NOTE: The pictures for this blog post were updated in late 2017 to show different presentation options.
Hi everyone! If you're here for the deliciously fun and easy Curried Root Veg Soup with Beet Crisps, then please scroll down to the end of the blog post. You'd find the mouth-watering vegan recipe there. If you're happy to read my musings on my eye-opening recent trip to the US, then please read on and get to the recipe later.
Earlier this year, my 4-year-old son and I (my husband joined us later) took an epic journey to the Americas. We’d talked about the trip for weeks and were both beyond excited as we boarded our plane on a Thursday evening and set off to the first of many destinations: Miami, Florida.
To be frank, I had been quite nervous about travelling and especially about visiting the States (You know, I always feel rather overwhelmed and saddened by the excessive availability of cheap, unhealthy convenience foods on offer when I enter the US and I was worried about how my son would manage this new and surely tempting experience. (He was fine by the way)).
I knew that cooking and eating healthily far away from the comforts of my own kitchen wouldn’t be straight forward, so I needed to do lots of pre-planning and thinking about how best to make it all work. Sure, I didn’t want to obsess about food either, but I certainly wanted to be cautious and avoid any processed, (factory farmed) animal-based foods, if at all possible.
The flight went well. I brought a lot of healthy food with me and bought some water at the airport, meaning we ate really well and stayed hydrated for the whole of the plane journey. What I hadn’t expected was what happened at passport control…
We were met by a grumpy, but chatty border control officer who questioned me about why - as an American Citizen - I had chosen to live permanently in London. He told me that the idea of living in the UK repulsed him (WT??!!). I asked him why and he explained that he thought British food was awful – pickled eels, toad-in-a-hole, mad cow disease. I was gobsmacked! After a 9.5 hour flight all I could come up with was a bitchy stammer which went something like this: ‘Gosh I think British food has moved on since then [insert – I pulled some faces and muttered some inaudible nonsense].’ And his comeback was – horse meat!
I was so furious but annoyingly couldn’t utter a single word beyond the ones noted above. I have jet lag as my excuse OK?! But of course the responses I should have given him came thick and fast hours even days later as the scene played itself out in my mind again and again:
''Have you ever even been to the UK? Have you ever tried picked eels or toad in a hole or any other traditional British dishes? Have you thought about where your meat comes from and how it is produced? You a…..e!''
Of course, I have no chance to go back and say these things. So the best comeback I have got is to post 2 cracking dishes on the blog for British Food Fortnight, dedicated to the place I currently call home. I hope my food speaks louder than any words I could have said, as I aim to show that British food can be sexy, tasty and good.
My starting point for today’s dish were British cookbooks from the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, which a lovely work colleague of mine kindly lend me. Flicking through these books I noticed that soups were prominant starters and that most soup recipes called for 3 key ingredients; vegetable (or beef) stock, onions and carrots. Hence, I wanted to make these - especially seasonal, local and affordable root vegetables like carrots - the foundation of today’s starter.
Back in the day, soups were referred to as stimulants and shunned as a meal in itself with The Perfect Cooking by Parkinson (1950) summing it up quite nicely: ‘As a stimulant, however, and for invalids, where a liquid diet is required, soup has great value. It stimulates the flow of digestive juices, thus aiding the digestion of the more solid part of the meal which is to follow. A small cup of hot well-flavoured soup is an excellent pick-me-up, relieving fatigue. It is thus a help towards better enjoyment and digestion of the meal to follow.’ (p. 11)
You might wonder why on earth I included curry in a dish celebrating all things British. You see, I was utterly intrigued to find a reference to curry powder in a cookbook first published in 1903 (although I only got my hands on a newer edition printed in 1929), Mrs Beeton’s All About Cookery. And when I did some more research I discovered that in fact the use of curry was first mentioned in a British Cookbook in 1747! Today curry powders and pastes are a staple in all good British home kitchens, so curry HAD to be part of my ode to British cuisine. And I must say, I am rather pleased with this cracking starter (adapted from a recipe I found in my treasured Veg Everyday Cookbook).
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the recipe!
CURRIED ROOT VEG SOUP WITH BEET CRISPS (V+, P, NF, GF)
Preparation Time: 30 minutes (chopping takes a little while)
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
2 tbs vegetable oil of your choice (I used rice bran oil)
2 large (organic) onions (red or white or a mixture, it doesn’t matter, weighing about 650-800g all together)
4 (organic) garlic cloves, finely chopped
4-5cm piece of (organic) ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbs tandoori masala powder
2 tsp mild curry powder
350g (organic) sweet potatoes or seasonal pumpkin, washed, peeled and diced
350g (organic) carrots, washed, peeled and diced
1litre vegetable stock (I used stock cubes and followed the instructions on the pack, but if you have time to make your own veggie stock, go for it!)
400ml tin of coconut milk
Salt to taste (optional)
A small handful of finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional)
A splash of fresh lime juice (optional)
Garnish with beetroot crisps (recipe here)
Prepare all the ingredients as noted above and chop the onions. Also remember to have the vegetable stock ready.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium to low heat. Add the chopped onions and stir for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and translucent. Then add the chopped garlic, ginger, tandoori masala and curry powder and stir for a minute or two.
Add the pumpkin/sweet potatoes/carrots/your-choice-of-root-veg and stir for another minute or so. Pour in the vegetable stock. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer. Cook gently until the root veggies are soft – about 15 minutes or so.
Remove the soup from the heat, add the coconut milk and place in a blender (I used my vitamix) or food processor until the mixture is nicely combined and super smooth. (I’ve also used a hand-held mixer in the past and that worked well too).
To serve, add salt to taste (I never add any, but it’s up to you), the fresh coriander, a dash of lime juice, coconut milk and beet crisps to impress. A-mazing!
Tip 1: Even if you’re cooking for yourself or just 1 other person, please do make this quantity. Remember you can take the left-overs into the office the next day for lunch or freeze the soup in small portions and enjoy over the weeks to come.
Tip 2: I deliberately called this root veg soup (as opposed to carrot or pumpkin soup) as it’s really up to you whether you just use carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes or a mixture of them all. Be creative and use what’s local, affordable and seasonal to you.
Eat with… I like it just as it is as it, no bread required. But of course, you can have it with some bread or the suggested beet crisps. Please note I only added these for visual effect and as a homage to British root veggies, but the soup doesn't really need it. You can also enjoy this as a starter, followed by papatas-not-so-bravas and a warm courgette salad and of course a British chocolate pud to top the meal off.