Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I envy those of you buried under a foot of snow; I doubt you feel like you're in an enviable position but, there's something unnatural about the weather here: 80 degrees in January. Even in Dubai, it wasn't that hot at the beginning of the year.
Out of solidarity with you or stubborn rebellion against the LA weather gods (not sure which!), I can't help piling my grocery basket up with root veggies: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots. Perhaps it's the colour. I was going through my closet the other day and I realised that most of my clothes are either yellow, orange, red or black. Not so much of the blue or green. What can I say? I'm a fire sign.
Speaking of sweet potatoes, Bren reminded me of this clip:
Aaaaghghghgghghghgh! You're welcome!
Anyway, I decided to make an old cooking school staple, butternut squash and sweet potato soup. But, I wanted to add something else to the soup recipe, put a little trademark aarti in there. While at Elat Market, I spied a jar of amba, a tangy pickled mango sauce that my friend Yorron had introduced me to when we were shopping for Burning Man. He is such an inspiration to me because that man was not afraid to try anything. I still remember how he made spinach with mangos and prickly pears!
According to Wiki, amba comes from the Iraqi Jews, who brought it to Israel, but the name sounds suspiciously like "aam", which is how we say mango in Hindi. In fact, we grew up on unbelievably good mango pickle that my grandmother makes from unripe green (aka "raw") mangos. So I don't know whether the Iraqis got it from the Indians (do mangos grow in Iraq?!), or vice versa, or whether the Indian Jews took it with them to Israel as well... who knows?
Whatever the case, this Israeli version is delicious: tangy, spicy in that way that tingles the roof of your mouth but doesn't make you run for a glass of water, slightly sweet... it's apparently drizzled over falafel and sabikh sandwiches, sometimes made fresh on the premises. This jar didn't have any chunks of mango in it though, which disappointed me. I'll have to try another brand.
It's hardly a surpise that I like amba; it it made from mangoes, turmeric and fenugreek. And you already know about my obsession with fenugreek. I decided to be brave and add it to the butternut squash, and it's a tasty, if not a slightly assertive combination. Be sure to add the pecans. They temper the sour stream of flavour that the amba adds.
Bren thought that this would make a good first course soup, rather than a main course. He said this as he ate three helpings of it.
I love this soup. I place myself in your shoes, shoveling pounds of snow, shaking your head at how your nose hairs have frozen together. Even in the empty abyss of a grey day, you can take some visual, nasal and oral comfort in a pot of bright, mustard-yellow coloured soup. Add some toasted pecans for a hint of Thanksgiving and fireplaces, and voila, your nose hairs are emancipated, your insides melted and your spirit in a state of song... which is appropriate because Yorron means "he who sings of joy" in Hebrew.
I found amba at the Jewish/Middle Eastern market. If you can't find it there, you can order it off Kalustyans.
This one's for you, Yorron!
Yorron's Soul-Singer Soup: Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato and Pickled Mango Soup with Pecans
You'll need this stuff:
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
2lbs butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 medium or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups vegetable stock
5 cups water
2 bay leaves
6-7 tablespoons amba
Handful pecans, toasted in a pan over a low flame
1) Heat some olive oil in a big soup pot over a medium flame. Add onions, season with some salt and saute for a minute or so.
2) Add the carrots and garlic. Saute for another couple of minutes, and add the squash, sweet potato, stock, water and bay leaves. Season with some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down until the soup is simmering, throw a lid on it and cook for 45 minutes.
3) Check the veggies after 45 minutes. If they're nice and soft, they're ready to go. If a knife doesn't go through 'em like butter, then let them boil for another 10 minutes. That way, your soup will be nice and smooth.
4) Remove soup from heat. DON'T FORGET (as I often do!) to pull the bay leaves out! Hold down the lid with a dish towel, and blend the soup in batches until smooth, either with your trusty counter-top blender, or if you're fancy, your immersion blender. If you have the latter, lock it up buddy, or else I'm stealing it from you.
5) Return the blended soup to the pot. Stir in amba. Taste and season accordingly. Serve with a few pecans on top.