Ayla’s sweet potato and peanut soup dressed with crunchy, candied, sesame

“‘I plan to begin with a sweet potato soup. Then beef Wellington….and we’ll finish with a fresh fruit sorbet, lime and lemon.

Jenny Diski, Stranger On A Train

Kind people have been shopping for us during the Coronavirus lockdown, they get what they can, not always ideal since stocks are limited. I found myself with two sweet potatoes: vegetables universally unpopular in this household; there’s something gloopily cloying about them. What to do?

The answer is to mix them with something much stronger tasting. But what? Again – there’s not a lot of choice these days in my larder. I do, however, have, inexplicably, a lot of peanut butter. Ditto, garlic: both ingredients with bags, thankfully, of their own overwhelming, in a good way, personality.

Why finish with the snips of sage? Because that herb brings out the rich earthiness of the sweet potatoes – they do have their good points.

And what’s with the crunchy sesame? Again, the lively texture steers the soup right away from gloopiness. The nuts and seeds echo the peanut (peanuts are seeds, not nuts, remember).

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the resulting soup was a revelation and is now a favourite. But it’s filling, a meal on its own. I wouldn’t recommend it in the menu outlined in the quote at the top of this post, that really would be overdoing things.

This is what to do.

Recipe for Ayla’s sweet potato and peanut soup dressed with crunchy, candied, sesame

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
  • 1 litre/2 cups chicken stock, made with two stock cubes; or you could use vegetable stock if you are vegetarian or vegan
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 120 ml/½ cup peanut butter (ideally the smooth type)
  • 2 tsps cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • a couple of sweet potatoes (about 600g/1 lb 5 oz)
  • 250g/8 oz cooked black beluga lentils
  • a few sage leaves
  • Urfa pepper flakes; or freshly ground pepper
  • A drizzle of pumpkin seed oil
  • 60 ml/¼ cup/4 tbsps dry vermouth
  • olive oil for frying

Ingredients for the crunchy, candied sesame (nb – this makes enough for another soup for four)

  • 2 tsps thick soy sauce
  • 1 tsp thick balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsps maple syrup
  • a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes (or a few grinds of black pepper)
  • 110g/1 cup slivered or chopped almonds
  • 100g/⅔ cup black sesame seeds

Method

  1. In a large saucepan dry fry the cumin seeds for a couple of minutes, while you peel and chop the onion. Add the onion to the pan with a splosh of olive oil, and begin to fry.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes and dice them. Core and chop the tomatoes.
  3. When the onion starts to go translucent, add the garlic and the allspice. Add the diced sweet potatoes and the tomatoes. Fry a little longer (add a dash more olive oil if you need to); add a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes; add the vermouth. Stir.
  4. Pour in about half a cup (120 ml) of the stock, and then the peanut butter. Stir well to ensure the peanut butter dissolves.
  5. Add the rest of the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile make the crunchy sesame. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with silicone or baking paper. In a small bowl mix the soy sauce, the balsamic vinegar, the maple syrup and a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes. Add the almonds and sesame seeds. Spread the mix out on the baking tray and bake for about five minutes. Leave to cool, break up into rough chunks, and store about half of it in an airtight container.
  7. Add the beluga lentils to the simmering mix. Use a stick blender to blend, add a little extra liquid (water or milk) if it’s a bit stiff.
  8. Serve with a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil, a few sage leaves snipped over, and a generous sprinkling of the crunchy sesame.
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