I’ve been gone from here a while, soaking up some summer, celebrating my wedding anniversary and not really in the mood to focus so much on food lately.
The thing is, the very fact that I’m able to make a living sitting on my butt in my own little home is a blessing and a luxury. Devoting time and energy to something like food — that can be so fundamental to our lives and yet also very often so superficial once it’s gussied up in social media fashion — sometimes leaves me feeling incredibly conflicted.
On the one hand, I believe that creating recipes for people who can’t follow or enjoy typical foods or diets is genuinely helpful and I like to think that I’m helping to bring families back together around an often fraught and difficult to navigate meal table.
On the other, taking pretty photos of food and watching people become incredibly insular in terms of the “right”s and “wrong”s of food makes me wonder if social media makes us more prone to fetishizing food as an aspirational status symbol at the expense of far more important things.
I’ve written bits and pieces here and there about how I grew up, food wise. The sort of food I cook now is a mile away from those days of cans and frozen cheeseburgers and ready made everything. I don’t have to wait and see if we’re eating tonight. I don’t have to go to a convenience store to “pick a can” for dinner. I don’t have to resent the fact that we children were only allowed to eat the extra thin sliced white bread while my mother and step father hoarded the thick sliced brand name bread for themselves.
Even given the fact that the food I cook now would be viewed as “limited” by so many other people — no grains, no dairy, no eggs, no nightshades, oh my! — I’ve always had the perspective that cooking is an opportunity. It’s something that I’ve had to teach myself and maybe that’s why I value my kitchen skills so very much now. If I have helped just one person along their own journey to kicking ass in their own kitchen, then I’ll consider this place a success.
But I will admit that there are times I catch myself writing something or using an ingredient that’s harder-to-find or forgetting just how freaking daunting stepping into the kitchen for the first, third and fifteen hundredth time can still be. Sometimes, I find myself rolling my eyes at myself and thinking that teenage-me would have looked at me and scoffed “as IF!” at the notion of cooking with certain ingredients. A case in point: the preserved lemons in the cucumber salad that garnishes this Parsnip Apple & Fennel Soup.
Often when I have ideas like this, recipe ideas that have more unusual ingredients, my first instinct is to self censor. Maybe I’ll make it for myself at home, but I’ll think that it isn’t a recipe that belongs here. Sometimes I’ll worry that to do so is going back to the idea I touched on earlier: that making “pretty” food isn’t “realistic” because many people can’t or don’t want to find and work with these more unusual ingredients.
But the flip side of that is: when you’re working with dietary restrictions, I believe in embracing as many new flavors and ingredients as you can find, even if those ingredients are completely different to those you grew up with. And I take heart in how much even small town grocery stores have changed and adapted in the products they stock. It wasn’t so long ago that sriracha was a specialized ingredient!
What do you think?
The other reason for my embracing of the unfamiliar is more personal. As someone who grew up with no inherited kitchen history, with almost no stories of sharing meals around a table within my family’s four walls, with one of my strongest memories of a Christmas lunch involving eating in silence because my mother didn’t want us to “talk too much”, I suspect that half of what drove me to cook in the first place was a streak of rebellion, mixed with longing.
Rebellion against a food history that is wrapped up with the intimate pain of a non functional family. Longing to experience something that it (erroneously) seemed almost everyone else had. A fundamental desire to forge new stories even if I didn’t have any to bring with me into the present.
Getting back to the recipe at hand, this Parsnip Apple & Fennel Soup is very simple to pull together. While this recipe is for a chilled version, it’s also tasty heated up, although you wouldn’t want to garnish it with the cucumber salad if you went that route!
This soup is the sort of food that I dub a “season stretcher” in my head. It’s not quite the heavier fare I find myself craving in the approach to Fall, but it’s also not the super light stuff I’ve been enjoying through the Summer, either. It’s the best of both worlds, really. It’s got the creamy comforting vibe of later-in-the-year food, thanks to the silky parsnips, along with classic Fall flavors of apple and fennel. But when it’s chilled and garnished up with the light cucumber and preserved lemon salad, it’s got the best of both worlds: comfort food meets refreshing brightness.
I don’t usually boss you guys around with equipment recommendations in my recipes, but this one really does need a blender with a bit of oomph. I’ve tried to make it with an inexpensive stick blender, but it never gets to the smoothness that a chilled soup needs that way. If you don’t mind things on the chunkier side, it will probably pass muster as a hot soup that way, but the chilled version really does need to get as smooth as humanly possible.
The benefit of whizzing this up in a blender with a large (72 oz) pitcher — the recipe makes a little under 8 cups / 1.9 L — is that you can take it from blender to fridge in a single batch. I like to pop mine to chill in my fridge door overnight, then give it another quick blend once it’s chilled and ready to serve. The second blend is optional, but it really helps keep the soup light in texture.
