Curry Laksa

If you have been following this blog for some time, you will have picked up on the fact that I love curry. One thing that I have always wanted to do is create my own curry paste but, unfortunately, I have never had the right equipment. Now things have now changed. This recipe doesn’t require any expensive spice grinders that are only going to be used occasionally, it uses a standard food processor, which is a much more worthwhile investment.

Handmade curry paste is very different from the most available ones you can buy. For starters, it is nowhere near as concentrated. This may seem a bit odd but once you make it, you will realise quite how much water is in the paste which is removed before you purchase it. A curry for two people normally has about 60g of curry paste in it. This recipe feeds four but uses over a cup (250ml) of paste. This excess water must be driven off at the start of the cooking process if you want to extract the best flavours from the spices.

The recipe below is specifically for curry laksa. This differs from asam laksa as it lacks tamarind pulp and includes coconut milk. These differences result in a far creamier, much less sour curry that I am a huge fan of. Laksa is a classic example of fusion cuisine done well. It is believed to have been cooked for Chinese merchants by the women they married as they travelled around the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Java and Indonesia). The dish combined the local ingredients, specifically coconut and tamarind, with the noodle dishes that the Chinese merchants bought with them on their travels and from these intermarriages was born the Peranakan culture.

A lot of classic laksa recipes contain both dried and brown shrimp in the curry paste and also use prawns instead of chicken. As someone who doesn’t eat seafood this was rather unfortunate for me, but luckily chicken laksa is relatively popular and isn’t too much of a change from the original sentiment behind the dish. The depth of flavour from the spice combination is phenomenal and I hope you get as much pleasure from this dish as I did.

 

 

 

Curry Laksa with Chicken

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 3/4

Cost per serving: around £2

 

 

For the paste:

3-6 red chilis

5 garlic cloves

2 stalks lemon grass

3cm ginger

2 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp turmeric

1tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp cashew nut butter (2 tbsp nuts or swap for peanut butter)

1 tbsp fish sauce

Juice of one lime

1 tsp oil

 

Other Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil

2 chicken breasts

400ml low fat coconut milk (this has a slightly milder flavour than the full fat variety)

600ml chicken stock

4 portions noodles

Beansprouts or some other thin, crunchy vegetables (julienne carrots or mangetout both work too)

3 tsp chilli paste (optional)

6 tofu puffs or slices of fried tofu (optional)

Corriander and sliced spring onion to garnish

 

 

Place the ingredients for the paste into a food processor and blend until almost smooth. Laksa should have a slightly gritty texture so the paste should still have a few fibres left in it.

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Heat the oil in a pan and add the laksa paste. Fry this until it starts to dry out.

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Add a quarter of the coconut milk and cook again until the paste starts to dry and the milk begins to crack. (For more information about cracking the milk, see my post on Thai curries).

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk along with the stock. Stir this together and heat until it begins to boil.

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Once the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat until it is simmering and then add the chicken to poach in the soup for around 15 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking and if you are using tofu puffs, slice them in half along the diagonal and add them to the soup.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain them and rinse with cold water until the noodles are completely cool to stop them from cooking any more.

Once the chicken is ready, blanch the beansprouts and begin to assemble the dish.

Place a portion of noodles in the centre of each bowl and place a couple of pieces of tofu on top.

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Slice the chicken breasts and divvy them up between the bowls laying the chicken down on one side of the noodles

Place the bean sprouts or other vegetables in the centre of the bowl, on the noodles, to give the dish height.

Ladle the soup around the outside of noodles so as not to disturb the vegetables.

Finally, garnish with a small spoon of chilli paste if you like your laksa spicy.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe! The soup is full of flavour and can absolutely be enjoyed without any of the other toppings if you want a light lunch or even just a small starter at the beginning of your meal. The wonderful thing about making your own curry paste is that you can adjust the ingredients to your preferences so the laksa will be perfect every time.

If you like curries, you should definitely check out my recipes for Thai coconut curry and also for my lighter, non-coconut curry too. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little sweeter, why not try treating yourself to a beautiful ombre cake? You can even turn it into a unicorn!

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a cake idea that you can prepare for Halloween.

H

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon Curry

Curry powder is a wonderful thing. It makes life a lot easier when you can buy a premixed spice blend to make dinner with but sometimes it just isn’t quite the right ratios for what you are looking for and you have to make it yourself.

