Indian Spiced Tomato Soup

I've been thinking about the tomato soup from Kerala Indian Restaurant  in Kyoto, Japan since the day I tried it. As I mentioned in my original post about the restaurant, the owner spent years developing the recipe for this soup. He is Japanese born to an Indian father and Japanese mother. He also spent a significant time in England, working at both a French and Italian high-end restaurant. He ended up returning to his home town, and took over his father's successful Indian restaurant. In a way, you can taste the story of his life in this soup.

It's a soup that has Indian, French, and Italian flavors. It's a soup that cannot be improved upon. It's a soup that was developed by someone with passion, curiosity, and an incredible palate. Like many things in Japan, it's a soup made with precision, care, pride, and love.

After tasting it, I knew I would try to recreate it back in the States. I also knew that I wouldn't come close. That didn't matter; if I could make something remotely similar to what I had, it would still be worth eating.

So I made the soup... and no, it's not the same. It's still damn good. It's curiously spiced and satisfying. There's nothing wrong with classic creamy tomato soup, but if you're looking for a soup with more depth of flavor and unusual spices, this recipe is worth a go.

If you don't have all of the spices in your pantry you can skip some of them. But don't skip the cinnamon stick... that's the secret ingredient!

And if you find yourself in Kyoto... got to Kerala Indian Restaurant and order the large portion of the soup.

Indian Spiced Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 10

14 medium-small very ripe tomatoes, or about 2.5 lbs. worth fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart vegetable stock (homemade if possible)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 12-oz can tomatoes (Mutti brand)
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons ground pepper
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar or honey (or to taste)
1/2 cup half & half

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Slice your tomatoes in half. Lay them cut side down on a lined sheet tray. Place them in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until roasted and soft.

While your tomatoes are roasting, you can start on the base of your soup. In a large soup pot on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and one diced onion. Sauté your onion until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Once softened, to the onion add the minced garlic, ground coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric. Sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Then, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste until the bits of onion are well coated, about 30 seconds. Next, add 1 quart vegetable stock (I prefer homemade, but get low-sodium if it's store bought). Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and bay leaf to the liquid. Finally, add salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons of sugar or honey. Depending on the tomatoes, you might need more sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomato. Start in small amounts, and add more later if needed. You can always add the sweetener later, but it's hard to take it away once you've put it in the pot.

Once the tomatoes are roasted, add them, their juices, and the canned tomatoes to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low and allow the soup to simmer for 30 minutes until all the flavors meld together. Using an immersion blender, or a regular blender, puree the soup until smooth.

Finally, add the half & half to the pot. Taste the soup and add more salt, pepper, or even half & half depending on your preference.

If you want to make the soup non-dairy, I think it would taste very good with coconut milk, or a non-dairy creamer. Taste and adjust the amounts according to your liking. Alternatively, you could just add more vegetable stock.

Serve hot, ideally with some fresh garlic naan bread, or a melty grilled cheese.