A warm bowl of soup is good for battling illness or festive overindulgence
The late writer Nora Ephron's motto, "everything is copy", is so spot on in many ways, especially for people with regular deadlines.
I have a slightly different mantra, one that works just as well - "everything is inspiration".
Ideas for recipes have come from meals I have had here and while travelling, books I read, television programmes I watch, conversations I have with friends and strolls through markets and supermarkets for produce that catch my eye.
This week's recipe comes courtesy of food poisoning.
One of the hazards of eating for a living is that sooner or later, you get felled by something bad you ate. This happens to me a handful of times each year. The big irony is that I have never become ill from hawker or street food. It is usually food in restaurants that look spick and span that takes me down.
Last year, food poisoning hit me four times. Three of them happened in a space of two months, leaving me reeling and suspicious of everything I ate.
I have made it through most of this year unscathed, barring one incident at a work lunch, but recently, I was hit again.
At the doctor's, I ask if I can have dry toast, the only thing I feel I can stomach. My doctor suggests congee, which would be easier on the stomach being, as he calls it, "pre-digested".
That puts me off so badly that I go ahead and have my dry toast. Out it comes, promptly.
But I get lucky. From a food delivery service, I order in some carrot and coriander soup. It is creamy without dairy products, which are what you have to avoid if you have food poisoning. Best of all, I do not feel like throwing up afterwards. I drink it for days.
It is not a fancy soup, but I love its clean flavour. Sometimes, we tart our food up with spices, herbs and other unnecessary flourishes, when we should just enjoy the natural flavour of the main ingredient.
Don't get me wrong. There are times when discovering layers of flavours in a dish is thrilling, but there are also times when simple is enough.
Of course, with many things I like, I find out later that the soup will be a little harder to get, as it makes way for new menu offerings. So I decide to make my own version of it.
The ingredients are simple - carrots, leeks, coriander and stock.
Homemade stock is best, of course, but it is difficult to fathom making it when ill, so storebought will have to do. It is important to pick one that is low in sodium because the regular-strength ones are unpleasantly salty.
The soup can easily be made vegan by using vegetable broth. If fearless, simply use water. Or use half stock and half water.
Now you can, of course, splurge on organic carrots or hunt down fat ones from China, available only this time of year. I just use the supermarket variety and they taste fine. Leeks add sweetness and fresh coriander gives pep.
There are people who cannot stand the flavour of coriander, and I get it. I hated it as a child and began to appreciate the herb only in my teens.
A good alternative is ginger, which has the added bonus of soothing agitated bellies. Grate the ginger and squeeze the juice from it, and when the soup has been pureed, add to taste.
The recipe makes 1.8 litres of soup, which you can pack into containers and freeze.
Defrost when you need a simple meal to counteract the elaborate food and drink during the festive season.
My batches of soup have not made it into the freezer - I am battling a cold now and it is, again, just what I need.
CARROT AND CORIANDER SOUP
- 2 leeks, about 500g
- 1kg carrots
- 2 Tbs cooking oil
- 1 litre low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock, or water
- 25g fresh coriander sprigs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh coriander leaves for garnish (optional)
1. Trim and discard the dark green parts of the leek. Slice and discard the root end. Peel and discard the first layer of the trimmed leeks. Check that there is no grit or sand hiding in between the layers of leek. If there is, wash it off and pat dry with paper towels. Slice the leeks thinly and set aside in a colander.
2. Rinse the carrots and pat dry. Slice the top end, peel the carrots and cut crosswise into 3 to 4cm chunks.
3. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat, add the leeks and stir until wilted and fragrant, for about two minutes. Add the carrots and stir-fry for one to two minutes.
4. Add the stock or water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and let cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until you can pierce through a thick chunk of carrot easily with a sharp knife.
5. Chop and discard the coriander roots and cut the rest crosswise into 3 to 4cm lengths.
6. If you have an immersion blender, add the coriander to the soup pot and use the blender to puree the soup. If you do not, process the coriander and carrot soup in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Do this in two or more batches, depending on how large the appliances are.
7. Pour the soup into a clean saucepan set over low heat. Stir to mix well. If the soup is too thick, add enough hot water so that it is the consistency you like. Taste and add salt if needed, and pepper to taste. The recipe makes 1.8 litres of soup. Ladle into bowls, top with coriander leaves if using, and serve with bread.
Serves four as a main meal and six as a starter
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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