Layer Aromatics and Spices for a Warming Creamy Parsnip Soup

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Pleasantly sweet parsnips get depth and complexity from a handful of aromatic ingredients in this creamy soup. [Photographs: Daniel Gritzer]

Parsnips are possibly my favorite root vegetable. Their sweet, earthy flavor is just irresistible. But like most things—even great, delicious things—they can be a little one-dimensional on their own. That's especially true in a soup, where boiling and simmering don't necessarily offer the same level of flavor transformation as, say, roasting. (Of course, you can roast your main soup ingredient first, but then you lose some of its pure, clean flavor.)

The key to overcoming that is to layer complementary and contrasting flavors. Like most creamy vegetable soups, I start with a basic method of sautéing aromatics in butter or oil. For this soup, I used a combination of onion, leek, celery, and garlic. If I had left it at that, I'd have ended up with a very simple, but possibly boring soup.

Instead, I added a few other aromatic ingredients for interest: coriander seed, a spice that I can not get enough of, is fragrant in a kind of woodsy, citrusy way; jalapeño, meanwhile, adds just enough heat to warm the mouth, and fresh ginger backs that heat up with its own particular combination of bright and warming spice.

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Then I add the parsnips and just enough chicken stock to cover (though you can make this vegetarian with vegetable stock or even water), and let it simmer until everything is tender. The blender turns the soup creamy, despite its lack of dairy, but I take the extra step of pressing it through a fine mesh strainer with the help of a ladle to get an even silkier texture. (If I owned a high-power blender, which I sadly don't, I could get an even better texture without straining it at all.)

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It comes out a little too thick, so the last step is to thin the soup to the desired consistency with water or more stock, if you have it.

I garnished the soup with whipped cream that I'd lightly seasoned with allspice and a dash of cayenne for color, but if you'd rather not introduce dairy, you could garnish with so many other things, like glazed chestnuts, sautéed mushrooms, or a lemony gremolata.