Soup makes me a happy girl. I write this as I sit outside on our patio with the sun shining high in the sky. It is a gorgeous day, but there is a change in the air and a new tint to the light. Autumn is arriving in all of its glory and all I can think about is all the fabulous soups I will be preparing during the next few months. Now, before you start thinking, “she must be pure mad”, hear me out. Soup is good for the soul. And, Irish soup in particular makes for good measure.
There is a wildly popular book series in America entitled “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. They are books filled with heartwarming, inspirational personal stories submitted by people from around the world. When the author was deciding on the title for the first book, he kept thinking about how his grandmother’s chicken soup always made him feel good and he remembered how she told him it could cure anything. He wanted his books to have the same healing powers as that soup, but not for the body—for the soul.
This same “soup for the soul” theory made it’s way into a conversation over dinner with a group of Irish girlfriends in a Dublin restaurant one evening. It had been lashing rain for about three weeks straight and I had enough of it. I asked the girls, “How do you do it? Have you ever thought of moving away because of the horrendous weather?” The response was a resounding, NO. Then, one girl in particular told me that she actually loves the rain and cold. Seriously, she used the word LOVE with extreme emphasis. I could not believe my ears. She went on to say that the rain is very comforting to her and it makes her feel secure. She then elaborated by telling me childhood stories of endless rainy days and being all warm and cosy in her home with her family sitting around a turf fire and sipping hot vegetable soup together. She even went out on a limb and said that the rain created a sort of “blanket of love” for them. While it didn’t change my attitude toward all the rainy gray days here, I thought it was a very beautiful and positive way to look at it. Her memories were just the type of narrative that could be included in any “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book. Needless to say, when the server came round’ to take our order, we had all decided on the parsnip and apple soup to start.
So here we go, soup season is about to begin and it is one of my absolute favourite things about Ireland. Far different than our thin, brothy based soups in America, most Irish soups are velvety, creamy goodness. Simple, but brimming with flavour and nutrients: leek and potato, farmhouse vegetable, wild mushroom, seafood chowder… even nettle soup is delicious. Long ago the Irish cleverly figured out that if you simply sauté any vegetable or protein, boil it in a nice stock, puree and add a touch of cream, you’ve created a masterpiece. While I will always love a good Matzo ball soup from a NY deli, a crock of spicy Cincinnati-style chili or my own grandmother’s homemade chicken noodle soup–Irish soups and chowders have completely won me over.
Body and soul.
Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup
2 Tbsp Butter
1 lb/500 g Parsnips, thinly sliced
1 lb/500 g Apples (green Bramley or Granny Smith) peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 onion, minced
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 cups/1 litre chicken stock
salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
2 tsp chopped fresh chives
Melt butter over medium heat in a large pot, then add parsnips, apple and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften but don’t brown, 4-5 minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, coriander and garlic. Stir well and cook for about 1 minute more.
Reduce the heat to low. Add chicken stock, stir well, cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes or until parsnips and apples are very soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remove soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in a food processor or blender. Return to pot and whisk in cream. Serve garnished with chives. (this soup is also very good served cold)
As published in Irish Country Living 9.9.10
Photo by Imen McDonnell, assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell
Recipe from “The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews