"Saved by Soup," by Judith Barrett

Pros: Very low-fat, low-calorie soups
Cons: Needs more flavor
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 2/14/2001

It’s a fantastic concept: low-fat low-calorie soups. Soups are a wonderful way to diet healthily. They often involve lots of veggies, they tend to be very easy, they’re a quick way to fill up, they’re easy to make low-fat and low-calorie, and there are so many flavorful ingredients that you can put into soups.

Okay, so four out of five isn’t bad, I guess. These soups are a great start. They do, however, need a better finish.

Let’s take “Noelle’s Soup of Winter Squash and Roasted Red Peppers” as an example. Roasted peppers, Hubbard squash, onion, broth, salt and pepper. For a soup with such a long name, it comes out with a surprising lack of flavor. This might be okay now and then – everyone likes a simple soup once in a while. But I wanted fewer of these recipes. Where are the herbs? Where are the spices? The vinegars, alcohols, and juices? With so many wonderful soup ingredients, why did this soup stop where it did? It doesn’t take a lot to flavor a soup, but it does take more than roasted peppers and broth.

The Picante Pepper Bisque also falls into this category – good, but the only real flavorings are a jalapeno and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. It was great the first night, but it wasn’t as appealing on the second night, and by the third we didn’t want it any more.

The Minestra of Squash and Rice with Sage is an example of a soup done right, thankfully. There’s some sage to flavor it, and a few extra veggies this time. It’s still a very simple, clear flavor, but even such small additions make the flavor much more satisfying.

This isn’t a bad cookbook. We happily use it every now and then when we’re in the mood for a good, simple, healthy soup. But neither is it a completely satisfying cookbook.

Some of the recipes have more flavor to them. The Creamy Tomato Bisque with Shallots and Tarragon has, well, shallots and tarragon in it. The Asparagus and Baby Pea Potage with Tarragon has… shallots and tarragon in it. The Miso and Vegetable Soup includes dried shiitake mushrooms, spinach, and soy sauce. The Mediterranean Fish Soup excels with garlic, saffron, fennel, and tomato paste – there, was that so difficult? Would it have killed the author to include one or two more things like this in the other recipes?

So yes, I recommend this cookbook. If you’re on a diet, this is a very healthy and delicious way to lose weight. Just remember that you are allowed to add things to these recipes. Try soy sauce, flavored vinegars, a little sake or wine, some fresh garlic, spices and herbs. None of these particularly complicate the recipes or lessen their health value any, and they do make the flavors more satisfying.

A Sampling of the Recipes

  • Lemongrass Broth with Shrimp, Bean Sprouts, and Cilantro
  • Lemony Chickpea and Escarole Soup
  • Mussel Soup with Thyme
  • Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup with Spinach and Ginger
  • Creamy Carrot Soup
  • Double Celery Soup
  • Zuppa of Farro with Tomatoes and Spinach
  • Velvety Leek Soup
  • Tangy Tomato and Chickpea Soup
  • Chilled Corn Vichyssoise
  • Summer Fruit “Minestrone”

The Other Stuff

Nope, this book doesn’t just have recipes. First you’ll find a few pages of “fat facts,” followed by a whole chapter on making low-fat soups. This consists of several broth recipes, some tips on buying ingredients, suggestions for additional flavorings you can add – be sure you read this section, you’ll need it. Next you’ll find the tools and equipment you’re likely to need; ignore this unless you really haven’t done any cooking before – I’m pretty sure that if you have, you already have spoons and knives, for example. Then you move on to the actual recipes. The index is very thorough, as is the table of contents. Thankfully, recipes do not trail onto the backs of pages, so you can prop the book open and go.

The book is 175 pages including index, and many recipes come with good photos. It’s a small-size cookbook, about half-height, containing more than 100 recipes.

Part of the flavor problem may be that the “roasted vegetable broth” you’ll find in the stocks chapter is full of flavor. This is great, but it means that if you don’t have the time to make your own stock and decide to use commercial, you’re kind of screwed. We use a very good-quality commercial vegetable broth, and it just isn’t enough. I think it’s great that Ms. Barrett provides a high-flavor broth, but she shouldn’t have relied on that so heavily to provide the flavor for her recipes.

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Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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