I love lists, always have. I don’t know why, but there is something about pulling together a bunch of straggling items and bringing order to chaos that I find amusing. When I was a child I made lists of anything that took my fancy, no matter how ridiculous. I once made note of all the words I could think of that ended in “-ly”, and another with words ending in “-tion”. For fun.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I have a constantly evolving tally of things I want to try my hand at in the kitchen. Whether it’s an ingredient that I’ve never worked with before, a technique I’d like to learn, or a recipe that I botched once and hope one day to revisit, that list is a constant presence in my life. I call it my “Ingredients, Techniques, and Things I Want to Make/Work With and/or Learn More About In the Kitchen” list. It’s a working title. On that roster, sandwiched between the raw shrimp and the croquembouche (Erg, maybe “sandwiched” was the wrong word), we have had “Parsnips”.
I’d worked with Parsnips once before, when cooking my fantastic friend, Aarti’s, Parsnip Hummus, which was featured on her Food Network program, “Aarti Party”. Try it for yourself! That was years back, though, and I was eager to revisit the root veg. Enter my Twitter pal, Sal Godfrey.
Sal’s handy book shows people how they can make delicious food without paying an arm and a leg for supplies. Plus it’s chock full of helpful tips, such as how to make the most of your time and resources by planning ahead, how to devise weekly meals around a central component, and ways in which to use up leftover ingredients.
One thing I really appreciate about Sal’s recipes is that most of them feed just two people. As households are getting smaller and smaller, and the number of singles and two-person families is on the rise, cooking enough to feed an army just isn’t always as practical as it used to be. Even if you treat a conventional recipe like a batch cook (I’m a huge fan of batch cooks), it takes time to portion things out for freezing or canning or otherwise preserving. Some evenings when I get home from a long day at work, I’m not in the mood for a massive project; I just want to make enough food for dinner, and perhaps for leftovers the following night.
Funnily enough, the parsnip dish I decided to make from “Cheaper Than Chips”, Sal’s Curried Parsnip Soup was not one of those recipes for two. No matter, I simply cut it in half, which worked out quite nicely, although it still made enough to be eaten over several work lunches. (Recipe below is the full version.)
Curried Parsnip Soup
- 4 large parsnips
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp curry powder (more if you’re a curry fiend)
- 600ml chicken stock (or vegetable, if you want to make this vegetarian)
- 2 big spoonfuls natural yoghurt
- Salt & white pepper
- Butter for frying
- Bread & cheese, to serve
Makes 4 portions
First of all, dice the onion and chop the garlic finely. Get them both sizzling gently in a generous scoop of melted butter…,
…and once the onion has turned golden, add the curry powder and stir through. The point of adding the curry powder before the liquid (which may seem counter-intuitive) is that it means all the lumps are broken up, which stops the soup being at all gritty with undissolved bits of curry powder.
This is a great bit of advice, and I love the fact that Sal takes the time to give us the reasoning behind this step. Understanding why cooking works the way it does is vital to becoming truly proficient at it. In that vein, I’ll add that another advantage to using the curry at this point is that it has an opportunity to really bloom on the heat and to develop deeper flavors.
Put the kettle on to boil to make the stock, and then peel and roughly chop your parsnips. Use one stock cube and the boiling water to make up the stock in a jug, then add it to the pan with the parsnips. Bring the liquid to a simmer and then cover and leave it for about twenty minutes.
I did things a bit differently here, as I’m not accustomed to working with bouillon cubes. So I simply omitted most of the above steps in favor of using canned vegetable broth. Also, I’m not quick enough with a knife to be able to chop all of that parsnip and get it in the pan before my onion/garlic/curry mixture started to burn, so I turned the stove off for a bit while I finished that task. In future, I would probably have all of that cutting done before starting to cook, if only to make things go more smoothly for myself.
When you’re ready, take the pan off the heat and purée the vegetables with a handheld immersion blender (see The Secret Ingredients).
Finally, add the natural yoghurt and stir through until it melts away.
You might want to add more water at this stage, if you want your soup a little thinner. Season well with salt and white pepper, taste to make sure everything is scrumptious, then serve a big bowlful and scoff it with plenty of bread and cheese.
Now, that last step gave me a little pause. On the surface, it seems a simple instruction, but when it came time to fulfill it, I realized I wasn’t entirely sure how. What kind of bread? What kind of cheese? Will any old cheese do? Are they to be served on the side? Floating in the soup? Separate? Together? I might naturally assume one ought to dunk the bread, but then what to do with the cheese? I put my thinking cap on. Sal, as you may have noticed from the alternate spellings of certain words, is English. In what format do the English most seem to love the classic bread/cheese combination? =snaps fingers= Cheesy toast!
I sawed off a slice of homemade French bread and grated equal parts sharp cheddar and mozzarella on top, then put it in the toaster oven until the sides and bottom of the bread were crisp and the top was a thick, tantalizing blanket of ooey gooiness.
Dipping this inspired concoction into the bright, velvety soup, I let it soak for a moment, and then took a tangy, stretchy bite. Salivary. Glands. On overload. The soup, already a delicate marriage of savory and bright, took on greater depth with cheese as a foundation. Its fattiness tamed the carrot-like sharpness of the parsnip, while the ‘snip (with a little help from the yogurt) kept the rich soup-and-cheese combo from coming across as stodgy. The costar of the soup, the curry powder, with its sweet warmth, served as a lovely bridge connecting all the disparate flavors.
This dish is just about everything I want in a new recipe: it’s a departure from what I would normally make, employing some familiar ingredients, but also a few not-so-familiar, and tapping into flavor combinations I am not used to experiencing on a regular basis. Being still somewhat newish to parsnips, with their almost-but-not-quite-carrotty flavor, I honestly don’t know that I, personally, would crave this soup regularly (although reliving it through writing is making me rethink that stance). However, it sure did make a wonderful change from my norm, and made my kitchen smell absolutely gorgeous, to boot. What’s more, Sal’s conversational tone throughout made me feel as if she was looking over my shoulder, monitoring my progress, and offering pointers as I went along.
So for now, I think we can safely take “parsnips” off that list of things I want to work with, and add it to the one that tracks “Foods I Wish I Liked More And Maybe Would If I Gave Them a Better Chance.” In the meantime, Sal’s suggestion for using up leftovers urges her reader to employ some of the extra natural yogurt in Sal’s Chicken & Chickpea Curry. I may just have to add that to my list of “Friends’ Recipes I Need to Make and Then Blog About”.