Let’s be honest. You don’t ever have a dedicated ‘soup season’ when you live in a place like Chennai. Unless they’re of the chilled variety of course. Those we can do anytime of the year. But come October, when the weather turns and the rains set in, it’s the best time as any to get stuck into that soup vibe.
These ‘cold weather’ soups are more substantial than the ones I make the rest of the year. Pumpkin, beets, carrots, red peppers, leeks and potatoes take precedence over cucumbers and white gourds. Although I use most of these vegetables all year round, the way I treat them changes considerably: in the summer the soups are lighter in taste and texture. Beets for example get blended with buttermilk; and cucumbers with lightly sautéed onions and garlic. Come winter, I roast the vegetables in the oven, often with whole spices, and serve them thicker. Substantial enough to make a meal of it with some bread to dunk into.
I like to use cherry tomatoes here when I can find them. If not, regular tomatoes or a combination of the two will work just fine. The important thing is to get them nice and blistered in the oven. Red peppers go in too, along with onions, a few whole garlic cloves and a bay leaf. Everything gets tossed with a good glug of olive oil before going into a really hot oven. Leave the skins on the garlic and pop them underneath the peppers to roast. This offers them protection from the direct heat and cooks them to a perfectly squidgy consistency.
Oven-roasting does double duty here: one, it’s convenient. Add everything to a tray, roast, and blend. You can do away with hovering over a pot. Two, roasting imparts a more pronounced, concentrated flavour to the vegetables that you’d never get with cooking them over a stove. And those sticky bits that you’ll find at the bottom of your tray: the mixture of the sugars from the vegetables as they roast, olive oil and seasonings – it’s all flavour. Make sure to scrape them out and get every tiny bit into the blender.
A splash of milk cuts the sourness of the tomatoes and makes the soup creamy. Cream is usually used for the same reason but I prefer the milder consistency that milk provides. If you happen to have a few stray basil leaves lying around, blend them in. (Make sure they’re Italian basil though; Thai basil will change the flavours completely.)
ROASTED TOMATO & RED PEPPER SOUP
- 300 grams tomatoes (see notes)
- 1 large red pepper
- 1 medium onion
- 7 garlic cloves, skins left on
- 5 black peppercorns
- ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup milk
- 5-6 Italian basil leaves (optional)
- Salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 200 C.
- Chop the onions into thick wedges. Quarter the red peppers lengthways and discard the seeds and white membrane. If using cherry tomatoes, keep them whole. If using regular tomatoes, chop into approx 1 inch pieces.
- Add to a baking tray along with the garlic cloves (skins on), bay leaf and salt. Toss everything together with olive oil. Pop the garlic cloves under the red peppers.
- Roast for 40-45 mins or until the skins on the tomatoes and peppers are blistered in spots. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Add all the roasted vegetables to a blender. Add the chilli flakes, peppercorns and basil if using. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and pop those in too. Discard the bay leaf.
- Blend without any water first. Once everything starts to break down, add the milk and enough water to blend to a soup consistency. Check and adjust seasoning. Reheat and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and torn basil leaves on top.