Nothing is better on a cold winter's day or night than a steaming hot, comforting bowl of savory soup or stew. Beyond the comfort factor, soups and stews can be easy to make, great for make-ahead and, once the ingredients are in the pot, can be left alone to simmer while you do other things. The Big Book of Soups & Stews by Maryana Vollstedt offers 262 uncomplicated recipes for serious comfort food chowders, chilis, chunky stews, bisques, broths, old standbys and contemporary creations that are as tempting as they are time-conserving. These one-pot wonders know no borders: you'll find Stifado, a cinnamon-scented hearty Greek stew made with with red wine; Peppery Soup with Shrimp Balls from China; Thai Ginger Chicken Soup with a fragrant coconut milk base; Spicy Cuban Pork Stew; classic Coq au Vin and Choucroute Garni from France. Our homegrown efforts are certainly not neglected. There's San Francisco Cioppino; Hamburger Soup to please the kids; Family Favorite Stew that bakes unattended for four hours; Chicken with Buttermilk-Thyme Dumplings; Manhattan Clam Chowder; New Orleans Shrimp Creole and much more. And though summer seems a long way off, a section on chilled soups will have you longing for those languid days when a cold Gazpacho is the ideal way to chill out. Vollstedt offers advice on serving, cooking techniques and equipment and adds easy and interesting recipes for breads, biscuits, croutons and crostini. Whether you spoon them, slurp them or fork them up, these soups and stews will satisfy your soul and chase the blues.
Sybil Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than five years.