My friend Sam called to report that his lovely fiance was back from a summer in the Alaskan outback, and that he was contemplating a first of the season Soup-a- Thon. These news items were related.

The Soup-a-Thon — alternately known as the soup potluck — is not your average dinner party concept, which is to say we made it up as we went along. The strategy was to stage the meal in courses, beginning with a curried beet soup, followed by a buttery, chunky mushroom soup, a silky lentil soup, and ending with a rich sweet pumpkin soup. It’s a lot of soup. And strangely, what made it work so well were the bowls of fresh artisan bread, cheeses, pecans, cucumber spears, onion dip, and not-so-local potato chips that cluttered the table, and which we grazed on through the meal. They were a way to linger over each soup and a segue between courses. Not a bad way to ring in the cold, wet darkness.

Recipe: Curried Beet Soup

2 lbs beets / 2 tbls butter / ½ onion, minced / 2 apples, chopped / 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock / 1 teaspoon ginger, minced / 1 tbl curry powder, or to taste / 1 tsp salt / yogurt or goat cheese / 1 tsp minced chives or lemon balm

Place beets in a saucepan, add 1 inch of water and cover. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for an hour, or until beet skins slip off easily. Cool, then peel skins and coarsely chop beet flesh. Meanwhile melt butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown. Add apples, beets, broth, ginger, curry powder, and salt. Bring to a boil, stir a few times, then reduce heat and simmer until apples are soft, about 15 minutes. Purée everything in a blender then return soup to pot to keep warm. Adjust curry powder and salt, and thin with water or stock if desired. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or goat cheese and minced herbs. Adapted from Jan Buhrman. Feeds 4-6.

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