The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups Review
By David Ansel
Is It Soup Yet?
Many Austinites are familiar with their friendly neighbor David Ansel, known to locals as the Soup Peddler. The local newspaper has covered his story, and he's also appeared in news blips on television. A growing number of people have bought his soups. His new book from Ten Speed Press, The Soup Peddler's Slow & Difficult Soups now delivers not only great soup recipes, but also allows this interesting and colorful character into peoples' homes no matter how far they live from his stomping grounds.
Many questions come to mind when first learning about the Soup Peddler's trade. Why would someone in the 21st century Internet Age craft a business around delivering homemade soup on a bicycle? Why does he pick "slow & difficult" ones? Very much of Ansel's approach to cooking -- and life -- flies directly in the face of modern business models. He explains in the introduction, "I called it slow and difficult in reaction to the quick and easy bent of our food culture since, as we lose knowledge of our foodways, we risk devolution of the human spirit. And I, for one, don't want to end up looking like Devo."
Tending to the human spirit in a 180-page cookbook is a lofty goal. And he tackles the subject while explaining his soup travels over a ten-month period. In the course of his stories, the reader learns about his side interests, like weather equipment, and we get to meet practically all of his neighbors. He visits the many interesting restaurants, shops and businesses in Austin's Bouldin Creek neighborhood, a cozy older area of South Austin.
By tagging his recipes as difficult, the book's title is almost a dare for the 21st century reader to pick up. "Fear not, the recipes themselves aren't difficult," he writes. "They are kind of slow though. They're meant for you to perform whilst savoring time with your loved ones, not to whip up after work. They're meant to cook up a pot so big that you're forced to invite friends over, perchance to catch up on the week's events."
Ansel's sneaky method to passively force more neighborly social interaction amongst people is an ingenious form of product differentiation from the slew of quick & easy cookbooks that populate today's bookshelves.
Sprinkled amidst the stories about the rewards of soupmaking and social interaction, are over 40 soup recipes ranging from soups, stews, chowders and other assorted ethnic concoctions. The Soup Peddler presents his recipe for green chile stew in typical form. He points out that the recipe was given to him by a local friend named Zane, who frequents the Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse. He also states earlier that green New Mexico hatch or anaheim chiles are fresh in the fall months.
- 1/4 pound bacon
- 2 pounds pork butt, cut in chunks
- 2 onions, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped
- 1 tablespoon cumin seed
- 2 12-ounce beers (preferably Tecate)
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
- 3 large potatoes. peeled and diced
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups fire roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped Anaheim or New Mexico green chiles. (12 to 14 raw peppers)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
In your soup pot, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, then remove from the pot and set aside. Fry the pork in the bacon fat for about 10 minutes, or until you are moved to add the onions, carrots, celery, and cumin seed. Once all the ingredients are heated through, cover and lower the heat so that the vegetables may sweat themselves into a completely exhausted state.
Turn the heat back up and stir in the beer, vinegar and the tomatoes. Bend slightly toward the pot. When steam covers your face, add the potatoes and stock, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
If you can't find pre-roasted green chiles, it's very easy to fire-roast them on a gas stove, gas burner or charcoal fire. Your goal, in any of these modes, is to completely burn the pepper's skin, so you'll need to keep an eye on them as they char. Immediately transfer the charred peppers to an airtight container of your choosing to allow them to steam their own skins off. Once cool, peel off the skins, seed the peppers and dice them up. Since green chiles vary so widely in heat, add them to taste.
Once the potatoes are tender and the contents of the pot look well stewed, about 1 hour, add the green chiles and season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat through and serve piping hot.
Serves 10 to 12.
Ansel includes an appendix listing the various stocks he uses for his soups, along with directions for making them. For instance, the green split pea soup, which he delivers around Christmas, uses ham stock. He ponders the value of soupmakers learning to introduce smoked flavors in soup, followed by an enticing recipe for Smoked Tomato Bisque. And using a bevy of different beans, potatoes, pasta and vegetables, he turns the mass-produced lunchtime soup Minestrone into a hearty Italian delight.
There are also a number of diverse soups from around the world which spark the imagination. Notable entries include Moqueca Baiana, a northeastern Brazilian fish stew, Ukrainian Borscht and Bouktouf, a potato soup which he learned about from a friend's Algerian jewish grandmother.
The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups maps the route to creating many delicious soups, while crossing the paths of slacker-philosophers, artist-activists and other celebrity eccentrics of Austin. Going beyond just description of the joy of soup, it serves as a rousing reminder of the need to connect to our food.