I know I post too much about food, but I can’t pass this one up. (I also know that my food posting is inversely proportional to the frequency of my visits to the gym). Sometime before Thanksgiving, my food critic friend Jenny put out a general inquiry about whether anyone had ever participated in a cookie swap. “No,” I replied, “but I am somewhat obsessed with doing a Soup Swap.” Of course, I would have just continued to sit around talking about how fun it would be, so I’m glad that Jenny organized one, thereby further rewarding and enabling my laziness.
A Soup Swhat?
The basic premise of a Soup Swap is that everyone brings six quarts of some type of homemade soup, and then chooses six different quarts brought by other people to take home. Recap: Bring six quarts, take home six other quarts. Got it?
If Jenny told me that she was Martha Stewart’s second-cousin-once-removed, I would not doubt her for a second. Why? Because Jenny does awesome things like this:
Whereas I would have told everyone to get their own containers because we’re all adults here. And because I’m a lawyer by training, which means that three years of squibs and outlines and secured transactions pretty much killed any creative, Martha-esque impetus I might have had.
Soup Selection is Serious Stuff
This particular Soup Swap had two components: 1) the swap itself, and 2) a plating competition. Of course, anything involving a competition has my attention. In analyzing the probable traits of a high-demand, prize-winning soup, I decided that I needed to choose a recipe that is not only delicious and freezer-friendly, but also unique, colorful and slightly exotic. The tiny part of me that is secretly a crunchy hippie and never left Ithaca also wanted to make something vegetarian. (Rest assured, however, that the tiny, crunchy-hippie, Ithaca-loving part of me would never, ever sport white people dreadlocks).
My self-imposed criteria ruled out most of my usual, but rather run-of-the-mill, suspects: White chili, 17 bean and barley, brunswick stew and the like. So, I ventured out into the vast interweb tubes and found promising recipes to test from two of my favorite food blogs: A mixed mushroom and wild rice soup from Heidi Swanson’s 101cookbooks.com, and a lovely red lentil dal from Jenn Yu’s userealbutter.com.
I tasted and re-tasted both soups. Each one fit my criteria: Interesting, textural, colorful, vegetarian. Oh, and friggin’ delicious. After passing out samples to various friends and foodies, and much hemming and hawing, I decided on the red lentil dal. Otherwise, I would have had to sell one of my kidneys on the black market to afford all the various and sundry mushrooms I’d need to make six quarts of the mushroom soup.
So Much Soup!
After deciding to make dal, I headed to the local Indian grocery store to buy bulk lentils and a couple other specialty items. I came out reeking of patchouli (which I associate with Ithaca and aforementioned white people dreadlocks, yuck), but with a 4 lb. bag of red lentils, for which I paid a mere $6. Take that, Whole Foods Paycheck.
Now, here’s where I got confused. I know you are not here to read about high-level algebra simple arithmetic, but bear with me for a minute. My sample batch halved the original recipe, and produced almost exactly one quart of soup. Ergo, a whole batch should make two quarts, which means I needed to triple the original recipe to get the six quarts needed for the swap, right? Well, after tripling the recipe, I ended up with almost eight quarts of soup.
I am still confused about this. Math and/or Culinary Science – 1, Erin – 0.
I woke up the day of the swap like a kid on Christmas morning; I was seriously excited. I arrived at Jenny’s early so that I could heat my soup and make my final preparations. Because the tumeric in the dal made it a really lovely golden color, I decided to use a vintage Jadeite bowl for my plating. I topped the soup with a few thin slices of jalapeno and some cilantro, and paired it with a little plate of bite-sized pieces of garlic naan and veggie samosas.
However, I think I seriously underestimated the lengths to which some participants would go to create beautiful platings. I was a little out of my league where that was concerned because the presentations were truly spectacular. Needless to say, I didn’t win the plating competition, though I was pleased that my soup was in high demand once the actual tasting and swapping got underway.
After we had the opportunity to taste each of the soups, Jenny had everyone draw a number to determine the order in which we would select our soups to take home. We went in ascending order, then descending order, then according to several randomly-generated lists Jenny had prepared (I could only hope to ever be this organized and creative).
All of the soups were so interesting and delicious, and I had a hard time determining my strategy for selecting the ones I wanted. But because I am a shrewd and clever girl, I ended up taking home all the soups I hoped to get: Bean, Chicken and (Turkey) Sausage Stew; Tex-Mex Chicken Chowder; Roasted Corn Soup with Chipotles; Pasta e Fagioli; 30 Clove Garlic Soup; and Matzo Ball Soup (which, incidentally, came in handy when I was sick recently).
Because we couldn’t take home every single soup, Jenny compiled all of the recipes into this awesome little book, which we each received when we left:
I went home full, happy and with a sack full of delicious new soups to sock away in my freezer for winter’s inevitable arrival. I’m ready to do it all over again (the 6th National Soup Swap Day is coming up on January 21st!), though I’m not sure I could host as perfect of an event as Jenny did; she did an amazing job!
Now it’s your turn: Tell me about the fun food swaps you’ve done!