Winter Root Soup

Winter Root Soup at www.culinarycousins.com

The Polar Vortex, Part Deux, is still hanging around town. We’re not alone in that, I realize, but this time it brought us the dreaded S word … snow. I’m sure you saw how our “measly” two inches debilitated us.

{Let me go off on a tiny rampage for a second. This week I read some disturbing stuff on Facebook and around social media: those snow aficionados (see, I didn’t say Yankees) scoffing and making fun of us in our “snowpocalypse” crisis. It’s no laughing matter. Not to Atlanta. Nor Charleston. Definitely not to Charlotte. It snows here once every 2-3 years, and we have like four brine trucks to service 100 square miles on 12 hours notice. And our snow isn’t pretty and fluffy and magical and fun. It’s mostly pellets of ice on top of a layer of ice, and we don’t know how to drive on it. So, yes, I run home like every other smart southerner, by way of the grocery store with requisite bread and milk tucked under my arm, as soon as that first flake falls. I’d much rather be snuggled warm and safe in my house than waiting outside at the elevated subway on my way to work in a blizzard, as I did in my former life. It’s no badge of honor.}

So, anyway. It’s cold. And last Sunday, it was 60 degrees. I’m not sick (yet), but everyone around me seems to be.

This week I remembered something my cousin Krista used to cook years ago, called root soup. She’d learned from a very reputable source — a Puerto Rican mother, I believe — that root soup is an elixir. There’s something medicinal about boiling the goodness out of an array of root vegetables. (If she’s reading this, maybe she’ll fill in the story in the comments!) Lately, I’ve been making advance plans with one thought in mind: I really want to go to that; I hope I don’t get sick. I’ve spent the past few weeks alternately guzzling orange juice, zinc pills, echinacea tea. Then, root soup. And … so far, so good.

Step one in making root soup took me to the grocery, where I had a pretty hilarious encounter at checkout trying to identify my purchases. Over at the vegetable section, I just sort of grabbed any root vegetable I’d ever remotely heard of and shoved them in a plastic bag. My cashier was young, so she wasn’t well versed either. She’d hold up something and I’d cock my head, shrug and say, “Rutabaga?” And she’d nod, spin her vegetable code chart, click some buttons and move on. By process of elimination, I think we got everything right.

Yes, I’d never bought a rutabaga before. Nor a celery root, turnips, parsnips. It was an adventure in winter vegetables.

Soup is pretty much the easiest thing you can make, but I was worried that a bunch of starchy vegetables boiled in water would be fairly flavorless and boring. But, oh. Root soup is magical. I added a fair amount of aromatics, like garlic and rosemary. But I think it really got special when I added dried ancho chile and a rind of parmesan. What, you say? Yes, a rind of parmesan. That nub that you’d probably throw away after you grated everything edible. Giada doesn’t lie — it gives the most interesting silky, salty flavor. And the chile provides the tiniest essence of bite. But the vegetables still shine.

Root soup is so hearty and filling but decently good for you too. And it’s customizable — add any root vegetable you can find or that you like. Use the ones I did, or add others: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, yuca, taro, onions, Jerusalem artichokes.

When you feel a sniffle coming, or you just want to feel warm and cozy, you have to try this. Root soup cures all!

Winter Root Soup at www.culinarycousins.com

Root Soup

  • 2 leeks, rinsed well
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2-4 carrots
  • 2-4 parsnips
  • 1 bunch baby turnips (approximately 4)
  • 1 celery root
  • 1/2 rutabaga
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 8 cups water
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 dried red ancho chile, with or without seeds
  • 1 parmesan rind
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

To prepare the vegetables, dice the leeks, celery and garlic. Peel and dice the carrots and parsnips. Remove the greens from the turnips and set those aside for later. Peel and dice the turnips. Slice the thick rind off the celery root and rutabaga, and cut into 1-inch cubes. I only used half the rutabaga, but feel free to add all of it if you like.

Winter Root Soup | CulinaryCousins.com

Saute the leeks, celery and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 3 minutes, until softened. Add the bay leaf and rosemary, and continue cooking for one more minute. Add all the vegetables, salt and pepper. Drop in the chile and parmesan rind. Cover with water and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.

Winter Root Soup | CulinaryCousins.com

Simmer uncovered on medium low for 30 to 45 minutes. Add more water if it gets low.

When there’s 10 minutes left, chop the turnip greens and add them to the soup to wilt gently.

At this point, you can choose your own adventure. First, remove the bay leaf, chile and parmesan rind. Then:

Option 1: Just ladle the soup into bowls and enjoy – aka “Chunky au naturale” (My selection!)
Option 2: Add 1/2 cup heavy cream, ladle into bowls and enjoy – aka “Creamy chunky
Option 3: Add or don’t add the cream, but use a potato masher or fork to smush the vegetables a bit – aka “Hearty
Option 4: Don’t add the cream, but puree the soup with an immersion or regular blender – aka “Smooth au naturale
Option 5: Add the cream and puree the soup – aka “Creamy silky

To each his own, as they say.

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