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Homemade Tomato Soup (Corba od Patlidzan)

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Here’s how I came to learn how to make tomato soup.

I developed this homemade tomato soup recipe for the Badnje Vece meal that is a part of a traditional Serbian Christmas celebration. Badnje Vece is Christmas Eve. Because of the difference between the calendar used by the Eastern Orthodox church to calculate holidays, Christmas Eve falls on what the rest of the world would call January 6.

Homemade tomato soup is rich and satisfying year round.There’s a special Badnje Vece meal that is “posno,” or lenten, meaning that there can be no meat, fowl or dairy products included. Lest you think this makes it a vegan meal, I’ll add that fish is the main course. And that some of the other courses use honey.

One of the courses of the traditional Badnje Vece supper is Corba od Patlidzan, or tomato soup. This particular dish must be vegan, unless you have a notion to put fish or honey in it. (Tip: don’t.) When I was growing up, we just used Campbell’s. One year my mother forgot to buy the Campbell’s, so in a flash of inspiration, she heated some V-8 cocktail vegetable juice in a saucepan. Everyone liked it so much, that became our family traditon.

I continued the V-8 tradition for years in my own household. But finally, one year, Donald broke it to me that he did not like hot V-8, not even a little bit.

By this time we had been off canned soup for a long time. So I rose to the challenge and made my own from scratch. Donald loved it! The taste is fresh and bright. It starts with a simple roux that lends a silky texture, even as the crushed tomatoes and diced veg keep it rustic at heart. Even without a stock base, this homemade tomato soup recipe is dense with vegetal flavor.

Since I threw it together without a recipe, just putting everything into the pot that I thought would be good to find in tomato soup, I figured I’d better write it down fast while I still remembered what I did.

Remember, it has to be animal-product free. So I had to stop myself from reaching for the butter and the homemade chicken stock!

Tomato Soup Recipe: Corba od Patlidzan
The recipe

CHOR-ba od paht-LEE-jahn, with the “j” as in “Jack”

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
several fresh grindings black pepper
2 bay leaves
1-2 shakes red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons (approx) fresh or frozen fresh parsley
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, juice and all

In a deep, heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until cleared and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and celery partway through this onion cooking process.

Add the flour and stir well. Let the flour cook in for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, parsley and tomatoes. Fill the tomato can with water and add it to the pot.

Simmer, covered, about a half hour. Stir occasionally, making sure it doesn’t stick and scorch on the bottom.

If you like, you can blend this smooth when you’re done, or strain it. But I don’t care so much for perfectly smooth soups, myself. I like it rustic.

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