, but there’s a little overkill with similar styles. Happily, the Lamb Fagioli is nothing I’ve ever heard of before and includes a delightfully easy way of making a lamb stock with sausages.

Tuscan Bean Soup is eaten year round in Tuscany, but it is best suited to the colder months. I like to bulk it up—and make the beans into a complete protein—with the addition of some faro. I’ll do a post on faro soon, but for now, here’s the Tuscan Bean Soup.

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Tuscan Bean Soup

Photo by Julie Van Rosendaal

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The Soup Sisters Cookbook: 100 Simple Recipes to Warm Hearts . . . One Bowl at a Time by Sharon Hapton (Editor) and Pierre A. Lamielle (Editor). Random House 2012.

The Soup Sisters Cookbook includes recipes from many of Canada’s top celebrity chefs including Michael Stadtlander, Bonnie Stern, Lucy Waverman, Massimo Capra, Anna Olson, Michael Bonacini and Elizabeth Baird.

http://www.soupsisters.org

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Theresa

Tea sommelier, love to cook AND bake. Soups are my go-to comfort food and I rely on an excess of garlic in almost everything but dessert. I review Canadian cookbooks for those who want to know which to gift or buy for your own collection.

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