Have you ever been through those moments where all you want to do is put your feet up, with a nice cup of tea, and a chick flick (or if you're Indian, a nice masala Bollywood offering?), & deeep within your brain runs an exquisitely choreographed simulation of everything falling into place, "The refrigerator automatically ridding itself of expired tins of half used refried beans & crushed tomato (the ones that were just waiting to be used up in a rajma the very next day... except that the next day was a fortnight ago), the kids putting away their books and toys, & happily playing within the deck without running off towards the road or screaming "MOMMIEE, Gubbi's eating the dandelions!!.."
Screech back to reality.. the house is as chaotic as ever, the tea has gone cold, & yes, I have to risk a limb (or at least a finger) trying to pry the remains of a crushed yellow weed blossom out of the 2 yr old. Its only later that I realise that dandelion blossoms make for a great ingredient for desi Bhajia, If you don't believe me, take a look at this fabulous offering from a food52 member. But that's for another day!
Its on days like these that your mind & heart scream for something simple & down to earth with whatever you have in the fridge. And short of someone making this for you while you indulge in your chai & cinema, there are few things more filling & comforting than a simple soup & a salad combo. (probably why Panera bread has cashed in on this genre of quick lunches), something simple and as close to Mother Earth.. I'm talking root vegetables..Carrots...
Carrots are probably one of the few vegetables that are incorporated equally well into a whole range of dishes. From decadent desserts like carrot cake & halwa all the way to spicy Indian pickles. You really don't need much to dress this vegetable up. It comes with inbuilt bright colors & flavors. Maybe just a complementing herb a dash of black pepper and a pinch of salt.
There are nearly countless recipes for carrot soup and here are a couple of tested & validated ones :
A recipe from epicurious.com: A recipe relying on garlic & cloves to support the earthy root flavor of Carrot;
A prizewinning recipe from Food52.com and this recipe from thestonesoup.com using baby carrots, both using exactly five ingredients and,
An exotic healthy & low calorie offering (Yes, these terms can & do go together!!) from chefinyou.com
I've been toying with the idea of ordering Monica Bhide's book 'Modern spice' ever since I dashed off a request to use an image from her page for my blog. Poring through the books table of contents in the Amazon.com page, keeping a mental note of the proportion of vegetarian offerings in the book, something that struck me was that she has a very fresh approach to Indian food. Her inertial frame of reference from which she views standard Indian fare is very Americanized and it lends the cuisine an aura of light glamor, the kind one associates with exotic springtime brunch parties , rather than a stuffy sit down tuxedo / evening dress dinner appointment. In the interest of full disclosure, the book is till in my 'cart' at amazon.com waiting to be dispatched along with the mandatory purchases of baby diapers, soaps, creams & wipes. (I'm done with ordering baby food, the two year old eats regular, standard home cooked Indian food. And ice cubes.. And the occasional dandelion.
I followed the recipe from Mark Lipinski's blog. with a few tweaks of my own. The paneer croutons were cubed really tiny, about an eight of the size of a regular cube, This helped in flash frying them on a non-stick skillet with minimal oil, just tossed them around till they turned golden brown. I also tossed in a geriatric parsnip that had been patiently biding its time in my crisper drawer. And lastly, garnished with a few crumbs of greek yogurt that had been strained.
Curried Soup of Carrot, Bell Pepper and Ginger with pan-fried paneer
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup paneer, cut into crouton size -small cubes
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium leeks, peeled and coarsely chopped (white and light green parts only)
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
1 old parsnip
1 (orange colored) bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons minced ginger root
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon ground coriander
5 cups vegetable stock (used plain water, not a fan of pre prepared, store bought stock)
1 cup light cream
1 teaspoon salt or to taste, if desired
Fresh cilantro to garnish
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok or large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the paneer and fry for 6-8 minutes until lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Remove paneer with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
2. Melt the butter in a medium (3-quart) saucepan on medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for about 6-7 minutes or until translucent.
3. Add the carrots, bell pepper and ginger and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the carrots begin to soften.
4. Add the turmeric, cayenne, coriander and mix well. Cook for another minute.
5. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender.
6. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
7. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender.
8. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper
9. Serve warm topped with the paneer.
Of course, You really didn't think I wouldn't attempt to 'panfusine' the soup did you?
savory carrot pannacotta , all that remained was to find a suitable recipe to use agar with. If Monica Bhide ever does chance upon this blog, I'd like to hope that this innovation brings a teensy weensy smile rather than a frown!
For the panfusine version you need: (per 8 oz cup of soup)
2 tablespoons unflavored, colorless agar flakes (the long strings from Asian stores, cut into 1/2 inch pieces),
1/3 cup of water (or stock)
Boil the agar flakes till completely dissolved.
Strain the liquid into the soup, stir well.
Pour into silicone molds (silicone baking cups work just as well) or small ramekins. At this point you may drop 8-10 of the deep fried Paneer morsels into the soup. They stay suspended within and provide a lovely textural contrast.
Allow to set in the refrigerator.
To serve, slide a thin blade spatula between the soup and the ramekin, dislodge the soup & set gently on a plate. Serve immediately with a salad of your choice.
Agar over time tends to leach out the water its dissolved in. I've yet to figure out a strategy for a long term setting using the ingredient. If this happens, Simply drop the soup into a pan & heat up gently to serve in the regular manner. The agar does not impart any taste or texture to the soup.