Give Paulette Mitchell credit for spending no time dwelling on the Paleolithic dimensions of soup-making and eating. It is fundamental stuff, sure, requiring some basic gear: fire, pot, stirring stick, knife.
With only 167 pages in A Beautiful Bowl of Soup: The Best Vegetarian Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2003, $19.95 paperback), there's little time for discursive meanderings. After a paragraph's worth of childhood reminiscence and passing mention of her experience as a chef and mother, Mitchell is off and running with an array of 66 recipes intermingled with tips on ingredients and techniques.
There's this tip: "If you double a recipe, do not double the amount of herbs or spices. Use just a little more than in the original recipe, then add more to taste."
And this: "Fresh mature ginger should be firm, with a smooth brown skin and no soft spots. To test for freshness, break off one of the knobs; if the ginger is fresh, it will break with a clean snap."
And this: "To squeeze more juice from citrus fruits, first bring them to room temperature or microwave chilled fruit (first pierce the fruit with a fork or knife) for 30 seconds on high."
The book is not strictly for beginners, although most of the recipes are quite approachable. Soup-making only gets so complicated, after all: Chop ingredients, perhaps saute, put in pot with water or stock. Sometimes you puree. Usually you apply heat, but not always, as there's the gazpacho and a few other chilled soups that could have been made before someone discovered the secret of fire, so long as the person had a blender.
Note the presence of old standbys (black bean, onion, chestnut) and a few less likely concoctions (liquid chocolate, wild rice-cranberry, Polynesian peanut).
As the title says, the book is all vegetarian, with some recipes even suiting the more strict demands of the vegan, who eschews any food that originated with a being classified as animal. That includes honey, eggs and dairy products. For convenience, Mitchell provides a separate list of vegan recipes -- there are 19 of these -- and recipes that can be modified to qualify as vegan -- there are 21 of these.
Any comment on how this book suits the season would only be redundant. The latest cold wind is reminder enough, as you can just about hear it whisper: ssssssooooooup.
Red Lentil Soup With Pita Croutons
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
8 cups vegetable stock (divided use)
1 3/4 cups dried lentils
2 carrots, finely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery leaves
pinch of red-pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 pita pocket breads, halved horizontally
6 to 8 lemon wedges
To make the soup: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander; stir for about 30 seconds. Stir in 6 cups of the vegetable stock, the lentils, carrots, celery leaves and red-pepper flakes.
Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of stock and the lemon juice. Season to taste.
To prepare the garnishes: Adjust the over rack to 4 to 5 inches from the broiler heating element; preheat the broiler. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Place the pita halves on a baking sheet; toast under the broiler until crispy and light brown, about 2 minutes per side. Let cool, then break into 1-inch pieces.
Top each serving with a mound of the cooked onion and sprinkle with the pita croutons; serve a lemon wedge on the side.
Per serving: 223 calories; 14 grams protein; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 35 grams carbohydrate; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 1,017 milligrams sodium