Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fire on Ice Soup (with chilly chiles)

Flames shooting up, icicles dripping down. Fire on Ice.
When I saw the announcement for the Marx Foods Fire on Ice contest, I hesitated for longer than usual. The theme was to make something cold that was hot. Errr ...

English is a funny language.

Hot can be cold, if the heat is about spice instead of temperature. And that's what we were supposed to do. Make a dish that's served cold. Not necessarily frozen, but at least chilled. Not room temperature.

But whatever we made, it had to be spicy, using at least one of the peppers that Marx Foods provided for us.

I hesitated because the first thing I thought was was ice cream. Chocolate. With cinnamon and pepper. But that's been done before. I wanted to be just a little more creative, but I had that ice cream stuck in my head.

It took a while before I came up with another idea, and this time I took the Fire on Ice theme all the way through the design of the finished product.

Out of all the peppers that came in my spicy little box of incendiary goodness, I chose the mulato. I'd worked with it before, and I liked it. To my taste, it's similar to an ancho pepper. Not massively throat-burning hot, but with a nice warmth and a slightly fruity taste. I thought it would be great in a soup where you'd be likely to eat a whole bowl full. Or two.

The contest is now over (and I didn't win) but I still love this recipe.

Fire on Ice Soup

For the potato soup:
1 quart milk
2 corn cobs, stripped of corn, but not "milked"
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 cups mealy white potatoes peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

For the squash soup:
1 butternut squash, halved, seeded, and roasted until soft
1 quart water (more as needed)
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
Several grinds white pepper
Pepper puree (to taste)

For the pepper puree:
3 mulato peppers
Water, as needed

To make the potato soup:
If you think it's odd to have corn cobs without corn ... well, it's summer and I usually buy more corn than I'm reasonably going to eat. So I use some for salsas and salads, and that leaves me with the corn cob. Often, I toss them into soup stock, or whatever else I'm making. They add a nice sweet flavor.

Put the milk, corn cobs, onion, potatoes, and salt into a large pot. Heat to a simmer and cook, stirring as needed, until the potatoes are soft and falling apart. Remove the corn cobs, and when they're cool enough to hand, run the back of a knife (or a spoon or dull knife) over the cob to extract the last bits of corn and the juice. Discard the cobs and return the corn bits and liquid to the pot.

Using a stick blender, puree the soup until it is smooth. Taste and add more salt, as needed. It will get thicker as it cools, so add more milk if you think it's too thick. You want a spoonable soup, not loose mashed potatoes. You can also add more liquid after it's chilled, so don't fret too much about exact thickness.

Transfer the soup to a storage container and refrigerate until cold.

To make the squash soup:
Remove the flesh from the squash and discard the skin. Put the flesh in a bowl and add the salt, pepper, and about half of the water.

Use a stick blender to puree the mixture until it is smooth. Add more water and continue pureeing until you have reached a soup-like consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, as needed. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until cold.

To make the pepper puree:
Tear the mulato peppers open and place them in a bowl. Add boiling water just to cover the peppers, and set aside until the peppers soften - about 20 minutes. You can leave them longer if you get distracted. Who, me?

Remove the peppers from the liquid and discard the stem, seeds, and soaking liquid. Place the peppers in a blender or food processor and add just enough fresh water to get them to blend. You're looking for a thick puree, not a thin sauce.

Place a fine strainer over a bowl and dump the puree into the strainer. Use a spoon or spatula to press the mixture through the strainer. You should end up with nothing but pepper skin, tough bits, and random seeds in the strainer.

Transfer the pepper mixture to a small storage container and refrigerate until cold.

To assemble the soup:
Remove the potato soup, squash soup, and pepper puree from the refrigerator. Stir the soups. Your goal is to have them be approximately the same thickness, and you want a fairly thick soup - not a broth. But not so thick that you need to chew.

We like thick soups, but the final texture is entirely up to you. The thicker the soup is, the better you'll be able to keep the soups separate in the bowl.

If the potato soup needs to be thinned out, add milk, cream, or cold water. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if needed (the flavor will be different when it's cold.)

If the squash soup is too thick, add a little water. Again, taste for seasoning and adjust, if needed.

Transfer about 2 cups of each soup into separate measuring cups or other containers that are easy to pour from. For each cup of the squash soup, add 1 tablespoon of the pepper puree. Taste and add more puree if you want it spicier. (Reserve the rest of the puree to go with the rest of the soup).

Now comes the slightly tricky part. Pour both soups at once into your individual soup bowls, pouring on opposite sides of the bowl, trying to pour both at an equal rate.

When you've got enough soup in the bowl, use a skewer or other thin implement to create your flames and icicles in the soup. Keep in mind that flames are wispy and wavy, while icicles tend to flow straight down. Get decorative, if you like.

If the soup is super thick and your decorating has raised some bumps on the surface, gently tap the bowl on the table and those bumps will smooth out.

Serve cold.