Years ago (oops, make that a decade), during the tumultuous year after my starter marriage dissolved, I lived with my friend Gemini I. As two single thirty-somethings interested in social events or activities that might bring us into contact with eligible men, we decided to try out some cooking classes (what were we thinking? We might as well have looked for guys in the pantyhose department at Macy’s. . . oh, wait a sec: apparently, in Australia, that’s exactly where you might meet some guys these days).
In any case, we signed up for one series run by a well-heeled Toronto chatelaine who’d attended Le Cordon Bleu (it was only a weekend seminar, but she never told us that) and decided to teach classes out of her home. It took just one evening, and I was hooked; after that, Gemini I and I attended about half a dozen more classes as well. It’s not that I actually learned very much; and the food, while fine, wasn’t the most spectacular I’d had, either. But oh, what a house!
Oh my, how I envied her house. Situated beside a thickly forested ravine on a cul-de-sac in the tony Rosedale area, Ms. Culinati’s residence was a massive, ivy-covered, stone-and-brick Tudor style mansion of at least 5,000 square feet, almost more like a museum than a home. At over 100 years old, the building’s interior had been completely renovated and rendered ultra-modern inside. The setup was perfect for cooking classes: after passing beneath the towering entryway, we participants filed across the open-concept first floor (tiled in marble), toward a state-of-the-art kitchen just off the entrance. There were six cushy stools lined up against one side of a wide, grey and black granite peninsula, which also divided the room and separated us from the cooking area.
Ms. Cordon Bleu held forth on the opposite side of the counter behind the built-in stainless steel stovetop, prepping ingredients and chattering about the best shop in Paris to buy Le Creuset, the plumpest, most perfect berries at All the Best on Summerhill (even back then, I recall that a pint–about 500 ml.–of strawberries cost over $4.00 at that store), or how she flew to New York last weekend to pick up the very best fleur de sel (because really, you simply couldn’t use anything less).
Despite the fact that our personal orbits existed in completely different universes, I still enjoyed the recipes, the skillfully selected wines that accompanied them, and the stolen glances around the rest of the house as I ostensibly attended to our cooking. And, of course, it was always rewarding to have an evening out with Gemini I.
Most of the dishes I encountered in those classes, I will never make again, either because they contain ingredients I no longer eat, or because they contain ingredients far too extravagant for everyday consumption (last I heard, her courses had morphed into all-out travel tours, wherein participants flew to Tuscany for a week to cook and live together in a villa. Who are these people, and how can I be written into the will? Just asking).
Still, almost despite herself, in one class Ms. C.B. provided us with this recipe for Curried Root Vegetable Chowder with Dumplings. And while the original soup contained chicken broth, butter and wheat flour, it was a cinch to convert.
I’ve loved this chowder since the first time I slurped it back in the 1990s. It’s one of the easiest soups you’ll ever make (and while the dumplings are marvelous and do elevate the broth an echelon, you can just as easily forego the sophistication, toss in some elbow pasta, and happily spoon this up for a quick weekday dinner). Once the veggies are chopped, it’s a matter of a quick sauté, a splash of prepared broth, and a sprinkling of ONE spice: mild curry powder. It also makes use of an underused, but very tasty, root veggie: celery root.
It sounds almost too simple, I know; but believe me, the result will astonish you. The varying levels of sweetness from the different roots, along with the whisper of curry, combine for a soothing, warming and entirely captivating dish. This is one soup you’ll want to stay at home for. In fact, it’s the perfect soup to charm those eligible guys–that is, once you find them.
Curried Root Vegetable Chowder with Dumplings
(adapted from a very old recipe from The Art of Food Cooking School)
This is the perfect soup to serve to guests; the dumplings elevate this to a fancier level, yet the soup is down to earth and very appealing. For a gluten-free option, omit the dumplings or use your favorite dumpling recipe with GF flour.
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp. (7.5 ml.) mild curry powder
4 cups vegetable broth
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) pieces
2 large parsnips, peeled, thick end halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm.) pieces
1 small celery root (celeriac), trimmed, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) cubes
1 medium sweet potato (yam), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm.) cubes
1 tsp. (5 ml.) sea salt, if broth is unsalted
freshly chopped cilantro, for garnish
1 cup (140 g.) spelt flour
1-1/2 tsp. (7.5 ml.) baking powder
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) sea salt
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) nutmeg
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) cold coconut oil
1/4 cup (60 ml.) currants
5-6 Tbsp. (75-90 ml.) unsweetened soymilk or almond milk
To make the soup, heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 mintues. Add the garlic and curry powder and cook for another minute or so.
Stir in the broth, carrots and parsnips. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the celery root and sweet potato and cook for 10 more minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings: In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Rub in the coconut oil (pinch the mixture between your thumb and fingers repeatedly) until the mixutre resembles a coarse meal. Add currants and toss to coat. Add milk and stir with a fork until the mixture comes together.
Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste. Then roll bits of the dumpling dough (about a tablespoon for each) into balls and place on top of the simmering broth. Cover and cook without disturbing for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and divide the soup into 4 bowls [I've found it makes much more than this]. Garnish with cilantro and serve. May be frozen.