"Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons," by Nava Atlas

Pros: Lots of recipes with very healthy ingredients; a few good recipes
Cons: Many of the results are adequate at best
Rating: 2 out of 5

First published 5/26/2001

You can tell that things are way too busy when the only things I review are cookbooks. It means I haven’t had time to read any actual for-fun books. Sigh…

With the number of vegetarian cookbooks I review, you’d think I was a vegetarian. But no, we usually eat this stuff as side dishes with steaks and other meat dishes. We’ve just found that vegetarian cookbooks are one good way to get healthy side-dishes. “Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons” gets two stars instead of one, but mostly for one specific recipe which we’ve made over and over. And besides, there are still a couple of good-looking recipes that we haven’t tried.

I guess it comes down to this: this cookbook is what most non-vegetarians think of when they think of cooking vegetarian. Which is to say, plenty of weird ingredients that don’t necessarily sound all that yummy to non-vegetarians, which you might need access to a health food store in order to find, that end up yielding food that really doesn’t taste all that good. Not that such ingredients automatically yield bad food, but certainly they tend to in the way they’re used here.

A Little Useful Information

All of these recipes are designed with a fairly low-effort cook in mind. You probably won’t need anything more than a soup pot, spoons, colander, grater, measuring utensils, mixing bowls, and knives. That’s really just about it. Maybe a whisk now and then, for good measure.

There are some nice hints up-front about which sorts of recipes freeze well and which don’t. There are also some good suggestions for tailoring the seasoning of the soups to your tastes.

The cookbook starts off with some simple stocks, ranging from a light vegetable stock to a simple miso broth or even an Oriental mushroom broth. After that, the soups are organized by season. Some of these recipes are vegan. Others make use of a little milk, cream cheese, or sour cream.

There are no photos in this cookbook, unless you count the one on the cover. The index is long and quite thorough. The recipe layout is more-or-less clear. The ingredients are separated out well. The ingredients come in mid-length paragraphs that aren’t well set-off from one another, but at least the recipes don’t trail onto backs of pages.

Fall

Fall soups are meant to make use of the Fall harvest, and to be warming. These recipes include such things as Baked Onion Soup, Cream of White Vegetables, and New England Clam-less Chowder, which makes use of sauteed tofu to stand in for the clams.

The Yukon Gold Potato Soup with Roasted Garlic and Red Peppers sounded great – in includes a whole head of garlic (roasted), a bunch of Yukon Gold potatoes, some apple, a little wine, roasted bell peppers, and sour cream, among other things. Honestly, it wasn’t very good. It was an odd blend of flavors that we thought didn’t work very well.

The Orange-Butternut Squash Soup was even less of a success – let’s just say we’ll never be making it again. The Gingered Pumpkin-Apple Soup, on the other hand, which uses apples, pumpkin puree, fresh ginger, curry powder, and milk, was actually pretty good. Not amazing, but solidly good, with a sort of sweet-savory taste that we quite liked. However, even though we usually love recipes involving tahini (sesame paste), the Chickpea and Tahini soup was fairly unappealing.

There’s just something about the flavor combinations in these recipes that makes them taste wrong somehow, with rare exception. That’s despite the fact that many of them make use of ingredients that normally we love.

Winter

Winter soups are “thick soups of grains and legumes,” designed to make a full meal when served with bread & salad. These are soups like Minestrone, Italian Vegetable Stew with Gnocchi, Creamy Carrot Bisque, Golden Curried Pea Soup, Hearty Barley-Bean Soup, Mock Chicken-Noodle Soup (using baked pressed tofu to substitute for the chicken), and so on. We had a harder time finding recipes in this chapter that appealed to us, so we haven’t actually made any of them yet.

Spring

These soups make use of “lighter textures and flavors,” meant more as an appetizer than a main course. They include Greek-Flavored Spinach and Orzo Soup, Puree of Asparagus with Buckwheat Noodles, a dairy-free “Cream” of Cauliflower Soup, Mediterranean Eggplant Soup, Okra-Rice Gumbo, and the one and only recipe in here that we’ve made more than once: Parsley-Potato Soup.

We’re a little uncertain why it says that it makes 6-8 servings, mind you. If you add enough stock or water to cover the potatoes, as instructed, you’re more likely to end up with about 15 servings, unless your potatoes are an awful lot smaller than ours. We like to make this soup when we’re going to be particularly busy one week and won’t have time to cook.

A couple of additional suggestions, though. First, instead of sauteeing the garlic & onion in canola oil, try peanut oil for extra flavor. We usually leave out the onions and add several extra cloves of garlic, but that’s a personal preference. We also add a few extra spices & herbs, and preferably 1 teaspoon pureed chipotle in adobo sauce if we have some around. This one recipe was almost enough for me to recommend this cookbook – but not quite. It just didn’t stack up against the long list of recipes that came out badly.

Summer

Summer is for light, refreshing, often cold soups. (And the drawing on the chapter page is a really strange thing, a woman in summer clothing kneeling on a lemon or orange slice floating in a pot. Yes, a pot.)

Here you’ll find such recipes as Cool Ratatouille, Potato-Spinach Buttermilk Soup, Cream of Lettuce Soup, Fresh Tomato Soup with Sweet Corn Sauce, and a particularly uninteresting and uninspired Middle Eastern Cucumber-Yogurt Soup. A word of advice, here. The recipe recommends using 1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs “such as dill, parsley, or mint.” If you really feel that you must make this soup (and I don’t recommend it), then don’t use much of any herb other than parsley or it will seriously overpower the soup. Even the Chilled Cantaloupe Soup isn’t particularly amazing, and I usually love canteloupe.

Accompaniments

There’s also a brief chapter of things-to-go-with-and-in soup. This includes Quick Sunflower-Cheese Bread, Green Chili Cornbread, Buttermilk Oat Muffins, Garlic Croutons, and some remarkably bland Parsley-Potato Dumplings.

Maybe if you’re particularly fond of things like barley, beans, onions and leeks you’ll like this cookbook – one of my ex-housemates would probably adore it. Maybe if you like your food bland you’ll enjoy this cookbook (I’d say if you like to spice your food you’ll be fine, but we found it difficult to find the right spices to make this stuff taste good). And I’m pretty sure that just about anyone could find at least two recipes in here that they liked – after all, we did. But out of “more than 125 recipes,” that’s hardly a good track record. There are better vegetarian cookbooks out there, and better soup cookbooks. Why saddle yourself with this one?


Vegetarian Karate

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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