"To make a good soup, the pot must only simmer, or 'smile.' " -- (French Proverb)
... Even if it means dumping in chicken beaks and pigeon toes. Or leeks, potatoes, yellow squash and shellfish for that matter. Finely chopped, in lumpy squares or whole, you can add or subtract at will. That's the beauty of soup, it seldom minds a thing. I like to think of it as the non-judgmental, affable neighbor of food-ville. If the soup throws a soiree -- everyone's sure to be invited. Pig feet included.
No wonder then, it is such a hit with every civilization of the world. Whether, we are Indian, Spanish or Icelandic, there's a favorite version out there, slurped and slopped as we speak ... er ... read. The Japanese their Miso, Borscht made from beets (usually anyways) for the Russians, unrestrained and full-flavored Minestrone for the Italians, them French with their famed onion soup, fiery Goulash for the temperamental Hungarians, and us Asians with our lavish spread of noodle soups and Shorbas ...
Not surprisingly then, every one of us too, has at least one cherished soup. The one we like to have over and over again. Maybe when we are feeling low, or down with a case of the wheeze's. And then there are those weather-related days, cold, dry and as gray as it can be. All you can see is frosted glass, and sidewalks slick with ice. I am not much for winters, especially the Mid-western ones. They have this nasty habit of leaving my bones and extremities feeling like they have been chilled in the ice-trays of hell. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take my hot Indian summers with a chilled bowl of aamras, please.
Of course, if someone were to make me a piping bowl of soup, now that would make winter worth living for. Then, I might relinquish my tropical day-dreams of mangoes, aamras and the like. At least for the time being. So, what's my favorite kind, you ask? (Even, if you haven't, too bad. I can't think of a segue). As an army brat, I absolutely loved tomato soup served in the mess. That and the one we had without fail on some train or the other. Whether it was Jammu-Tavi, Jhelum or Deccan Queen, their tomato soups always seemed beyond spectacular to me.
Growing up, my mother also frequently served different versions of tomato soup depending on what was in the chill-tray. Sometimes, she would splutter mustard and cumin seeds with some fresh curry leaves in clarified butter, throw it over pureed tomatoes and call it saar. On other days, she would combine tomatoes with beets, top it with cream and name it soup. Either ways it was delicious and oh, so filling.
AM's mother too, loves inventing and renovating soups. The ingredients are almost always simple, then she adds a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and presto! There's a steaming bowl of such goodness, it's almost ridiculous to call it plain old soup. Earlier this year, when Aai visited for the birth of her fourth grandchild, she frequently made soup for me. Vegetable and lentil soups are her specialty. Give the woman these two things, and a saucepan -- she invariably creates magic. One time, she sprouted some red lentils, flavored it with whole spices, a few errand spinach leaves. That's all there was to it. But, it was so overwhelmingly delicious, every spoon a veritable explosion of varied notes and flavors. So compelled was I, that I polished off soup meant for five. Obviously, the others didn't take too kindly to "I-am-still-eating-for-two" by way of explanation.
A couple of weeks ago, I wasn't feeling too enthused about anything. It was cold, gray and freezing outside, my refrigerator's chill tray wasn't any different. A bunch of broccoli was sulking in the far corner, a dozen Jalapeno peppers lay haplessly about, coupled with a few green pea pods, that had seen better days. I stood there, contemplating numerous ways to use the ingredients -- some seemed too fancy, others more complicated than I cared for. And then out of nowhere, I got a jolt of flavor! It was Aai's broccoli-green-peas-soup. 15 minutes later as the steamed and ground florets and peas, simmered in some creamy milk, I took in the soothing green of the vegetables, the gray world outside, and the sounds of my bubbling soup. Exactly the kind of thing that always makes me want to hum and smile.
♣ Just Souper
I like pairing soups with crusty bread, usually slathered on with garlic butter. Somehow the combination of garlic and soup always seems very appetizing to me. This soup isn't any different, this time I paired the broccoli-peas soup with some Ciabatta bread. Crusty bread and soup, there couldn't be a better match.
2 cups broccoli florets
Handful of green peas, steamed (optional)
2 cups milk
1 cup onion, finely chopped
4 garlic flakes, bruised and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp wheat flour
1 tbsp salted butter
2-3 tsp of oil
Salt and pepper to taste
To begin, break broccoli bunch into florets, wash and lightly steam along with green peas, if using. Set aside to cool slightly and blend to a smooth paste, with a little bit of warm water. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and quickly toss around the garlic until fragrant and golden -- we want to remove and set this aside for later. Quickly add butter, as soon as it melts, toss in the onion, stirring until it blushes pink. Spoon in the flour and milk and give it a few quick stirs to avoid any lumpy bits. Now, pour in the broccoli-green-peas paste, and stir to combine. Finish by seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with sauteed garlic, ladle in bowls and serve with a side of some rustic country bread.
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