Saturday, March 04, 2006

Taking a Bisque

If it's Saturday and the temperature outside is hovering around freezing, there's a good chance I've made a pot of vegetable stock and am wondering what kind of soup to make with it.

I like to go through most of my soup repertoire over the winter, rarely repeating a recipe and often adding a couple of new ones to the collection. But it's rare that I just throw together whatever strikes my fancy -- too risky.

You may have noticed, though, that this year I'm taking a few more risks in the kitchen by cooking without a recipe. And since that tactic worked so well for vegetable curry, why not use it to make a thick Indian-spiced soup?

Better yet, why not go out on a limb and attempt one of Mitch Heat's favorite words: a bisque.

And sure enough, in checking my pantry and the refrigerator, I discovered that I had everything I could want to make a rich, thick, coconut-laced curried sweet potato bisque.

First, I sauteed the onions slowly, allowing them to brown and carmelize thoroughly, then added fresh garlic and ginger and dried chiles to round out the base flavors. After sprinkling in the spices and frying them slightly, I threw in the cubed sweet potatoes and a quart of fresh vegetable stock, brought it to a boil, and let it simmer until everything was soft.

An hour later, I took out the chiles, pulled out my trusty immersion blender (easily my favorite power tool in the kitchen), and pureed the entire pot full of soup, adding some chickpeas and coconut milk to thicken the bisque and enhance the flavors. Then, I tossed in fresh shredded kale, returned the pot to the burner, and headed out for a late afternoon walk.

The divine fragrance wafted out to greet me when I came home, so I quickly ladled up a bowl full of vitamin- and spice-laden goodness and topped it with a drizzle of tamarind chutney.

Authentic Indian cuisine? I highly doubt it. But was it good? Oh yeah.

Definitely worth the bisque.

This Chick's Sweet Potato Bisque

I've made sweet potato bisques before, so I just winged it on this one. Not that hard, really, when you've made as many soups as I have in the past several years! If you don't have an immersion blender (which really is a fabulous tool for work like this), use a regular blender and puree this in small batches, covering the lid with a towel so that you don't spatter hot soup all over your arms and cause burns. (It's not fun, believe me.) This stands very well on its own for a meal, though you might like to splurge a little and add some bread (good naan if you can get or make it) or a couple of vegetable samosas. Top with your choice of chutney (tamarind is fantastic!), plain yogurt, or chopped cilantro.

2 T canola oil
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1" fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 dried chile peppers, holes poked into them so they don't explode
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 qt vegetable stock
1/2 can chickpeas
1/4 c light coconut milk
2 c washed, chopped greens (kale or spinach)
optional garnishes: chutney, yogurt, or chopped cilantro

Heat canola oil in large heavy saucepan. Saute onion over medium heat until well-browned and fragrant, easily 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and chiles and continue to saute another 5 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Add cumin, coriander, cinnamon, curry powder, turmeric, and salt, and fry spices until fragrant, another 1 to 2 minutes.

Add sweet potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer for one hour. When sweet potatoes are soft, remove the pan from the burner and remove the chiles from the soup. Puree everything! (Carefully!) Add chickpeas and coconut milk and puree until smooth.

Return pan to burner and add chopped greens, allowing to simmer until greens are wilted and flavors are well-developed.

Serve with any or all of the optional garnishes to hungry people.

Makes 6-8 servings


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