Fall is fast approaching, and if you were in St. John's this summer, you'll know the season was a prequel with its vast majority of grey, rainy days. To combat the foul moods I played around with a few old soup standards; one of my favourite soups is quite simple, pulled from Gourmet Magazine and now found on the resourceful epicurious website. The deep flavour of asparagus pairs nicely with slowly sauteed leeks and onions and the proverbial splash of wine [make sure to splash more of said wine into your glass].
I am a major fan of Mexican and Middle Eastern flavours and I modified this soup to suit my needs. What was originally an avocado-coloured soup has now become something more...earthier in tone with a simple addition of one modest, pan-roasted dried poblano chile and some red Za'atar. This spice is hard to come by in my town (I am the sole possessor) and I therefore rely on friendly travelers and friends 'across the pond' (Witaj, Marcin i Ania!) to keep me spice-happy.
Recently, a good friend and co-worker came back from carnivorous Montreal transformed from vegetarian to vegan. I therefore modified my soup to accommodate her needs for our most excellent lunches! Caveat: there's honey on my roasted figs...While I normally use chicken stock for my soup base, I instead made a vegetable stock, and the final product was not finished with cream. In order for the garnish to float, however, I added a thick, Balkan-style yoghurt (caveat #2) on which I placed the sliced asparagus tips.
All this to say, this baby can be modified to suit your personal or public needs. Here we go.
0.5 Kg asparagus
3 leeks, roughly chopped
3 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 large, dried poblano chile
1 shallot, diced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp red sumac Za'atar powder
6 tsp garlic, chopped (reserve half for garnish)
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
3 tsp honey (room temperature)
3 tsp salt
3 tsp pepper
8 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 tsp Balkan yoghurt (a dollop per bowl)
Une Baguette :)
I make my own vegetable stock; in this case I substitute the standard celery portion for diced turnip that adds a deeper flavour. I find this works better with the mellowness of the poblano chile, as opposed to competing with the tangy bite of celery. Grab a small pan and turn the burner to medium high. When it's hot, place the poblano directly on the surface, and dry fry two minutes per side, turning 4 times. You'll smell it when she's ready.
All photos care of iphone 3, you've been warned.
Once it's warm to the touch, remove the seeds - if you like a hotter soup, throw them in the soup while cooking. Otherwise, off to the garbage bin. Put the seared poblano into your food processor with the halved shallot and pulse it to bits, so as to generate moisture and they will therefore stick together nicely.
Meanwhile, slice the figs in half and sprinkle with a dash of olive oil, the thyme, and smear or drizzle the honey on top. I use my toaster oven for this, at 400F. Roast them for 25 or 30 minutes, and then set aside to cool somewhat. Once they are not so hot, toss 2/3 of them into your food processor with 1/4 of the vegetable stock, and make a nice mush. The rest will be saved for your garnish.
By the time you're ready to add them to the soup they'll have been sufficiently cooled for you to handle comfortably; incidentally they'll pretty much look the same when you pull them out, except they will smell like happiness.
When prepping the vegetables, shave the asparagus and reserve the tips for garnish. Cut them into 4 cm pieces. Chop off the tough end parts, and stick them in a bowl with the rough green parts of the leeks. I save this stuff in a ziplock bag in my freezer, adding to it whenever I cook. It makes a great base for vegetable stock, and make sure to toss in the rinsed ends and peels of the garlic and onions as well.
Below is the asparagus, chopped leeks/onions, mixed dried spices, chili seeds, and the poblano/shallot mix.
Grab a stock pot and fire it up on high. Once hot, add the oil and wait a couple of seconds before adding the onions, leeks, shallot and chopped poblano. Cook until somewhat translucent, and add the chopped asparagus and the wine. Stir it around for 3 minutes or so until the alcohol burns off, and add the dried spices.
Stir occasionally on medium high for 25 minutes, and don't forget to check on those figs! Once you have a sufficient vegetable mush, toss in the vegetable stock and 2/3 of the processed figs. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes; as the Good Book says, vegetable soups should only be cooked for an hour or so, and remember that your stock has tons of flavour.
At the end of this, grab your hand blender and start smoothing out that soup until the vegetable matter is blasted, about two minutes. Keep the blender in the centre of the pot, as all solid matter will gravitate to the blades (SCIENCE!). Strain the soup using cheesecloth into a few big stainless steel bowls. The following blurry photo is brought to you by the aura of excitement and Quidi Vidi Honey Brown:
This takes about 20 minutes or so, so pour another glass while you wait, and begin to prepare the...
Get a small sauce pan, add a cup of hot soup, and toss in the asparagus tips. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until semi-firm. Strain the tips and put that soup right back into your stock pot. Slice each tip three times and reserve the nicest looking parts for garnish.
Take the remaining roasted figs and gently quarter them. They will not float in the soup, but make for a nice surprise at the bottom of the bowl!
Cut your baguette on a 45 degree slant, two centimetre thick slices. Smear some chopped garlic on them and pop them in the toaster oven for 6 minutes or so...just make sure they do not burn and, as they say in my province, you're Top Shelf.
If you are opting out of the vegan option, stir in 3 cups of warm cream. And forget about the honey on top of the figs; maybe try some agave syrup or brown sugar. Let it sit for five or ten and you're ready to serve.
First photo is the lovely vegan broth, with the rogue asparagus and fig occasionally surfacing like Nessie:
Second we have the more velvety soup finished with cream, and the whole kit and kaboodle:
That's it, friends!