Unlike most curry powders, the spice mix I’ve used in this recipe doesn’t contain either pepper or ginger but instead replaces them with tamarind paste giving a slight tang to the curry which goes perfectly with mango chutney. Tamarind paste is one of my favourite ingredients in cooking. It gives sourness to dishes which provides a depth of flavour otherwise lost if you replace the tamarind with lemon or lime juice.

Tamarind grows in pods with a fleshy interior and large flat seeds. The young fruit are very sour and are used in savoury dishes and as a pickling agent owing to the high concentration of tartaric acid in the flesh. As the fruits age and ripen, they become significantly sweeter and start to be used in jam and desserts instead. One of the most eaten dishes which uses tamarind as a primary flavouring is Pad Thai. The sauce uses both tamarind and sugar along with several other seasonings and this mixture of sour and sweet is almost impossible to stop eating.

The recipe below doesn’t use tamarind as a primary ingredient but the addition of it gives the curry sauce a hot and sour flavour which pairs beautifully with a slightly sweeter accompaniment like dahl. The coconut milk gives a creamy, velvety mouth feel to the sauce helping offset the aggressive flavours in the curry without taking away from the taste. Of course depending on how spicy you like your curry, you can add more dried chilli or even fresh chillies during cooking to take your meal from a gentle warming feeling to melt your face off hot. One of the best things about this dish is how quick it is to prepare. The whole thing can be done in about ten minutes. I use a rice cooker at home and I tend to let it finish cooking the rice before I start cooking the salmon for this. The speed of this dish makes it perfect for a weeknight dinner especially if you are getting home late and don’t want to spend ages slaving away over a hot hob.

As always with this kind of meal, you can exchange the salmon for chicken or another choice of meat or fish or even make a tofu or vegetable curry. Just make sure to cook everything first before you add the curry sauce as the sauce cooks very quickly. If you want to cut time even further, you can make up a large batch of curry powder by premixing the spices and just taking a tablespoon as and when you want to make this dish.

Salmon Curry

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Cost per serving: around £2

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp chilli powder (or more if you like it spicy)

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

3 large cloves of garlic – minced

½ tsp salt

200ml coconut milk

2 salmon fillets with the skin removed cut in half width-wise

2 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix the turmeric, chilli powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, salt and tamarind in a bowl with 160ml water (2/3 cup).

Heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan until it starts to glisten.

Place the salmon fillets into the pan careful not to get splashed by hot oil. Place the fillets with the side that the skin was on upwards.

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Sear the salmon for around four minutes until the underside starts to go golden.

Flip the pieces of salmon and pour in the spice mix. This will bubble a lot so be prepared for a large quantity of steam.

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Let the mixture bubble for about two minutes to cook the spices and then add the coconut milk into the pan and stir this through.

Allow the salmon to cook for another few minutes until it is your desired doneness. This takes around three minutes for softer, flakier fish or five minutes for fish that is a little drier.

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Serve with rice and your choice of sides. I like to have this with dahl and mango chutney.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Salmon is my favourite fish and the more ways I learn how to cook it, the more often I can eat it without getting bored. If you aren’t a fan of curry, my pan seared salmon with lemon cous-cous is also a super quick dish and is probably slightly healthier than this one as it doesn’t have coconut milk in it. It you are looking for something a little bit more on the sweet side, check out how to make yourself a peach galette. It’s a sweet pastry covered which doesn’t require any tins – all you need is a baking tray!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe filled with chocolatey goodness.

H

Thai Curry and Other Coconut Curries

I have always found that Thai curry is one of those foods which is never as good when you make it at home as it is when you go out to eat it. This probably stems from the fact that the Thai curry paste available in most shops is nowhere near as good as the stuff that most restaurants use. It’s also taken me a long time to figure out how to get the coloured oil on top of the curry which gives it the authentic look – and in the process, really helps to meld the flavours together.

The coloured oil is formed when the coconut milk is cracked. This is where the coconut oil starts to split out of the rest of the liquid. It happens when the coconut milk is heated and boiled and as the water is driven off, the balance of oil to water is changed so the milk, which was previously an emulsion of oil in water, now has too high a fat content so the coconut oil starts to leak out. Coconut oil is a colourless liquid however it absorbs both colour and flavour from the curry paste which is why it always has a vibrant shade, far more intense than the rest of the curry.

