Even though I’ve written about soup here before, I can’t honestly consider myself a soup person. My mom and grandma make some delicious soups, but they only made rare appearances on our table growing up. Personally, my favorites were always the “stew-ier” types, the ones with more “substance” to them—chunky vegetable or soups with beans or noodles.
A recent trip to Israel, however, moved soup up to the front burner in my mind. Visiting friends with young children on one of the coldest, rainiest and dreariest December days, a dinner conundrum ensued. We considered take-out, but no one wanted to go out to get it, then delivery…but none of us could think of something to order. Warm and filling were the main criteria.
Then one friend suggested a “soup tasting.” While his wife and I got the babies ready for bed, he reheated leftover tomato soup with rice and threw together two others: a mixed bean soup and an onion one. Both were simple and quick. Once both children had been tucked into their cribs, we tucked into the three steaming pots.
We began cautiously, serving ourselves just half a ladleful of one soup, tasting it, then moving on to the next, then the third and eventually committing to a full bowl of our favorite, maybe sprinkling some parmesan cheese on top. It was a revelation—the edible equivalent of a fleece blanket.
Back home in DC I couldn’t shake the image of soup. In the month after I got back, I made a pot here and there and—uncharacteristically, for me—even ordered soup at a few times at restaurants. But what my inner commitment-phobe really wanted was another soup tasting.
The plan was to serve three soups and an assortment of toppings or “accoutrements” so that each person could garnish his or her soup. All three soups had to be vegetarian (since some of our friends are vegetarian, and we don’t mix milk and meat) and diverse in texture (i.e., not three smooth, pureed soups), while the toppings had to work with all, or at least most, of the soups (so we weren’t, in essence, preparing three completely separate meals).
Finally I settled on sweet potato and carrot soup (“orange soup” as it is called in Israel), roasted tomato soup and a Thai-inspired chunky vegetable soup.
For the toppings, we gathered white rice, Brazilian pão de queijo (cheese bread) baked in sticks instead of rolls, chickpeas, shredded cheese, tortilla chips, lime slices, chopped cilantro and Israeli soup “nuts” or “mandel” (shkedei marak).
My original plan was to let everyone pick which soup they wanted and top accordingly, but we all wanted to try the three soups, so, as I had done with my friends in Israel, we cycled through them, starting with the smooth vegetable soups—tomato, then orange soup—and ending with the chunky, spicier Thai-inspired one.
Once everyone had been served, the games began. Some people tasted first and then topped, while others dove directly into the garnishes as they were passed around the table.
Rice and cilantro were popular with all three soups, while cheese and the pão de queijo were good matches for the tomato and orange soups. By the end, we were all surprisingly fuller and warmer than we had expected.
Though my roommate and I entertained the idea of fondue for dessert (chocolate soup!), we worried that we would run out of bowls. Instead, we settled on utensil-free blondies. When my brother arrived with a pot of rice pudding, we served it in teacups.