It’s rainy right now in Mumbai. It is time for soups, hot drinks and fried or baked snacks. I vacillate between snacks and soups on damp evenings, and mostly settle for soups. Soup is a fit prelude to a hot dinner, or serves as an early dinner if taken with crackers. My soups are almost always unplanned and made with vegetables available in my refrigerator on that day.
Some days I am lucky, like today! I had a fresh fennel bulb, bought simply because I find its licorice aroma irresistible. I had some red cherry tomatoes that were to be made into pasta but lay there, forgotten. It was destined; I thought that the tomatoes and fennels would do a dance in my soup! And dance they did as they tickled our taste buds.
It is my pleasure to share the recipe with you. This was going to be a classic Italian soup until I remembered a suggestion made by my son sometime back. The Middle Eastern twist does wonders to the soup.
The amount of ingredients can be altered according to availability. The recipe is very flexible.
Dish: Roasted Tomato and Fennel Soup Serves 2 generous bowlfuls
Tomatoes – 600g halved Cherry tomatoes – a handful (optional) Fresh fennel bulb – 1 Onions – 1 cup, sliced thick Half of a red bell pepper, chopped rough Bay leaves – 2 Garlic, halved horizontally so that all the bulbs are held together but cut through Salt – As per taste (I use a mixture of powdered rock salt and kala namak) Olive oil – 2-3 tsps. Extra virgin olive oil – A few drops to garnish Black pepper, powdered – to taste (optional) Harissa (the surprise Middle Eastern element) – 1 tsp. Vegetable stock – ½ cup or more as needed
160 deg C. with fan.
Trim the fennel fronds and keep a few leaves for garnish. Cut lengthwise from the tip to the base of the bulb. Halve again and chop roughly. If the core is hard, remove it. Do not throw any of the trimmed fronds or the core. These can be used to make vegetable soup stock.
Quarter onions. Mix the onions and fennel pieces together in a baking tray. Place one half of the garlic in the center. Drizzle salt and one tsp. of olive oil. Toss and set aside.
Halve both varieties of tomatoes and arrange in another baking tray. Add bell peppers and keep the other half of the garlic in the center. Add bay leaves. Drizzle another 1tsp. of olive oil, sea salt and toss.
Place both baking trays in a pre-heated oven and bake for at least 20 minutes. Check whether the onions and fennel have browned. If not, bake for another ten minutes. Re-check and remove the onion and fennel tray once browned. The tomatoes will take more time, about 10 minutes.
Once roasted, let the trays cool. Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend to a uniform paste.
Sieve through a soup strainer. If needed add vegetable stock to bring the soup to right consistency. Warm the soup. Add the harissa paste, if using. If not, add chilli powder and a dash of lemon juice (very little) to adjust the sourness according to taste. If the tomatoes are sour enough do not add lemon.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Serve hot, garnished with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, or dotted with vegan yogurt, and serve with bread or by itself.
I had it for a light lunch with some nuts. I grated some of the pistas on top for a different touch. You could add croutons if you like.
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