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Cracking coconut milk for red curry. Top left – curry paste by itself. Top right – immediately after the coconut milk is added. Bottom left – the coconut milk has started reducing and the colour is intensifying. Finally the bottom right image is after the coconut milk has begun to crack. You can clearly see the red oil splitting out of the mixture.

It should be noted that not all Thai curries contain coconut milk. A notable exception is Jungle Curry which is water based. This is a direct result of the lack of coconut trees in the northern parts of Thailand where this curry came from. Unsurprisingly, it was the coconut curries which caught on in the western world. Whether that was because they are naturally creamier in texture or because they are less spicy is unknown but red, green, yellow, massaman and panang curries have all become very popular in England. Unlike their coloured counterparts both massaman and panang curry make use of peanuts giving them a distinctive flavour. Panang is very similar to red curry and can be quite spicy whereas massaman curry is very mild. It is very creamy and nutty and generally contains both peanuts and boiled potato. Despite the lack of spice in it, massaman curry is definitely one of my favourite curries.

One of the best things about curry is that you can make it to your personal preferences. You can swap ingredients in and out until you find the perfect combination for you so you never have to eat the same thing twice. In my recipes, I always use onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. These come canned from my local supermarket and are normally in the Asian section. It is also common to add red/green/yellow peppers to their respective coloured curries. I have also seen mange tout added to green curries as well as green beans. The chicken can also be switched out with beef, pork, tofu, quorn or just left out entirely. Prawns are also popular in curry however if you use them, you want to add them to the curry very last minute so they don’t become overcooked so make the rest of the curry first and add the prawns just before serving.

I hope you enjoy the recipes below.

 

Thai Chicken Curry

Serves 3

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

1 large chicken breast

Curry paste

600ml coconut milk

1 large onion

Water chestnuts

Bamboo shoots

1 tsp sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon unflavoured oil

Optional:

2 garlic cloves minced/finely chopped

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Chop the onion. I tend to chop it into eight sections by cutting it in half and then quartering both halves.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or large non-stick pan.

Add the curry paste and the garlic/ginger if you are using them.

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Fry for a minute or two to let the flavours come out of the paste.

Add 200ml of the coconut milk. Stir until it is combined with the paste and then boil for five to ten minutes, stirring regularly, until the coconut milk splits. You will know this has happened as you will start to see coloured oil appearing on top of the mix. The coconut milk will have reduced down a lot during this time. Once you start seeing the oil appear, you should continue to boil the mix for another minute to ensure it is split properly.

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Add the chicken and fry until it is sealed and opaque on the outside – about five minutes

Add the onion and fry for another minute or two.

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Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, bring to the boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes.

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Drain the bamboo and water chestnuts and stir into the curry along with the sugar and a little salt to taste.

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Cook for a further two minutes until the water chestnuts and bamboo are cooked through.

Serve with rice.

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Thai green curry garnished with a little bit of reserved coconut milk.
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Thai red curry garnished with a little fresh chilli and coconut milk.

Chicken, Sweet Potato and Spinach Coconut Curry

This curry is a combination of my basic curry from my last curry post but it is elevated to the next level by the addition of coconut milk instead of stock.

Serves 2

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Chicken – off the bone

1 medium sweet potato

Spinach (I use three or four frozen blocks)

1 onion

400ml coconut milk

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped

1 tbsp unflavoured oil

Peel and cube the sweet potato.

Cut the onion into large chunks – like before, I do this into eight pieces.

Thinly slice the chicken and set aside.

Place the oil, garlic and spices into a wok and heat until the aroma starts being released.

Add two tablespoons of coconut milk to stop the spices burning.

Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is sealed and opaque on the outside.

Add the onion and sweet potato and continue to cook until the onion starts going translucent. It’s fine if the sweet potato is still hard at this point.

Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and stir it through.

Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.

Add the spinach now. If you use fresh spinach, add it a little at a time and let it wilt down before adding the next batch otherwise it won’t all fit into the pan! If you are using frozen spinach, just add it all in at once.

Once the spinach has mixed in, bring the curry back to boil and simmer for another five minutes.

Serve immediately with rice.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes. As I said before, the brilliance of curries is that you can tailor them to your tastes. By adding extra vegetables and removing others, you can create an almost unlimited amount of different meals to spice up your life.

I hope this has given you some ideas about different meals you can add to your repertoire – the hard work is already done when you buy your own curry paste.

