Today, something miraculous happened in London. The sun came out for a solid five hours. Upside: I saw the sun, which is good, because this is what I look like right now. Downside: I spent the whole day bopping around in Hampstead Heath, and didn’t go shopping by dinner time. So like Old Mother Hubbard, I went to my cupboard, and I found it quite bare. Some muesli, apples, garlic… wait, who doesn’t like garlic?
If you’re reading this, and saying to yourself, “well I don’t, really,” just stop reading here. As much as I want this blog to be universally loved, this post isn’t for you.
Garlic is the best. It’s found in cuisines all over the world for a reason. It grows easily and well in lots of climates, it has significant health benefits, it keeps for ages after it’s harvested, and it makes everything extremely delicious. For all these reasons, it’s historically been used as a medicine, an aphrodisiac, to ward off vampires, and as currency. But today, we’re elevating it far beyond all those applications – we’re making soup with it!
This soup is pretty crack, not just because it’s a little hommage to this most beloved of bulbs, but also because it is extraordinarily economical. Let’s break it down. Prices are based on the UK Retail Prices Index where available, and my own purchases where not.
- 2 heads of NICE garlic*: £0.50
- 1 bunch of NICE thyme*: £0.95
- 50ml (3 tbsp) GOOD olive oil: £0.30
- 30g (3 tbsp) flour: £0.02
- 1L water from the tap: <£0.01
- Spices/Seasonings: £0.05
Total cost: £1.83 for 4 servings, working out to £0.46/serving. Note that if you used dried thyme instead of fresh, you’d reduce that by about £0.94, taking the per serving cost down to £0.23. Beat that, Burger King. And while the general economy of this soup is something I certainly appreciate, it’s ultimately not the reason I like it. It’s because it’s very delicious.
The fun thing about this soup for me is that it has a few clever tricks to it. Tricks that really make the most of the unassuming ingredients, and that reward the diner with a really special dish. I would eat this soup every day. Well I would if I didn’t want to at some point spend time with other people… it’s basically pure garlic after all, and let’s face it, that comes with some social issues attached.
Anyway, as my friends well know, I love technique. Conceptually, in practice, every which way from Sunday. Mainly because I have basically none in any part of my life. A discussion for another time… Regardless, this soup takes advantage of a couple I’m happy to share with you, dear reader, and which I think are widely useful beyond the delicious dish to which they’re applied here.
The first is the nifty way the garlic is roasted. All you do is slice down the center of the bulb cross-wise, and the roast the garlic cut-side down in some olive oil. After about an hour, the garlic is beautifully roasted, and the shell lifts off like a little hat. Cute! And convenient!
Secondly, this soup makes a cinch out of what a lot of people think is a tricky thing: a roux. The oil used to roast the garlic and then some is mashed up with the flour, and then fried lightly over moderate heat. Voilà! A no-fuss, no-butter, no-burning way to get a silky consistency to your soup with nary a lump to be found (and certainly not the awful taste of uncooked flour).
Recipe is below – this soup is a fantastic way to make an emergency dinner with zero resources available, and wards off a cold like nobody’s business. Just remember to think about how much everyone you’ll be spending time with in the few hours after your meal loves garlic. Because they’d better.
Roasted Garlic Soup
This recipe benefits greatly (as all recipes do) from using fresh, good-quality ingredients, especially the garlic, olive oil, and herbs. Don’t skimp on these, since they’re the backbone of the whole soup!
- 2 heads garlic
- 3 tbsp/50ml olive oil
- 3 tbsp/30g flour
- 1 small bunch fresh thyme
- 1/4 tsp each ground peppercorns and fennel seeds
- 1/8-1/4 tsp flaked red pepper to taste, ground up
- 1/2 tsp salt to taste
- 1L/4 cups water, boiling from the kettle
- Slice through each head of garlic cross-wise but do not peel.
- Add two tablespoons oil to an oven-proof pot (you’ll cook the soup in this subsequently), and place the garlic cut-side down in the pot.
- Roast garlic for approximately 1 hour at 350ºF/175ºC. The garlic is finished when it is nicely browned, and the skins lift cleanly from the cloves. Use a paring knife to release any cloves that don’t come out on their own. Discard the skins.
- Using a wooden spoon (or better yet, potato masher), mash the roasted cloves into a uniform paste.
