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The Global Soup Pot
By Jane Lear
Every culture has its own version of the hearty bowl of soup. We mined flavors from some of our favorite parts of the world and came up with meat-free recipes that will pique your palette and leave you sated. Earthy and elemental, they're one-pot main courses loaded with deep, transcendent flavor.
Making great soup doesn't have to be difficult. The key is building a strong foundation, or "flavor base," that infuses and enriches the finished dish.
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FLAVOR BASE: harissa
Harissa, a blend of hot chiles, garlic, olive oil, and spices that comes in a tube or a jar, adds brightness, heat, and body to all manner of North African stews, tagines, and egg dishes and can also be used as a condiment. We sauteed the spicy paste to amplify and mellow its flavor. Harissa is available at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets, and kalustyans.com.
FLAVOR BASE: charred scallions, onion, and chiles
The complex flavor in this soup comes from a traditional Mexican technique: blackening and blistering the skin of such ingredients as chiles, scallions, and onions before adding them to a dish. You'll see it referred to as "roasting" in Mexican cookbooks, but taking less than 20 minutes, it's much quicker than roasting a piece of meat. The process really couldn't be simpler -- you can use a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop or a baking sheet under the broiler. Charring vegetables not only deepens their flavor, it gives their flesh a satiny texture, especially when pureed, as the scallions and onion are here.
FLAVOR BASE: soy sauce and dashi
Soy sauce provides depth without overpowering other ingredients -- in this case, sweet kabocha squash, nutty soba noodles, and the sea stock called dashi. Subtle yet distinctive in flavor, dashi is the basis for many Japanese dishes. Bring water and kombu (a type of dried kelp) to a boil, and then add very thin flakes of dried bonito, a fish that's related to mackerel and tuna. Both kombu and bonito flakes are available at Asian markets, many supermarkets, and asianfoodgrocer.com. Like all dried ingredients, they keep best when stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark place.
FLAVOR BASE: soffritto
The keystone for the soup is an Italian soffritto, a saute of finely chopped, diced, or minced aromatic vegetables such as carrot, onion, and garlic. The starting point of pasta sauces, fricassees, stews, and, of course, soups, it's cooked in olive oil until deliciously golden. Start with the onion, and once it becomes translucent, add the garlic (this way the garlic won't become bitter). Here, we add carrots along with the onion. By the time the onion and garlic are just where you want them, the carrots will have had the chance to develop their sweetness.