Parsnip, Celery Root, and Chickpea Soup with Red Thai Curry Sweet Potato Wedges

Chicago is melting.  The air is still crisp, but it hardly bites, and the little oases of earth around the urban campus are saturated with melted snow.  This is the liminal time between winter and spring, when nature can't make up its mind either to allow the snow to melt away completely, or to preserve the dirty and darkened masses, still holding onto their jagged shapes.  This is the liminal time when I'm wanting spring produce, but I haven't yet abandoned my impulse to purchase root vegetables and citrus, instead of facing anticipated disappointment at the quality of out of season fruits and vegetables.

Oh but friends, I found the most beautiful basil.  Not the withered, brown leaves I've been seeing all winter, but plump and verdant sprigs with the brightest of leaves.  I framed this soup to be the perfect canvas for a luscious pile of basil, a winter canvas for a burst of spring.  Also, I just really like soup.  Can you tell?  I must have five different soups on here now.  And then wammy, you dunk in a robustly flavored and crisp wedge of sweet potato, baked to perfection in a hot oven.  I was very pleased with myself for thinking of it, having fantasized about sweet potato fries all day for some reason.  I mean, I do think about food a lot, different flavors and techniques and so many ideas; but I remembered that there were two sweet potatoes left over from my taco adventure, and it occurred to me that I should make oven fries with them, and it was all over.  Adding cornstarch to the seasoning really helps create a crispy crust in the oven, without frying.  Not that I don't like fried foods, but I try to stay away from them most of the time, and I'm not a fan of frying things at home (All the mess, and that leftover oil?  No thank you.).  

I left the soup's flavor mild, carried by the unique essences of the parsnip and celery root, not only to highlight the basil, but also to provide a foil for the pungent flavors of the red thai curry on the potatoes.  If you can't find it, or don't want to, don't worry about it.  I used it because I happened to buy some a few months ago, and I didn't want to let it go to waste.  It has a wonderful aroma, with a hint of sharp spice, and its flavor profile is not at all like that of the product generally called Indian curry.  I'd recommend mixing some ground paprika, cumin, sage, and cayenne together for a similar effect.  Also, if you're not familiar with celery root, it's ugly as all hell.  Seriously.  But it tastes wonderful, like a turnip with the aroma of celery.  Just use a sturdy vegetable peeler to remove the gnarled skin and reveal the white flesh beneath.  And parsnips, well, I love them.  It's as if a carrot's essential sweetness has been concentrated so much that the vegetable turned white (public service announcement: this is purely my fantastical account of a parsnip, and what concentrating flavors has to do with color change I haven't the foggiest).  I find that there's more of an aromatic element to parsnips than carrots, which I find very appealing.  All of my fellow parsnip lovers out there will understand.

Parsnip, Celery Root, and Chickpea Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped 
2 garlic cloves
Salt, to taste
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped into .5 inch pieces
1 celery root, peeled and chopped into .5 inch pieces
28 ounce can chickpeas, drained 
4 c (1 box) vegetable broth (I like to use a clearer broth so the flavor isn't as strong)
2 sprigs basil, leaves removed and set aside
1 lemon, quartered

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.  Add in the chopped onions and salt, then let them sweat and caramelize for ~15 minutes.  It's important to cook them for this amount of time, as this develops crucial flavor for an otherwise simple soup.  Once the onions are slumped, transluscent, and becoming caramelized, add in the garlic and cook another ~5 minutes.  

Stir in the parsnip and celery root chunks and chickpeas, sprinkle with a generous amount of salt, then cover with the vegetable broth and a can-full of water (rinse out the empty can of chickpeas and use that to add the water).  Add in the basil sprigs.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then cook over medium ~25 minutes until the root veggies are soft enough to yield to the pressure of your spoon crushing them against the side of the pot.  Remove the basil stems.  Continue to crush the chickpeas and root vegetables until the broth's texture has been thickened by these mashed ingredients.  Serve piping hot with a mess of torn basil leaves on top, a squeeze of lemon, and these red thai curry potato wedges:

2 sweet potatoes, washed and cut into thin wedges (I cut each potato into quarters, then quartered each of these)
~2 tablespoons canola oil
1.5 teaspoons corn starch
1.5 teaspoons red thai curry powder
.75 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Toss the potato wedges enough oil to coat them lightly.  Mix the corn starch, curry, and salt together, then sprinkle over the wedges.  Massage the spices into the potatoes to coat them thoroughly.  Bake in a hot oven for ~25 minutes, turning after ~15 to get both sides nice and crispy.  Be sure to share them, lest you end up eating them all yourself.

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