Winter soups are for warming us up. Spring soups should
wake up our palates and guide us toward summer.
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It’s early spring. Your lawn is a riot of yellow as the daffodils give way to the dandelions. It’s 80º one day and snows the next. You want to make a batch of soup to enjoy over the next few days, but it’ll be hard to match it to the weather. This is the perfect time to reach back to yesteryear for a classic French preparation that one never hears of these days– Vichyssoise! The thought of a potato soup served cold might understandably repel the uninitiated, but it’s almost always worth trusting traditional French cookery. For a soup that elegantly straddles winter and spring, I recommend Julia Child’s recipe.
Julia Child’s Vichyssoise, with the requisite sprinkle of chives that
visually distinguishes it from, say, Cream of Wheat.
If you scan through several recipes to get a general sense of Vichyssoise and its possible variations, you’ll see that one can substitute onions for the traditional leeks. If you do, I recommend using the mild-tasting large white onions instead of the stronger yellow ones. (See CRY, BABY, CRY for our previously published guide to the onion family.) AND– if the weather takes a sudden turn toward a brief but frigid winter redux, the food police won’t arrest you for serving this soup hot…
All have to do is change the name to Potage Bonne Femme.
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Now it’s mid-spring, complete with the scent of lilacs. You’re avoiding the huge Mother’s Day crowds at the restaurants and instead hosting a dinner party for your Mom and your siblings. You’re making her favorite dish– Leg of Lamb– and purely out of a favorite child’s reciprocal devotion you reach back into yesteryear's cupboard for her favorite condiment–
This is the classic version, available at many (but not all) grocery stores.
(And HERE is a recipe for a modern mint sauce for Lamb.) I can think of one
particularly useful application for traditional mint jelly and its modern derivatives–
to counterbalance the inherently gamey funk of New Zealand lamb.
And to satisfy the more current culinary sensibilities of your siblings while simultaneously bringing mint's springtime freshness to the occasion, you start off the grown-up's table with bowls of Fresh Pea & Mint Soup–
The SPRUCE EATS version of Fresh Pea Soup w/ Mint. Using whole peas and
mint leaves as a garnish helps distinguish this bowlful from a prop in “The Exorcist.”
HERE is the recipe for the gorgeous-looking version shown above from The Spruce Eats, one of my favorite online culinary resources. (Pro Tip: This soup can be served hot or cool, but preferably not well-chilled. If you’re not serving it hot, avoid adding the Parmesan.) Worth noting is the distinction between this springtime soup and the nicely thick, hearty, and winter-friendly Split Pea w/ Ham Soup, which is quite delicious but doesn’t necessarily suit our purposes in warmer weather.
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Now it’s early June. The sun rises before you do and continues to splatter the western sky with pastels well past 9:00PM. The year’s first 90º+ steam-bath is upon you like hot, wet wool– the kind of weather that leaves you slumped in your wicker and damp with sweat, barely interested in moving, much less eating. What’s worse, it’s your turn to host your circle of friends for dinner. It’s too hot to eat outside, and WAY too hot to slave over your stove for any length of time. You could easily cop out by throwing together a perfectly delicious Caesar Salad with shreds of store-bought rotisserie chicken, but you know you can do better… and besides, there is an unspoken element of friendly competition among your group, and you have a reputation as a relatively sophisticated cook to uphold. You want to not only succeed, but truly shine… with bonus points for avoiding the easy and/or obvious.
Here is what I consider an intriguing and perhaps perfect solution– a bowl of soup that is amazingly refreshing even though it is served hot… a bowl of soup that constitutes a whole meal in itself– Vietnamese Fisherman’s Soup. HERE is an especially authentic version, complete with the traditional pork stock–
Seafood in broth with Asian fish sauce, tomato, pineapple, chile, cilantro, basil, mint…
a riotous cacophony of flavors with a hint of sweet spice that
brings a refreshing mist to your forehead.
And HERE is Martha Stewart’s more modern take. You might consider reviewing both and arriving at your own version. The catfish in the former is definitely more culturally correct than the salmon in the latter, but you can use just about any firm-fleshed fish you like. I also like to add chopped-up shrimp, preferably size 16-20 or 21-25, wild-caught from the Gulf of Mexico, and processed without chemicals.
And if your circle of friends drink wine, this is a rare situation for which I would actually recommend rosé. French missionaries were plying their trade in Vietnam since the 1500’s, and French-Vietnamese is thereby the world’s first “fusion” cuisine; accordingly, either dry rosé from the southern Rhône (like Provence) or off-dry rosé from the Loire (i.e., Rosé d’Anjou) would constitute a clever pairing. My personal recommendation would be a very well-chilled version of one of the great (and dry) Spanish rosés, such as those from the Rioja region; my personal choice would be Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé, because I like my pink wine with bubbles in it.
MAJOR Pro Tip: An absolutely perfect swelter-friendly dessert after the Vietnamese Fisherman's Soup would be homemade Honeydew Melon Sorbet. Pull this combo off with a well-chosen rosé, and you'll instantly become a hot-weather food & entertainment legend.
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Soup-making is an important skill, one that transfers nicely to producing restaurant-grade sauces and fabulous, cost-effective stews. Some soups are obviously harder to make than others. Purees are easy; cleaning up is probably the most challenging aspect. The Vietnamese Fisherman’s Soup sounds a lot harder than it is… make it once, and the second time will go much more easily. You can do this!