In amongst the holiday feasting, I make space for simple suppers of salads and soups and bread. This vibrant sweet potato soup combines festive spices with creamy coconut milk and a touch of ginger, garlic, and turmeric to boost your immune system in the colder months. The oatmeal soda bread mixes up and bakes quickly and is packed with grainy goodness. This loaf would be called wheaten bread in Ireland and my aunts would bake two or three of these loaves, known as farls, every day. They would feed the hungry farm workers, slathered with butter and strawberry jam and washed down with cups of tea the color of mahogany. Our job was to turn the hay bales in the fields so that they dried evenly in what sun there was in rainy Ireland. Our reward was generous helpings of this bread. To this day, just one bite will take me back to those wonderful summer visits in the Irish countryside.
I like to roast the sweet potatoes in their skins and if you are not too fussy about how the soup looks there is no need to remove the skins before adding to the soup. If you are using organic carrots, there is no need to peel them. I think the balance of spices is perfect but feel free to tinker with them if there is a flavor you are not so keen on. Please use fresh spices (when dried, they keep in a cool dark place for 6 to 9 months), from a reliable vendor such as Kalyustans or Penzeys. Coriander is a key flavor in the soup, so be sure to roast and grind the whole spices.
Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup
2 large organic orange sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 lb. organic carrots, scrubbed
1 large yellow onion diced
1 large celery stick, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 fresh bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. freshly ground coriander
(Toast seeds in dry heavy pan until fragrant and then grind in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar)
1 tsp. turmeric
1 ½ tsp. sweet paprika
½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or red chili flakes
¼ tsp. allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
1 inch piece fresh ginger
3 Tbsp. tomato puree
4 cups of vegetable broth or water
1 ½ cups coconut milk
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Cut the sweet potatoes in half crosswise and then into eight wedges. Cut the carrots into 2-inch chunks. Puree the garlic cloves and allspice with a pestle and mortar, with a pinch of salt, and set aside. Toss the carrots and sweet potatoes with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, arrange on a heavy sheet pan and roast in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Check on them after 15 minutes to make sure they are not browning too fast and give them a stir. After five minutes, remove pan from the oven, stir in the garlic and allspice and roast for a further 5 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven. Add the chopped onion, celery, bay leaves and half a teaspoon of salt and cook over low heat for about five minutes, until onions are softened but not browned.
Add the tomato puree, cinnamon stick, coriander, turmeric, paprika, Aleppo pepper and ground cloves and finely grate the fresh ginger into the pan. Gently cook the onion and spice mixture for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Add the vegetable broth or water and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the skin from the roasted sweet potatoes and add to the pan together with the carrots. Simmer the soup for ten minutes, then add the coconut milk and cook gently for a further ten minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and puree in a blender until smooth and creamy. Return to pan over low heat for a couple of minutes, before grating in about ½ tsp. fresh nutmeg and seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve large bowlfuls with a dusting of sweet paprika for added flavor and color. The soup keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days and can be frozen.
Oatmeal Soda Bread
The best Irish soda bread is made with Odlum’s flour. If you cannot find it locally, this combination of flour and grains gives a very similar result. The wheat germ and oatmeal take the place of the coarse wheatmeal and the mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour lightens the texture.
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup toasted wheat germ
½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. soft light brown sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 cups buttermilk
Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Slowly add the buttermilk and mix well. You should have a very moist batter. Turn onto a floured surface and gently form into a six-inch round. Do not overhandle the dough, as this will create a dense textured loaf.
Place on a heavy baking sheet, lightly sprinkled with flour and mark a cross with a sharp knife on the top of the loaf before baking. Place in a 400-degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes until well browned. Turn out onto a cooling tray.
Eat the same day with lots of good Irish butter (Kerrygold is my favorite). The loaf freezes well and is delicious toasted the next day.