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Midsummer's soup dream

Pot full of winter ©Cookaroo
 My grandfather had five brothers and three sisters. An average-sized family for the good old days. And because he was the eldest, I suppose, he ensured that his children got to spend quality time with all of them.

My father, I suppose, tried hard to do the same with us - me and my sister, that is.(I think he'd had it by the time my brother came along). Despite all the drama, I think he succeeded, pretty well, at that, I believe.

Because we lived with our grandparents in Chennai, his (my grandfather's, that is) siblings would come and spend quite a bit of time with all of us. Between the stories, and the peels of laughter and eccentricities it would be quite an exciting time at home.

The best part though, for me, was watching my grand uncles in the kitchen. Both Ravi Uncle and Jati Uncle were and are quite the chefs. Both have been in the restaurant business, and both make awesome albeit different food. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I was surprised by them in the kitchen per se - my father cooked for us all the time - but it was how agile and nimble-fingered they were, that had me in awe.

They eyeballed everything. Hardly ever kept or even noted the measurements, knew the recipes by heart. And, everything, yup everything they made tasted superb.

My favourite memory is of a summer Jati Uncle spent in Chennai. It was May - the month of mangoes, the month of flies, the month it is so hot, that you want to move to the Himalayas. And in the middle of the day, where it must have been at least 40 degree centigrade, Jati Uncle decided he'd make soup. Potato and leek soup.

He started off mid-morning, and when we ate the soup, it was dinner time and yet fresh off the stove. It had cooked for at least 6 hours. You MUST cook the hell out of it, he said, it's how you get the soup to taste good.

And it was wonderful. Thick, warm and very filling. Quite the perfect winter soup. Except that we were eating it in peak summer in the tropical Chennai climate. That aside, it's taste stayed with me forever.

A couple of months later, when it was slightly cooler, I tried making the soup. It didn't taste quite the same. The flavours were too leeky, the potatoes too grainy. I tried again and again but it never tasted the same.

Years later, when I was staying with Jati Uncle in New York, I asked him what I did wrong. Did you put butter, lots of it, he asked. Did you add as much cream your stomach could handle, he prodded. I had done neither.

And then he made me the soup, and while helping him, this time I watched him cook. The soup tasted exactly how I remembered. And I could see why it was so wonderful - it was pure butter and cream.  Butter, he said, makes everything better.

My soup is not quite like Jati Uncle's, because, as we grow older, we have to eat healthier. I do add butter and do put a bit of cream, but it's the milk that makes it creamier. It doesn't taste quite the same, but it's still a good home-style soup.

Duplicate Zuppa delgiorno ©Cookaroo

Potato and Leek Soup (Not quite Jati Uncle style)
Serves 3 big helpings or 4 sensible one

4 leeks - use only the white tender parts
300 gms potatoes or 4 to 5 medium sized one
1 tablespoon Butter
1 + 1 tsp olive oil
2 cups Vegetable stock / Stock cube+ 2 cup water
1 cup Milk (optional)
1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 small celery

Croutons and soldiers


1. Chop the tender parts of the leek in circles. Heat a saucepan, add to it the butter and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add the leek and let it cook till it's tender and fragrant

2. Peel and dice potatoes, add to the leek. Stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add the stock / water plus cube. Let the mix simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. Once cooked, let it cool.

4. Once cool. Blend the mix and pour back into the saucepan. If you are adding milk, do so now and adjust seasoning (salt, pepper and paprika).

5. Cut onions, celery and carrots into small dices. In a saucepan add olive oil and the three vegetables and saute until done.

6. Add the vegetables to the simmering soup. Ladle into bowls, garnish with cream and parsley and eat up.

Note: I like the feel of vegetable bits in my mouth, omit them or add them

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