09 January 2010

Turnip Soup

Turnips are relatively cheap in the winter, and are easy to find at any bodega or grocery store. So are potatoes, coconut milk, salt, and pepper. I'd made a turnip soup a couple of weeks back, and it finished almost as soon as we set it out. I think it lasted about a day or so, and I had made a fairly large batch of the stuff. Since it did finish so quickly, and we got a few requests for the recipe, I thought I'd share.

The secret ingredient is the fenugreek seeds. Those are absolutely required for the soup to work, because when boiled, they form the stock. The boiling seeds release this rich stock, which is packed with flavour and texture. People have been using the seed for thousands of years, and its health claims are wide and varied. I don't know or care about such claims. I just like that it tastes so good.

I'm using the ratios here to make the measuring easy. If you'd like to scale up or down, feel free to. The onion is strictly optional, as is the cabbage. The potatoes give body to the soup. If you don't have turnips, daikon radish, red radish, rutabaga, celeriac, jicama, chayote, parsnip, kohlrabi, salsify, or sunchokes. It's a very forgiving recipe, so if you want something more brothy, feel free to add more water. If you want more of a stewy texture, feel free to cut back on the liquid.

When I make this stew, I tend to stick to boiling potatoes, although it's a personal preference, and not strictly required. I also make very large batches, and freeze them in 1 litre containers, so that I can come back to it later, if need be, and have a meal in a hurry. This is a complete meal in a bowl. The coconut milk provides fat and protein, the potatoes give starch, and the vegetables give fibre and the other essential nutrients you'll need.

This is also not just restricted to the few vegetables I've included here. You are welcome to add dark leafy greens, leftover steamed veggies (at the end, of course), or pretty much any other thing that catches your fancy. I tend to avoid using beans, but again, that's a personal preference.

Turnip Soup

2 TB fenugreek seeds
2 litres water
2 medium sized potatoes
2 medium sized turnips
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 small onions (optional)
2 cups coconut milk
2 big pinches of salt (or more, as you wish; this is also optional)

In a large stock pot, pour in 2 litres (about a half gallon, give or take) of cold water, and sprinkle in the fenugreek seeds. Place it over high heat, and cover the lid of the pot. While the water comes up to a boil, peel (optional) and dice (required) the potatoes and turnips. They don't need to be small. In fact, it's better if you chop them on the somewhat large size, so that they don't fall apart in the cooking process.

Peel and dice your onions relatively small. When the water has been at a full rushing boil for about 10 minutes, slide in the potatoes, turnips, and turmeric. Let the ingredients in the pot cook together, covered, at a fierce boil, for 10 minutes. Add in the diced onions, and cover the lid again. Let it continue to boil for 10 minutes more.

When the biggest piece of potato and the biggest piece of turnip you have in the pot have become tender, turn off the heat. Pour in the coconut milk, and stir through to combine. Add salt if you wish (although it doesn't strictly need it), stir through a couple more times. Serve piping hot, with some rice, bread, or just all by itself.


As I said, this works perfectly well with any other vegetables you'd like to add to it, but I like the simplicity of just a couple of vegetables, some spices, and a bit of coconut milk. There's something that's so honest and earthy about it.

However, there are times when I don't have *quite* enough of each ingredient to make this "properly" so I tend to improvise. That's when I'll slide in some shredded cabbage, some thinly sliced carrots, leftover peas, a bit of corn, and some of that kale that looks like it's seen better days. If I'm using the kale stems, I'll add them towards the beginning of cooking (along with the potato and turnip). If you have red cabbage, it'll add even more to the riot of colours going on in the pot.

Of course, if you're fortunate enough to have raw peanuts with their skins still on, I'd add them in with the potatoes and turnips and have such a mouth-watering stew. Peanuts aren't a nut, they're a legume. It's just that we're used to seeing them in their relatively fresh stage, unlike most legumes which we're used to seeing dried. This means that you don't have to soak them before you cook them.

If you've ever traveled through the American South, you'll know the pleasures of boiled peanuts. Now imagine that wonderful, savoury taste going through and infiltrating your stew! Yum.

The reason that I say that the salt is optional is because there are some foods that are so delicious on their own that they don't even need to have salt added. I'm a bit of a salt fiend, so I tend to salt anyway, but many of my friends try to watch their diets, and keep salt restricted or eliminated from their day-to-day lives. If you're one of those people, feel free to omit the salt all together.

Before I leave you, I'd like to mention that this is one of those South Indian peasant dishes that you don't get unless you're eating at the house of a South Indian. It's invented from the need to make your vegetables stretch a long way, and feed more people than they usually would. Even so, it's still so delicious that it doesn't matter if it's not high gourmet food. It's comforting, filling, and warms you up from the inside out (and I speak literally; it's the perfect winter soup!) from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.