Parsnips are so evocative of the autumn and winter seasons: that fragrant, slightly woody aroma that simply bursts at you even as you begin to peel them. My late dad loved roasted parsnips and they were always on the menu for Christmas dinner, soft in the middle with slightly caramelised edges that heightened the natural sweetness in them. I often roast them at other times, sometimes with carrots, swedes or other winter vegetables to go with a roast meal. And they make a great soup. I used to make a curried parsnip soup a lot years ago, but in the way we tend to have phases of cooking certain things, I haven’t done that for years. When I saw the parsnips on the supermarket shelves this morning, I thought – soup! But didn’t actually think, curried soup. However, once I got cooking I decided to add just a hint of curry. I’d also bought some coconut oil while I was out, after my dentist (Marc Mortiboys who takes a wonderfully alternative approach to dentistry) telling me about the health benefits of coconut oil. Reading on the label that you could cook with it, that it was perfect for Asian dishes and tolerated high temperatures well, I decided on the spur of the moment to add a little of that too for, after all, curry + coconut = classic!
I peeled and chopped 500g parsnips. I finely chopped 1 small onion and gently fried it in a little light oil till beginning to soften (I used light olive oil – extra virgin would be too rich – or you could use rape or sunflower oil). Meanwhile, I took some of my homemade chicken stock cubes from the freezer and got them thawing and heating. I added just under half a teaspoon of curry powder to the onion (not quite enough in the end, I thought, as the coconut overpowered it a bit so next time, maybe I’d add a level teaspoon). Then I added a crushed small clove of garlic and the pieces of parsnip.
I continued to gently cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips was turning a pale golden colour and softening a little – but don’t let them brown. The gentle cooking is just to enhance the final flavour. It was then I spied the coconut oil I’d bought and thought, Let’s add some of that. It was hard and white in its jar. The shop said they keep it in the fridge to keep it solid but if you leave it out, then it will become liquid. It smelt strongly of coconut so I judged about a teaspoon would be right.
Once the parsnips were a nice light golden brown I added the hot stock. It was just enough to cover the vegetables. I checked seasoning (remember: how salty is your stock?) and then left it to simmer for about 20 minutes until the parsnip was tender when pierced with a fork.
I then blended it till smooth with my hand blender. It was very thick – almost a puree – so I loosened it by adding some milk for a creamy effect. But you could just as easily add more stock or even some hot water, if you prefer. Leave the consistency quite thick though. There are certain soups that should be thick, not thin, and parsnip is one of them. Check seasoning again before serving, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
I served it with a little Greek yogurt in the middle and some parsley sprinkled over. It was a gorgeous, warming soup; perfect for a dull wintry day. The texture was silky smooth; the taste a deep, sweet earthiness with the hint of curry and coconut lifting it into something just a bit more special. This made two healthy portions – so there’s some left over for tomorrow’s lunch!