Clifford Wright: Best Soups in the World

A bowl of soup can be a powerful dish. It recalls memories, warm the heart and soul, and can use up plenty of leftovers in our cupboards and refrigerators. Clifford Wright‘s The Best Soups in the World (Wiley 2010) appeals to all these aspects of soup. His book delivers recipes from around the world with intelligent commentary. Even as the weather warms up this Spring, get out the soup pot and make some soup.

Clifford’s own connection to soup is profound. As a ten-year old vacationing in Spain, he is taken for his first meal in a fine dining restaurant:

My mother ordered vegetable soup for me. My heart sank because the only vegetable soup I know was what I considered to be, even at age ten, the ghastly canned version, an unforgiving atrocity committed against what were once real vegetables. But what the waiter brought was something quite different. First at all, it was not red or clear or filled with perfectly diced overcooked vegetables. It was greenish and smooth – a veloute, I later learned. (p. 1)

This is an author with a deep appreciation of soup.

It starts as almost all soup books do, with basic broths (p. 9) followed by clear soups (p. 19). The real action is in the next chapter on chunky meat soups (p. 41) The first recipe isn’t for a standard beefy mushroom soup, but for Blackfoot Bison and Blackberry Soup (p. 42) for which you need buffalo bones, suet and meet and spicebush berries, all of which might be hard to find. Clifford calls the recipe a “curiosity”, but he expects the reader to make the soup, even with the substitute ingredients of beef bones, suet and meat, and juniper berries. What is really interesting is that in the recipe notes he writes about who the Blackfoot Nation are (three different tribes) and a bit of their culinary culture.

He follows with a recipe for Shchi (p. 44), the Russian beef and sauerkraut (or fresh cabbage) soup that has a thousand variations, and Borshch (p. 46), along with an essay on “Everything You Want to Know About Borshch” that covers the history of borshch and the boscht belt. From there Clifford roams the world, from Greece with Avgolemono Meatball Soup (p. 50) to Polish Zurek (p. 54) to Turkmen Boiled Soup (p. 63). There are side essays that fill you in about soup practices in Africa or specific kinds of obscure soups. Although there is a wealth of information, the recipes dominate – this is a book to cook with and enjoy.

RECIPE: Avgolemono Meatball Soup)

1 pound beef
1/4 cup short grain rice
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour for dredging
3 cups beef broth
1/4 cup butter
2 large eggs
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Serves 6
1. In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, onion, rice, parsley, dill, olive oil, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Knead the mixture for a minute, with wet hands to prevent sticking, until well blended. Then form in to meatballs about an inch in diameter. As you finish making the meatballs, roll them in a platter filled with some flour until coated on all sides and set aside in the refrigerator until needed.
2. In a pot, bring the broth an butter to a boil over high heat, add the meatballs, a few at a time (so the broth stays at a boil), then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the lemon juice a little at a time, beating constantly. Add a ladleful of hot broth to the lemon and egg mixture, beating all the time. Now add the lemon and egg mixture to the meatball soup, stirring the whole time, and as soon as it’s added remove from the heat and serve.

(from Clifford Wright’s The Best Soups in the World)

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