On a blustery winter day in February, the windows at 118 High St. in Belfast were obscured by fog. On the other side of the heat-moistened glass, Courtney Sanders was standing over a big gas stove, stirring the contents of enormous, steaming pots of soup, filling the air in the small kitchen with the scents of garlic, parsley, cumin, curry and a variety of herbs and spices.
The Daily Soup, Sanders’ one-woman business, has been open in the small downtown space since Feb. 4, selling soup for lunchtime pickup out of the kitchen from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and for delivery in Belfast on Tuesdays and Thursday. Prior to opening a permanent location, she’d spent a little over a year testing her recipes and perfecting her business model while operating a “soup club” delivery service out of her home.
From traditional favorites like Italian Wedding or Cream of Mushroom, to North African Squash and Chickpea or Curried Carrot Apple with Tofu, there’s a soup out there for everyone.
“What’s the one kind of food that everybody likes? Soup,” said Sanders. “There are so many different recipes from all over the world. It’s incredibly versatile.”
Sanders and her husband, Eric, moved to Maine in the late 1990s, after more than a decade in New York City. They first lived in Bangor, and then they moved to Belfast in 2004.
“I’ve always loved to cook, and I come from a family that loves good food,” said Sanders. “[When we first moved to Maine], it was definitely a culture shock. At least, it was back then. Back then, I remember shopping everywhere for real Parmesan Reggiano, and I just couldn’t find it. Now we’ve got the co-op, and there’s much more diversity around. I love it.”
Sanders was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, and during that time, she cooked countless meals for her family, utilizing her library of cookbooks from which she draws recipes, tweaking them to her likes and making notes in the margins each time she has tried something.
By 2012, her kids were all in school full-time, and Sanders was ready to jump back into the workforce — but on her own terms.
“When it was time to go back to work, my husband and I were talking about what I should do,” said Sanders. “He wanted me to work at Athenahealth or something, but I just did not want a desk job. So I dreamed up the idea of Daily Soup. That’s really how it got started.”
Initially, Sanders made two pots of soup, one vegetarian and one not. She advertised to a handful of people and delivered it in Belfast, mostly on foot. Soon enough, word began to spread.
“Within a month, I was selling out and having to double and triple the recipes. The hospital started ordering. … By last summer, I was overwhelmed,” said Sanders. “I had to get a real commercial kitchen.”
Sanders has a different approach for each soup. For a soup or stew that requires noodles or rice, she’ll make the base the night prior and then add the starch in the morning, so it doesn’t get too squishy. Her stocks are always homemade. When possible, she uses local ingredients, and occasionally, she offers nonsoup dishes, such as salads and one-off Indian dishes or special desserts. Bread is baked by Belfast baker Mary Weaver.
“The community has really been so supportive of me,” said Sanders. “I think people like having such a one-on-one relationship with the person who’s making their food. For me, it’s definitely better than sitting at a desk all day.”
Cumin Spiced Sweet Potato Soup
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
2 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 large) peeled and chopped in large chunks
5 cups of vegetable broth
Chopped cilantro, plain yogurt or crumbled feta for finishing
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic, cumin and red pepper flakes, and cook for a minute or so more, to combine the flavors. Add the sweet potato and cook for another minute or two, then stir in the broth, season with salt, and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the sweet potatoes are tender. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, and return to pot. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro and a swirl of yogurt, or crumbled feta.
Mexican Meatball Soup
For the meatballs:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 pound lean ground beef
For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium size carrots, diced
1 large leek, thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 cup diced tomatoes and their juice
10 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon chili powder
Cooked cellentani pasta
Cilantro, for garnish
For meatballs, heat the olive oil in a small skillet and saute the onion until soft, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, thyme and oregano, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Place the egg and the cream in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add breadcrumbs and stir together.
Place the beef in a medium size bowl, add both onion and egg mixtures, and salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to combine. Form the beef mixture into 1-inch meatballs, and place on a parchment lined baking tray or platter. Cover meatballs with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
Make the soup: Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the carrots and leek, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and jalapenos, and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is soft but not browned, for 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, stock and chili powder. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs to the soup and let the soup simmer gently, uncovered, until the meatballs are cooked through, for 8-10 minutes.
While the meatballs are simmering, cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Season with salt and pepper. Place a handful of cooked pasta in each bowl, then ladle the soup with 4-5 meatballs over the pasta. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.
Adapted from Myra Goodman