Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Israeli Orange Soups

When the weather turns cold in Jerusalem, soups take their place at the table - perfect for fending off that winter chill. The most popular of all soups here in Israel is what is called "orange soup". No, not soup made of oranges - it is color not content that earns it the name.  Orange soup can be made with any and all of the orange vegetables abundant here in Israel, although sweet potato is hands down the favorite.  Restaurants and home kitchens heat it up with this colorful and versatile winter staple. (Note: these "orange" veggies are not unique to Israel, they are basic winter vegetables found anywhere in the world.)

Orange vegetables have a high sugar content and produce a naturally sweeter soup to begin with, but I took my current favorites and made both a sweet and savory recipe. Orange soups can be made with just one vegetable (e.g.,sweet potato) or a more complex combination of a variety of vegetables. Right now I am loving a carrot, sweet potato and roasted red pepper combo. (Other possibilities can include pumpkin or squash, red hot chili peppers, even tomatoes).

For those who keep kosher, the soup can be either dairy or parve with simple substitutions. In both of the following recipes, I did not have a soup stock on hand, so I used a product called Herbamare, (cert.kosher but not for Pesach). Herbamare is an organic seasoning salt made up of only sea salt and vegetables and can be found at most health food stores both here in Israel and elsewhere. It is a great substitute for soup stock, just remember not to add salt as you cook !

One of the secrets of Israeli cooking that I have discovered is the use of the fresh or dried purple garlic. (see earlier blog). After tasting and experimenting I will never go back to using the white imported-from-China variety with all the chemicals and bleaching. The purple fresh garlic has so much more flavor and stays sweet when sauteed, unlike the white ones which often become bitter.  If you purchase the fresh bulbs when they are IN SEASON in the spring, buy oodles extra and hang to dry. Otherwise, most health food stores (like Zmora where I shop) will have organic or dried local purple garlic bulbs all year).

These recipes that follow are simple and basic. Experiment with varied vegetables and various spices to produce unique and satisfying flavors. Organic vegetables of course lend the best flavor. Here's to winter time Israeli Orange Soup !  B'tayavon !

Sweet Orange Soup                              
The secret to this one is the sherry 
6 carrots, washed, scraped and chopped
1 med size sweet potato, peeled chopped
1 red bell pepper, char-roasted, peeled, seeds removed *
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 med size onion, chopped
1 T or more butter (sub. olive oil or coconut oil for parve)
2-3 tsp Herbomare original seasoned salt + 3 cups water
OR 3 cups soup stock **
1/3 cup dry sherry (good quality sherry best)
1/2 cup milk (optional)

  • Saute the carrots, sweet potato, garlic and onions in the butter 5-10 min. or until starting to soften, stirring often. 
  • Add roasted pepper. 
  • Sprinkle the Herbamare generously over the vegetables, add pepper to taste. **
  • Add sherry and cook for 5 min. more, til fragrant
  • Add water, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender.
  • If a creamy soup is desired a 1/2 cup milk may be added here and heated to soup temperature..
  • Transfer to blender 2 cups at a time, blend til smooth
Serve immediately or return to pan and stove top til ready to serve. This sweet soup is delicate and smooth and a nice accompaniment to salmon or fish. 

* To char-roast sweet pepper, place pepper directly on stove top gas flame, turning often. When skin is blackened, place pepper in brown paper bag for 10-15 min. making it easy to slip off the skin and remove seeds.

** If using a soup stock instead of Herbamare,  and the stock is bland and not fully seasoned,  add any combination of marjoram, basil, thyme and rosemary before the sherry,  adding 3 cups stock in place of the water.  If using the Herbamare, or a fully seasoned stock, no extra spices are needed for the sweet version of this orange soup.

Savory Orange Soup  

To make this soup into its savory counterpart, use the same basic recipe but change the following:

1. Omit the sherry, or replace with dry white wine. 
2. Whether using Herbamare or soup stock add middle eastern spices of cumin, extra thyme, paprikas such as hot or smoked paprika. The wonderful spice of tumeric can be added but will definitely give it yet another flavor.  I chose to omit tumeric and instead used generous amount of smoked paprika which gave it not only a subtle complex flavor but also a deeper red color.  
3. The hotter peppers can be used here in addition to the red bell pepper.

Because this soup is robust and spicy I like to add a dollop or two of yoghurt or sour cream to contrast with the spiciness.  Serve this soup with meats or cheeses (for kashrut, omit the yoghurt, and use olive or coconut oil instead of butter)

This is a good basic soup that can wear many hats. The variations are endless; be creative and enjoy!   

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