A couple of weekends ago, we went to visit my parents for a few days. It was the beginning of what felt like the holiday season to us, because it was the first time we had a big extended family with the newest two additions in the family, my precious niece known affectionately as Pumpkin and her twin cutie, nicknamed Chunky. They are fraternal twins and just a few months old—but their presence brought livelihood and lovely chaos to a family setting that previously felt…smaller…and quieter…and perhaps even incomplete.
We bustled in, my husband and I and the girls on that Friday afternoon, with more luggage than my sister with the twins! Who would believe we should have more paraphernelia for a weekend than a couple with newborns?!?! I guess I’ve never been a minimalist, even when it comes down to food.
My mother however, is a minimalist, and she had just set the dinner table with an assortment of styrofoam products (yikes!) and a hodgepodge of warming wintery simple eats, like Gujarati khichi (not KHICHRI), doused with oil and a piquant chili pepper blend crimson as Christmas. She served muthhiya, with a marmalade-like condiment, called gol-kari, which people in the old days acutally used to make by hand! Now mom buys it in a jar at the Indian market. You gotta get your hands on some of that stuff: pieced unripe mango in a mesh of spices and sweet jaggery . On the table was a saucepan full of Mom’s sought-after tomato soup, hers a boxed organic tomato version,
adulterated accentuated with her touch: curry leaf and a smidgen of spice.
Famished, I heaved my body down at the table after quickly removing my coat and shoes and cast a quick hello to everyone (the twins were asleep). I gorged with the muthiyaa first dipping into the gol-kari, then I had a steaming portion of khichi, followed by bowl after bowl of that tomato soup. It’s the kind of soup that is familiar all the way, but at the end, there is a twinge of “Hmmm, what is that I’m tasting? What is that flavor that elevates this soup to something special?” I couldn’t get enough of the soup that day.
The next week, back at my own home, I wanted more. So I made my own non-minimalist version in my non-minimalist kitchen with all the whole ingredients and no boxes. Sadly, and happily?, both versions taste the same. Box or no box, I beg you to try my recipe for tomato soup with curry leaves.
Winter Tomato Soup with Curry Leaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¾ cup diced onion
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk diced
- 1 carrot diced
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 28- ounce can crushed tomatos preferable Muir Glen Fire Roasted variety
- 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 packed tablespoons brown sugar
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- For tarka:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seed
- about 10 fresh curry leaves
- Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, scoop in the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot.
- Saute for a few minutes, avoiding any browning of the vegetables.
- Stir in the spices: the bay leaf, black pepper, salt, basil, and thyme.
- Cook for a few minutes, then pour in the tomatos.
- Pour in the stock and sugar.
- Cook at a simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat.
- When it’s cooled down a little, puree the soup in a blender, in batches as necessary.
- Pour the pureed soup back into pot and turn on heat to low.
- Stir in the heavy cream and keep on low.
- Meanwhile, keep ingredients ready and nearby for the tarka: using a small skillet, like an 8 inch skillet, begin to heat the vegetable oil until it’s shimmering hot but not smoking. Immediately add the mustard seeds. After a few seconds you will hear them pop, then immediately add the cumin seeds. Next quickly drop in the curry leaves, keeping a distance since they will splatter in the oil. Turn off heat immediately. The cumin seeds should only be lightly browned, not black.
- This tarka technique takes some practice so don’t be worried if you have to do it again!
- Pour the spiced oil into the soup. Stir well and remove from heat. Serve! And please do eat the curry leaves!