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.

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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.

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