Hey friends! I’m coming in hot, to drop this stellar soup recipe on you, while the weather is still fine and early fall produce is at its peak. The bell peppers in my region are bountiful and beautiful, and because I am the biggest sucker for roasted pepper anything, I came up with this dish to celebrate a seasonal favourite.
But first, can we take a moment and please talk about how I just invented giant croutons? I think it might be my personal opportunity to break the internet. How is this not a thing yet?! Sure, I guess you could look at the cheese toast on French onion soup and say that is a giant crouton, but in my opinion, it’s merely an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich. Pfff. Not even close to this. My crouton is a cube of sourdough (important shape-distinction), kissed with garlicky oil and seared to toasty, golden perfection. The outsides are caramelized and crisp, while the center is fluffy, creamy and studded with nooks and crannies for the soup to slide in to. Guh. Too good to be true! Honestly guys, I’m pretty proud of this.
But I also need you to know that this soup is darn good too, even without the crouton. The recipe is loosely based on the North African Sun-dried Tomato Soup in my second cookbook, except I left out many of the warming spices, which felt prematurely winter-y. It’s still t-shirt weather here, so the ginger and cinnamon had to go. Plus, I doubled the pepper count, added a teeny splash of balsamic (to round out the flavor), and made it bisque-y without the cream. Guess what I used?! Lentils!! Mic drop. But instead of bulking it up and putting the soup on legume-overload, I was conservative in my approach and just used half a cup. This made the soup rich and creamy without the cream, but in a very hush, hush way, so that you literally have no idea that they’re there. But their presence can be felt, because this soup is the real meal deal, not just a bowl of blended up veggies that will leave you hungry again in 20 minutes. With the bonus lentils, you’re getting way more protein and fiber that you’d normally expect from a pepper soup, and they will fill you up, and keep you energized for hours. This suddenly feels very infomercial-y. Did I mention there is a giant crouton?
Moving on! Let’s talk about peppers because they are in the nightshade family and that is a hot topic, if I ever heard one.
Nightshade vegetables are a part of the Solanaceae family, and include tomatoes, peppers (and chilies), eggplant / aubergine, and all potatoes except for sweet potatoes and yams. Originally cultivated in South America, nightshade vegetables were brought to Europe and Asia by Spanish explorers. Their name supposedly comes from the fact that they grow at night (as opposed to mushrooms, which grow in the shade).
You may have heard rumors that Nightshade vegetables are toxic, that they can cause inflammation or that they’re linked to autoimmune disorders. While it is true that edible nightshades contain high levels of glycoalkaloids, specifically solanine, which at very high levels is toxic, it only seems to trigger reactions in individuals who are sensitive to it. Those with pre-existing inflammatory conditions may experience worsening of their symptoms when they consume these foods, but an elimination diet would be the only way to determine if nightshades are in fact, causing the issues. For people who do not suffer from chronic inflammatory ailments, enjoying ratatouille, a pizza, or a baked potato is likely just fine, and certainly not going to cause you to get these conditions.
As far as autoimmunity is concerned, alkaloids from edible nightshades have been shown to irritate the gut, since solanine is effectively natural insecticide produced by this plant family. Gut irritation can contribute to intestinal permeability, which can set off an autoimmune reaction when proteins that should remain in the digestive tract leak into the bloodstream. The level of irritation depends on the amount consumed, and how sensitive the individual is. The highest amounts of solanine are found in green potatoes, and sprouted potatoes, but we should avoid eating those anyway.
Let’s review: if you have an autoimmune disorder, leaky gut, or you exhibit symptoms of discomfort (digestive or otherwise) after consuming nightshades, try eliminating them from your diet for at least 6 weeks and see if you notice a difference. Then, re-introduce them one at a time and be aware of how you feel within a 24-hour period after eating them.
If you don’t have these issues, don’t worry about it! There is absolutely no reason to limit your intake of these highly nutritious vegetables if they seem to do your body good. Bell peppers contain an astounding amount of vitamin C, high levels of A, and B6, with very good levels of folate, fiber, and vitamin E. They also provide flavonoids, and carotenoids. Remember to buy bell peppers that have fully ripened – anything other than the greens ones, which are typically unripe red, orange, yellow, or purple peppers. Their nutrient profile will be at its peak, and the natural sugars will be fully developed, easing their digestion.
