What happens when you combine down-home tomato soup with Indian spices? Spicy masala tomato soup is the inter-cultural result.
Every winter around January, I seem to have a hankerin’ for traditional cream of tomato soup. I grew up with the canned Campbell’s variety. Sometimes I like to think I had a Warholesque-childhood, but, in truth, it was far more suburban and prosaic than that. I never really liked the thin tinny-tasting tinned soup. However, I later developed an appreciation for the home-made version. I had tried the “real” soup at dinner parties and home-cookin’ restaurants, where the tomato’s true identity shines through.
A few years ago, I came across Martha Stewart’s recipe for tomato soup. Although I never use the cream option, this version makes a fine North American “cream” of tomato soup (NB: I would double the ingredients to make a larger portion, as a matter of course). It is the kind of tomato soup which would pair perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch on a rainy or snowy day. The ingredients are generally in a well-stocked home pantry, so the soup can be ready in just over one-half hour.
I decided to adapt the recipe to incorporate “Madrasi Masala”, which my friend Kip had given us as part of an Xmas gift. Commercial break:
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In case you did not know, “masala” means mixture and often is a blend of spices, varying from place to place. It can also be a spicy tomato-base for curries (typical of the Punjab region, for instance). Kip’s particular blend from the Madras region worked well in a Sri Lankan dal I had made a week earlier. I wanted to make more use of the tantalizing spice blend.
For the review of the soup – and the recipe
The soup combines the traditional American tomato base and texture with the masala, ginger, garlic, and cayenne, which enliven the flavours and add an unexpected dimension. An intriguing complexity of spices and some lively heat make it a nice surprise from the comfortable cream of tomato soup, but not so much that it is painful…or shocking. The soup has a good hearty consistency – not absolutely smooth. Its rich, burnt-orange colour looks warming and enticing on its own.
Sometimes an unanticipated departure from a childhood favourite can be a good way to shake up your wintry routine.
Spicy Masala Tomato Soup (my original creation, with a special nod to la Martha) Serves four as a main course, six-to-eight as a starter
- 3 tablespoons unflavoured oil, e.g., canola
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped finely
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated on a microplane (note: one heaping tablespoon of prepared garlic-ginger paste can substitute for the above)
- 24 ounces canned whole plum tomatoes
- 4 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock (or vegetable stock, for a vegetarian alternative)
- 2 teaspoons masala powder of your choice
- ½ teaspoon cayenne, or more, to taste
- sea salt, to taste (1/2 teaspoon should suffice)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more, to taste
- cilantro, AKA “fresh coriander”, for garnish (optional)
- Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened and are translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add garlic, ginger, masala, and cayenne, stirring for two minutes.
- Add tomatoes, chicken stock, pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until tomatoes, onions, and garlic are soft, 10 to 15 minutes.
- If using a blender, working in batches, transfer soup to the jar of a blender and puree until smooth. If using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the saucepan off the burner, until the desired consistency.
- If using a blender, return the soup to saucepan and place over medium heat and heat thoroughly. If soup seems too thick, stir in some extra stock or water to thin.
- Adjust seasonings – salt, pepper, and cayenne.
- Serve immediately.