October may be the month of optimal autumn foliage, peak apple harvest and prime pumpkin carving, but it’s also when we break out the sweaters as temperatures begin to plummet. Bowls of steamy, nourishing soup are the perennial cure for mid-autumn chills, providing an immediate source of comfort that’s unmatched in the world of electric space heaters and hand warming pouches.
Worldwide consumption of soup spiked in 2020 and it’s clear that few foods have a more globally diverse fanbase. It’s hardly surprising though, given the low-cost, relative ease of preparation and enormous potential for variety, all of which are central to soup’s mass appeal.
Plus, slurping a bowl of tomato soup on a blustery winter day is essentially the food equivalent of being given an enthusiastic hug by an old friend while sitting by a fire; and who wouldn’t want that?
The infinite potential for variety of soup means that many amazing liquid lunches fly under the radar in this country. One such soup is Gundruk ko Jhol, a popular Nepali specialty with an impressive depth of flavor.
The principle ingredient, gundruk, involves fermenting greens, most notably mustard greens, radish leaves and cauliflower leaves, in earthenware pots and then drying them out in the sun. Unlike similar fermented vegetable products, such as sauerkraut, no salt is added during the week-long fermentation process.
Leafy greens are a valuable source of nutrients in the Nepali diet. This preservation technique allows vegetables to remain available throughout the winter, when fresh produce is scarce.
Before using, gundruk is steeped in boiling water to rehydrate. From there, the revived strands of greens are transformed into one of the most highly-regarded dishes in Nepal, gundruk ko Jhol, A.K.A. gundruk soup.
Recipes for gundruk ko Jhol vary widely, but all begin with aromatics such as onions, ginger, tumeric powder, and green chiles, which are allowed to sweat in mustard oil until soft. Diced tomato and the rehydrated gundruk are added along with at least a quart of water, and the whole mixure harmonizes over a rolling boil for about ten minutes.
The soup may be served as a starter course or a light meal; with or without rice. The acids produced from the fermenting process contribute a complex sour-umami flavor profile, while the chiles and spices add warmth and subtle curry notes.
Variations of this no-frills soup abound. At Kathmandu Spice in Manchester, NH, the traditional aromatics are supplimented with cumin, coriander and black pepper. Also, the addition of potatoes and dried soy beans add extra substance to this bracing soup.
Gundruk is also frequently made into a pickle, Gundruk ko Achar. Cooks crush the leaves with cumin and coriander seed, garlic, ginger and tumeric using a mortart and pestle, forming a chunky mass. Tomato, mustard oil and coriander (cilantro) leaves are tossed in, resulting in a vivid salad and condiment for flatbreads.
The warm, deeply savory flavor of this south Asian specialty make it the perfect antidote for any pnemonia-inducing winter day. Find it at Cafe Momo (1065 Hanover St. Manchester, NH) and Kathmandu Spice (379 S Willow St. Manchester, NH).
Originally Published through unconventionaleatsnh.com