A Beautiful Bowl of Soup
Paulette Mitchell and William Meppem, 2003

I don't know whether this is coincidence or indicative of something about the modern restaurant industry, but a while back I had a string of restaurant visits which went something like this: (1) try the soup; (2) think, "holy crow this is going to be the Best Restaurant Ever"; (3) eat the rest of the meal; (4) think, "oh, well, at least the soup was good."

Good restaurant soup is a totally different species from canned soup. What has surprised me recently is that the soups I make at home (making my own stock and so forth) are much closer to the former than the latter. It's funny, because I never know how good it's going to be until the last step, adding salt — salt brings out the flavor, and so adding it is like opening a present. There've been times that I've been making a soup, added the salt, taken a sip, been disappointed, and tried a little more salt. Sometimes that just makes it saltier. But sometimes I suddenly discover that I have made one of the best soups in human history.

Both things happened after I checked A Beautiful Bowl of Soup out of the library. This is a book of sixty or so vegetarian soup recipes; I'd had my eye on it for quite a while, so I jumped at the chance to give it a try for free. The first two soups I made were both sensational. I happened to try a dessert soup first, a concoction of strawberries, rhubarb, and orange juice, and after the suggested accompaniment of lemon sorbet didn't work out very well I tried vanilla ice cream and marveled at the deliciousness. But even that soup paled in comparison to the onion soup, which may well be the best soup I have even eaten. Certainly it was the best I have ever made. So naturally I bought the book posthaste.

The soups I've made since then have been a mixed bag:

  • cream of tomato with puff pastry: decent, but my own tomato soup recipe is better

  • roasted bell pepper with lemon vinaigrette: tasted like potatoes and little else, but that's probably my fault

  • fresh pea with parmesan cream: very good!

  • sweet potato ancho bisque with apple-pecan salsa and roasted red pepper cream: not very good... kind of bitter

  • wild rice cranberry: interesting for a few spoonfuls, but couldn't take any more

  • broccoli cheese: I've had much better versions

  • red lentil and bean: good, but not very memorable

I figure that even one really good recipe makes most cookbooks worth their purchase price. I've found three excellent soups already and still have many more left to try. So basically what I'm saying is YOU WANT THE SOUP.

Return to the Calendar page!