Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spiced Parsnip & Coconut Soup



It's half term this week and the house has temporarily become a craft workshop. This morning, I was making soup whilst Fin was at the kitchen table fondling a bewildering assortment of felt fragments, bits of ribbon and clouds of wadding.

Fin was all fired up about creating a felt egg that would split open and reveal a white and yellow interior; he was going to fill a real egg box with them. Whilst I chopped and stirred, he explained his idea in the tumbling, enthusiastic way of a six year old with a plan; quelling my sensible questions with a stern look from under a pair of theatrically raised eyebrows. Soon Fin was forming some felt around an egg shaped shaker and stitching in great big ham fisted loops, as I tried to get on with soup making.

It sounded like a plan, Fin sews at the table and I cook happily across the kitchen, doting fondly on my darling boy. But I found that with each knot in the thread, pricked finger and new stage of the process, I was required to advise or kiss or fix something. My soup making crawled along and my stomach started growling.

Eventually both felt egg and soup were made, so I flopped into a chair to examine the egg which Fin proudly presented to me as though I had never clapped eyes on it before. 'Fin that's just amazing!' I congratulated, in my best children's TV presenter voice. He popped it into the box and cleared a couple of spaces at the table for our bowls.

Of course, I had to photograph my soup first, and when I bought it to the table a few minutes later, all that was left of Fin's meal was an empty bowl and grinning yellow smeared face. 'That has to be my favourite soup' he mused, getting down from the table to introduce his egg to the other members of his toy family.

Spiced Parsnip and Coconut Soup (serves 4-6)

This soup is creamy and subtly aniseedy, with a light curry flavour, if you want a strong curry flavour, double amounts of all the spices except turmeric. You can heat it up by adding cayenne or sprinkling chilli flakes on as I do (I use Pul Biber). Some fresh coriander leaves or toasted cumin, nigella and sesame seeds are also delicious sprinkled on top. Put a plate of lemon wedges on the table for those who like something a little more piquant.

Some dusty orange, Sweet Potato Pitta Breads with yellow butter oozing through them would be perfect for mopping your bowl, and bring some bright early daffodils to the table to banish any lingering winter blues.

1 medium onion
1 large carrot
3 medium parsnips
Half a medium celeriac
1/2 can of coconut milk (200ml)

1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 green cardamoms
1 1/2tsp ground turmeric
Walnut sized piece of peeled fresh ginger


Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large sauce pan, chop the onion and add it, turning the heat low, so the onions just soften slowly, but don't catch.

Peel and chop the carrot and parsnips into chunks and add to the pan to sweat. Peel the celeriac half and chop half of this piece into dice, reserving the rest for later. Add the celeriac dice to the pan and increase the heat to medium, stirring every couple of minutes for about ten minutes.

While the vegetables are sweating, grind the whole spices in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt. Chop the ginger finely. Add the ground spices, ginger and turmeric to the pan and fry for a couple of minutes stirring occasionally, to cook off any bitterness.

Add the coconut to the pan with a litre of water and cook until the vegetables are really soft. Puree the soup until velvety smooth in a blender and return to the pan. If it is too watery, cook uncovered until you have the right consistency - too thick, just add water.

Grate the reserved piece of celeriac and add to the pan, bring back up to a simmer and cook until the celeriac is soft but still has a little bite - about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.