It’s a mid-winter afternoon. The skies are heavy with bruised purple clouds, the light low and dark. I’m in the kitchen, sock-clad and lights on. The oven is heating and the room is warm; it smells of spices and roasting and comfort. The kids are sleeping and I’m listening to Philip Glass soft in the background. The bench is covered in peel and peppercorns and all kinds of mess. I’m cooking soup.
Soup is the ultimate comfort food. And spending time in front of a hot stove on a cold day is one of life’s pleasures. Soon after we moved to Brisbane we bought a big red Le Creuset pot. Over time it has become marked with use; scarred, if you will. No longer one of many exactly the same, but uniquely ours. There is something timeless about cooking a pot of soup in the Le Creuset, a sense of connecting to a long line of women cooking soup in big pots. My friend Nev describes it as a harking; “Le creuset is of a historical period, steeped in tradition and pretend memories.”
The most nostalgic soup for me is still chicken soup. Most every Friday my mum would cook up a big pot of chicken soup. We’d eat it in our small blue-and-white bowls, clear broth only with a carrot each (two for my little brother). To this day, the only time I ever cook meat is to make chicken soup for S when he is sick. My mum’s recipe – Jew styles.
These days though I tend to go with vege soups. Minestrone, lemon & lentil soup, miso. I like my soups thick, almost stew-like. Of course the choice of bowl depends on the kind of soup. When we’re eating something brothy I use the round red bowls that we bought in China town years ago. When we’re eating thick soup we use the deep brown ceramic bowls we got at The Channon market a few years back. And when we’re eating soup with extras, it’s the shallow bowls which leave lots of space to pile up the toppings.
Soup toppings are my new favourite thing. I got the idea from Green Kitchen Stories, and it really is the best way to turn soup into a filling winter meal. I riffed off Green Kitchen Stories’ topping to go with crispy lentils this time around, but you could go in so many directions – chickpeas, quinoa, sunflower seeds.
And now let’s talk about this Roasted Sweet Potato & Turmeric Soup. It is sweet and earthy and spicy all at once (although go easy on the cayenne if you’re serving the soup to littlies). It hits all kinds of spots. The crispy lentils add a real kick and if you’re not vegan I heartily recommend a generous dollop of greek yoghurt. Roasting the sweet potato first isn’t absolutely necessary but it does add a depth of flavour. Full of anti-inflammatories, this soup is also a kickass way to keep the winter colds at bay.
Roasted Sweet Potato & Turmeric Soup with Crispy Lentils
1.2kg sweet potato
45 grams fresh turmeric root
45 grams fresh ginger root
2 large carrots
2 pink onions
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cayenne pepper
400ml (one can) coconut milk
4 – 5 cups vegetable stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, to cook
1 cup puy lentils
2 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp brown rice syrup or honey
To serve (optional)
Red chilli flakes
Pre-heat oven to 200°c/400°f. Peel the sweet potato and cut into large chunks. Do the same with the carrot (although no need to peel) and arrange the whole lot in a single layer on a baking tray greased with a splash of olive oil. Roast for 35 – 45 mins., or until the veges are tender through and starting to caramelise on the bottom. (Leave the oven on – you’ll be using it for the crispy lentils soon.)
While the veges are roasting, cook the lentils. Pop them into a pot along with 3 cups of cold water, and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
In the meantime, dice the onion. Peel the turmeric and ginger, and finely dice or grate.
Heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high heat, and add the onions. Cook onions until soft and translucent, then add the ginger and turmeric. Cook for a further 2 -3 minutes, then add the cinnamon, cloves and cayenne pepper. Stir to coat, then throw in the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Add 4 cups of the stock and bring to the boil again, then lower to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for approx. 20 mins.
Leave the soup to cool slightly, then blend, either in batches in a regular blender or in the pot using an immersion blender. At this point check the soup and if it’s a little too thick go ahead and add the extra cup of stock.
While the soup is cooking on the stove, time to crisp the lentils. In a bowl combine the cooked lentils with the olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne and honey/brown rice syrup. Spread in a single layer onto a tray lined with baking paper and bake for 25 – 30 minutes (tossing halfway through), until the lentils are crispy.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with generous spoons of the lentils. If using, add yoghurt and/or red chilli flakes and/or finely chopped parsley.
Serves: 6 – 8
Notes: this soup will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days and is easily re-heated in a pot with a splash of extra water. The lentils will also keep for up to 5 days, on the bench in a sealed container.
Notes on stock: homemade vege stock is the bomb! It is incredibly easy to make, tastier than the store bought stuff, and comes without any icky additives. We usually make a big pot of stock and then freeze it in different-sized containers to use over the next couple of months. You can find plenty of stock recipes online.