appetisers

Soup takes on new meaning

A new concept, soup swaps, bring in a spirit of adventure but build a communal feeling

By Deb Lindsey
10:57 September 20, 2016

I’m not a huge fan of potlucks. I know they are all the rage, but I just don’t get it. When I’m invited to dinner or to a party, I like to be served food that someone else has cooked. I figure it’s my night off from the kitchen.

So six years ago, when my friend Hope called proposing that a bunch of neighbours and friends spend the winter holding soup swap parties, I thought “No way!” before she even had a chance to explain the concept.

She was persuasive. “I love making a big pot of soup,” she began, “but I don’t love eating the same soup all week long. What if one person hosted a gathering and made a side dish, bread and dessert, and everyone else brought a pot of their favourite soup? We have a party, and then we all go home with a variety of leftover soups to eat the rest of the week.”

Hmm. Despite myself, I had to admit I kind of liked the idea. I cook one pot of soup, get to go to a party, and leave with a week’s worth of homemade soups.

The Second Sunday Soup Swap Suppers were born six winters ago in the small Maine town where I live. Hope chose six couples who love to cook. Every month during the long, snow-filled winter we got together, each time at a different home, and had a soup swap party. Some of us were neighbours and friends, some merely acquaintances, but over the course of six winters we became close. Soup brought us together.

Each soup swap party started with everyone introducing what they had brought.

“Hello, my name is Rebecca, and I went to the indoor winter farmers market on Saturday and found root vegetables and gorgeous organic rosemary and made my favourite childhood soup.”

“This is the matzoth ball soup my mother made every Passover.”

“My grandmother made this chestnut soup every Christmas.”

The first few times we got together, the soups were delicious but not particularly adventurous: chicken noodle, tomato bisque, lots of purées. But, as the months and years passed, the soups became increasingly sophisticated. Soon enough, we would hear: “I tasted this noodle soup on a recent trip to Vietnam, where it was served at a stall at a night street market.”

People travelled for work and vacation, and in addition to bringing home souvenirs, they returned with soup recipes and with the exotic spices and other ingredients with which to make them.

Within a year, the soups began to reflect a far more adventurous spirit: Thai red curry noodle soup; Scottish smoked haddock and leek chowder; Indian mulligatawny; corn and sweet potato chowder.

Had we all turned into master soupmakers? Or was it that as we got to know one another better, we wanted to challenge and please everyone with ever-more-interesting soups?

What the soup swap parties taught us is that the simple act of making soup and sharing it with others is a great way to build a community. You don’t need to live in a small town. Soup swaps work just as well in urban neighbourhoods, and with relatives, parent-teacher organisations, yoga classes, book clubs — you name it. The key is to start with a small group of people who love food and enjoy cooking. You’ll be amazed at how relationships deepen and grow, one pot of soup at a time.

Parsnip and Cauliflower ‘Vichyssoise’ with Gremolata

8 main-course servings or 12 appetiser servings; makes 10 cups

You’ll be surprised how little dairy is used in this creamy cold soup. The topping provides a bright, crunchy counterpoint.

Be sure to use a light-coloured vegetable broth, so the soup remains pale.

Make ahead: The soup must chill in the refrigerator for about four hours before serving. The gremolata can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two days.

Ingredients

For the gremolata:

1 tbs unsalted butter

1 tbs olive oil

1/2 cup plain panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 tbs finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tbsminced fresh chives

For the soup:

2 medium leeks

1 tbs unsalted butter

1 tbs olive oil

1 medium-to-large parsnip, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 medium head cauliflower, cored and cut into medium florets

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

7 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth (see headnote)

1/4 cup heavy cream

For the gremolata: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the oil, then add the panko and toss until the crumbs are completely coated. Toast the crumbs, stirring constantly, for three to five minutes, until golden brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then add the lemon zest, parsley and chives, tossing to incorporate. The yield is 1/2 to 3/4 cup.

For the soup: Trim the dark green sections from the leeks and reserve for making vegetable broth, if desired. Halve the pale green and white sections lengthways. Rinse under cold running water, pat dry and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.

Melt the butter in a large stockpot over low heat. Stir in the oil and leeks; cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender. Add the parsnip, cauliflower and thyme. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the broth, stirring to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the parsnip and cauliflower are tender. Remove from the heat, uncover and let cool for about five minutes.

Use an immersion (stick) blender, or work in batches using a food processor, to puree the mixture into a smooth soup.

Return it all to the pot over low heat. Stir in the cream. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls; top each portion with a small spoonful of the gremolata.

