Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Velvety Vegetable Soup with Crispy Fried Shallots & Smoked Paprkia Pepitas

I boasted in last week's post about the glorious summery and salad-inducing weather we're having here in Sydney... but today all I wanted was a warm, veggie-packed soup.  My officemate has been working from home the past couple of days so as not to pass on her cold, but I felt it coming on this afternoon.  I popped some extra vitamin C, but knew I had to hit this thing full force to keep it at bay.  On the way home I trawled the produce aisles and loaded up on fresh cauliflower, carrots (orange and purple), sweet potato, ginger, garlic, and shallots.  I then went a little crazy with the blender and created a soup hearty enough for dinner for me and the hubs (adding some rotisserie chicken to his for extra protein).  He loved it, I loved it, my immune system and sinuses really loved it.
Southern Spoon Blog: Velvety vegetable soup with crispy fried shallots and smoked paprika pepitas
velvety vegetable soup topped with smoked paprika pepitas & crispy fried shallots

This soup is velvety smooth; it's lactose- and gluten-free.  (Not vegetarian as I used chicken broth, but you can easily sub vegetable broth if you'd like).  The soup itself has only a trace of fat, so I added some pan-warmed pepitas, and topped it with crispy fried shallots.  Yes.  Vegetable soup topped with onion rings.  Inspired by the fried shallots on this delicious-looking salad over at The First Mess.  Once the shallots are stirred into the soup, they lose a little of their crispy-ness, but they still taste delicious.

The flavor of this soup is not for the faint of heart.  Raw garlic and ginger give it a serious kick (like I may have to take my toothbrush and mouthwash to work tomorrow to use after I eat the leftovers for lunch).  But hey, go hard or go home, right?  Hope you enjoy this as much as we did.  

Velvety Vegetable Soup with Crispy Fried Shallots & Smoked Paprika Pepitas
5 hearty servings

1 large sweet potato, washed
1 head cauliflower, washed, with base of stem and leaves removed
2 1/2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided (or vegetable broth)
3 large carrots, washed, peeled, with ends removed (I used 2 orange and 1 purple)
3 cloves garlic, skins removed
1- to 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, skin sliced off (to taste: more is better!)
1 cup water
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons flour (all purpose, or gluten-free)
rice bran or grapeseed oil (amount will depend on size of pot for frying, you'll need the oil to be about an inch deep)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
(Optional: 2 cups of rotisserie chicken, shredded)

Prick the sweet potato a few times over with a fork, and chop in half (not lengthwise, but into two smaller whole chunks of sweet potato).  Place the two pieces on a plate, and microwave until tender to squeeze, but not completely mushy.  (Timing will depend on your microwave.  I microwaved mine for 7 minutes on high heat, then turned them over, and microwaved for 3 more minutes at high heat.  You may also roast the potato in an oven at 400F/204C for about 40-50 minutes).  Remove the sweet potato halves from the microwave.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before carefully removing the skin with a fork and knife.  Chop into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Pour 2 cups of chicken broth into a large pot and bring to a low boil.  Break off all of the cauliflower florets and chop each floret into halves or thirds. Place the chopped cauliflower into the pot of broth once the broth starts boiling.  Immediately turn the heat down to medium so it's just simmering, and cover.  Let the cauliflower simmer for about 6-7 minutes, until still crisp-tender when cut with a sharp knife.  Remove from heat.

While the cauliflower is simmering, grate the carrots through the large-sized holes of a grater onto a large chopping board.  Grate the garlic cloves and the ginger (also through the large holes of the grater), adding them to the pile of carrots.  Throw the grated carrots, garlic, and ginger into a blender with one cup of water.  Pulse blend, for a few seconds with each pulse, to get things moving around, then blend on high speed for 5-10 seconds, until only very fine chunks remain.  Add the cooked, tender sweet potato chunks and 1/2 cup chicken broth.  Blend at high speed about 5 seconds to incorporate evenly into the carrot mixture.  Pour the carrot-sweet potato mixture out of the blender and into a large bowl.

Using a large measuring cup (or a coffee mug), scoop up about one third of the cooked cauliflower and chicken broth from the pot and carefully pour into the blender.  The mixture will be steamy since it's hot, so remove the plastic center of your blender top and cover the gap with a tea towel (not a white one!  Might get stained from the colorful veggies).  Pulse a few times, then blend on high speed for 5-10 seconds, until velvety smooth.  

Open the blender and pour about one third of the pureed carrot-sweet potato mixture on top of the blended cauliflower.  Sprinkle a very small pinch of freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper into the blender, then replace the blender top (and tea towel).  Blend at high speed for about 5 seconds, until the cauliflower and carrot mixtures are well combined (you might have to stop the blender, remove the top, and stir carefully with a spatula to help the two veggie mixtures incorporate evenly).  Pour this blended cauliflower-carrot mixture into another large bowl.  Repeat the blending of the cauliflower, adding the carrot mixture (and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper), and incorporating the two veggie mixtures together two more times, until you have completely blended the cauliflower and carrot mixtures. 

Pour all of the incorporated mixtures back into the big soup pot, give it a big stir.  If you want a slightly thinner soup (it will be thick!), stir in another 1/2 cup of chicken broth.  Cover the soup and keep warm over medium-low heat while you make the crispy fried shallots and paprika pepitas. 

To make the fried shallots: Peel the shallot and slice it finely into little rings.  Separate the rings, and dredge in the flour, shaking off excess flour and placing the floured shallot rings aside. Fill a medium-sized pot with oil so that the oil is at least one inch deep.  Heat the oil carefully over high heat.  Toss in a dredged onion piece-- if it simmers for a few seconds and begins to lightly brown after 6 to 8 seconds, it's hot enough.  If it browns more quickly than that, turn the heat down slightly.  

Carefully toss a few dredged shallot rings at a time into the hot oil, stirring them around so they fry evenly.  Remove carefully with a fork when lightly browned (after 6 to 8 seconds), and place on a few layers of paper towel.  Repeat with remaining shallots, watching carefully that the oil doesn't get too hot and begin to burn the shallots.  When all the shallots are fried and resting on the paper towels, turn off the heat and remove the pot of oil from the heat. Sprinkle a little freshly-ground sea salt over the shallot rings, set aside.

To make the smoked paprika pepitas: Safely discard the frying oil, and use a paper towel to wipe out any remaining flour residue.  Return the pot to the heat source, and quickly add 1/3 cup pepitas.  (The heat is turned off, but will still be quite warm from frying the shallots if you have an electric stove.  If you are lucky and have a gas stove, turn the gas onto very low heat).  Shake the pepitas around in the pot a few times until the first couple begin to pop as they heat up.  Sprinkle the smoked paprika over the pepitas and shake them around in the pan to coat, continuing to warm them over the heat for about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  

Carefully stir the soup, then ladle into bowls.  (If desired, pour the soup over a little warmed and shredded rotisserie chicken).  Top each soup serving with a sprinkle of the smoked paprika pepitas and a few of the crispy fried shallots. Serve immediately.