Once upon a time Foodies were called epicures, and vegetarians were thought to be hippie freaks. And before there was Deborah Madison we had Anna Thomas. Back in 1972 Anna was a film student and burgeoning vegetarian who was dissatisfied with the selection of cookbooks available. She decided to pen her own containing the kinds of recipes that she had taught herself to make. That book was the Vegetarian Epicure. In between raising a family and building a career in Independent Film she wrote the follow-up Vegetarian Epicure book two and the New Vegetarian Epicure. Now Ms. Thomas is back with her most personal and perhaps inspirational cookbook to date: Love Soup: 160 All New Vegetarian Recipes.
Anna Thomas was quoted as saying that "soup saved her life" and I have to say I agree. Soup is one of the most comforting meals one can make. There’s something soothing, almost therapeutic about coming home, taking out your favorite soup pot and knowing that with a few simple ingredients you can have something warm and delicious. It’s enough to make you forget about your troubles, if only for a little while.
In addition to the myriad of recipes with everything from broths to hearty soups fit for a holiday table, it contains recipes for salads, sweets, and breads too. Anna also talks about how she herself learned to cook and the time she spent in the 81 inch kitchen of the artist studio where she lived while her home was being renovated. She also chimes in on the current state of home cooking in our country. But above all, she is happy to share with us her love of soup and soup making.
The soups in the book are broken down seasonally so it wasn’t hard to find which ones to try. I love French green lentils so the "Green Lentil Soup with Cumin and Lemon" (see recipe below) was first on my list. It's got a smoky cumin flavor with just a touch of lemon. The "Cauliflower Bisque" (see recipe below) is what simple eating is all about; creamy and flavorful it is ideal for a starter but just as filling as a main course. If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your soup pot or just need to be reminded of how wonderful a steamy hot bowl can be, fall in love all over again with Love Soup.
Green Lentil Soup with Cumin and Lemon
From Love Soup by Anna Thomas. W.W. Norton & Co (2009).
French green lentils, often called Le Puy lentils after the region where they are grown, cook quickly, keep their shape, and taste great. Here they combine deliciously with other greens-leeks, chard, cilantro, and parsley-in a hearty soup. Have an old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich with this for a completely satisfying meal.
- 1 cup French green lentils (8 oz.; 225 g)
- 1 ½ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 Tbs. (30 ml) olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped (250 g)
- 2 cups (150 g) chopped leeks, white and light green parts
- 1 medium sweet potato, diced (8 oz.; 225 g)
- 1 large carrot, finely diced (100 g)
- 1 large stalk celery, finely diced (75 g)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 bunch green chard (8 oz.; 250 g)
- 2 Tbs. cumin seeds
- 1 cup (about 60 g) chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup (20 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2-3 cups (475-700 ml) basic light vegetable broth or canned vegetable broth
- 1-2 Tbs. (15-30 ml) fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
Garnish: fruity green olive oil
Rinse the lentils and combine them in a large soup pot with 4 cups (1 liter) water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the lentils gently for about 25 minutes, or until tender-firm. After the first 20 minutes, add a teaspoon of sea salt, and when the lentils are ready, remove them from the heat and skim off any foam that may have formed on top.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan, add the chopped onion and a pinch of sea salt, and cook slowly over medium heat until the onion is soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the leeks and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, stirring often, until the leeks and onion are translucent and turning golden. Add the onion and leeks to the lentils and their broth, along with the diced sweet potato, carrot, celery, another 3 cups water, half a teaspoon of sea salt, and the bay leaf. Simmer the soup gently, covered, for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the chard, slice away the stems, and coarsely chop the green leaves. Add the chard and simmer the soup another 10 minutes, until the vegetables are all tender. Lightly toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet, just until they release their fragrance, about 4 to 5 minutes, then grind them in a mortar or a spice grinder and stir them into the soup. Add the cilantro and parsley, a generous pinch of cayenne, and 2 or 3 cups of light vegetable broth, enough to give the soup the consistency you like. I like my soups to pour easily from the ladle. Heat everything together for a few more minutes, then add lemon juice to taste. Serve the soup steaming hot in wide bowls and drizzle some olive oil over each serving.
Cauliflower Bisque with Buttered Breadcrumbs
From Love Soup by Anna Thomas. W.W. Norton & Co (2009).
When I was a child we often had cauliflower on the dinner table, and it was a glorious sight. My mother would steam a whole cauliflower and then, in the Polish style, at the last moment she would pour buttery sautéed breadcrumbs over it. The browned butter glistened down the dome of the cauliflower, and the breadcrumbs were so delicious that I've brought them back for a return engagement, scattered across the top of this velvety cauliflower bisque.
- 1 large white cauliflower (2 lbs.; 900 g)
- 4 cups (1 liter) basic light vegetable broth (p. 47) or basic root vegetable broth
- 1 lemon, plus more if needed
- 1 ½ tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste 2 medium carrots (120 g)
- 2 medium stalks celery (100 g)
- 1 large yellow onion (240 g)
- 3 Tbs. (45 ml) olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp. herbes de Provence
- 2 oz. (60 g) fresh creamy goat cheese or cream cheese
Garnish: Buttered Breadcrumbs
Trim the cauliflower, cut the florets in small pieces, and put them in a soup pot with 2 cups (500 ml) water and the vegetable broth. Scrub the lemon and slice off a 1-inch-long strip of the zest, making sure you don't have any of the white pith, as that turns bitter. Juice the lemon. Add 2 tablespoons of the juice and the strip of zest to the pot, along with a teaspoon of sea salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and let it simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the lemon zest.
Meanwhile, peel, trim, and chop the carrots, celery, and onion. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped vegetables, along with the garlic and half a teaspoon of sea salt. Sauté the vegetables on a medium flame, stirring often, until they are soft and beginning to color, about 20 minutes. Add the herbes de Provence and keep stirring over medium heat for a few minutes longer. Add the sautéed vegetables to the cauliflower. Cover the pot again and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very tender. Remove from the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly. Puree the soup to a creamy, silky consistency, either in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender. Taste, and add salt or lemon juice if needed. Return the soup to the pot, bring it back to a simmer, and add the cheese and the last tablespoon of olive oil, stirring gently as the cheese melts. Sprinkle a heaping spoonful of buttered breadcrumbs over each serving of soup at the last minute, just as you are serving it.
- 1 cup coarse, soft breadcrumbs
You can make big, soft breadcrumbs by cutting up day-old bread into cubes and processing them briefly in a food processor. Alternately, you can crumble any soft bread with your fingers.
Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet, add the breadcrumbs, and stir over medium heat for several minutes. As soon as the breadcrumbs begin to take on a toasty golden color, remove them from the heat. Use them warm from the pan, or spread them in a thin layer on a plate or cookie sheet to cool.
If you want a vegan soup, omit the cheese and add a little more olive oil at the end. Garnish the soup with breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil instead of butter.
And if you don't want to make buttered breadcrumbs but you have some good croutons on hand, croutons will be just fine.
About Love Soup
Anna Thomas's Vegetarian Epicure cookbooks have sold millions of copies and inspired generations. Now she describes her love affair with the ultimate comfort food. "From my kitchen to yours," Thomas says, "here are the best soups I've ever made." Her wonderfully creative recipes make use of fresh, seasonal produce-try black bean and squash soup in the fall, smoky eggplant soup in midsummer, or seductively perfumed wild mushroom soup for Christmas. Silky puree or rib-sticking chowder-each recipe has room for variation, and nearly all are vegan-friendly.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.
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