So here I am, with bright red tomatoes at the ready, thirsting for some soup. But no chicken broth in the house. Of course one can use water, but I do need to add back in some of that lovely savoriness that a broth would have added.
So I choose a multi-pronged attack.
a) Saute oyster mushrooms into the base. This takes care of the missing umami taste.
b) Brown tiny potato cubes in the base of the pot, to add some of that Maillard goodness.
c) Broil the tomatoes before adding them in to the soup, to add the caramelized flavor of the browned skin.
d) Add some milk/cream at the end to add in the missing protein flavor. Also adds creaminess.
e) Add some Worcestershire sauce, which basically being bottled umami flavor, is a bit of a cheat. The interesting thing here is that one of the ‘natural flavorings’ used in this sauce may be asafetida (heeng), which is used extensively in Indian cooking. And yes, I can vouch for its umami-ness. Among its ingredients is tamarind, also an old stand-by in Indian cooking. I guess those British did pick up a few tidbits about Indian food in the 200-odd years they spent hanging around us.
Oh — and for an aromatic, parsley. Just parsley.
Handful of chopped parsley
Fistful of chopped oyster mushrooms
One medium potato (new red or purple) chopped into small cubes
Six small tomatoes
Olive oil – some
Salt to taste
Worcestershire sauce – one teaspoon. Substitute with red wine or balsamic vinegar.
Quarter cup milk or cream.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a thick-bottomed pot. Add potato cubes to it and a sprinkle of salt. Saute on medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes. The potato will start to brown and stick to the bottom of pot for dear life. Let it brown, then dark brown, do not worry. We will deglaze off all that stuck goodness later.
When it seems that it is on the verge of actually just charring (you do not want that), add in the chopped mushrooms. They will sweat and unstick some of the potato fond. Oh, yes, that is exactly what ‘fond’ means — the foundation or base of a sauce. After a few minutes the mushrooms will have sweated and shrunk. Now add in the minced parsley. Cook, stirring occasionally. You can cover it if you like, to get it to sweat more. Now sprinkle in the Worcestershire sauce, and stir, to deglaze some more.
Once the mixture looks — I don’t know, kind of soup-base-y, put in a cup and a half of water, bring to a boil, and leave at a very gentle simmer, uncovered.
Meanwhile, rise and stem the tomatoes. Cut them in half, place face down on an oven-safe dish, and rub olive oil all over them. Broil for 7 minutes or until the skin has wrinkled and charred. Take them out of the oven. You can peel them if you like but I left the peel on. Puree them and toss into the soup.
Simmer the soup another ten or twenty minutes, check for salt and blend again if you like it smooth. Add milk and just heat through (do not bring to a boil at this point, because otherwise it will curdle).
Serve! Possible garnish: shaved parmesan cheese, croutons, parsley, chives. And, I didn’t miss the chicken broth at all.