South-Indian chicken soup

This is my great-grandmother’s recipe. I think it was passed down to her from her mother or grandmother, but this is how far back I’ve been able to trace it. When a recipe dates back almost 120 years, you know it’s special. The sense of nostalgia and comfort that this aromatic hot bowl of soup induces is soul satisfying in every sense of the term.

I very fondly remember spending my holidays at my great-grandmother’s colossal 12,000 sq ft single storey home which comprised of vast open spaces and courtyards, that during the summer months doubled as a drying pad for spices, chillies, and onions and as a playground of sorts for me and my cousins.

About the recipe..this is not like any chicken soup you’ve had. There are no carrots, leeks, or celery to form its base (I don’t think they even formed a part of India’s agricultural produce back then!) That was a time when everything they ate was grown in their own farms, or foraged in the surrounding fields. An era when families that owned land would sow their own paddy, harvest and mill it, before storing it until the next harvest season. Those that had a more bountiful crop would even gratuitously donate the excess to the farmers who tended their farmlands.  Some – including my ancestors – even bred their own cows for the milk, and chickens and goats for their meat. A lot has changed since then, some good, some bad, but I get the sense that we may have missed out on the charm of a simpler life.

The spices in this soup – garlic, cumin, curry leaves, and peppercorns are fiery, but as with all recipes, you can add as much or little as you’d prefer. The soup itself is made with chicken pieces, but you could alternatively use only the bones which would still give you a rich stock. I can attest that this is just as delicious! I managed to save a bowlful which I eked out by adding rice into and making it a meal in itself. So good!

The recipes that were passed down through my great-grandmother have always been special to us, even more so after her passing. The curries that we make today still have the same blend of spices, the laddus the same proportion of ghee and sugar, and it’s obvious that our love for cooking hasn’t skipped any generation in between. I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as I did growing up, and still do with my own family.

Continue reading

Honeydew melon & cucumber gazpacho

Who goes and puts honeydew melon in a soup, right? Sounds bizarre. If you feel the same way, I wouldn’t blame you. But..I like bizarre. And this gazpacho is kind of just that.

I’ve tried very hard to visually capture the exact texture of this soup, but I’m not sure if I’ve done a good enough job at it. Have you ever tried making honeydew melon, mango or even papaya juice? They blend well and get velvety and smooth, but it’s not the same consistency as you’d find in say, watermelon juice. It’s pulpier. That’s what the consistency of this gazpacho is like. It’s denser than any other soup I’ve made – even withstood the cucumber slices that I used as garnish!

Traditionally, gazpacho was made by hand pounding green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, vinegar, olive oil and seasonings. Stale bread soaked in water is a popular addition, which purists claim to be the ‘superior’ version. This is the kind that you’d most likely encounter in Andalusia (south of Spain), which also happens to be where this dish originates from. But as is the case with the evolution of food habits, people living in other areas came up with their own intra-regional versions of the gazpacho with the ingredients that they had ready access to, and tweaking it to fit their palates. Some would make them without the bread, while white gazpachos have no tomatoes; they have pine nuts or almonds instead. There are now over hundreds, if not thousands of variations for it!

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a glorified smoothie. It does look like it, doesn’t it? Sautéed onions and garlic with a kick of chilli form its base, before the fresh melon and cucumbers are added in. I would strongly recommend a dash of fiery Tabasco over the top for that extra pizazz! Summery, velvety, bizarre..all pulverized together to give you this perfect chilled soup.

Continue reading

DIY : Thai yellow curry paste

There are precisely 2 things that make cooking Thai food from scratch hard for me. One, you don’t get the necessary ingredients very easily here; lemon grass, whenever I get my hands on I bulk buy and freeze, and kaffir lime leaves are almost never available (replacing it with lime rind I’ve found to be a good alternative).

Also I think because of the first hurdle, I used to end up picking up the pre-made pastes from the grocery store. Which now in retrospect, really makes me wonder why I’d even bother. That stuff is so bland and flavourless, leave alone loaded with preservatives and vile food-colouring agents, that I stopped cooking anything Thai-related after that realization entered my mind.

Now..what if I told you that it takes less than 20 minutes to make your own Thai curry paste from scratch, the authentic way? Yeah, hand pounded in a mortar and pestle. OK, you’re passing up that option at the mere sound of ‘hand pounded’. Don’t worry, but that only gets easier for you now – 7 minutes in a blender. Including prep time. Are we ready? Let’s go!

