Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Soup's On: Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup with Parsnip Chips

It's starting to get chilly out there! I love winter, because it means that the soup pot will be put to more regular use. Soup is so comforting, so versatile, and so delicious.

Last year, Karl and I started using parsnips more often. The parsnip is an overlooked vegetable, and I just love the tangy and earthy flavor. If you've never had one, it tastes a lot like a carrot, but stronger.

Well, Karl and I have used parsnips in bean stews and we've roasted them (side note: roasting parsnips is amazing! It changes the flavors subtly and makes a tasty snack), but we've never had a dish in which parsnips were really featured. So, I was excited to try out a parsnip-based soup!

This recipe comes from one of my many soup cookbooks, "The SmartCook Collection: Soup" by Delia Smith. The soup was excellent. The original recipe called for 1 1/4 tsp of coriander seeds, but I couldn't find any at the grocery store on short notice (not sure what was up with that), so I just left those out. It turned out for the best, I think: the more spices added into this dish, the less the parsnip will shine. I also made some other substitutions (margarine for butter, curry powder for turmeric, etc.) both to accommodate my vegan roomie and to avoid buying unnecessary spices. The soup as I made it perfectly exhibits the potential of parsnip. The apple grated in at the end was a nice touch, but maybe wasn't absolutely necessary.

I don't usually bother with soup garnishes, but this time, I made an exception and fried up some thinly sliced discs of parsnip into parsnip chips. It is well worth it to go to the trouble of making the parsnip chips for a garnish (or just for a snack): they are so flavorful and add some interest to the puréed soup. If you're pressed for time, or just don't feel like heating up a pan of oil, you can use potato chips, veggie chips, or croutons. If you're into presentation, I think it might also be pretty to garnish with a spiral of apple peel, or even a wedge of apple.

Eat up, and stay warm out there.

Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup with Parsnip Chips
Serves 4-6

1 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
6 whole cardamom pods, seeds only
3 TBSP margarine
1 TBSP canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 tsp sweet curry powder
2 tsp minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 lbs parsnips
5 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
Parnsip Chips (fry thin slices of parsnips in a 1/2 inch of oil until light brown and crispy)
1 Granny Smith apple

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Dry-roast the cumin and cardamom seeds in the skillet (this "excites" the flavors"). This only takes 2-3 minutes (don't burn them!). Crush the spices finely in a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon to crush them in a bowl.
Peel and chop the parsnips into chunks (the smaller you chop, the shorter the cooking time, but it doesn't really matter what they look like as long as the pieces are approximately the same size).
Heat the margarine and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until the margarine foams a little. Add the onions and gently cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the toasted, ground spices, and also the curry powder and ginger root. Stir, and cook gently for a few more minutes.
Add the parsnips to the saucepan, stirring well, then pour in the stock. Add salt and pepper, then let the soup gently simmer uncovered for about an hour, or until the parsnips are very tender (fork will pierce easily).
When the soup has been simmering for an hour, remove it from the heat and cool it slightly. Use either an immersion blender, upright blender, or food processor to puree the soup. Return the pureed soup to the saucepan and taste to check the seasoning.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup over medium heat. Grate the apple into the soup and stir. Serve hot, garnished with parsnip chips.