Week of Soup: Sweet Heat

January 16, 2008 at 10:31 am 16 comments


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.

Peeled and diced parsnips

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? 

Adding the spicy heat to the sweet sauteed parsnips

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! 

Parsnip soup with fried garlic and mustard seed garnish

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? 

Soup ready to puree

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.

(serves 4-6)

Spicy Parsnip Soup

Entry filed under: Recipes, Soup. Tags: , , , , .

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16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. marimann  |  January 16, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I don’t have a favorite parsnip recipe because I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with them! But I was intriqued to see your week of soup plan and this looks like a good Intro to Parsnips (101). The first day of your soup week I had just made a crock pot soup that was very disappointing (split peas with carrots and a ham hock; although we are generally vegetarians, we like them for flavor), the whole thing just didn’t seem to come together well in the pot. Sure smelled good while cooking though. Oh well, we love soups and I’m going to try a couple of yours soon. Looking forward to the rest of Soup Week!

  • 2. urbanfeed  |  January 16, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I always put parsnips in my chicken stock for the sweetness you described. But I’ve never cooked something where the parsnip is front and center. I’ve had a recipe for glazed parsnips kicking around for a while, and I think you may have pushed me over the edge of my resistance to give it a whirl.

  • 3. Jennie  |  January 16, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Mari- – Sorry to hear about your soup disappointment… I’m trying to think what might have kept it from melding properly. I don’t do soups in a crock pot so this may sound like a dumb question but did you stir it much? I’m wondering if the split peas needed a little stirring to pick up the flavors and loosen their startches. Hmmm… anyway, so glad you’re liking the Week of Soup! You should definitely try the parsnips sometime. I didn’t cook with them either until just a few years ago but I haven’t looked back since. 🙂

  • 4. Jennie  |  January 16, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Urbanfeed – Glazed parsnips, eh?? I like the sound of that! You’ll have to let me know how it turns out. If the recipe doesn’t already call for it, I’d add some spices to the glaze to counterbalance the sweet since glazing usually adds more. 🙂

  • 5. taylor  |  January 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I’m glad that phallic vegetables are your friend! I haven’t made close acquaintances with the parsnip, other than simply roasted.

  • 6. Jennie  |  January 16, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Taylor – No comment. I try to keep this blog PG as much as possible. 😉

  • 7. gintoino  |  January 16, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve always been curious about parsenips. Never tried them (you can only find them in the northern part of the country), but I ear they are great fried. Just cut them in slices, boil them and then pass them by egg yolk and flour before frying (this was not my best writen english sentence, but I think you’ll understand ;-))
    Been trying to think of some more things (food) you could try once in Portugal, but most of them are not easy to find in Lisbon. Are you going to the Douro, aren’t you? Be sure to visit the Port wine cellars (as in place where Port wine is made ;-)) There are some very nice boat trips along the Douro river then end in a cellar where you may taste (and buy) some wines.
    Now, for the cranberrie issue…I think it might work if you mail them once you get to Portugal, I shoul receive them the next day (if you are willing to come all the way with cranberries in you luggage 😉 )

  • 8. Jennie  |  January 16, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Hi Gintoino! Yep, I have had fried parsnip slices before. Yum! And actually your english sentence was perfect for describing how to do it! 🙂 I was visiting your blog today and didn’t realize you had been sick! So glad you are feeling better!! Sounds like it was awful!

    Yes, I’ll be in the Douro Valley and plan to drink lots and lots of port. It’s my favorite wine and the top reason for why I’m visiting. 🙂

    I will send you an email soon about the cranberries…they are small so they won’t take up much room in my luggage. I’ll happily bring them along! 🙂

  • 9. dhanggit  |  January 17, 2008 at 7:38 am

    lovely photos that go well with your equally lovely soup!! we have parnsnip too locally grown in philipppines but they are round and very sweet!! we normally just munch it like that 🙂 nice blog youève got here!! love the concept too of fresh produce and their recipes..not everone is as lucky as you are to have fresh & healthy stuffs on the table! 🙂

  • 10. Jennie  |  January 17, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Welcome, Dhanggit! Thanks for your very kind words. Parsnip is round there? How interesting! Yes, I know I am lucky to have such fresh healthy stuff to cook with, but hopefully more and more people will find fresh produce near them too if they look closely! 🙂

  • 11. Caitlin  |  January 17, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Thank goodness! I always see parsnips in the store and can never figure out what to do with them besides mash them up with some potatoes. Now I finally have a recipe where they’re the go-to ingredient. Not to mention that with the blowing snow, a spicy soup just sounds wonderful.

  • 12. Jennie  |  January 17, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Caitlin – Wow, I never realized how many people were equally baffled by the humble parsnip! So glad I could be of help! 🙂 Enjoy the soup!

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