I love soups. They're easy, they're do-ahead, they're economical and they're also very, very filling. Soup is my friend. In preparing my meatless Monday menu, I was trying to think of things that Alan would like and would also make him feel like he was really being fed and I wouldn't hear him rummaging around my larder late at night like some crazed possum looking for "snacks".
For years Alan ate my Indian vegetarian food happily sated, but things change once you hop on the old meat wagon and I wanted to make sure, since we eat our main meal midday "Euro" style, he would be satisfied with what he got.
Thus, the soup. Rich creamy soups are great. Rich creamy soups are even better when they taste like rich creamy soups but don't contain all that cream. The secret? Buttermilk.
Buttermilk soup is a staple in the Indian kitchen. From North to South. Spicy, with little islands of fresh chopped vegetables floating around, it's a low fat delight. Who needs all that cream? It's not even missed. Trust me, or go ask Alan.
I made this basic traditional soup sambar style. Most sambars have dal as a base, this one is a bit different as it uses a paste of ground almonds and coconut along with the spices.
You may see stuff in the market sold as sambar powder. This is similar to curry powder, a combo of ground spices used for flavoring. However, it is just as easy (and better and cheaper) to make your own sambar powder in a blender, or food processor. It uses spices most people have in the kitchen and takes about 5 minutes.
Here's how to do it:
In a small heavy skillet heat :
`1 and 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil.
When the oil is hot add in:
1/2 cup of chopped almonds
Stir them around for a bit and then toss in:
1 Tbs of coriander seed
1/2 tsp of fenugreek seed
1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes....you can add more depending on how how you'd like your soup to be
1/4 cup of shredded dry unsweetened coconut
1 thin slice of peeled fresh ginger
When things have started to turn color and toast lightly, pour everything into a spice grinder or food processor. Add in 1 cup of water and blend it till it's smooth.
3 cups of buttermilk
1/4 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp of chickpea flour otherwise known as gram flour. Cornstarch can also be used in a pinch.
Set this mixture aside.
In a deep pan or kadhai heat about 1 and 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot drop in:
2 tsp of brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp of cumin seed
When the mustard seeds start to pop, toss in 10 fresh or frozen curry leaves and
1 lb of diced zucchini.
Stir fry all of this for about 4 minutes then pour in your liquid spice mixture.
When the mixture starts to boil add in 3 cups of water and bring it to a boil again.
Once it's boiling, pour in the buttermilk blend. Bring it to a boil one more time. Third time's the charm.
When the soup reaches boiling point this time, turn down the heat and simmer until it thickens a bit.
Just a few minutes will do the trick.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in;
1 and 1/2 Tbs of fresh chopped cilantro.
You can put some more chopped cilantro on the table and when you've served the soup, let people sprinkle as much as they want over the top of their soup.
This is a great soup and if there is no zucchini available (ha! who am I kidding? ) substitute it for any vegetable you'd like.
This soup is nourishing, makes up quickly, and with a couple of other dishes on the table is a complete meal. Serve the soup alone with a chapatti or other Indian bread and it's a late supper or light lunch.
With this soup, buttermilk's not just for biscuits anymore.