Cookbook Review: Mollie Katzen's Recipes - Soups
50 Soup Recipes from a Vegetarian Master
It's been 30 years since Mollie Katzen brought flavor, wit and innovation to vegetarian cooking with her breakthrough Moosewood Cookbook. To mark the occasion she has written a natural extension of her vegetarian titles. This one is all about soups and it is a treasure.
Mollie Katzen's Recipes: Soups (Ten Speed Press, spiral hardcover with slipcase, $14.95) is a small format celebration of vegetarian soups. As with her previous books, each page is hand-lettered and illustrated with charming pen and ink drawings, all done by the author. In her own hand-written words she intones us to improvise, taste and make each soup in the way that we want, positioning herself as a coach and cheerleader.
Some previously published recipes that first appeared in Moosewood as well as The Enchanged Broccoli Forest, have been revised and included in this new collection, as well as a few new ones.
The book itself is a charming presentation. It's a fit-in-the-hand mere 6 by 6 inches, with 120 pages bound with a spiral on its top. The hard covered book also comes with an easel back and a slipcase (see our photos), making it easy to display a recipe while you cook, and then neatly it put away. I suspect that after a dozen or so uses, the easel back may become annoying to contend with, plus the binding gives some heft to what is, in fact, a modest collection. But we're talking quality, not quantity, here and what's inside this small, sweet volume, is irresistible.
50 Vegetarian Soups Plus Croutons
Every recipe is vegetarian (although several use milk or yogurt). The book starts with instructions for making vegetable stock with a conspiratorial permission that if after making it you don't like it, "you can always toss it" and use water instead.
There are 43 hot soups, 7 chilled, plus a simple instruction for making croutons. In most recipes she shows how to prepare each ingredient and then begin a layering process that produces complex flavor that is not always guaranteed in vegetarian soups.
The recipes reveal a variety of ethnic influences -- including Asian, Italian, Latin, and Middle-Eastern. Some are exotic, such as "Thai Hot-Sour Soup with Pineapple & Basil" with bright flavors and complex textures, including a crunch that comes from 2 cups of fresh mung bean sprouts. Others are more simple, as a "Chilled Cucumber-Yogurt Soup" that takes 10 minutes to put together and would be refreshing on a hot summer day. My favorite in the collection is "Gypsy Soup," a repeat from Moosewood, albeit with more details, such as instructions for peeling fresh tomatoes. It's a Spanish-inspired combination of chick peas, tomato, bell pepper, sweet potato and heated spices including paprika, cinnamon and cayenne that is both satisfying and brightly flavored (I admit I make mine with chicken stock).
Ms. Katzen shows us repeated ways to make single-vegetable cream soups -- with asparagus, broccoli, spinach, or celery -- that can work with whole, skim or soy milk. In another set of variations, she uses a simple mix of vegetables to produce a light "Summer Vegetable Soup" (served hot, not cold), a hearty "Minestrone," and two chilled "Gazpachos."
A few of the recipes are very elaborate, particularly her long-loved "Brazilian Black Bean Soup" which first appeared in the Moosewood Cookbook; this version declaring itself as "New and Improved!" (her exclamation point, not mine) -- and it is a bit less complex to make than the original. Some are profoundly simple, like a "Miso Soup" she describes as "almost instant" and she's right since you can't make soup much faster than adding miso to boiling water. Yet she graces the instruction ("[add] a few delicate slices of scallion greens") so that the flavor transcends the speed.
There are some classics like "Fresh Corn Chowder" and "Vichyssoise." Three different mushroom soups -- "Curried Squash and Mushroom," "Hungarian Mushroom," and "Mushroom-Barley." Plus two sweet, chilled fruit soups -- "Chilled Berry" and "Chilled Cantaloupe-Peach" that she touts as "good for breakfast."
As with most soup cookbooks, the techniques in the recipes are not difficult but the magic and imagination of this book is how she respects her ingredients and encourages both complexity and simplicity in flavors. Most of us want to make soup when we're looking for food that will give us comfort and satisfaction. Without adding a single soup bone, boxed stock, or piece of chicken, Ms. Katzen has created a repertoire of inspiring flavors that do just that.