There were forecasts for snow last week-end. While the predictions did not pan out for London, the skies looked ominous: the clouds were thick, impregnable, yet luminous. As if the snow was ready and waiting. The deep, rich smell of dried leaves no longer lingers in the air when I walk through the piles heaped on the sidewalk. The chill has dulled down the aroma of Autumn, Old Man Winter is making a move.
It's definitely time for belly-filling, heart-warming fares, and who doesn't like a good soup? It is the epitome of all that is nourishing, tasty and comforting. If you make a huge batch, it becomes fast food at a later date as well. Soup basics were covered in this post; once you've got those down pat, you only need to let your imagination run wild.
Of course, that may be easier said than done. When faced with a cupboard full of dusty jars of who-knows-what, it may feel simpler to just shut the door and have toast for dinner. We all get stuck in a rut sometimes, and opening a new spice jar can be just as daunting as walking into a neighbourhood ethnic food shop. However, tweaking old standards can shift an entire recipe, so it is worthwhile to try something new.
Take the following basic carrot soup: it is good as it is. But if you play around with the suggested flavour packs that follow the recipe, you can travel around the world, without ever leaving the dining table.
Everyday Carrot Soup
Yields about 2L/2 quarts
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
6 sprigs of thyme, or 1tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
1 Tbs butter
2 tsp oil
Peel and chop the onion.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the oil. Fry the onion over a medium-high heat, until translucent and just beginning to brown.
Crush and peel the garlic cloves. Add to the pan along with the thyme.
Peel the carrots, and roughly chop. Add to the pot, and sauté for about 5 minutes.
Cover with cold water, turn up the heat and bring up to a rumbling boil.
Turn the heat down, and eave to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are fork-tender.
Remove from the heat, and puré until smooth.
Adjust the thickness of the soup by adding more water or milk. Check the seasoning.
Re-heat if necessary, then serve.
Serve up this soup as it is, or drizzle in a little cream. It will keep for about a week without the cream, and will get better over time. Try the following flavour packs to add different dimensions to the soup.
1 orange zest
double cream or crème fraiche
10 sprigs of chives
Add the grated zest of one orange along with the carrots. Proceed as above.
Serve the soup, and drizzle with some cream or dollop of crème fraiche. Sprinkle with chopped chives.
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp curry powder
2cm/1" piece of ginger
6 sprig cilantro/fresh coriander
Toast the cumin seeds and curry powder along with the onion.
Peel and thinly slice the ginger. Add along with the carrots. Proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Garnish the finished soup with chopped cilantro, a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of garam masala.
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 dried chilli
1 preserved lemon
6 sprigs cilantro
ras el hanout
Fry the dried spices along with the onion.
Quarter the preserved lemon, remove the flesh, and rinse under running water. Coarsely chop. Add to the soup just before pureeing.
Garnish with chopped coriander, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of ras el hanout.
1 tsp caraway seeds
3 juniper berries
1 tsp peppercorns
Toast the spices along with the onion, and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Best of British
Garnish the finished soup with some onion marmalade or onion chutney and crumbled Stilton cheese. Nothing says winter holidays like a chunk of Stilton...
These flavour mixes add more depth when cooked into the soup, but they can be served up in little dishes, and sprinkled on top as and when needed.