This is a favorite pureed soup of ours, and every fall I come back to it because it's creamy and sweet, subtly spicy, and light but also substantial thanks to the cannellini beans. Sometimes we'll have soup and sandwich night, and this soup is usually on the menu along with a scaled-up grilled cheese that involves a layer of grainy mustard, sharp English cheddar, and apple butter. If you can't get a hold of apple butter, a layer of thinly sliced apple would be terrific.
Friday night I gave a workshop on sugar cravings, discussing the effects sugar has on our body, the source of cravings, and what we can do about them. Thanks to the wonderful guys and girls who attended, it was a fun evening with lots of sharing and discussion. One strategy I shared and personally use to curb the intensity of cravings is to include more naturally sweet foods in main meals. This way the sweet flavor is delivered in a more nutritionally-dense package, allowing us to feel more satisfied from the meal. Some naturally sweet foods are root vegetables (i.e. carrots, beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes), coconut milk, nuts, and of course fruit. But everyone's tastes are different, so think of what other foods taste naturally sweet to you and start playing around with them more in savory meals.
When adding something sweet to a savory dish I always keep in mind ways to balance it to achieve a well-rounded flavor profile. As I've mentioned before in this post, Ayurveda identifies 6 Tastes that naturally occur in food (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, astringent, and bitter). Each of these flavors represent different nutrients our body needs, and incorporating the 6 Tastes ensures we get the diversity of nutrients needed to nourish our bodies.
The best part about this is that it's intuitive; our taste buds can guide this balancing act. I don't try to memorize the predominate flavor of each food, but rather use and trust my sense of taste and smell as I'm cooking. Many times it's as simple as adding dried fruit or root vegetables for something sweet, a splash of vinegar or lemon/lime for the sour component in a warm stew, some chili or spices for a pungent kick, or a side salad for the bitter/astringent taste.
This pear and parsnip soup is well-balanced but with a natural sweet component that is really satisfying and helps diminish the intensity of sugar cravings later on. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Five-Spice Pear and Parsnip Soup
Serves 4 (as a part of a larger meal)
4 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, with skin on
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt + pepper, to taste
2 tsp. five spice powder
2 medium pears, chopped
5 cups (1 L + 175 ml) water
1 1/2 cups (or 15 oz. can, rinsed and drained) cannellini beans
1 tsp. salt
Sriracha or harissa sauce, to taste (optional)
Pumpkin seed oil, to finish (optional)
Preheat oven to 220°C (425°F).
Place parsnips, onion, and garlic on a large baking tray lined with a silpat mat or aluminum foil for easy clean up. Season with salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste, and 1 1/2 tsp. five-spice powder. Stir to combine, and place in oven to roast for 15 minutes.
Add pears, remaining 1/2 tsp. five-spice powder, more oil (if mixture looks dry); stir to combine and roast another 10 minutes, or until parsnips and pears are soft. Once cool enough to handle, remove skin from garlic cloves.
In the meantime add water, beans, and salt to a medium soup pot; cover, and bring to a simmer. Add cooked vegetables and puree with a hand (immersion) blender (or boil water in a tea kettle, cool slightly, then add everything directly to an upright blender). Taste and adjust for seasoning.* Finish with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil, if desired.
*I've made this several times, and the end flavor can vary depending on the spice level of the parsnips and sweetness of the pears. If the pears and parsnips are especially sweet I like to stir in a couple spoonfuls of sriracha or harissa sauce at the end to balance the sweetness.