Soup taught me to cook: how to combine ingredients, calibrate seasonings and troubleshoot along the way. I made my first soups as a twenty-year-old vegetarian on a student budget. Simmering pots of liquid wonders were always on my white electric stove top as I read thick texts of mind-twisting Buddhist philosophy or endlessly copied vertical lines of Chinese characters.
Soup kept me going. I was either hungrily looking forward to my next bowl or lulled into sated fullness, sopping up the last drops with a piece of spongy bread. There was always some potage-in-progress on the stove top – or getting even better in the fridge, abiding by soup’s cardinal rule: Today’s soup always tastes better tomorrow.
To this day, some of my happiest hours are spent nurturing soups. First that frenzy of washing, draining, rinsing and mad chopping. Then, a whoosh of diced onions, carrots and celery slides off the cutting board hitting the hot oil with a sizzle. Wafts of flavor emanate from the pan, tickling and teasing, upping the suspense.
Who’s next? Shall it be potatoes and cauliflower, or beans and pasta, or a symphony of greens? Will I keep it chunky or search for a velvety, soft puree? Will the broccoli be done if I put it in near the end or do I let it disintegrate into a mysterious mélange? When does the cheese go in? Is there enough salt? Have I remembered to remove the bay leaf?
There is only one answer to all of this. Again and again, I dip my spoon in and taste-test, waiting for all the flavours to meld into a perfect harmony. Then I stop tinkering and call it a soupe du jour.
These December days in Toronto call out loudly for soup. Luckily, huge, gnarly balls of celeriac sit in piles in produce stores, ready to make it a magical equation.
My friend Randy recently sent me a text, looking for advice on this oddity.
“What should I know?” he asked.
“Acidulated water,” I replied, withholding the secret of soup.
Randy was taking a big honking celeriac and turning it into latkes. But he worried that all that lemony-water-soaking would make for mushy pancakes, so he raced through the grating portion of his project, forgoing the acidulation step to rush right into frying, creating crisp celeriac latkes with more pizzazz than your average spud can ever deliver.
But back to soup and that secret. Celeriac (also known as celery root) will never disappoint a soup. It adds a je ne sais quoi, a layering of flavor, piquant notes and an aroma like no other. Simply paired with leek and potatoes, celeriac will make one of the most luscious creations you have ever dunked a soup spoon into.
There’s one catch. Before there’s soup, you have to deal with celeriac’s dreadful countenance: a twisty-turny knotted skin with dirt dug deep into the crevices. Pshaw to those who say “vegetable peeler”. Get out your sharpest chef’s knife and slice your celery root in half, place the cut portion on a board for stability and slice off all the offending skin in huge chunks to reveal a white, pristine core that is wont to brown the second it’s exposed to air.
That’s where a little squeeze of lemon juice in a big bowl of cold water comes in handy. Toss your celeriac dice in there and save the whiteness as you prep the rest of the soup.
And if there’s any root leftover, grate it up fast with a couple of carrots and toss with Dijon mustard, a handful of parsley, a dash of vinegar and a dollop of mayonnaise to create a quick and cheerful rimoulade salad that will make you go ooh la la all over again.
Creamy Carrot and Celeriac Soup
Celeriac thickens a soup like potatoes without tipping the GI Index scales. I like to garnish this soup with a splash of cilantro chili oil.
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 leek, sliced
- 1 tbsp finely grated ginger
- ½ celeriac, diced
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 tbsp honey
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat oil in a large pot at medium-high until hot add leek and ginger and cook, stirring for two minutes or until fragrant and soft. Add celeriac, carrots, ground coriander and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft and breaking down. Use an immersion blender to puree. Add honey and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of cilantro chili oil (below).
Cilantro Chili Oil
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 fresh green chilies, sliced lengthwise and seeded
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Pinch sea salt
Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add chilies and garlic. Take off heat and allow to cool. In a blender or food processor blitz oil, chilies, garlic, fresh coriander and salt until smooth and satiny. Store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a week.