Back in 2003, the year of our respective 10th anniversaries, we traveled to England and Scotland with our dear friends Sally & Lisa. We started in London, as one might expect, where we spent a few chilly but sunny days in March. From there, we took the train to Edinburgh.
En route, we were seated across the aisle from an Edinburgher couple. We remarked to them how clear the weather had been, and expressed hope that it would continue during our sojourn in Scotland. In unison, they looked at us through sad eyes and said, “oh, no.” It was inconceivable that the the sun would persist in the northern hinterlands.
Our first evening in the city proved them right. The winding streets were filled with moody, low fog. You gain an appreciation for the warming jolt of whisky on those gloomy, atmospheric nights. However, the next day broke as clear and bright as could be, and so it remained through the rest of our trip.
On the train, we had asked our aislemates about food options, and were surprised when they rattled off an amazing array of cuisines. “You’ll be spoiled for choices,” the man said, and right he was. But as tempting as the selection of ethnic restaurants were, the most memorable food we had decidedly and indigenously Scottish.
Of course we had haggis. I mean, why would you fly halfway across the globe just to ignore Scotland’s most infamous foodstuff? And here’s the thing: It’s good. I mean, sure, you hear snouts and intestines and other gutsy bits with oats stuffed in a stomach, and you think, “ew.” But guess what’s in that breakfast sausage you ate this morning, hmm? Yeah. Anyway, you won’t have to take my word for it too much longer. Soon, you’ll be able to get haggis in the states once again, after a 21-year embargo.
We were also struck by the refinement of the food. At a nouveau Scottish restaurant, the national sausage was served in delicate phyllo parcels, with a blackberry reduction. We also had incredible venison.
Later, as we were visiting Lisa’s family in Alloa, outside Stirling, her cousin Sheena remarked that the Scots’ relationship with England has ranged from strained to outright adversarial, and hence they’ve looked toward France for cultural affinities. These roots clearly run deep; after all, Mary I was queen of France, albeit only for a year or so.
Sheena herself is a dab hand in the kitchen, and fed us both in great quality and quantity during our stay. One dinner, she started off the meal with a soup that I found hauntingly delicious. Smooth and creamy, it was also redolent of spice and something not immediately familiar. That strange flavor was parsnips, an ingredient I had little experience prior. Luckily, I was able to extract the recipe from her.
This soup is rich without being overly fatty, and has extraordinarily complex flavor for so few ingredients. Best of all, it’s dead simple.
Cream of curried parsnip soup
I’ve strayed from Sheena’s original recipe a little, in that she called for cream instead of yogurt. However, I found the tang of yogurt to add one more remarkable layer of flavor that I find harmonious with the parsnips and curry.
1 large onion, diced
1 lb parsnips, peeled and cubed
2 tsp curry powder
1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Several tbsp lowfat plain yogurt
Sauté the onions in 1 tsbp butter until softened. Add the parsnips and sauté another few minutes. Add the curry, toss, and cook 1-2 more minutes, until fragrant. Add the stock, and simmer 20 minutes, until the parsnips are extremely tender.
Transfer the soup to a blender, in batches if necessary, and purée well. Pass through a sieve to remove any fibrous bits. Season to taste. Swirl in a spoonful of yogurt when serving.