Eric Akis: Hearty curried-vegetable soup offers a serving of comfort

Eric Akis

The cold spell made me think a hearty, nicely spiced soup would be the perfect recipe for today — something comforting and rib-sticking that one could enjoy on a snowy day, or a damp and rainy one.

So I cooked up a vegetarian soup stocked with a mix of vegetables and chickpeas and flavoured with curry powder and other good things. It’s a wonderfully aromatic creation that’s kind of like mulligatawny soup, minus the chicken.

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First, shallots, carrots, celery and bell pepper are sautéed, then the curry powder is added, along with ginger, garlic and a bit of flour to lightly thicken the soup. Those ingredients are cooked a short while, then vegetable stock, coconut milk and canned chickpeas go into the pot and the soup is simmered.

The next step is to stir in some small cauliflower florets, which when cooked make the soup denser and almost stew-like — something you could serve as a main course for lunch or dinner with Indian-style bread.

The latter could be store-bought naan or pita bread, or bread you make at home, such as chapatis, which I’ve also included a recipe for. It’s a three-ingredient, unleavened flatbread that’s perfect to dunk in curry-spiced creations like this soup.

The soup recipe serves four and the bread recipe yields 10 chapatis. If that’s too many, the leftovers could be frozen, to heat and enjoy the next time you fancy this style of comfort food.

Curried Vegetable Chickpea Soup

A vegetarian, aromatic, hearty and filling curry-powder-spiced soup stocked with a mix of vegetables and nutritious chickpeas. Serve with store-bought naan or pita bread, or homemade chapatis (see recipe below).

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 30 minutes

Makes: Four servings

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium shallot, diced (cut into 1/4-inch cubes)

1 small to medium carrot, diced

1 medium rib celery, diced

1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp finely grated, peeled fresh ginger

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp mild or medium curry powder

3 cups vegetable stock (divided; see Options)

1 (400 mL) can coconut milk

1 14 oz./398 mL can chickpeas, drained well

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp honey

24 small, about 1-inch-long cauliflower florets

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or thinly sliced green onion

• salt to taste

Pour oil into a medium to large pot set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the shallots, carrot, celery and bell pepper and cook until tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, flour and curry powder and cook and stir one minute more.

Slowly pour in 1/2 cup of the stock. When mixture is very thick, slowly mix in remaining 2 1/2 cups of stock. Now add the coconut milk, chickpeas, juice and honey to the pot. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer, reducing the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface).

Simmer soup 10 minutes. Mix in the cauliflower, return soup to a simmer and cook eight minutes more, or until cauliflower is quite tender. Taste the soup and season with salt, as needed. Mix in the cilantro (or sliced green onion) and it’s ready to serve.

Eric’s options: If you’re not vegetarian you could use chicken stock in this recipe. For an even more filling soup, set half a cup or so of hot cooked rice into the bowls before ladling in the soup. For added richness, top the soup with some toasted, sliced almonds, to taste. If you eat dairy, you could top bowls of the soup with a dollop of thick yogurt.

Chapatis

A three-ingredient, skillet-cooked, Indian-style bread that you can serve with the vegetable chickpea soup and other curry-powder-spiced dishes.

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus resting time

Cooking time: three to four minutes, per batch of chapatis

Makes: 10 chapatis

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and rolling

1 tsp salt

3/4 cup lukewarm water

• vegetable oil

Combine the 1 3/4 cups flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the water into it. Use a spatula to mix the two together until dough forms.

Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough onto it. Lightly flour your hands, and then knead the dough until smooth, at least five minutes. During this process, sprinkle a little more flour on the work surface and dough if it’s sticking to your hands. When kneaded, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for one hour.

When dough has rested, cut it into 10 roughly equal pieces. With lightly floured hands, roll each piece into a ball.

Set one of the balls on a lightly floured work surface and press flat. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the flattened ball into a six-inch round, sprinkling it with a little more flour, as needed. Set the round on a clean work surface and cover with a tea towel.

Flatten and roll the other balls of dough this way and set them beside the first one, not touching and covered with a tea towel.

To cook the chapatis, set a large heavy skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Very lightly brush and grease the bottom of the skillet (or griddle) with vegetable oil. When pan is hot, set one or more, depending on the size of your skillet, of the chapatis in it. Cook the chapati until its underside becomes deep golden brown in few spots, about 60 to 90 seconds. Turn the chapati over and cook until the other side becomes deep golden brown in spots, about 60 to 90 seconds. Turn the chapati over again and cook another minute or so, or until cooked through. Cook the remaining chapatis as you did the first one. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Eric’s options: You can make the chapatis many hours before serving them. Once they’ve cooled to room temperature, store in a plastic bag or sealed container until needed. If you want to serve the chapatis warm, wrap them in foil and warm in 300 F oven 10 minutes. Any chapatis you don’t eat now could be frozen for another time.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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