Tadka-Topped Roasted Root Soup
A tadka is a seared Indian spice mix that lends aroma and flavor to a dish. More a technique than a recipe, tadkas caught my attention because of the way they invert the culinary formulas I usually follow, where you sauté aromatics and sear meat at the beginning of cooking, then end with lower heat and a cold garnish, like a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprinkle of sesame seeds. With a tadka, you turn up the flame just before you’re done.
In Indian cooking, which has serious layers of flavor, you’ll also start with sautéing, you’ll just end with it too. But in this leftover-inspired soup, you rely on the takda one hundred percent to save your puréed soup from tasting like (really good) baby food.
When I made this, I had two excellent containers in the fridge: one held mixed roasted root vegetables (carrots, turnips, parsnips, yellow beets, and sweet potatoes), the other homemade chicken stock. I was thinking that maybe after Thanksgiving you have similar leftovers? If not, roasting a sheet of vegetables and simmering chicken stock is a great activity if you want to eat semi-healthfully in between holiday meals. So, yeah, when I went to make lunch I had both these things, and I decided to combine and conquer. Into the pot went a scoop of my already roasted vegetables and some stock, and while they were heating up together, I took out the blender for puréeing, but I also thought: maybe I’m going to need a little more here to feel satisfied.
So that’s when the tadka idea happened. I’ve been stocking ghee at home, the nutty clarified butter that heats up really hot without smoking and is perfect for crackling whole mustard and cumin seeds, crumbled red chilies, and garlic, bringing out the spices’ aromas as a good tadka should. I ladled the soup, made the tadka, then poured the contents of my frying pan, ghee and all, into the mug, and, as I’d hoped, the topping gave new life to each spoonful.
You can make this pureed soup with any kind of vegetables you have around (even if they’re not roasted). Having one kind of starchy vegetable in the combo will give the soup a little extra body–almost a creamy texture–but it’s not necessary. The real necessity is to examine your color choices, choosing roots that won’t combine to make an unappealing brownish-green color. If you use reds, skip greens, for example. For this soup’s hue, I stuck to whites (parsnip, turnip), yellows (the beets), and oranges (sweet potato).
Good as the soup was, it’s not going to be the last thing I tadka!
- 1 cup roasted root vegetables (I used a mix of parsnips, turnips, yellow beets, and sweet potatoes roasted with olive oil and salt for about 35 minutes at 400°F)
- 1½ cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
- Cilantro, for garnish
- ½ teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 clove garlic, finely and evenly minced
- 2 teaspoons ghee or high-heat oil like safflower
- Place the roasted roots, stock, and garlic in a small pot. Bring the stock to a boil, then add a pinch of salt (if the stock wasn't salted), cover, and simmer on low for 10 minutes, until very hot. Transfer to a blender and blend until very smooth, adding a little more stock or water if the soup seems too thick. Return to the pot and keep warm on low. Taste for salt, adding more if needed.
- Prep all the tadka ingredients. Everything's going to happen really fast from here on out, so be ready! Put the mustard seeds and cumin seeds into one little bowl. Put the red pepper flakes and garlic into another one. Grab a frying pan, a lid that will rest on top even if it doesn't fit perfectly, a ladle and a soup bowl or mug.
- Set the frying pan on high heat for about 5 minutes, until very hot. Add the ghee, and turn the heat down to medium. While the ghee melts, ladle your soup into a bowl and keep it by the stove. Then, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the frying pan and immediately cover the pan. Cook, shaking the pan, for about 30 seconds, until the seeds stop popping. Uncover, add the red pepper flakes and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, just until the garlic is golden--this could be as quick as 10 seconds. Immediately pour all of the tadka over the soup. Swirl in with a spoon. Finish with a little more salt and some fresh cilantro.