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Recipe: Chilli chestnut soup

28 May 2021
Chestnut Soup On Wood Background

Get in some foraging now, and you’ll be sipping a powerful soup come winter, says Kiwi Gardener's Kristina Jensen.

Chestnuts are often overlooked as a food source in New Zealand. They are a high-energy nut full of natural sugars and packed with valuable minerals and vitamins. A great food for vegans because their protein is very similar to that of eggs, chestnuts are gluten-free and relatively fat and oil free, and they contain no cholesterol.

I foraged for chestnuts as a small child with my mother and have very clear memories of collecting the prickly brown ‘nutters’, as we called them as children. My three-year-old baby brother invariably ended up falling onto them, and Mum would spend an agonising hour picking the prickles out of his chubby legs.

Every year, my husband and I process about five kilos of chestnuts into purée for use in winter soups and stews. As well as adding a creamy, rich texture, the chestnuts provide a very nutritious element, and we feel a certain smugness for our foraging efforts.

And if the prickles put you off, here’s a little tip for harvesting: wear gumboots and gloves. Place one foot on either side of the prickly case and push down. The chestnut should just pop up, making it easy to grab with your gloved hand with a minimum of stabbing.

Chilli Chestnut Soup
(makes 6–8 generous servings, gluten and dairy free, vegan)

This is truly a ‘winter warmer’ soup. Adjust the amount of hot stuff to suit your tastes, but know that chilli is a powerful healer and probably the best quick-fix for blocked sinuses. So, if you are feeling a cold coming on as the damp seasons begin to encroach, a bowl full of this powerful brew will hopefully send those bugs packing!

1 onion, chopped
6 Tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
1.5kg root vegetables, like parsnip, swede, carrot, potato and kūmara, cut into medium-sized chunks (you can use one sort or a
mixture; peel the vegetables if you wish, but
it is not essential)
1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tart green apple, peeled, cored and cubed
2 litres vegetable stock
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 large sprig of fresh thyme (or ½ tsp of dried thyme)
2 bay leaves
1–3 fresh chillies, inner skin and seeds removed (use gloves), finely chopped
900g chestnuts, cooked and puréed (see note below on how to make chestnut purée)
salt & freshly ground black pepper
coconut cream for drizzling before serving; needs to be a liquid brand

1. Preheat your oven to 200°C.
2. Place the chopped vegetable chunks into a roasting dish and toss in three tablespoons of the olive or coconut oil.
3. Roast for 30–40 minutes until tender and set aside to cool.
4. Fry the onion, garlic and apple in a large heavy-bottomed pot with the rest of the olive or coconut oil for five minutes until soft.
5. Add the roasted vegetables, stock, vinegar, bay leaves, thyme, chopped chillies and the chestnut purée.
6. Slowly bring to the boil, stirring all the while.
7. Simmer for 15 minutes and then remove the bay leaves and sprig of thyme.
8. Whizz until smooth with a stick mixer or pulse in a food processor.
9. Taste and add salt to season.
10. Ladle out the soup into each bowl and garnish with a quick swirl of coconut cream, followed by a sprinkling of freshly chopped chives or parsley and a grind or two of fresh black pepper.

Chestnut Purée
1. Bring a pot of chestnuts covered in water to the boil, and keep them on a low boil, with the lid on, for 20 minutes.
2. Drain off the water and tip the chestnuts into a flat dish, like a roasting pan, to cool them down quickly.
3. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the nutmeat. The best tool for this is either a knife or a teaspoon.
4. Place the nutmeat into a food processor and pulse until smooth. If the mix seems too dry, add tiny amounts of water until the blades start to achieve a smooth consistency.

Chestnut purée can be frozen for up to a year and used for soups, cakes and smoothies.
Get the right nut: You can tell the difference between a ‘conker’ (a horse chestnut) and an edible chestnut by the spikes on the outer shell. Horse chestnuts have short bumpy spikes on a smooth ball-shaped fruit, where you can see the surface between the spikes; edible chestnuts are super prickly, like little hedgehogs.

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