- Add the flour, and continue to mash until the flour is well-incorporated and the mixture is smooth and resembles a thick cake batter. Do not worry if there are some semi-solid chunks from the roasted cloves – they’ll mostly dissolve in the subsequent steps.
- Once the mixture is smooth, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, turn on the heat to medium and fry the roux for a minute, first incorporating the added oil, and then moving around to spread the paste around into an even layer in the pan.
- Add the ground spices, mix well, and let fry for an additional minute until they’re fragrant.
- Add about 1/2 cup (100ml) of boiling water from the kettle to the flour mixture, whisking as you go. Once the water is incorporated and the mixture is smooth, continue adding water in the same manner, until you’ve added a full 4 cups/1L. Add the salt.
- Drop in the bunch of thyme, and simmer the soup for about 20-30 mins, until the flavors have blended, and the soup has a nice smooth texture that coats the back of a wooden spoon with a glossy sheen
- Discard the thyme bouquet, correct for salt, and serve with a crusty baguette.
- Sleep well knowing vampires will steer clear of your bedroom.
While cooking, I listened to: Idomeneo – so underrated!
*GOOD PRODUCE is actually available in London, reputations aside. Newington Green Fruits and Vegetables is the best outlet I’ve found, and is fortunately quite close to me. It’s worth the trip if it’s not to you. They have a truly excellent selection of produce, much of it grown in the UK, and all of it fairly priced. You can find fruits and vegetables at various price points from all over the world, and it’s a local neighborhood institution that deserves your business. Shop there, and bring your own bags to offset the fact that they’re flying in jackfruit from south-east Asia for your enjoyment.
A few months ago a very dear friend of mine decided to move to London, England. Excited as I was for him, I felt concern for his nutrition and health, given the widespread aversion to fruits and vegetables in the UK. So bad, in fact, that diseases evocative of drearier Dickensian days are now epidemic.
My concern was lessened in an early e-mail exchange, assuring me that there were plenty of vegetables available to my friend. Disclosure: I’m writing about Michael C. Baumgaertner, of soup d’état fame, who evidently seems to be cooking up plenty of delicious produce.
BUT. There was one problem: even though Michael was riding his penny farthing to far-flung green grocers, there was no Kale to be found. Of course this is shocking to those of us from ever-evolving Brooklyn, where the kale-per-km^2 concentration is the highest in the world. Though it does seem that London is beginning to embrace Kale, 5 or 10 years after New York, fresh green is still thin on the ground.
This got me thinking about kale in my life. Did I need to use it as much as I did? Could I go back to the pre-kale days and use other greens in my cooking, without losing anything?
24 hours ago, I made a soup that answered these questions definitively. No. I am addicted* and Kale is here to stay.
Here is the customary cutting board shot of the spicy salame,hot cherry pepper, garlic, great northern beans and kale soup I made:
The soup was delicious and simple. First, I sliced the peppers, salame and some shallots, mashed a dozen cloves of garlic, and browned everything in the pot, liberally adding salt and mixed (green, pink, and black) fresh-ground peppercorns:
Next, I added 4 cups of chicken broth, the kale, and one can of drained great northern beans, letting it all simmer for 15 minutes, before enjoying a very delicious and very hearty bowl:
Yumm indeed. Spicy and warming, this soup just wouldn’t have been the same without Kale!
Bread eaten in accompaniment: A thick slice of the dense loaf in the picture above. Hearty, seedy and grainy, a great complement to the savory, baroque soup.
Listened to during preparation: I had an interesting, meandering conversation about corruption with a couchsurfer who was staying with me.
What I would do differently next time/possible variations: Amazingly – a little less heat. The half-dozen cherry hot peppers plus the red-pepper-coated salame ended up being fiery, which I loved, but slightly too much. 2-3 peppers would have been better with the same salame, or the same number of pepper with an unspiced salame/sausage.
I think this soup could easily substitute another white bean: broad, navy, butter or cannellini. I just happened to have the great northerns on hand.
*How to tell if you are a kale addict: do you find yourself hiding a bunch “for later” in the back of the crisper? do you find yourself putting a little bit of kale in your lunch sandwich “just to help you get through the day”? do you find yourself feeling grumpy with your family and friends if they don’t massage a kale salad long enough?