Let’s get to the recipe!
If you’re really pressed for time, skip roasting the peppers in the oven, and just dice them up, and add them to the pot along with the garlic in step 3. The overall flavour will be less rich, but still incredibly delicious. When I’m in a crunch, I’ll pull this move and have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. If you want to change things up, try orange or yellow peppers instead of the red ones.
As far as sun-dried tomatoes go, I like organic, dried ones, instead of the oil-packed ones, but either would work here. With the canned tomatoes, go for whole, since they tend to be of higher quality than the diced ones.
Let’s talk bread. If you have access to a bakery where they make the real thing (sourdough), please use that. If you don’t, find an unsliced loaf at your supermarket; bonus points if it’s made with wholegrain flour, organic, yeast-free, or all of the above. The bread should be cut into cubes with the serving bowl size in mind (you’ll want to see some of the soup around it), but if you have a huge bowl, go crazy and make that crouton as gargantuan as you want! And don’t throw the offcuts away – I put them in the toaster and slathered them with hummus for my son. He was stoked about the oddly-shaped chunks.
Bell Pepper Bisque with Giant Croutons Makes 8 cups / 2 litres / Serves 4
2 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee, divided
2 medium yellow onions, diced
½ tsp. fine sea salt
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
½ – 1 tsp. hot smoked paprika (depending on how spicy you like it)
4 large red bell peppers (stems, seeds, and ribs removed)
5 – 7 cups / 1 ¼ – 1 ¾ liters vegetable broth
1 14.5-oz. / 400ml can whole tomatoes
½ cup / 45g sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup / 100g dried red lentils, soaked for 1 – 8 hours, if possible
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1. If you have time, soak the lentils in water overnight, or for up to 8 hours. Drain and rinse very well. If you’re starting from dried, that is okay too, just give them a very good wash and drain before using.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C. Prepare the peppers by cutting each of them in half, scooping out the seeds, and rubbing with a little coconut oil. Place peppers cut-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast for 25-30 minutes until the skins are totally wrinkled and charred in places.
3. In a large stockpot, melt the remaining coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and begin to slightly caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add a little broth to the pot if the mixture becomes dry.
4. Add the whole tomatoes and their juices along with the sun-dried tomatoes, lentils, and the rest of the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and break up the whole tomatoes with your spoon. Simmer, covered for 15 minutes. Stir once or twice during cooking to prevent sticking.
5. The peppers should be done by now, so take them out of the oven, transfer all of them to a bowl with a lid or plate over the opening, making sure there are no gaps (this technique steams the peppers so that the skins will just slip right off, without using plastic wrap). Once cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the peppers, and place the peeled peppers in a blender.
6. Remove the soup from the heat and take off the lid to let cool just for a minute. Transfer to the blender, and blend on high until completely smooth. Add balsamic vinegar, and broth or water to thin, until your desired consistency is reached. Season to taste. Transfer back to the pot and keep warm.
7. Make the croutons (recipe below).
8. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with fresh herbs, edible flowers, a drizzle of good olive oil, and of course place one giant crouton in the middle of each bowl. Enjoy!
Giant Croutons Make as many as you want!
1 loaf of good bread (wholegrain sourdough is preferred)
2 Tbsp. expeller-pressed coconut oil (the unscented kind – very important!) or ghee, divided
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
flaky salt, to taste
1. Cut the bread into 2 ½” (6cm) slices – mine weighed 1.25 oz / 35g per piece. Cut off the edges and make a cube (save the off-cuts for snacks).
2. Spread a little coconut oil on each side.
3. Heat remaining coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for a few minutes, just until the garlic is starting to turn golden.
4. Lower the heat to medium-low, and add the bread cube. Rub each side in the oil to coat with some of the garlic and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let cook on each of the six sides for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Remove from heat and enjoy immediately.