It is that lingering kind of cold day. Many people in the States might disagree. Forty-five degrees might be welcome to most of them right now. But it is the kind of low temperature that insidiously creeps into your bones and freezes you at the core. You can’t shake it. There is a still in the air, like someone holding their breath. Everything is grey. Even my brain has hit pause. I’ve typed and deleted several opening lines to this post…there are no words that work. Instead of the usual chaos I have to sort through, there is white noise. Maybe the paranoid strains of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s watching me” aren’t helping…. **scrambling for the remote, hitting forward**….maybe Blue’s optimistic “Make it Happen” will wake up the grey matter…or Xzhibit’s oddly stentorian “Concentrate” **…flipping through the music…passing by “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and ZZ Top, slowing down at Mos Def’s “Quiet dog” and settling on Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the silence”** ...oddly appropriate, though still not helping much. It is hard to quite make sense of this mental block.
I welcome winter and this time of year, and the season hasn’t been around long enough to make me yearn for another, just for the change. So why then, this blankness? I turn and look out the window. Down on the street, wet cars are fervently scuttling home, thinking warm thoughts. Across the street, a neighbour appears at his window. He sees me and raises the mug in his hand in a cheery greeting, then turns around and switches on his Christmas lights. I wave back and switch ours on in mute response. Little pinpricks of light shine through the dusk. Suddenly, more windows light up in the buildings around and swatches of brightness spill into the rapidly darkening evening. A wind flutters the leaves on the trees like a drawn-out sigh, and in the blink of an eye, it begins to rain. A small smattering of rain drops that form a sheer veil between me and the world outside. As if by magic, the synapses begin firing again. Thoughts return to this soup, the one I want to tell you about.
We made this soup a few weeks ago, when the last of the peppers hit the markets. I froze a portion of it and reheated it today. It lost nothing to the freezing process and tasted pretty much like it did before. It belongs just as much to a cold winter day as it does to a cool autumn one. It is flamboyant and colourful and a complete antithesis of the greyness outside. You find some good peppers and some garlic, roast them till the garlic softens and the peppers char at the edges, sauté up some other veggies and whizz everything together. A pinch of chilli, a grind of pepper and you find yourself staring at this deep orange-red vat of goodness. There is no cream in this soup yet it gets this rich texture, thanks to the addition of a potato which summarily thickens it all. The garlic, when roasted, loses all its pungency and goes all sweet and soft, which works well with the sweetness of the peppers. I cannot remember where I got the recipe or whether it was the result of the melding of the several I skimmed through while looking for a roasted red pepper soup. I’m inclined to think it’s a bit made up because it seemed to lack an indefinable something. The addition of a blue cheese I had in the fridge really seemed to help. It oozed and melted into the hot soup and somehow brought it together. I’d strongly recommend your favourite blue as an essential ingredient. I had all kinds of red peppers, different sizes and quantities, which hardly make for the best recipe writing. I’ve tried to quantify them into what I think I would have used had I been using regular sized bell peppers.
Roasted Red Pepper soup with crumbled blue cheese
Makes 3-4 servings
Red peppers – 5, cut into quarters and de-seeded.
Carrot -1 1/2, cut into large pieces
Celery – 1 stalk, chopped
Onion -1, chopped
Tomatoes – 2, chopped
Potato – 1 medium, chopped
Cumin – 1 1/2 tsp
Ancho chilli powder – a couple of pinches
Whole small head of garlic
Vegetable stock – 1 1/2 cup (more to thin out if you prefer)
kalamata olives – 6, pitted
Olive oil – as needed
Cilantro to garnish
Blue cheese to crumble over
Salt and pepper to taste
– Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
– In a roasting tray, toss chopped pepper pieces with some olive oil to coat them & salt and pepper. Clean some extraneous paper off the garlic, leaving them whole on the pod and add drizzle some olive oil on it. Place tray in the oven and roast for about forty-five minutes to an hour.
– Meanwhile, in a pot, heat some oil over medium heat, then add the cumin seeds. When they start to sputter, add the onion, celery and carrots. Sauté until they soften, fifteen to twenty minutes.
– Add the tomatoes and the potato pieces along with the olives. Cook another five minutes, then add the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Then cover the pot, lower the heat and allow to simmer for some time.
– Add the roasted pepper pieces to the pot and squeeze the roasted garlic pod to add the now paste like softened garlic to the pot. Add the ancho chilli powder.
– At this point, you can pour the mixture into a blender or use an immersion blender to purée the mixture. It should turn into a thick soup. If too thick, add some more stock and boil as needed. Check the seasoning.
– Dish into bowls and crumble the blue cheese over. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
The colour here screams warmth. As far as flavours go, this soup is a bit of a blank slate, which means you can build up on them. You could play around with a modicum of your favourite herbs and spices and come up with good results. Some basil might have been good here, or chives. Some mustard seeds might have taken it in a whole other direction. You could add a hotter chilli powder or try cayenne or leave the chilli out altogether. You could make it richer with use of butter instead of the oil. You could experiment with some vinegar or oyster sauce. Whatever you use, add ever so slightly and it will serve to enhance the flavour of the soup, with the sweet and smoky flavour of the roasted vegetables being the central character.
If blue cheese isn’t to your liking, you could add a bit of cream cheese or some sour cream. It rounds everything off well. The addition of cheese works best when the soup is piping hot, since this is when it melts best. Stir in the cilantro in the bowl and it will release some of its grassy notes. A soup to warm you through!