Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup

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Curried Broccoli Soup photo by David Rodwin
Curried Broccoli and Greens Soup. Photo by David Rodwin

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

You wouldn't necessarily want to follow Alice in Wonderland's diet (at least outside the environs of Burning Man) but Lewis Carroll had it right with this paean to the steamiest, best food of winter. And it's a good reminder that broccoli and greens, cold weather's staples, can come to the table in another guise besides the endlessly repeated cycle of steamed, steamed, stir-fried, and steamed.

Carroll doesn't mention curry powder, but he should. Yes, that old pantry staple, yellow and dependable in its plastic jar or shiny little tin. You might even be embarrassed by its ongoing presence in your spice drawer, proof that you haven't graduated to six different regional garam masalas, aromatic evidence that you're not spending these long dark nights grinding your own fenugreek.

But really, a good spice mix is always a handy thing. Even when you know your idlis from your dosas, there's something comforting about the familiarity of that standard supermarket blend. For me, the smell instantly transports me back to the gourmet takeout shops of the '80s, where I earned my college-summer paychecks by mixing up big plastic tubs of curried chicken salad, dicing an endless parade of chicken breasts, glopping in the mayonnaise and sour cream, scooping in mango chutney and raisins and then adding curry powder until the whole bowlful turned a vivid Sahara yellow.


Or you might remember M.F.K. Fisher's famous story of "Hindoo Eggs," wherein the young Mary Frances, desperate for a little exoticism to liven up her grandmother's Spartan table, tripled the amount of curry powder used to flavor a white sauce poured over hard-boiled eggs. For a palate reared on bland boiled everything, the result was inedibly fiery; still, out of stubbornness and loyalty, M.F.K. and her sister ate until blisters rose up on their lips and tongues. They finished the meal by sitting on the edge of the bathtub with their mouths full of mineral oil.

But my curry-powder favorite is adapted from yet another foolproof and delicious recipe in Laurie Colwin's second volume of food essays, More Home Cooking. Her version is so easy as to be almost laughable, and yet you could eat it any day of the week and be very happy. Potatoes, broccoli, and a garlic clove are simmered in chicken stock until tender. Curry powder and a little orange rind are added, and the whole thing is tipped into the blender and buzzed to a warming, healthy puree.

All very well, but it hardly takes any more effort to give it a little finesse. Sauteing the curry power with onion gives depth and mellowness while softening the raw bite of the spices. A squeeze of orange juice brings freshness (and vitamins). And cooking the potato almost all the way through, then adding your broccoli (and a handful of whatever greens are languishing in the fridge or winter garden) keeps your bowlful more verdant green than sludgy khaki.

Curried Broccoli and Greens Soup
This soup also keeps and freezes well.

Serves 4


1 large or 2 fist-sized potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tbsp butter, olive, or vegetable oil
2 tsp curry powder, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1 head broccoli, stalks peeled and chopped, flowerets broken into pieces
1 handful watercress or arugula
2 cups water, or as needed
Yogurt or sour cream for garnish

1. In a medium saucepan, cover potato chunks with chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until potato is just tender.

2. While potato is cooking, saute sliced onion in butter or oil over medium heat until translucent but not browned. Add curry powder, garlic and orange rind and cook, stirring, for another minute.

3. When potato is tender, add curried onion mixture, broccoli, greens, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer until broccoli is very tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add orange juice.

4. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree mixture until smooth, adding water as necessary if soup seems too thick. Reheat to serve. Top each bowlful with a spoonful of yogurt, if desired.