The tale behind the inspiration for this hearty soup: I went away for a magical weekend to a nearby small town, literally located in the high mountains about 2 hours drive from my hometown. This magical little town also known as “fairy town” is called Hogsback. It’s supposedly named that after a series of mountains that all have a protruding ridge that actually look like a hog’s (pigs) back. I went with my partner, Adam and some of his family for a weekend getaway. It was perfectly timed because it was the weekend before SWOT week (exam week), so to be out in nature, giving my soul some soul-food before the exam grind was just perfect. We stayed in a quaint, beautiful cottage on a big property - lush with vegetation, macadamia trees, and the surrounding lively hum that is an innate quality of the abundance of trees there. This beautiful town is literally where the book series Lord of the Rings was inspired – this can give you an idea of the scenery and landscape. It was also perfect timing because of the Autumn leaves turning everything once green into a gentle hue of gold, red and yellow.
At the place we stayed at (owned by two men – one of them being a well-known chef from Spain) breakfast and dinner was part of the deal. It was so incredible to be catered for as a vegan. Usually in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa it’s very hard to be able to go out and order a delicious, carefully-crafted, divine vegan meal that is something more than simply a salad or bread (keep in mind that most people in my hometown often say something like, “oh you are vegan, so that means you still eat chicken right?”). We ended up having the most spectacular meal after a long walk to The Edge - a rock face dropping down into the lush green valley. It was a four course meal – and a brilliant one at that. Usually I am not the biggest soup lover, however this starter of warming tomato soup with fresh crusty Italian bread and avocado completely changed my soup game, for life I reckon. I vowed to try and create a tomato soup as delicious as that one. This is my first attempt at doing so, I hope you enjoy it – feeling the warmth and inspiration floating through each mouthful transported from the land of the Hobbits.
· 8 large vine tomatoes
· 2 small-medium onions
· 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
· 3-4 cups water
· 2 vegetable stock cubes (or homemade veggie stock substituted)
· 1 tablespoon of liquid sweetener – maple syrup, brown rice syrup, honey etc
· 1 teaspoon mixed herbs
· ¼ teaspoon Sriracha spice mix (or chilli powder of choice)
· Salt and pepper
· Handful of fresh basil
· Dried olives (optional)
· Bread to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2. Wash your vine tomatoes and chop into quarters. Place them on a baking tray along with the peeled whole garlic.
3. Peel the onions and cut in half lengthways. Then cut semi-circle rings of about 1 cm thick. Place them as is on the baking tray around the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and 1 teaspoon of herbs and chili.
4. Place into the preheated oven for 55-60 minutes until golden, releasing a fragrant aroma and bursting with flavor.
5. In a pot bring 3-4 cups of water to the boil, add in your stock cubes and dissolve. Take 1 cup of the stock water out – this is so that you can control how liquid-y your soup is.
6. Once the tomatoes and onions are finished, take them out and add them to the stock water in your pot.
7. Blend with a blender until smooth and silky, add more water if desired. Add in your sweetener to cut through any lasting acidity/bitterness and to round off the flavor. This created my perfect consistency, but if you’d like your soup a bit thicker, simply let it bubble away on the stove for a while with the lid off to reduce some of the fluid content of the soup. If doing so, hold off on the salt in the beginning because as the soup reduces and thickens it will naturally get a bit saltier.
8. Serve piping hot with fresh basil, bread and dried olives. ENJOY!