A bit of confusion there, isn’t it? A Provencal soup or a Thai soup? Well, both!
I am more a thyme person than basil but these days our markets do not seem to be stocking thyme, so I picked up a bunch of basil the other day thinking – Thai! Sometimes I have this terrible craving. Craving for certain flavours and when I have them, nothing else can work. Well, the idea in-feasted my mind. I wanted coconut milk. I wanted Italian. I wanted pesto. I wanted soup because we are having a very pleasant but sudden chill wave here in Mumbai. Quite unexpected and a very pleasant turn of climate. I had basil – lots! I had coconut and my husband was at home so I hoped he would not mind extracting coconut milk. The thought of silky, sweet, thick coconut milk makes me drool even as I write. I love its natural sweetness. Canned just cannot compare with freshly expressed milk. But I could not think of anything but Italian with basil. A pesto? No, a pistou. A pistou soup! The one that David Lebovitz made long back. I had bookmarked it then. I went back and looked up the recipe and I knew then that we were going to have another one of my fusion recipes that evening.
I made a soup au pistou, but not the traditional Provencal one. Mine is heavily borrowed from Thai cooking. Basil makes such a good partner to coconut milk. A pistou is similar to an Italian pesto but without many of the pesto ingredients. Pesto contains pine nuts and a dash of cheese which pistou generally does not. Works great for me as it is naturally vegan. I like soups that contain lots of veggies. Vegetables lend flavour and colour, making it ideal for the senses.
Shall we go about making the soup? I hope I have laid enough arguments to make you buy zucchini and basil on your next trip to the market. Most vegetables will work fine here. I used green and yellow zucchini, and a small potato with skin. I did not have much that day and I wanted to finish off whatever little I had, hence the potato. You can add carrots, leeks, spring onions, and tender string beans too. David adds some beans and pasta as is traditionally done in a pistou soup, but mine is nowhere near traditional so I just did what my senses wanted.
Dish: Thai soupe au pistou
Serves 2 bowls
Thick, fresh coconut milk – 2 cups
Green and yellow zucchini – 1/2 each
Potato, scrubbed – 1 small, about 1/4 cup
Cauliflower broken into very small flowerets – 1/4 cup
Water – 1/4 cup
Bay leaf – 1
Thai green bird chillies – 2
Sea salt and lemon pepper to taste
For the pistou:
Basil, washed and dried – 2 cups
Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed – 2
Extra virgin olive oil – 3-4 tbsps.
Sea salt – a pinch or two to taste
Scrub the vegetables and dice them into very small pieces. We want them to cook real quick. I am quite particular about all being the same size. They look pretty and cook evenly.
Heat a saucepan with 1/4 cup coconut milk on low heat. Add the bay leaf and add slit bird chillies. The coconut fat will be enough to cook them. Saute for half a minute and add the diced vegetables – potatoes and cauliflower together followed by zucchini after two minutes. Keep stirring and cook on low heat. Add a pinch of salt. Cover and cook on low heat for five minutes. Test for done-ness. Take care that the liquid remains. If needed added more coconut milk.
When done, add the rest of the coconut milk. Stir well to warm through but do not let boil. We do not want the milk to split. Set aside the soup.
For the pistou:
Bring a cup of water to boil. Blanch the basil leaves in it for ten minutes. Refresh in cold water to retain colour. Remove and dry bunches of leaves in a towel.
I used a mixer to grind but if you would like to, use a mortar and pestle.
Tear the basil leaves and place in the mixer along with crushed garlic. Pour olive oil through the hole on the lid and grind to a coarse mixture adding a pinch of sea salt. The mixture should be coarse and not fine. We do not want the water from the basil to exude. Check seasoning and set aside.
To serve, warm the soup. Remove the bay leaf and the chillies if you do not want to bite into them.
Place a tablespoon of pistou in the centre of the soup and serve with a slice of bread for dinner. Traditionally a pistou soup may contain pasta as well. I prefer a light soup. I bet thin rice pasta would be good in this soup, though.
I generally have soups for light dinner and that means, no bread. I also save some for a photograph to be taken in the morning. Do you?
I will see you next year with a smile and a sweet. Hope you are all having a good time as you read this. Can you believe I am wearing a turtleneck sweater in Mumbai as I am writing this? Bizarre, but it actually feels chilly these days!