So six years ago, when my friend Hope called proposing that a bunch of neighbors 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 favorite 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 neighbors 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 favorite childhood soup."
"This is the matzoh 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 purees. 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 traveled 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 neighborhoods, and with relatives, parent-teacher organizations, 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
MAKES 8 main-course servings or 12 appetizer servings; makes 10 cups; Healthy
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-colored vegetable broth, so the soup remains pale.
MAKE AHEAD: The soup must chill in the refrigerator for about 4 hours before serving. The gremolata can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Ingredients For the gremolata:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup plain panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
For the soup:
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 3 to 5 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 lengthwise. 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 5 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, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar
CORN AND SWEET POTATO CHOWDER WITH SAFFRON CREAM
6 main-course servings or 10 appetizer 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 fall - is the best time to make it; you'll have fresh, sweet corn and can use the husks to help flavor the broth.
- 6 large ears fresh corn or 5 cups frozen corn kernels
- 2 tablespoons 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 tablespoon flour
- 4 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
- 2 scallions (trimmed), white and green parts very thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon 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 8 minutes or until translucent. Add half the yellow bell pepper and half the red bell pepper, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the sweet potato, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring well to coat all the vegetables, for 2 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 5 to 8 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 5 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, 6 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar 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 fall - is the best time to make it; you'll have fresh, sweet corn and can use the husks to help flavor the broth.