Here's my take on stock: make your own stock or use water, but stay away from the packaged stuff, no matter what brand it is. Aside from paying too much money for mostly water, when you use packaged stock for every soup, all your soups will taste the same. And sooner or later that packaged flavor starts eating away at you. It jumps out with every bite, and you recognize it any time someone else uses it. It's a soup turn-off, and if any food on the grocery store shelf can be considered a RIP OFF it's packaged soup stock.
If everyone refused to buy the stupid one size- fits-all soup stocks, and stores removed it from the shelves, the world might just be a much tastier place.
And while I'm at it, people should ask for their money back when they get a boring soup.
Waiter: "How's your soup?"
You: "Pretty boring. I'm not paying for boring today."
I digress. Back to my trip to Portland and the soup of the week.
I went to Portland after my publishers (Timber Press) invited me to WordStock, to sign copies of my book. And by the way, it's such a cool annual event for writers and book lovers.
I picked a time a few hours after the farmers' market opened; I figured I'd get up early (5am on Saturday), visit the market, load up on some good fall buys, enjoy a vegetarian tamale. Then I'd head over and spend the afternoon at WordStock. So, that's what I did.
The market had plenty of season's end offerings--peppers, eggplant, melons and tomatoes. I was in heaven and could have easily stayed another hour.
WordStock featured well-known authors and had tables for self-published and wannabe authors--all things connected to words and writing.
I served up biscotti from a recipe in my book. A few people noticed the nutty flavor of Nash's whole wheat pastry flour. I checked out all the tables, listened to an interview with Jennifer Egan, and met Cole Danehower, editor in chief of Northwest Palate (food, drink and travel in the Northwest) and author of Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest (2011, Timber Press). His book is on my wish list now.
When I got home, I spread out my Oregon treasures and realized, I had work to do if I wanted to preserve the tomatoes and peppers for winter meals.
My Cooking Assistant was eager to help. Pick up a camera and he's already waiting to inspect the peppers and sweet potatoes. I often wonder what it would be like to smell everything like a basset hound.
I'd gotten a box of Roma tomatoes for $25 at Deep Roots Farm. (Good thing I'd taken my market wagon to put the box in.) I'm not sure how much the box weighed, but it felt like at least 20 pounds.
Not many dogs like tomatoes, but if it's edible, Finn is willing to try it.
First, I sliced tomatoes and filled my dehydrator. The cost of a small jar of organic sundried tomatoes is up to around $9 at PCC Natural Markets and possibly more at Whole Paycheck.
I sliced more and drizzled them with olive oil. I popped them in the oven on the lowest setting. I did this last year with tomatoes I'd brought home from Ayers Creek Farm and I remembered the flavor of those amazing tomatoes in soups and sauces all winter.
After inspecting all the tomatoes, Finn seemed like he really wanted to try one. I had many tomatoes left so I handed him one. He bit it once, spit it out and then did it again. He wasn't sure he wanted to continue, until I asked him to hand it over.
I decided to look for a recipe to showcase tomatoes and surprisingly I didn't have to look far.
I opened this calendar of recipes that I'd purchased from Whatcom Locavore Nancy Ging. I flipped through the 12 months of recipes not really expecting to find a tomato soup, but when I got to September, there it was--Fresh Tomato Bisque. I stared at the picture before flipping it over to read the recipe. It listed cream but then that's not unusual.
Ask for a bisque in a restaurant and you get a boatload of cream, so I thought cream was a requirement of bisque until I looked it up. Epicurious give this definition of pureed seafood. I thought that was a mistake but Culinary Arts supported that definition and also said thick vegetable soups are also sometimes referred to as bisques. I found a few vegetarian tomato soups but most were uninspiring and not worth repeating.
Nancy's recipe does list cream (after all it's a local product) but it's easy enough to replace--cashew cream, silken tofu, coconut milk or for the locavore, potatoes. Her ingredients also listed 3 pounds of potatoes. I wasn't sure how much that was so I weighed the tomatoes. That's about 14 medium Roma tomatoes or about 6 cups of chopped tomatoes.
I also changed the seasonings and used oil instead of butter, but that's the joy of soup. The vanilla bean was a bit of a risk, but I have to say this soup was astonishingly good because of it. It blended well with the other flavors and Tom had no idea vanilla was even remotely involved with this soup. Also this soup was so good before I added the coconut milk that you could leave it out and add more water.
For me, the soup was even better with a wood fired bagel from the Portland farmers' market.
Here's the recipe:
Dairy-Free Fresh Tomato Bisque
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup diced red pepper
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 vanilla bean, slit down the middle (lengthwise)
3 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon Mama Lil's peppers or 2 jalapenos, minced
5 small red potatoes, chopped
1 small to medium sweet potato, chopped
1 cup water
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (approximate measure)
Sea salt to taste
1. Saute shallots in canola oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Stir and cook until soft. Add garlic and continue to stir for a few minutes.
2. Add vanilla bean, tomatoes, Mama Lil's Peppers, half the potatoes and sweet potatoes, and water. Cook over medium heat until tomatoes and potatoes are soft. Remove vanilla bean and puree, a cup at a time until smooth can creamy.
3. Return to heat. Add remaining potatoes, sweet potatoes, coconut milk and honey or sugar. Cook on low until potatoes are done. Add lemon and salt to taste.