I am sorry for the long hiatus since I last posted a recipe. I’ve been gallivanting around the west coast (Seattle to San Francisco) and cooked hardly at all (although I ate plenty). San Francisco is having a summery winter with unseasonably mild sunny t-shirt-and-flip-flop weather, but since my return to London this past Monday it has been FREEZING outside, and last night we even had snow. Soup weather I call this, when I’m not calling it something more unprintable. I’ve been craving a yam and coconut soup with a bit of tropical heat, but my complaint with such soups is that they often taste like holiday desserts – too light and sweet without any sonorous depth to round out the flavour. On a particularly cold day this week I trekked (i.e., took a bus) to the farmers market at Swiss Cottage. It’s wee, but one of my favourite veg sellers is there, and I came home laden with root vegetables and good ideas.
I decided to give my yam soup dimension with caramelized shallots, which have enough heft and potency to balance the yam sweetness and Christmas spice flavour. The yams are roasted in their skins to make the most of their natural sugars, and there’s a hint of ginger, a breath of curry, a bit of heat, and a touch of lemon at the end, which lifts and brightens the flavours and saves the soup from becoming a sauce.
I should clarify that “yam” and “sweet potato” mean different things in Britain and the United States. In England, yams are great big brown knobby things with sweet white starchy flesh, almost like taro, that are used in Caribbean and west African cooking. What Americans call yams the English call “sweet potatoes,” which in turn are distinctly different from “sweet potatoes” in the US, which are longer and sweeter and (in my opinion) less flavourful. I made my soup with American yams (i.e., British sweet potatoes).
Two large yams (Brits, think sweet potatoes, but from here on out I’m saying “yam”)
400 grams (about a pound) of shallots, thinly sliced (set aside one or two shallots, depending on their size, for the garnish)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon powdered cayenne (you can double or triple this if you want your soup spicy)
1 teaspoon sugar (plus additional sugar as needed)
1 teaspoon salt (plus additional salt as needed)
Mild cooking oil, such as canola
400 ml (about a pint) of coconut milk
500 ml (a little more than a pint) – 750 ml (a little less than a quart) of vegetable stock or white chicken stock (plus additional stock as needed)
Juice of ½ lemon
Poke the yams with a fork and then roast in a 180 degree (375 degrees Fahrenheit) oven for about an hour and a half (with foil underneath to catch the sugars that drip from the skins), until totally soft.
While the yams are roasting, sauté the garam masala, cayenne, and ginger in about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until the spices become aromatic, being careful not to burn them. Add the sliced shallots and sugar and salt, stir to coat, cover, and reduce heat. If you are worried about the shallots sticking to the pan and burning you can add a couple of tablespoons of water. Cook for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until the shallots have become golden-brown and soft and reduced in bulk by about half.
Peel the yams and combine the flesh with the shallots in a stockpot, along with about 500 ml (a pint) of stock. If you like you can mash the flesh of the yams slightly with a fork. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, so the flavours combine.
Purée using an immersion blender (stick blender) or if you wish transfer to a regular blender. The soup should be creamy and smooth enough that you will not need to strain it, but if it seems lumpy to you feel free to strain it through a wire mesh sieve. Return to heat and stir in coconut milk. Taste to adjust seasonings, adding additional salt and sugar to taste, and additional stock until the soup is your desired consistency (you shouldn’t need more than another 250 ml or so). Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat.
For the garnish, thinly slice the remaining shallots (or use a mandoline). Next, heat about half an inch of oil in a saucepan or frying pan until quite hot but not smoking. Toss the shallots with a little salt and then fry until golden. Remove to a paper towel to dry.
Serve soup hot, with a bit of fried shallots mounded in the center.