Friday, March 31, 2017

Onion Soup Inspired by Nate Philbrick's Where the Woods Grow Wild

There are a lot of dark stories floating around out there. That's okay. Many of them are good and deep and full of meaning. But, as much as I enjoy the darker stories, I'm always excited to come across a book that's chock full of brightness. Fun characters, light settings, and pleasant, beautiful messages. Unfortunately, this type of lightness isn't common in one of my favorite genres: Fantasy.

That's why I'm such a fan of Nate Philbrick's Where the Woods Grow Wild. It delves into the happier, delightful (though still thoughtful) side of fantasy that is often overlooked. It's the type of story that will put a smile on your face and good thoughts in your brain, and I think that's a type of story that the world could use a lot more of.

Bardun village is a fairly quiet place. Nothing important really goes on there, but nothing dangerous ever happens, either. Martin spends his days working in the steamy kitchens of the Cabbage Cart Inn. Elodie spends her days notworking as the mayor’s courier. They get into mischief with each other when they can, but it never causes any permanent damage.

Until, one day, it does. After stumbling into the forest that looms outside of Bardun village, Martin is attacked by a strange animal. Nobody ever goes into that forest, so nobody knows what it is that bit Martin’s hand, or how to save it.

Losing a hand is better than losing a life, but Martin finds himself consumed with the idea of tracking down the animal that wreaked havoc with his life. When he and Elodie go looking for the creature that stole his hand, they become separated and lost in a forest that nobody knows anything about. It’s there, where the woods grow wild, that Martin and Elodie learn why exactly nobody of Bardun village ever enters the forest: It’s not exactly the kind of place a kitchen worker and a courier can easily survive.

This book is crafted in a cheerful, light tone while also dealing with some rather serious issues, such as losing family members and learning to live with a disability. It’s the type of funny, clever writing that would make Lloyd Alexander nod in approval.

To put it briefly: This novel is awesome. My full review of Where the Woods Grow Wild can be found here. Today, I'm here to talk about a very specific part of the book: Onion soup. 
Never have I wanted onion soup more than I did upon reading this book. While the Cabbage Cart Inn doesn't sound like an ideal place of employment (you can't just go around kicking your workers, Hergelo Stump!), I would really like to get in the kitchen and see exactly how this onion soup of theirs is made. 

I pictured it as a rustic version of French Onion Soup, which made me a bit sad because...*whispers* I don't really like French food. But, in a twitter conversation with the author himself (who you should be following), I discovered that this soup is probably more similar to sopa d'all. What? You don't know what sopa d'all is? It's a Catalonian dish that I'd never heard of before. 

All the recipes I found were in Catalan, which I don't speak, so I used Google Translate, who, as it turns out, speaks Catalan only slightly better than I do. I was able to piece together a recipe that is a hybrid of French onion soup and sopa d'all. It is probably not even remotely traditional to either dish, but, given that it's supposed to be from Bardun, I think that's perfect. Also, it tastes good, so who cares where it's from? Look at how yummy it is:  
For bread: 

  • 1 head of garlic 
  • Pinch of thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Olive oil 
  • Baguette 
  • Gruyere cheese 

1. Chop off the top of your head of garlic. Only a little. You're only beheading part of the's a mini beheading. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of thyme and salt. 

2. Place the onion in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the cloves turn a golden brown. Once this happens, remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. 
3. Pop the cloves out of their shells and into a bowl (Pro tip: try eating a bit of the garlic just like that. It's amazing). Add some extra olive oil. Just enough to mash the garlic up and make it spreadable. 
If needed, add some extra salt and thyme. 

4. Cut your baguette into slices, drizzle with olive oil, spread with your garlic spread, and sprinkle with gruyere cheese. Place in the 350 degree oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and browned slightly. 
5. Smell it. Go on. Now taste it. Meet you new favorite type of bread. 

For the soup: 

  • 2 yellow onions, chopped. If you aren't a big onion fan (like me), then try reducing to 1 onion.
  • 2 cloves of garlic 
  • 4 cups of hearty vegetable broth. Normal vegetable broth is fine, too. But don't you want to be a healthy, hearty person? Well. You are what you eat. So there. Also, the flavor works better. 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I'm refraining from making a bad pun about thyme. You're welcome. 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Olive oil
  • 2 pinches of smoked paprika. Smoked paprika and I have never been friends. I've never understood it's function. I've tried to substitute it for normal paprika and it promptly ruins whatever it was I was cooing. However, I read that smoked paprika is often used in catalonia dishes, so I gave it a shot. And you know what? It totally worked. Smoked paprika and I are starting to heal our broken relationship and it's all thanks to Where the Woods Grow Wild. Books really are amazing. 
  • One egg yolk per bowl (optional) 

1. Crush the two gloves of garlic into a saucepan and sauté in olive oil. Add your chopped onion. Sauté until the onion turns slightly translucent and also slightly more yellow. They should be soft. 

2. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth, a teaspoon of salt, and two pinches of smoked paprika. Stir and lower to heat to medium low, allowing the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes. This gets the onion flavor steeped into the broth. You can taste it at this point. It's epic. 

3. After your 20 minutes are up, add the remaining 3 cups of vegetable broth. You'll also need to adjust the seasoning. I added 2 more pinches of smoked paprika, along with some extra salt and thyme, but yours may differ. Taste. If you like it, it's done. If you don't like it, you did something wrong because you're a hog-moggins. Not my fault. 


Pour the soup into a bowl. Place a slice of bread on top and let it soak up all the goodness. Apparently some sopa d'all recipes use plain bread and shred it right into the soup. I chose not to do this because 1) Just like Bramble musn't eat a puffernut, I musn't eat too much gluten, so shredding it into the soup seemed a bit much. You can certainly do it, though. 2) I wanted to do a garlic spread as a tribute to the Cabbage Cart Inn's garlicky smell. 

Next (and this part is optional), drop an egg yolk into the soup. Yup. The soup will be hot enough to cook it a bit and the yolk, once broken, will give it a creamy texture. However, if you don't like egg (like me), don't do this. It'll give the soup an egg flavor (who knew?). Incidentally, egg yolks don't float, which makes them very non-photogenic. I kept trying to get it to sit on the bread, but it wouldn't stop rolling off.
Sprinkle some more gruyere cheese over the top. Get some extra garlic bread slices for dipping. Dig in. 
I'm very happy with how this turned out. It's oniony and garlicy and I think Martin would like it a lot better than the onion soup he makes at the Cabbage Cart Inn (he doesn't seem to fond of whatever it is Hergelo has him making). 

It's the kind of comfort soup I'd like to eat on a cloudy day. Just like Where the Woods Grow Wild is the type of comfort book I'd like to read on a day that I want a smile and sweet themes. Which is every day. 
I highly recommend Where the Woods Grow Wild. It's a beautiful, charming book with great characters and touching themes. If you don't read it, I may have to hunt you down and throw quails at you. You have been warned. 

What do you think? Will you try making this soup? Leave a comment below! If you've read this book, please come talk to me about it. And if you haven't read it: What day are you now planning on reading it? Don't make me come at you with those quails.

Related articles:

Rosa Hubermann's Pea Soup Inspired by The Book Thief
Roasted Vegetable Sandwich inspired by Christie Golden's Dark Disciple 

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  1. This sounds like a sweet, funny book! I'll have to check it out! I generally don't care for fantasy because they get so dark, but this sounds like a book that I actually might really enjoy! And the soup has me hungry.... :) Great post!

    1. I think you'd really enjoy this book! It's a lot of fun. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it if you decide to go for it (either the book or the soup). =D

  2. Done it! It's a crazy coincidence that I was actually trying to think of something I could do with a leftover onion when I found this. The result was amazing.
    I love Where the Woods Grow Wild. Quail-throwing is definitely a good idea for making people read it :) .

    1. Yeah, it's delicious. I didn't try the bread (not having the time or ingredients), but the soup was great and very quick and easy to make. I'm adding it to my list of winter comfort-foods :)

    2. Yay! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed the recipe! And high five to a fellow Where the Woods Grow Wild fan. You are clearly a very cool person. =D

  3. French Onion Soup is my favorite!! So is garlic bread!!! I may have to try this at some point.

    1. Yum! I've never had legitimate French Onion Soup before. Now I'll have to try it. =)

  4. Yum!! French Onion Soup is my favorite soup--after Baked Potato Soup that is!
    Thanks for the recipe, Hannah!
    And I look forward to reading Where the Woods Grow Wild--sounds lovely!
    Sincerely, Emilie

    1. YES! Baked Potato Soup is amazing. So glad you liked the recipe! Thanks for the comment, and I can't wait to hear how you liked Where the Woods Grow Wild!


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