Sunday, March 18, 2012

Guest Post: Just Right Tomato Soup

Today we have a guest post from a good friend who is also a talented photographer. I recently relayed this recipe by Heidi Swanson to Mica and his wife. Taking advantage of the last of the cool weather here in the desert Southwest, he made it and was kind enough to tell us about it here.

Tomato soup: an easy recipe with big flavor
By Mica Thomas Mulloy

It has only been in the last five or six years that I have started to tolerate tomatoes.Before that, tomatoes and I were not really on speaking terms. I tried time and time again, but I just couldn’t do it. They always had that, well, tomato taste. Yuck.

Now I’m a little bit better. I can appreciate a good caprese salad, diced tomatoes in a taco, or thinly sliced tomatoes on a big sub sandwich or a good burger (thinly sliced is the key. Too thick and I still pull them right off). Of course I have always enjoyed salsa too, but that doesn’t count as tomatoes, right? But as far back as I can remember, even though I would turn up my nose at any form of raw tomato, tomato was my favorite variety of soup.

Go figure. It has always just had a warm, homey feeling to it. Pair it with grilled cheese sandwiches and you have perfect meal on a cold winter night. If I had to name my “comfort foods” tomato soup would certainly make the short list.

I need to clarify here that I am not a cook. Despite a short-lived phase when I was little of wanting to be Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company,” my culinary skills have never surpassed basic at best. I make a mean quesadilla, somehow figured out a decent chicken parmesan and serviceable meatballs, and I can grill pretty good street tacos.

That’s about it.

Still, occasionally I get an itch to try to cook something delicious, and will sometimes surprise myself by not ruining a meal.

When one of the primary authors of this blog gave my wife her recipe for tomato soup, my appreciation for the creamy red brew took over and I felt the urge to really make a mess in the kitchen.So I did, and it turned out great.

This definitely is not your standard condensed-tomato-soup-from-a-can recipe. I may not be the biggest soup connoisseur, but even as an amateur I can safely say this one has a ton of flavor without being overbearing. And it has kick. Not so much spice that the timid-tongued won’t want to eat it, but just enough to really make the taste memorable.

It’s not a thin broth with giant chunks you can never quite dig up from the bottom of the bowl, and it’s also not so thick you could eat it with a fork. Like Goldilocks found with the three bears’ porridge, it’s just right.
Secret ingredient: generic store-brand spices
Here’s what you’ll need:
  • 2 yellow onions chopped
  • 2 28 oz. cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 6 cups of water
  • Cumin
  • Red chili flakes
  • Curry powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Here’s how to do it. Or at least how I did it:
Chop the onions. I ended up using one really big onion rather than two regular onions. Did it make a difference? No idea. Chop what you want. As a side note, if you’re like I used to be and chop onions as you would anything else and then wonder why the pieces are all different sizes, oddly shaped and nothing like what you see in cooking shows, watch this quick video for some tips.

Drizzle some olive oil in a large pot and when hot add the onions.
Once sufficiently softened, stir in the fire roasted tomatoes, coconut milk and water. Next add the spices. I used a tablespoon of each.
I used kosher salt, and later added in about a teaspoon of season salt. I wanted to make sure I covered up any strong “tomato” taste (Yuck, remember?).
Once hot, use an immersion blender to make the big chunks less chunk-like and the whole concoction a little creamier.
The mixture comes together on low heat
Cover and cook on low for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the brew brewing. I’m sure you could keep it simmering longer, but we were hungry and it looked done.
Chopped fresh flat Italian parsley from my herb garden. It was a really nice addition as a finish for the soup. Pull the leaves from the stems, bunch together, chop, bunch together again and turn 90 degrees, chop again. Repeat.

Ladle into bowls and serve. I added a little fresh parsley from my herb garden. I think it was a nice, subtle final touch. We warmed some Filone Asiago Cheese bread from the bakery aisle to go with the soup. So much for the gluten-free meal, I know, but if you can tolerate it, it was a great balance to the kick, and great for dunking into the soup. How civilized.
Finished product, ready to serve

What I learned:

First, this wasn’t tough or that time consuming as far as soup from scratch goes. Stuff went in a pot, good soup came out. Second, a little curry powder goes a long way. If you like it and know what you’re getting into, go with a tablespoon. If you aren’t sure, cut it back a bit. I will probably try less coconut milk next time. It is a necessary ingredient, but I kept getting a hint of little too much coconut. Or maybe coconut with a little too much curry. That said, keep in mind I don’t really know what I’m talking about. If I did, I would probably be able to balance out what I was tasting with the other spices. Alas, I’ll just add less of both next time.Lastly, this recipe made a lot of soup. Plenty for leftovers the next day plus some in the freezer. I made this for two, so it could easily feed four to six people. If you have a small party and don’t want leftovers, you could reduce the ingredients.

In the end:
I don’t love tomatoes. Never have, and even though I like them now more than ever, don’t imagine I ever will. They’re too tomato-ey. I think people who can just bite into a whole tomato and enjoy it are weird.
But I do love tomato soup, and this is easily one of the best tomato soups I’ve ever had. Like I said, it has a lot of flavor and just enough kick. For comparison purposes, it certainly leaves the Campbell’s red and white can in the dust.
But you can compare it with that familiar feeling of warmth, comfort, and home. And this soup has it all.

Mica Mulloy is a high school teacher and photographer in Phoenix, Ariz. Check out more photos and less recipes on his website at

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