If you want to make a lower fat curry, check out my basic curry recipe. Again, you can add whatever meat and veg you want to it and it is a water based curry so has far less saturated fat in it that coconut based curries. The base recipe I use is also vegan!

If you enjoy baking, you should also try your hand at my Raspberry and White Chocolate Tart. Crumbly shortcrust pastry layered with luscious raspberry caramel and white chocolate mousse, this is not one to be missed and will stun anyone who eats it (providing you don’t finish it yourself!)

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for melt in the middle chocolate puddings. These things are actually amazing!

H

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Basic Curry

Tofu is not known for its wonderful flavour. Or texture. Or visual appeal. In fact, most people’s first reaction to the word is some sort of grimace. This probably stems from the fact that, in England, one of the more available forms of tofu is ‘silken tofu’. This has a very gelatinous texture and is incredibly fragile, in fact I have found it almost impossible to cook silken tofu without it all falling apart and becoming some sort of mush – though this is probably just me. Silken tofu is created by curdling soy milk but the liquid is curdled inside the carton in which it proceeds to be sold, whereas standard firm tofu is curdled and then the liquid is strained off before the curds are pressed into a block.
With records dating back to the Chinese Han dynasty, tofu has been around for about 2000 years. One of the leading theories is that it used to be made by curdling soy milk using sea water – the impurities in the water acted as the coagulants needed – and some forms of tofu are still produced like this today. The production of tofu spread around eastern Asia and it became a popular meat substitute as it is far cheaper.
There are several different types of tofu ranging from extra-soft to extra-firm. Extra-soft tofu has so much liquid in it that it barely holds its own shape – think of the texture of ricotta cheese. The next firmness is standard silken tofu. This tends to be used in desserts and sauces or smoothies as it can be used as a substitute for dairy and eggs. When blended into sauces or smoothies, it gives them a very creamy texture.
For tofu to be firmer than silken tofu, it must be pressed during production. This involves straining out the soy bean curds and then squeezing them to remove as much liquid as possible. The tofu produced from this has a much harder texture and tends to be what I use for cooking. You can press it at home to drive off even more of the liquid by wrapping the block in a tea towel and placing a heavy object on top – I tend to use either a pan or an encyclopaedia. The tofu can then be cooked in a variety of ways to give it the texture you want. Extra-firm tofu is incredibly dry. It is a little rubbery and is firm enough to be sliced very thinly without the pieces breaking. It is sometimes shredded and used instead of noodles in dishes.
Standard tofu is bland. It has basically no flavour whatsoever. This makes it perfect for absorbing flavours from other things so you can always marinade tofu in soy sauce or flavoured oils after it has been pressed to give it some taste. When I bake tofu before adding it to curries and such, I like to add some salt, pepper and sometimes a little curry powder before I put it in the oven as that way it will have a natural taste. The other way to avoid this lack of flavour is continuing to cook your curry for five or so minutes after the tofu has been added as it gives a chance for the moisture from the curry to soften the tofu a little bit and also infuse the flavours of the sauce into it.
Nowadays tofu is only really used as a meat substitute Europe and America. In eastern Asia, it tends to be viewed as just another ingredient and is often used alongside meats or seafood in dishes. A lot of people, especially in England, are not exposed to well cooked tofu when they are younger resulting in the reactions I mentioned at the beginning. With proper seasoning and cooking and, most importantly, the correct type of tofu, I believe most people would appreciate it far more and use tofu when cooking on a more regular basis.

Basic Curry (Vegan)

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes Serves: 2
Price per portion: £1.30 (for tofu)

Ingredients:
1 block of tofu (400g)
1 large onion
500ml vegetable stock
1 ½ tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 ½ tsp cornflour mixed with 3 tsp water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
Oil

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 C).
Drain the tofu and if you have time, press it (this step is optional).

Cut the tofu up into small cubes, I tend to do one horizontal slice through it and then cut it to make cubes which are around a centimetre a centimetre and a half long. The tofu will shrink in the oven.

Line a tray with baking parchment or a silicone mat and spread the tofu out on it.

Drizzle over a little oil or if you use a cooking spray, a couple of sprays of that will also work well.

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Season with a little salt and pepper and place in the oven for 40 minutes remembering to turn the tofu every 10 minutes.

After the tofu has been cooking for 20 minutes you can start on the curry.

