For a cook, it is less dispiriting to see grocery store shelves void of toilet paper than to see shelves in a nearby aisle bare of cans of soup.
A few days ago, a fellow cook wrote a note to say, “It’s so easy and much tastier to make soup at home, and there don’t seem to be any lack of broth, stock, vegetables, herbs and spices on store shelves.”
If grocers lacked even those things — and well they might these days — no better example exists of a cooking-from-the-pantry food than a simple soup.
After all, the chief ingredient comes from the kitchen tap.
Today’s recipes, both very simple, use only a few ingredients (with simple substitutes allowed). Both also are quite different and, thus, might appeal to varying tastes or diets.
The first is a famed Italian soup from the Lombardy region of the north and one of its principal cities, Pavia. The legend goes that during the Battle of Pavia in 1525, the French king Francois I, held prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was fed a soup of stale bread over which was poured hot broth. The peasant girl who brought it to him enriched the soup with a raw egg. In its course from the kitchen to the cell, the steaming liquid cooked the egg to a soft poach. How regal.
Zuppa Pavese, its modern Italian name, further accessorizes Francois’ soup by browning the bread in clarified butter and adding a snowdrift of grated aged cheese. If you are squeamish about runny egg yolk, you may simply poach the egg to your liking in the hot broth ahead of time. But the idea is to assemble the soup’s few ingredients in the bowl, then carefully pour the boiling broth over them all.
The second soup couldn’t be more unlike zuppa Pavese. Its name is “kadhi” and hails from the Punjabi region of northwestern India and eastern Pakistan. Its principal ingredients are yogurt, water, turmeric and chickpea flour, all lavishly spiced.
It won’t be kadhi without turmeric powder and yogurt (whole milk yogurt works best), both of which many Westerners now have on hand. But let’s say you don’t have chickpea flour, or all of the several spices or flavorings listed in the recipe. Kadhi recipes exist that use curry powder and I would think thickeners such as wheat flour or cornstarch would work as well.
In any case, kadhi is a treat for both the palate as well as the eye. It’s delicious by itself, as a straight-on soup, or atop cooked or leftover rice, or aside fritters or pakoras, the way it is commonly served in Punjab.
You may use regular butter but be wary of it burning in the first step. Makes 1 serving.
- A slice of crusty, substantially crumbed bread (enough to cover the bottom of the serving bowl)
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee
- 1 1/2 cup broth of any kind, preferably homemade, salted to your liking
- 1 large raw egg
- 2-3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (or other hard grating cheese)
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley and freshly grated black pepper
Pour very hot or boiling water into a thick-walled soup bowl and set aside. Crack the egg into a small cup or ramekin; have the cheese and parsley at the ready. Over medium heat, fry the bread slice or slices in the butter until well browned on both sides. Heat the broth to a good simmer.
Drain and dry the serving bowl; place the bread in it, then slide the egg onto the bread; carefully pour the broth into the bowl. Top with the cheese and the parsley and as much grated pepper as you like.
Adapted from Priya Krishna, “Indian-ish,” and with help on proportions from Christine St. John and Susan Bacis. Make 6 cups, give or take, or 8 or more servings over rice. Refrigerates well.
- 2 cups whole-milk plain yogurt (not Greek-style)
- 1⁄3 cup chickpea flour
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 3 tablespoons ghee or neutral cooking oil, separated
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 small bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (divided into 1/2 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon portions)
- 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
- 3 dried red chiles
- 1/2 teaspoon asafetida (also called hing, optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon red chile powder
- Solid squeeze of fresh lime juice (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Whisk the yogurt and chickpea flour in a bowl until smooth and homogeneous. Stir in 1 cup water, followed by the turmeric; set aside.
Over a medium burner, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the ghee or oil and add the cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and 1⁄2 teaspoon of the cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until mustard seeds start to pop, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and add reserved yogurt mixture and 2 cups water; mix or whisk well. Season with the salt.
Increase the heat and bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly, about 5-6 minutes (if you stop stirring, it will curdle). Insert a large, long-handled spoon into the pot to prevent the kadhi from boiling over and let it cook 10 minutes without stirring (if at any point it looks like it might boil over, reduce heat for a moment before turning it back up).
The soup will thicken and become more bright yellow in color. About 5 minutes before serving, heat 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a small skillet or pan and add the 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and warm them just until they begin to sputter, a matter of seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the dried chiles, asafetida and chile powder. This spice infusion is called “chhonk.”
To serve, stir the chhonk into the pot of kadhi with the lime juice and portion the kadhi into bowls, by itself or over steamed rice.