Food for Thought
The Soup Swap
It couldn’t be easier to share a warm meal with friends
By Bridgette A. Lacy
Southerners are known for their cookie swaps, but why not swap soup?
I fell in love with homemade soups during a 1994 La Napoule Art Foundation fellowship in Southern France sponsored by the North Carolina Arts Council. The chef, Malika, made a creamy, vegetable soup from scratch almost daily. Served with crusty baguettes and grated cheese for garnishing, I was in homemade soup heaven.
Soup is the ultimate comfort food, nourishing the body and soul. It’s a perfect remedy for the final bite of winter and, since scientists have predicted another surge in COVID cases, a soothing, comforting dish packed with fond memories.
A few years ago, my love affair with soup heated up when I heard Kathy Gunst, the resident chef for WBUR’s award-winning radio show Here & Now, talk about her cookbook, Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share.
I loved the idea of gathering a few friends and swapping jars of chowders or brothy liquids filled with fresh ingredients. “Soup fits almost any budget,” Gunst says. “Throw whatever ingredients you have in water . . . a little bit goes a long way.”
One of my favorites is a chunky stew-like black-eyed-peas concoction with fresh collards, carrots, ham and onions. It’s a savory and satisfying meal in a bowl. My friend, children’s book author Kelly Starling Lyons, often delivers a container to me on New Year’s Day to start my year off right.
My friend, Joyce, recently whipped up a batch of Ree Drummond’s Best Tomato Soup Ever. I drove over to her house with my recycled Talenti gelato containers. Once home, I washed my hands, grabbed a spoon and agreed that the silky smoothness was better than any tomato soup I’d ever tasted.
Good soup can be made with scraps, creating a peasant-like meal, or from pricey seafood, for a more sophisticated bisque. As long as the flavor is there, my spoon is ready. As Gunst says, “there are no limits on what can be defined as soup.”
So let’s get this thing started. And make the swap work for you — whether everyone exchanges soup at the same place and time, or you make your soup and tell your friends to bring their containers.
Here are Kathy Gunst’s Tips for Starting a Soup Swap:
Make sure the soup swap members are like-minded in terms of their diets. For example, everyone likes meat. Or everyone is vegetarian.
Email or text recipients a copy of the recipe.
Label all the soups and date them.
Use Mason jars or any containers you can recycle (I’m a fan of Talenti gelato). Let the soup cool down before packaging. Never ladle the soup when it’s boiling hot.
Use tea towels to cushion the containers you transport your soup in so they are not sliding around on the drive.
Generally, cream soups don’t freeze well. Leave out the cream until you are ready to eat it.
Drop the soup off in a safe manner. Leave it on your friend’s porch and call first. Consider including a crusty bread, crackers or a side salad.
Share the story behind your creation. “Every bowl of soup has a story behind it,” she says. Sometimes it is inspired by a family member, other times it may be influenced by the produce selections at the Farmers’ Market.
Choose ingredients based on what’s available to you. According to Lee Mortensen, market manager at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, March and April come with lots of “first of the season” produce. “Look for greens of all shades, including a variety of herbs from mint to green onions,” she says. Other ingredients perfect for soups are: fennel, asparagus, garlic, spinach, purslane, broccoli, mushrooms and ramps.
Spring Cream of Curried Asparagus Recipe adapted by Lee Mortensen from Perla Meyers’ The Seasonal Kitchen
“This is a simple soup bursting with flavor to hail the changing of seasons. It’s better if you make your own stock from chicken and veg if you can,” Mortensen says.
1 pound fresh asparagus
5 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons sweet butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 to 2 teaspoons curry powder
3/4 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground white pepper
3 egg yolks
Dash of lemon juice
Remove the woody ends of the asparagus stalks. Clean stalks with a veggie peeler; cut off the tips and set aside.
Place the chicken stock and asparagus stalks in a 3-quart casserole. Bring stock to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40–45 minutes.
While soup is simmering, drop asparagus tips into boiling, slightly salted water and cook for 3–5 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.
Purée the stock and stalks in a blender and reserve. Keep warm.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt butter, add flour and cook for 2 minutes without letting it brown.
Add the puréed stock all at once and stir while bringing the soup to a boil. Cook over low heat until mixture thickens and lightly coats a spoon.
Mix the curry powder with a little cream in a small bowl and add it to the soup with the asparagus tips. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
Just before serving, mix the remaining cream and egg yolks in a small bowl and add the mixture to the soup with a dash of lemon juice. Stir vigorously while reheating the soup without letting it reach a boil and serve hot. OH
Bridgette A. Lacy, a feature and food writer, is the author of Sunday Dinner, a Savor the South cookbook by UNC-Press. Her book was a 2016 Finalist for the Pat Conroy Cookbook Prize, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.