Week of Soup: Sweet Heat
Let’s ponder the humble parsnip for a moment, shall we? For starters, I’ve always been a little disturbed by its phallic appearance. Still, if that were enough to stop me, I’d have quite the limited vegetable repertoire without carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, slender eggplant, and even some radishes and potatoes. I guess it’s the color of parsnips that makes them just a tad bit more disturbing than the others… Okay, enough pondering on that aspect of the humble parsnip.
Parsnips, to me at least, are highly underrated. They’re the unsung hero of the root vegetable world with their uniquely sweet flavor. Add just a chunk of parsnip to any dish, and it transforms something like a run-of-the-mill Thanksgiving side dish into a Bon Appetite recipe worthy of clipping. Parsnip in soup has been a long-standing affair in my kitchen, especially in winter squash or potato based varieties.
But honestly, I’ve always hesitated to make soup, or any dish for that matter, with parsnips flying solo. As much as I liked their flavor, I labored under the presumption that, on their own, they’d just be too sweet for a savory dish. That’s not to say I haven’t on occasion pondered putting them in a dessert and just might still with the few locally harvested ones I have left. Anyone have any clever ideas to share?
As you might have realized by now, here in the SFTF kitchen, we (and by “we”, I mean “me” since D most definitely does not abide by this) have a creed. It’s not ground-breaking, but it certainly steers the creative cooking juices in the right direction: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained. A recipe for parsnip soup in one of my cookbooks caught my eye, and, while parsnip soup recipes are a dime-a-dozen, I decided it was time to give it a shot since this particular recipe seemed to waylay any concerns about overwhelming sweetness by piling on the spicy heat.
Nary a doubt will I have about letting parsnips take center stage in future dishes. Served with a rustic grilled cheese sandwich on the side, this soup was sublime. The fried garlic and mustard seed garnish was just the thing to add a little punch and really must be included when you serve it. What a great combination – I wish I’d thought of it myself!
What I did think up myself was a second ingenious (parsnips may be humble, but I am not) and delicious use for this soup. After eating it for both lunch and dinner the day before, I was interested in something a little different to make it more of a complete meal. I sautéed some soy chicken strips in a large skillet, added some frozen shelled peas, and simmered it all with enough soup to make a nice thick sauce. I added a pinch of my newly acquired garam masala spice mix (thank you, Santa) and served it all over some Israeli couscous. Lip smacking, I assure you. In fact, I have altered the recipe below to include a pinch of the Indian spice mix. It’s not necessary by any means, but it did add a greater depth of flavor that shouldn’t be missed if you have garam masala on hand.
What’s your favorite recipe for parsnips?
SPICY PARSNIP SOUP
Adapted from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Soup
3 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
5 1/2 c. diced parsnips
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1/4 t. garam masala (optional)
5 c. vegetable stock
2/3 c. fat free sour cream
1 T. peanut oil
1 garlic clove, cut into thin strips
2 t. mustard seeds
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large pan and add the chopped onion and parsnips. Fry slowly for about three minutes. Stir in the spices and cook for another minute or two. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until the parsnips are tender. Cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the soup to the rinsed pan and add sour cream. Heat through slowly over low heat.
Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the strips of garlic and mustard seeds. Fry quickly until garlic is just beginning to brown and the seeds pop and sputter. Remove from heat.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls and drizzle a little hot spices over each before serving immediately.