Chop the onion into wedges (I tend to go for eight of them).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan or wok and add the onion.

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Once the onion starts going translucent, add the stock, garlic and spices.

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Simmer for 15 minutes while the tofu finishes off in the oven.

Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and cornflour mix and let the curry sauce thicken. If it is still

very thin, add some more corn flour but if the sauce has become too thick, add some more stock.

Take the tofu out of the oven and pour it into the curry and stir through.

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Let the curry simmer for another two minutes to so the tofu can absorb some of the flavour and then serve with sticky rice.

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This curry keeps very well so if you are only cooking for yourself, you will have leftovers to eat the next day too. I like to use medium curry powder but if you like a spicy or particularly mild curry, there are different versions available. You can also eat this curry with noodles or bread.

A way to make the curry even cheaper on a budget is just don’t use the tofu! This will also drastically reduce the cooking time and you can replace it with whatever you want. Cubes of carrot work well and you can always throw in water chestnuts and bamboo shoots at the end too to bulk it out. Obviously you can also use meat too but make sure to sear it in the wok before you add the onions and the stock to it.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. For another easy meal, check out my One Pot Pasta or if you are looking to do something a little more flamboyant, why not make yourself a Chocolate and Caramel Cake filled with lashings of cream and delicious caramel.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a yummy shortcrust tart.

H

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Curried Parsnip Soup

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Hello everyone and happy new year! When I started this blog four months ago I genuinely wasn’t sure if it would still be going at this point but I am happy to say that it’s still going strong. I hope 2017 wasn’t too hard on any of you and 2018 will keep getting better.

Vegetable soups are a fantastic item to have in your cookery repertoire. They are perfect for a quick and easy starter and will impress anyone you cook them for (it doesn’t take much to give them a professional finish). Not only are they healthy, they are very cheap which makes them ideal to cook on a student budget. Once you have the basics down, you can start adding new ingredients to spice the soup up and really start to show off.

Parsnips have been around for thousands of years. They have been cultivated since the Roman era however they were generally interchangeable with carrots back then. The same word (pastinaca) was often used to refer to both carrots and parsnips and back then, carrots were not the orange ones we know today but were either purple or white. If left in the ground over winter, the cold causes some of the starches within the parsnip to break down into sugar giving it a sweeter flavour. For this reason, parsnips (like carrots) were used as a sweetener before cane and beet sugar became readily available.

One thing of note is that fresh parsnips should be handled with care. The leaves growing from the top produce a toxic sap which reacts in sunlight to form chemicals that can lead to phytophotodermatitis. The condition is not an allergic reaction but more of a chemical burn which causes rashes, blisters and can leave skin discoloured for up to two years. Luckily when you buy parsnips from the shop, they tend to have the leaves cut off so this isn’t an issue for most people.

I am a huge fan of soups at university as they can be prepared in advance and then freeze very well. You can pop them out of the freezer and have a meal ready to eat in no more than 10 minutes! I normally use medium curry powder but you can use any strength though I would recommend only putting one tablespoon in if you like a milder flavour and then adjust it to what you like.

 

Curried Parsnip Soup

Cook time: 45 minutes         Serves: 7           Price per portion: 15p

650g peeled parsnips

1 large onion

3 cloves garlic

1 litre weak vegetable stock

2 tbsp curry powder

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Chop the parsnips up into chunks and place on a baking tray. Drizzle over a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring half way through.

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Finely slice the onion into half moons.

Fry the onion in a large pan with a tablespoon of olive oil.

When the onion has turned translucent, roughly chop the garlic and add that along with a tablespoon of the stock – this will boil off and help cook the onion and garlic before the garlic can catch.

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Add the roasted parsnip to the pan and stir through the curry powder and cook for another minute.

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Add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and blend the soup to a homogeneous mixture. Once it looks blended, continue for another minute making sure to get any bits of oil which may float on the top. This will give the soup a lovely creamy texture.

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Serve with bread. You can garnish the soup with a drizzle of cream, a sprinkle of curry powder or even vegetable crisps.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe. Let me know how it turns out for you and drop me a tag on Instagram as I love to see what you guys make! If you fancy a sweet treat – why not try you hand at making a Yule Log (they aren’t just for Christmas) or even make yourself a three course meal starting with parsnip soup and progressing to a rich Beef Wellington for main?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a recipe for delicious, crunchy brandy snaps!

H