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier posts, using a mortar and pestle helps determine the consistency of the paste at every stage, and the flavour you get is more nuanced. Although I don’t really understand the science behind it, I can vouch that it makes a big difference. The blender method is obviously easier, and comes a close second in terms of flavour. Follow your own adventure!

This paste is endlessly versatile and can be used to make curries (I have a recipe with prawns coming up shortly), soups, and even in a salad dressing(?) That was off the top of my head, but hey, it could work!

 

Continue reading

Chicken laksa

I’m so excited to tell you about this recipe. I’ve made this laksa a few times now, tweaking it here and there and adding/omitting ingredients along the way, and I think what I’ve landed up with now pretty much hits the spot, if I do say so myself.

If you’ve already taken a quick glance at the list of ingredients, you will have noticed that it does in fact use 10 dried red chillies – it is a hot fiery soup, but one that is tempered down delicately by coconut milk. Even though laksa is technically more Malay/Singaporean and not Thai, maybe because the ingredients of these cuisines lie in a pretty similar ballpark, it takes me right back to the amazing street food stalls of Bangkok!

Laksa is usually served with some variation of seafood added to it. Prawn and mussels are my favourite and I would’ve gladly used them here if it wasn’t for the fact that my husband is allergic to any and all types of crustaceans. So, I improvised with chicken (merely pointing out that you could consider that option as well).

If you have some extra time to spare and in need of an upper-body workout, it really helps to use a mortar and pestle to pound the spice paste. I’ve tried it both ways and this really does make a difference – you get to control the exact texture of the mixture and what you end up with is an aromatic full-bodied paste that beats the blender method hands down.

I hope you enjoy this bowl of goodness as much as we did!

Continue reading

Roasted pumpkin & garlic soup

I’ve been mildly obsessed with oven-roasting vegetables. In the last two weeks, I’ve made two huge batches of heirloom tomatoes (much to my family’s profound bliss), and now, this roasted pumpkin and garlic soup. I knew that the tomatoes would shrink in size upon roasting, but little did I know that all those 12 plump fruits would reduce down to yield just a small jam-jar sized amount! The taste is elevated 12-fold though, so it’s most definitely worth it. Quality over quantity.

My unbridled love for garlic is no secret. Here, it is roasted along with the pumpkin for extra flavour, and then the soft pulp inside is squished out with your fingers. Got to love some hands-on garlic action!

Velvety and smooth and loaded with all things good for you (I even left out the cream that the recipe called for), this soup effortlessly straddles the fence between comforting and complex all at once – that’s the killer combination, right?

Continue reading

CHICKEN AND SOBA NOODLE SOUP

I recently discovered the joys of Japanese Soba (buckwheat) noodles. I’d eaten it several times at restaurants, but only recently found out that a speciality store I frequent stocked them.

If there was one term that I could use to describe this dish, I think ‘restorative’ would be it. The noodles, made from buckwheat flour have this certain huskiness about them that your brain immediately classifies as being good for you. Which it is, but you actually feel like you’re nourishing your body from within. Also, the fact that there was no oil used in this recipe speaks for itself. But get this..Soba noodles are chock full of proteins and fibre, fat-free, cholesterol-free AND gluten-free. It’s a superhero amongst the noodle clan. The silent protector, the watchful guardian..the dark (brown) knight.

This was my first attempt at the elusive chicken soup, but I was very happy with the results I got, and so, confident enough to brag blog and share with you. Happy slurping!

Continue reading

HEARTY SPINACH SOUP

I always find comfort in a big bowl of soup. And one of this character and versatility is exactly what I’m talking about. Its subtle clear flavours and velvety smoothness are always so soothing and for the amount of effort that goes into it you’d be surprised. Speaking of which, I loved it cold too, straight out of the refrigerator!

I’m reiterating that you shouldn’t over’wilt’ the spinach lest you lose out on the vibrancy and saturated brightness of the soup. I was describing it to my mom over the phone the other day and described it as “the colour of hulk.” You know you want that.

I added a pinch of cumin, because, well, why not. I really liked the flavour of it delicately coming through and not overpowering the spinach. I usually serve this with a side of toasted garlic bread to dunk into. A few toasted croutons and a better swirl than the one I made would make this a perfect party appetizer too! I’d be a very happy guest if I were served that.

Continue reading