Nutrition: Per serving (based on 8): 140 calories, 3g protein, 13g carbohydrates, 9g fat, 4g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 120mg sodium, 3g dietary fibre, 7g sugar

Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder With Saffron Cream

6 main-course servings or 10 appetiser servings; makes 11 1/2 cups

Here, fresh corn and sweet potatoes make a good team. Together with the saffron, they turn the broth in this chowder a gorgeous sunflower yellow. Now — late summer/early autumn — is the best time to make it; you’ll have fresh, sweetcorn and can use the husks to help flavour the broth.

Ingredients

6 large ears fresh corn or 5 cups frozen corn kernels

2 tbs olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares

1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch squares

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tbs flour

4 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tsp crumbled saffron threads

2 scallions (trimmed), white and green parts very thinly sliced

1 tbs minced fresh chives

If you’re using fresh corn, shuck the ears, discard the silks and trim off the ends so you can stand the cob flat. Working with one at a time, stand each cob on its end inside a large bowl; use a sharp knife to remove the kernels by working the blade straight down against the cob. Use the blunt side of the knife to then scrape down the cob; this will help release any milky corn liquid. Stir that liquid and the corn together. Reserve the spent cobs.

Warm the oil in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Stir in the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for eight minutes or until translucent. Add half the yellow bell pepper and half the red bell pepper, and cook for three minutes. Add the sweet potato, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook for five minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring well to coat all the vegetables, for two minutes. Increase the heat to high; gently whisk in the broth and bring to a boil. Add the corncobs (not the corn kernels). Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for five to eight minutes or until the potato is almost tender.

Combine the cream and saffron in a small saucepan over low heat; once the mixture is warmed through, stir it and let it steep (off the heat) for 5 minutes.

Add the saffron cream, corn kernels and corn milk to the stockpot; cook for five minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. Use tongs to remove the cobs from the pot; holding each one over the pot, use a knife to scrape off any bits of chowder or corn clinging to the cob.

Ladle the chowder into mugs or bowls; sprinkle with the scallions, chives and the remaining red and yellow bell peppers, then serve.

Nutrition: Per serving (based on 6): 310 calories, 6g protein, 39g carbohydrates, 17g fat, 8g saturated fat, 40mg cholesterol, 110mg sodium, 5g dietary fibre, 10g sugar

Lamb and Lentil Soup With Lamb Meatballs

8 main-course servings or 12 appetiser servings; makes 8 cups total

The author uses the bone left over from a roasted leg of lamb or lamb chops to help flavour this soup; we tested it with her Roasted Chicken Stock and were pleased with the results.

If you’re packing this soup to go, stash the parsley and cheese toppings and the meatballs in separate containers.

Make ahead: The stock can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 4 months.

Ingredients

For the soup:

1 large leek

1 1/2 tbs olive oil

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1 1/2 tbs chopped fresh rosemary

1 1/2 tbs chopped fresh thyme

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 medium carrots, scrubbed well and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over

1 cup canned no-salt-added crushed tomatoes, with their juice

6 cups Roasted Chicken Stock (see recipe at washingtonpost.com/pb/recipes/roasted-chicken-stock/15460/)

1/2 cup packed chopped fresh parsley

For the meatballs:

12 ounces ground lamb

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 ts chopped fresh rosemary

1 tbs chopped fresh thyme

1 large egg

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese

1/2 cup plain dried panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tbs olive oil

1 1/2 tsp canola

For serving:

1/2 cup packed finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the soup: Trim off the dark-green section from the leek; reserve for making vegetable broth, if you like. Halve the pale-green-and-white section lengthways. Rinse under cold running water, pat dry and cut crosswise into thin pieces.

Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat. Add the leek and garlic; cook, stirring, for five minutes, then add half the rosemary and half the thyme, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook for one minute. Add the carrots and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Add the lentils and the tomatoes with their juices, stirring until all the ingredients in the pot are coated. Increase the heat to high, add the roasted chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and add the remaining rosemary and remaining thyme and the parsley. Partially cover and cook for 45 minutes.

For the meatballs: Meanwhile, line a plate with paper towels.

Combine the ground lamb, garlic, rosemary, thyme, egg, cheese, panko and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Use your clean hands to mix the ingredients and form them into about 30 small meatballs.

Heat the olive oil with the canola in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oils are shimmering, add the meatballs in batches and cook for about five minutes each time, rolling them around in the hot skillet, until evenly browned. (They will not be cooked through.) Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the plate.

After the soup has cooked for 45 minutes, add the browned meatballs. Cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until the lentils and carrots are tender and the meatballs are cooked through. Taste, and add more salt and/or pepper as needed. If the soup tastes weak, uncover and cook over medium heat for 10 more minutes.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, sprinkle with the parsley and/or the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve.

Nutrition: Per serving (based on 8): 330 calories, 19g protein, 23g carbohydrates, 18g fat, 6g saturated fat, 60mg cholesterol, 560mg sodium, 9g dietary fibre, 4g sugar

Recipes adapted from Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share, by Kathy Gunst.

— Washington Post