Additionally, if you’re using homemade broth, it can gel the soup slightly, which changes the texture, so again, a quick blend before serving will help with that! If you have a smaller blender, you’ll have to do this step in batches, should you so choose.
So, let’s get to the salad. I picked the preserved lemons because a) I’ve had a jar in the cupboard for an embarrassing amount of time and 2) I thought their punch-in-the-face extra-lemony flavor would be a lovely way to liven up boring ol’ cucumber salad.
Preserved lemons are a common ingredient in South Asian and North African cuisines and are made by fermenting lemons in a brine as a preserving method. The result is a tart and more concentrated lemon flavor. You can find them in international markets or purchase them online if you can’t find them locally. You can also make them yourself simply using this recipe, but they’ll take some time to ferment!
If you can’t get your hands on preserved lemons, you can substitute a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon zest. It won’t give you the fermented boost of the preserved lemons, but the zest will still add a zippy brightness to the crunchy cucumbers that will work well.
Parsnip Apple & Fennel Soup with Cucumber Salad
- Yield: 4 - makes approximately 8 cups / 1.9 L 1x
For the soup:
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml avocado oil
- 1 small – medium yellow onion
- 1 1/4 lb / 568 g Granny Smith apples (about 2 large)
- 1 bulb of fennel
- 1 3/4 lbs / 795 g parsnips (about 5)
- 5 – 6 cups / 1.2 – 1.44 L pale chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tsp / 5 g fine sea salt
- 1 tsp dried tarragon
For the salad:
- 1 cup / 130 g seeded, diced English cucumber
- 1 tbsp / 18 g minced preserved lemons (see notes)
- 1 – 2 small radishes, sliced finely
- 2 tsp / 10 ml extra virgin olive oil
- Splash of fresh lemon juice or the preserved lemons brine
- Salt & pepper (omit pepper for AIP)
- Swirl of extra virgin olive oil
- Fennel fronds
- Cracked black pepper (omit for AIP)
- RESERVE: Cut the stalks from the fennel bulb and pop them into a mason jar filled with a little water at room temperature. Reserve them for garnishing later.
- SOFTEN: In a large soup pot, heat the avocado oil over medium low heat. Dice the onion and add it to the pot, stirring to coat in the oil. Peel the apples, cut them into eighths and discard the cores. Chop the apples and add them to the pot with the onions. Chop the fennel bulb into quarters through the root and shave off and discard the tough core. Finely slice the fennel and add it to the pot, discarding the root ends. Stir the onion, apple and fennel mixture so that it’s coated with oil and reduce the heat if necessary so that it softens, but doesn’t color.
- SIMMER: Peel the parsnips and discard the tops. Slice them finely. If your parsnips are on the larger side, cut the wider ends into quarters and slice out & discard the tougher, woody inner sections. Add the sliced parsnips to the pot, along with 5 cups / 1.2 L of the broth, the salt and dried tarragon. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the parsnips have softened, about 20 – 25 minutes.
- BLEND: Remove the soup from the heat and taste, adjusting seasonings if necessary. Allow to cool slightly before carefully transferring the soup, in batches if necessary, to the pitcher of a high powered blender. Blend until completely smooth, making sure to leave plenty of space in the pitcher and allowing steam to escape as needed. If the soup is too thick for your taste, add the 6th cup / 240 ml of additional broth and blend again.
- CHILL: Transfer the soup into fridge friendly containers. Chill the soup for at least 6 hours or, as I prefer, overnight.
- TOSS: When you’re almost ready to serve the soup, mix up the salad. In a small non reactive bowl, add the cucumber, preserved lemons and sliced radishes. Drizzle with the olive oil, the lemon juice or brine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
- GARNISH: Before serving, I like to give the chilled soup another quick blend as it helps give a lighter texture, especially if you’ve used homemade broth which may have gelled the soup a little. Divide the soup between bowls and top each one with some of the cucumber salad. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and top with some of the reserved fennel fronds before serving.
If you want to serve this soup warmed through, it is still delicious! Just skip the cucumber salad up top and garnish with the fennel fronds and a swirl of olive oil instead.
Preserved lemons are a common ingredient in South Asian and North African cuisines and are made by fermenting lemons in a brine as a preserving method. The result is a tart and more concentrated lemon flavor. You can find them in international markets or purchase them online if you can’t find them locally. You can also make them yourself simply, but they’ll take some time to ferment!
If you can’t get your hands on preserved lemons, you can substitute a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon zest. It won’t give you the fermented boost of the preserved lemons, but zest will still add a zippy brightness to the crunchy cucumbers that will work well.
This recipe was included in the Paleo AIP Recipe Roundtable.