Here in Minnesota we just had our first snow of the season. I am not a big fan of the snow, but it did signal that it was the perfect time for this cookbook to arrive in my mailbox. Great Homemade Soups – A Cooks Collection, by Paul Gayler is full of soups, soups, and more soups. Actually it is not just soups; the cookbook starts out with a handful of recipes for garnishes, accompaniments, and toppings for soups. Most of them were very simple ideas, some did not even need recipes, but they were a nice unexpected addition which definitely gave some ideas to dress up a soup dinner.
After the garnishes, accompaniments, and toppings Gayler goes into recipes for several different stocks: white chicken, brown chicken, beef or game, vegetable, and fish. Starting right away with the stocks there are several of the recipes written as a “Masterclass” recipe. The recipes are great but the “Masterclass” items step it up a notch with step by step photographs to help explain the process. I really think this was a great idea, especially with some of the more complicated soups.
Now it is time for the soups. Gayler has chapters for Natural broths and consommés, Smooth and creamy, Hearth and wholesome, Traditional favourites, Wild and exotic, and Chilled. My wife is as Midwestern as they come and doesn’t like anything too different or spicy but she still managed to flag many recipes that she would like to try. This is also a truly international cookbook and there were a lot of exotic recipes, and they were not limited to the exotic chapter. Even the traditional favourites chapter had soups from Mexico, Morocco, France, and Greece; maybe traditional but many new to me.
I picked two of the recipes my wife flagged to start out with. The first was farmhouse soup from the hearty and wholesome chapter. I would describe this soup as a beef barley soup times ten. The soup did not require making a broth ahead of time so it was fairly easy to put together but it did have a lot more ingredients than a beef barley soup would have. It had five vegetables (onion, green summer squash, butternut squash, carrot, and potato) and three grains (barley, spelt, and lentils) and the soup was topped with a smoked cheese. The end result was something much more than a beef barley soup. All the vegetables tasted great together and gave the soup and beautiful blend of colors while the grains added a lot of different texture. Finally the smoked cheese just gives a tiny bit of smokiness that went perfectly. I served this with one of Gayler’s accompaniments; Swiss cheese and mushroom toasties; really just a fancy version of grilled cheese
The next soup I tried was kumara, lime, and ginger soup from the smooth and creamy chapter. I was kind of surprised my wife flagged this one but I’m not going to ask twice when I have a chance to make something like this. Kumara is just another name for sweet potato. To start this recipe I needed to make a batch of vegetable stock, and the one from this book was very tasty. After the stock was done the soup went together easily and was done in less than an hour. Along with the sweet potato the recipe also had lime (juice and zest), coconut milk, and ginger. Each added a unique flavor and we all loved this soup. My son did not even want to try it because “I hate sweet potatoes”, but after being forced to have five spoons of soup he was caught scraping every last bit from his bowl. The lime and ginger really gave the soup a nice refreshing tang.
I didn’t really have any complaints with the cookbook. The only issue I had was probably because of Gayler’s European background. I needed to use the internet to figure out what some of the ingredients were and had a little trouble finding some of them. In the two recipes I made there were ingredient names like kumara (sweet potato), spelt, puy lentils, and marrow or courgettes (similar to zucchini).
There are many things to like about this cookbook. The number of recipes (over 100) and variety in those recipes was great. There were soups from Vietnam, Columbia, Morocco, Scotland, Japan, Sardinia, and Ethiopia to name a few. The photography was also superb. There was a picture of every single soup in the book; many of them full page and all of them beautiful. The photographs really make it a lot easier to visualize what the soup really is rather than by just looking at the list of ingredients. I also liked the “Masterclass” recipes I described. Another nice thing in the cookbook is that many of these recipes have several variations along with the main recipe. If you like soups, and who doesn’t, this would be a great cookbook to have.