Pushpesh PantWhen the fog around refuses to lift up and the mood turns sulky, we find comfort only in a bowl of steaming soup. Only, this one is not a run-of-the-mill soup served in restaurants imitating the first course of a Western meal. This one is a healthy wholesome broth, a substantial meal in itself.
In Hungary, they have goulash; Russia rejoices in borscht; and in the US, chowders are soul food. In Far East Japan and China, they have myriad soups to nourish the body and refresh the mind. Gaduwa shurua (derived from shorba) is an invigorating trotters broth popular in Uttarakhand. What else is thukpa encountered in the regions bordering Tibet, but a soupy one-dish meal?
Unfortunately, we have gotten so used to taking shortcuts that even at home we rely on soup premixes that require adding just a measured quantity of boiling water. Let us assure you that preparing a hot cuppa from scratch is as much fun as sipping the stuff. Just ensure that you include a variety of vegetables of different colour, taste and texture. The challenge is to blend them symphonically, without striking a discordant note. To add substance to the soup, you may use chunks of tofu/paneer or a small quantity of noodles. There are a lot of ways in which you can thicken the broth — stirring in corn starch or arrowroot powder. Our favourite, though, is pureed boiled potato, never more than a medium-sized one. There are those who insist that good soup can only be made with stock prepared beforehand, but don’t let this stop you. Once the vegetables have been chopped, you can start enjoying the ‘one-bowl meal’ in little over half an hour.
- Carrots 2
- French beans, a handful
- Cabbage 1/2 of a small head
- Sweet corns 1/2 cup
- Green peas 1/2 cup
- (net, shelled)
- Mushrooms 1/2 cup
- Tomato 1 (medium sized)
- Paneer/tofu 50g
- Noodles/pasta 1/4 cup (optional)
- Broccoli 1-2 florets, small
- Potato 1 (medium sized; boiled, peeled and pureed with a little water)
- Malt vinegar 1-2 tsp
- Sugar (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Butter 50 g
- Bay leaf 1
- Clove 1-2
- Black peppercorns 6-8 (freshly pounded, coarsely)
- Scrape the carrots. Wash well and cut into large dices. String the beans. Cut into small pieces. Remove the outer wilted leaves from the cabbage and shred it finely. Wipe clean the mushrooms to remove all grit and slice finely. Retain the stems and cut these into discs. Blanch the tomato, remove its skin and then chop sparsely. Cut paneer/tofu the size of sugar cubes. Boil and puree a potato separately.
- Heat half the butter in a thick-bottomed pan. As it melts, add the bay leaf and the cloves. Add the vegetables in this order: carrots, beans, peas, sweet corn, mushrooms and broccoli, keeping grated cabbage for the end. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir fry for a minute. Cover and cook on low-medium flame for about 2-3 minutes. Uncover and add 3-4 cups of boiling water and boil for 15-20 minutes. Pour in the potato puree, stir and then add the noodles/pasta, if using. Check the thickness. The soup will also thicken after it is taken off the stove. It should retain pouring consistency. Add vinegar, season with salt and sprinkle the black peppercorns. Pour into soup bowls or cups and top with a blob of butter. Enjoy, with or without soup sticks!
- This one is a pure vegetarian rendering. You may fortify the meal by stirring in a well-beaten egg.