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Soup: A Way of Life
by Barbara Kafka
Reviewed by Maxine
Bleak New England winters call for soup. Thick stews, brimming with vegetables, warm broths that cast out the chill, can brighten even the shortest days. Soup: A way of life, by Barbara Kafka, is a thorough, satisfying collection of soups, stews, stocks and goodies from her family and around the world.
From a section entitled “How to Boil Water,” to the finishing touches of how to make noodles, croutons, and other “Bobblers and sitters in soup,” there is enough information for the novice or accomplished cook to reproduce her recipes with ease.
Ms. Kafka takes us on a journey through her family album of soups, from her Grandmother’s chicken soup and beyond soups her children loved. Each recipe is prefaced by a “snapshot” of the family member who gave her the recipe, or for whom she devised it. Her story about the first time she made matzo balls for her husband is one of the funniest newlywed stories I’ve ever read.
The Basic Chicken Stock, which she uses in many of the recipes in the book, is simplicity itself: just chicken backs and water. She states that adding vegetables and other seasonings to the stock causes it to sour sooner than not. Since most of the recipes that call for stock would use an entire 8-cup batch, that shouldn’t be a problem.
From simple chicken soup with dumplings, to chicken in the pot with Chinese flavors, it was difficult to decide where to start. I finally settled on a chicken stew with peanut butter. The combination of peanut butter, chicken stock, and hot red peppers is common in Chinese cooking, so the addition of chicken, sweet potatoes, and spinach sounded interesting. The resulting stew was not at all what I had expected. Instead of a fiery-peanut burst, the sweet potatoes and chicken gave a warm tingle.
I’m always intrigued by cold soups, so when the February temperatures broke 60 degrees F, that seemed the perfect excuse to try something cool. Cucumber soup, a "take" on Indian raita, is simple, and delicious. The resident seven-year-old enjoyed this combination of several of her favorite foods, and it had enough flavor to spark the interest of adults, as well.
Since the next day was much colder, it seemed like a good time for corn chowder. The result was a thick, creamy stew that only took a half hour to prepare, including chopping time for the vegetables. With the addition of cheese, bread, and salad, it was a hearty meal.
The variety of recipes that Ms. Kafka offers doesn’t stop there. Carrot and Leek Soup, Goat Soup with Haricots Verts, a Vietnamese breakfast soup, Pho/Beef Soup with Broad Rice Noodles, Salmon Broth, Ceviche Soup, and Spicy Peanut Butter Soup give just a whisper of the breadth and depth that she covers. She caps the book with hearty sections of floaters, from basic Egg Pasta Dough and Duck or Goose Confit Ravioli, to various dumplings and croutons. She closes with a section on ‘Sauces for the Big Soups,’ like Bollito Misto, Pot-au-Feu and Cocido.
There are soups that can be prepared in as little as 15 minutes,
and stocks that can simmer for the better part of a day. With sections
on vegetables, fowl, meat, and seafood, Ms. Kafka gives enough choices
to please the palate of the most picky eater, and delight the more adventuresome.
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