Soups + Sides, by Catherine Walthers, Photography by Alison Shaw, Lake Isle Press Inc., New York, N.Y. 2010, soft cover, $19.95.
It must be tough to pick a name for your second solo cookbook when the first one refers to raising the bar, as in Catherine Walthers’s 2007 book, Raising the Salad Bar. Vineyard resident Walthers is wise enough not to try. The title of her latest gets right to the point: Soups + Sides.
I am a fan of Raising the Salad Bar. Soups + Sides has many of the same likeable features, including the work of distinguished photographer Alison Shaw, for one. In Soups + Sides Ms. Shaw makes a puree of beet soup (I am not a beet fan) look like a bowl of liquid candy. Her color photographs are rip-out-of the-book-and-frame-them delicious. And the color scheme of deep red and orange, accented with pale green, is both happy and soothing.
The book is a user-friendly, good-sized paperback with sturdy, washable pages and front and back flaps that work well as bookmarks. It is not overpriced. The ingredients are not complicated. The recipes include all kinds of locally grown vegetables, from tomatoes and potatoes to celery root and baby bok choy. This is no surprise, since Ms. Walthers, a private chef and food editor of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, is an active member of the Island’s Slow Food movement.
My mother used to say that anyone who can read a recipe can cook (she was trying to prompt my father to cook once in a great while). True enough, but cooking well, cooking healthy, and cooking happy, is another matter — it requires a good recipe.
Soups + Sides is full of good recipes. My husband and I enjoyed the potato-leek soup, the carrot-ginger soup (once with too much ginger for me, once with too little for him), and the open-faced cheese and tomato sandwiches. What’s not love about melted cheese? Not one single thing, ever. But if you try the goat cheese and arugula quesadillas I suggest a mild goat cheese because the one I used was a little overpowering.
Nicole Morey of West Tisbury and I work together and she’s also been busy in the kitchen with Soups + Sides. She likes how certain ingredients add a fresh flavor. Farro, she says, adds a nutty taste to the kale and vegetable soup. She likes the chicken tortilla soup because “lime adds a fresh bright taste” and “corn and tortilla strips add crunch.” The Rustic Fall Tomato Soup with Orzo and Mini Meatballs, she adds, is yummy in a way that a child would love. I too tried the kale and vegetable soup but substituted barley for farro, as the recipe suggests, and it was hearty, flavorful and filling.
The concept of Soups + Sides, Ms. Walthers writes, is to “take delicious, wholesome, homemade soups and make them even more appealing by carefully pairing each soup with a side dish meant to complement — even elevate — it.”
The soup recipes include beans, noodles and whole grains, chilis, gumbos and chowders, vegetables, poultry, meats and tomatoes. The sides range from garlic-rubbed bread and buttermilk biscuits to wild watercress spring rolls, chocolate walnut biscotti and scallion pancakes. Many of the sides are salads. There are also chapters on ingredients, tools and techniques.
Soups + Sides offers healthy recipes full of locally available ingredients. The book itself is beautiful. And soups and sides offer one big, warm delight — the comfort food factor. Page Ten: “Everyone loves soup — the smell of a simmering pot draws us into the kitchen, and sitting down to a bowl of homemade soup is the perfect antidote to a busy, stressful day.”
Gazette contributor Liz Durkee lives in Oak Bluffs.