A soup suitable for comfort thanks to a friend

January 13, 2002|By Rob Kasper

I BROUGHT IN the New Year with an old friend in a new guise. The old friend, a bottle of beer, appeared in a curried apple and sweet potato soup.

The soup was so good that when I returned to work I rang up its creator, Crescent Dragonwagon. Crescent, as everyone calls her, is a writer based in Eureka Springs, Ark. I met her back in 1993 at the festivities surrounding Bill Clinton's inaugural, when, as the author of Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread cookbook, she introduced Washington to what she termed "the nouveau Arkie" style of cooking.

Before I telephoned, I checked out Crescent's Web page. It outlined her current cooking and literary projects and answered how she got her name (she changed it at the age of 16). The page also reminded me that life is filled with sorrow as well as joy. Her husband and fellow writer, Ned Shank, had been killed in a bicycle accident two Novembers ago, and the page listed activities honoring his memory.

When I got Crescent on the phone, she was in New York pursuing a number of projects, including a vegetarian cookbook to be published this fall. She said she has been working through her grief by writing poems and a children's book, The Bread I Baked for Ned. Shifting gears, she talked about the soup recipe that I had made on New Year's Eve. "As I recall," she said, "I was looking for something that wouldn't make this soup taste like a sweet potato side dish. I opened the refrigerator, and there was a bottle of beer."

Life, as Crescent Dragonwagon knows, can be bittersweet. This soup, a harmonious mixture of fruit, vegetables and beer, offers some comfort as another year begins.

Curried Apple and Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 6-8

1/4 cup dark raisins

12 ounces pilsner beer

4 tablespoons butter

1 onion diced

2 tart apples, unpeeled, cored and diced

1 tablespoon best-quality curry powder

2 tablespoons finely minced ginger

2 tablespoons flour

3-4 cups any well-flavored chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 cup frozen apple juice

1 cinnamon stick, 1 inch long

1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and finely diced

salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste.

In a bowl, soak the raisins in the beer for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it starts to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the apples and saute until somewhat softened, 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with curry powder; turn down the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, for about 8 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cook 2 minutes longer.

Meanwhile drain the raisins, saving the beer. Sprinkle the flour over the apple mixture and cook over low heat for 1 minute. Gradually add the beer, stirring to smooth any lumps, and cook until hot, smooth and free of the floury tastes, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer mixture to a food processor and buzz until smooth.

Pour the chicken stock into a soup pot; add the apple juice concentrate, the cinnamon stick and the soy sauce. Bring to a boil, then add sweet potatoes, turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the hot stock and stir in the pureed apple mixture. Season with salt and white pepper. Simmer over low heat for several minutes to meld flavors; ladle into bowls.

From Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman Publishing, 1992)

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