'Memories of Iceland' Asparagus Soup

For all you Canadians out there, do you recall the epic President's Choice 'Memories Of...'  food line? Every product was ...

For all you Canadians out there, do you recall the epic President's Choice 'Memories Of...'  food line? Every product was tied to a food memory of a place that Dave Nichol traveled to... I never bought many of those products growing up but I had the cookbook and I always found the idea...romantic. Food is so engrained in our memories. In fact, food is the star of most of my memories (I'm obsessed with it, what can I say?).

My fondest memories involve food and I make it when I want to remember a feeling from years past.

I am recently married and have a set of fond memories growing around my husband. Oddly enough, not many of them are food memories. 

A lot of my fondest moments with him are traveling memories. We like to discover new places together. When we travel we are not stressed out, we are totally free and ready to discover new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. One of our first trips together was a fairly epic voyage to Iceland.

We went there for our one year anniversary and fell in love with it (and got engaged). Iceland is a truly remarkable country with scenery that is as beautiful as it is treacherous. We traveled there to experience the island's breathtaking natural phenomena. It is a small country but its tourist sights are strewn far across it requiring visitors to drive or take buses out to the main attractions.

We spent a little over a week driving around, getting lost looking for waterfalls, hot rivers and glacier lagoons. 

It was a mysterious, silent and vast country with amazing scents everywhere. The intriguing new smells ranged from mineral rich soil to wild heather (which seemed to grow everywhere) to an extremely strong smelling plant that dotted the countryside that smelled pungently of the sea.  

We had an amazing trip. Oddly enough, food was really not the star of the journey. 

Food in Iceland has been described as "difficult". They have a hard time cultivating vegetables due to inclement weather, a serious lack of sunlight and sulfurous soil. As a result, Icelanders produce most of their produce in greenhouses. The greenhouses are quite amazing. They are powered and heated by geothermal energy. The country is like a hot pot.

A seemingly endless supply of hot water bubbles underground, streams and steams through the countryside in temperatures ranging from pleasantly warm to beyond scalding hot.  

Tourists flock to see natural wonders like the geysers where boiling water erupts from holes in the ground and shoots straight up like a fountain. This amazing natural supply of hot water adds to life in Iceland in many ways. The geothermal activity provides the country with green electricity, makes vegetables in the dead of winter possible and even heats the hundreds of swimming pools around the small island. It is quite astounding. The greenhouses grow a variety of fruit and veg, from cucumbers and peppers to bananas and grapes. Unusual produce is imported at great cost as well. As a result of this, food can be really pricey. When the country's economy crashed and many Icelanders found themselves unemployed or in tighter financial situations, a grocery chain called Bonus took the country by storm, offering less expensive food, and even clothing, to the masses. During our stay we shopped there primarily and cooked almost all of our own meals. Grocery stores in Iceland offer the basics that you are familiar with in North America and also a host of Icelandic specialties. Foods like Skyr (a delicious and thick yogurt cheese) are available everywhere for reasonable prices. Fresh fish  is plentiful on the island and as a result is sold everywhere as well. The quality is generally very good and there is a huge variety. Fruit and veg however is more scarce and the quality can be hit or miss. We could always find certain greenhouse items like cucumbers and tomatoes but had a hard time finding very much beyond that and most of what we found was somewhat tasteless. As mostly vegetarians we ate a lot of dairy and light salads during our stay. We did our research as well and ate at a few reasonably priced restaurants known for good food at a great price. My husband ate some delicious and unusual falafels almost daily.

Dining out, especially in Reykjavik, is generally very expensive.  

We passed by restaurants where small desserts were sold for roughly $65 American. We were...shocked, and decided we would eat in as much as possible. We did enjoy a few nice meals out though. 

Icelanders make amazing soup.

Because the country is so cold for so much of the year, it is no wonder that soup is a favorite meal. It is warm, inviting and can incorporate almost any food. During our stay I ate a cream of carrot soup that may well have been the best soup I ever tasted. It was unbelievably rich and velvety, I may never forget it.

Asparagus soup was sold almost everywhere we traveled in Iceland. I am not sure if it is a seasonal favorite or if its just a staple dish. When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. It was in fancy restaurants and dive bars, it was even at road side gas stations! Generally it was cream of white asparagus soup that was offered. It had a rich aroma of butter and cream, was white and thick and had a few other vegetables added for color and texture. Comfort in a bowl and often served near some remarkably beautiful places like the photo below outside a picturesque seaside inn.

For the first half of our trip I ate a lot of Skyr -- a thick yogurt cheese. It is made both sweet and savory. I ate a lot of the sweet varieties and loved it. This was strange because at that time I had more or less removed dairy from my diet. Halfway through the trip I started to notice that I was feeling very asthmatic. I started to put two and two together and decided that all the dairy may not have been wise. Within a day of abstaining from the skyr I was back to my asthma-free self and feeling much better all around. As a result, I decided to avoid dairy for the rest of the trip which sadly meant no asparagus soup.

It is the beginning of Spring in Toronto. The temperatures here are rising, the sun is shining and the layers of clothing are shedding. Asparagus is starting to appear in every grocery store and fruit stand. I have been on a green kick lately, making green sauces and smoothies, and decided that a nice creamy Spring soup sounded fantastic for the weekend. I managed to find some inexpensive organic asparagus at our local fruit store and decided to make a Memories of Iceland Asparagus Soup last night.

In Spring I enjoy lighter meals. I wanted this soup to be creamy but not heavy. I also wanted it to be vegan.

I don't generally cook with a lot of fat because I have liver problems. Too much fat makes me feel quite ill so I try to use other unexpected ingredients to create textures that a fat would normally enhance. I wanted this soup to be velvety and smooth and knew that asparagus alone would never yield that texture. I decided to blend the asparagus with steamed cauliflower. 

Cauliflower makes a lovely substitute for cream. It blends very smoothly and doesn't detract from the flavors it is paired with too much. This soup was very mild and totally fitting for a Spring meal. It is very light and mostly made of vegetables with a little good fat for good measure. If you give it a whirl I hope you enjoy it.

'Memories of Iceland'
Creamy Asparagus Soup

Makes 2 to 4 servings.
  • 1 large bunch organic asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 1/2 small head of cauliflower, leaves removed
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 cups yeast-free vegetable stock
  • 2 shallots
  • 1/4 lemon, juice of
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp kelp flakes
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 avocado (optional)
  • paprika (optional) 
  • dash of cinnamon (optional)
  • handful fresh herbs: dill or basil or tarragon or sage or savory or thyme
  • nutritional yeast (optional)

Steam the cauliflower and asparagus until just tender. Add the steamed vegetables and all the other ingredients (except avocado) to a high speed blender and process until smooth. Add avocado if using. Blend until smooth.  Taste! Adjust seasonings to your personal taste.

My blender has a heating option so I simmered it in the blender for about 10 minutes before I served it. If your blender cannot heat up, pour the soup into a pot and heat it gently for 10 minutes before serving.

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