Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Hungry Reader's Peanut Soup

Lately, I've acquired a pretty full collection of books by John Thorne. The obsession started with Simple Cooking, which I thought was exquisitely written. I remember writing Thorne, and receiving a very kind note back from him. I picked up a few more of his books from Amazon, and while Simple Cooking remains my favourite, I've enjoyed picking through the others too.

The thing about Thorne that appeals to me (other than his lucid writing) is that he seems to cook the way I do. When he wants to make a recipe, he looks up every variation of that recipe he can find in his collection of cookbooks, and then he makes up his own version. It's the cooking of someone who loves to read and research, but who doesn't have the will or the discipline to follow directions.

This is a preface to my peanut soup, a recipe with quite a few inspirations, but no real source. I've been craving an African-style peanut soup for a few weeks now, and every now and then would take a book off my shelf and find yet another version of it. Most of the ones I know basically use leeks and some peanut butter at the end, but I wanted something more, something richer. I wanted this:


The technique for this is pretty simple, one I use for all pureed soups. I gently fried three chopped onions, an inch of ginger (peeled and chopped), and almost half a head of garlic (peeled and roughly chopped). Then I put in three celery stalks (my advice? use just two), a large sweet potato (cubed), and five or so carrots (scrubbed and chopped). Then, because I thought all that richness would need a bit of spicy counterpoint, I seeded and chopped two jalapenos and threw those in too.

To make it hearty, I poured in enough beef broth to cover the vegetables, a cup of tomato juice, and two tablespoons of peanut butter. After cooking the veggies to softness, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and mixed in a can of coconut milk.

The result was rich and satisfying, with just enough of a hint of peanutiness. I do think I put in a bit too much celery, but the flavour blended in by the second day. The first day I served the soup with roasted pumpkin seeds and a bit of sliced scallion. When I served what was left as a New Year's Day breakfast (nobody present had energy for much else), I tossed some sunchoke slices in olive oil and sea salt and roasted them for 10 min at 400 degrees F. (I was inspired by the garnish for this walnut soup recipe), and added them to the other garnishes. As I expected, the nuttiness of the roasted sunchokes was just as good on peanut soup as it was on walnut soup.

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