Sure, winning several James Beard awards gets you all kinds of press and praise, not to mention a lovely collection of shiny gold refrigerator-worthy medals. As Clifford A. Wright, the Santa Monica-based author of the recently released The Best Soups in the World will attest, you also get to make up your own food definitions.
"The problem with writing a book like this is you first have to decide what soups are," says Wright, whose previous books include Real Stew: 300 Recipes for Authentic Home-Cooked Cassoulet, Gumbo, Chili, Curry, Minestrone, Bouillabaise, Stroganoff, Goulash, Chowder, and Much More. "The difference between a soup and stew is you can eat stew with a fork. Or at least that's my definition," Wright admits. "I had to have some kind of definition."
Wright says he scoured globs of recipes to find a collection of soups that represented the variety of styles worldwide. "Egg drop soup, wonton soup, bouillabaisse, cream of mushroom - I had those pretty well covered," he says. "But finding the interesting soups around the world was the key here."
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The book is divided into 14 sections by ingredient and style of soup, including chunky meat soups, smooth creamed soups and specialty soups such as chowders and minestrone (both chowders and minestrone are also included in Real Stew, but presumably as thicker, fork-friendly versions). Within those categories, Wright has included American classics such as chicken noodle, alongside West African Dogon onion (a broth of slow-simmered onions) and Icelandic curried langoustine (a creamy curry and sweet paprika-laced seafood soup).
The recipes are as intriguing for the historical and cultural notes Wright includes on each as the dishes themselves. There's the Tibetan beef soup spiked with blue cheese that Wright notes is a good example of that culture's tendency to flavor dishes with cheese rather than spices, which often are unavailable. And an unusual shrimp and tomato soup enriched with beef broth from the recipe files of Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers.
But of the soups Wright has made at home in recent months, he admits his favorite is not in the book. "Pancake turkey," he says of his rather unique riff on chicken noodle soup, which he came up with after scoring the turkey carcass from a family member's Thanksgiving dinner this year. "I made this incredibly rich turkey broth and decided I wanted to put pancakes in it, but cheese pancakes so they'd hold up in the broth." And thus another soup recipe -- and book -- is born. "It's definitely going in my next book," he says.
Check back later for Wright's chicken noodle soup with handmade noodles recipe.