I’m often at a loss for weekday lunch meals for Agastya. We did a one-pot khichdi for a long time, but after a while he seemed to crave variety, and I somehow couldn’t manage to gather a proper Indian meal with roti, dal and sabji in time for lunch. For dinner, yes, but not lunch. So I determined that lunch would be our easy meal that could be taught to any babysitter, and that could be cooked quickly and consumed just as easily. A simple soup, made of one vegetable and with half a slice of toasted bread dipped into it, seemed like the perfect answer.
The memory of my mother’s bright green spinach soup, fragrant with black pepper and sharp cheese, inspired me to create one for Agastya. It soon grew into mushroom, broccoli, butternut squash, carrot and corn soup. All I needed was butter, onion, garlic and milk – all of which are always to be found in my kitchen – and a food processor or handheld blender to puree the soup. I also found that versatile produce was better to use given the small quantities of soup prepared. For instance, mushrooms always made their way into Agastya’s omelettes and pastas, spinach found itself in dal or palak paneer or raita, squash was the basis for a favorite aloo kaddu dish, broccoli in white sauce was a beloved breakfast creation. As for corn, I always had a bag of yellow kernels in my freezer, to be dispensed in any quantity.
My recipe for soup is simple and grows right with just a little experimentation. Saute some chopped onions and a clove of chopped garlic in butter, throw in about a cupful of roughly chopped spinach or a few chopped portabella mushrooms and cook for a few minutes until spinach is wilted or mushrooms are soft. Add a cup of milk and a sprinkle of salt. Bring to boil. Remove from flame in a minute or so, allow to cool and puree.
Same for broccoli and corn, except that I reserve a few whole florets of cooked broccoli or whole kernels of corn to add into the pureed soup for additional texture. I recommend boiling or steaming the broccoli first. Young, tender or frozen corn cooks swiftly when sauteed in the pan or boiled in milk for a few minutes. Another way to cook this soup is to add a quarter teaspoon of white flour to the milk and bring to boil while stirring. The flour thickens the milk and makes a tasty light white sauce for the soup. The pieces of corn or broccoli can be left whole in the white sauce.
For butternut squash or pumpkin soup, the pieces of vegetable should be added after the onion and garlic have cooked a little, and then enough water should be added to cover the pieces of squash. Bring to boil and cook until soft. Cool, add some milk and puree. Another option for this soup is to add a few pieces of tomato to the squash as it cooks. The tomato brings out the flavor of the squash, making it tarter and sweeter. If adding tomato, leave out the milk. Note: if you pressure cook the sauteed squash and tomatoes in water, it cooks within one quick whistle of the cooker on medium heat. You can make exactly the same soup with carrots. A bit of ginger added to the cooking onion and garlic makes the carrot soup even tastier. Finally, i’ve often made a combination of sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrot with a slice or two of tomato. It’s a good way to use leftover vegetables.
For additional flavor, grate in some parmesan cheese and sprinkle freshly ground black pepper on any of these soups.