An old-fashioned classic that went out of style long ago but it's cheap and very good. Serve hot or cold.

  • 1 enormous, sweet onion (not the little yellow things that come in a bag - but it need not be a Vidalia either)
  • 3 lovely round "chef" potatoes. Not rough, dark-skinned Idaho baking potatoes; the big, yellow waxy-skinned ones (used by restaurants). If they're small use more than 3; they should render 2 - 2 1/2 cups, diced.
  • 2 big fat sweet carrots, greens and tough, brown top removed
  • 3 ribs of celery, washed thoroughly
  • A red bell pepper
  • A single Roma tomato
  • 2 chicken breasts, bone-in (if you don't like butchery, have your butcher remove the breasts from the bones, but keep all the bones)
  • 4-6 pieces Okra - they should be no more than 2 1/2 inches in length, not "rusty" colored at all, and not at all slimy (just hairy and bright green, like Kermit the Frog)
  • 2 bottles Blanc de Blanc Clairette, Grover Vineyards, Nandi Hills, India. Yes, India. There's a French winemaker growing vines and making superb wine in India. If you haven't tried one of Grover's selections, run, don't walk, to your wine shop and pick up a bottle. It isn't expensive. The folks at Veuve-Cliquot (the Champagne with the bright yellow label) saw such promise in this venture they bought a piece of it. If you can't find this absolutely delicious wine, a good white from or near the coast of France, particularly Provencal (or a blush Coteaux d'Aix En Provence if you can get it) will do. Do not use a wine that has been fermented nor aged in oak, however.
  • A half-gallon of chicken stock. Canned will do. "College Inn" broths are magnificent. Try not to use a bouillon cube instead of stock; but in a pinch, use Knorr-Swiss, utilizing 1/4 more water than directed by the package.
  • 2 Tablespoons good yellow curry powder. Resist the temptation to buy spicy "hot" curry powder. This soup is intended to be "curry-scented," not "curry-flavored." "Javin" is a brand sold in Asian markets that has a good flavor and is just right. Try to avoid the cheap, U.S. Brands of curry.
  • Pinch of dried Tarragon or a few leaves of fresh, chopped fine.
  • A clove of garlic, run through the garlic press (this is unnecessary if you don't care for garlic in your soup, or if you've garlic toasts to go along with the soup)
  • A heaping teaspoon of sugar.
  • Olive oil for roasting the vegetables.
  • A cup of heavy cream. (I know what you're thinking. The answer is, yes, I do worry about cholesterol and fat. About one second a day. While I'm having a cigarette.)
  • A few green onions (scallions) for garnish. Just use the white part and slice them as finely as you can.
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

Okay, then. What you're going to do is pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (300 if using a convection oven).

Open both bottles of wine. Place one in an ice bucket on the countertop. Pour yourself a glass of wine from the chilled bottle.

Take all of the ingredients up to, but not including the tomato and wash them thoroughly; scrub the dirt off 'cause you're going to leave those nutritious peels on 'em and you don't want any grit in your soup, do you? (The onion's fine if you peel it and take out the top and the bottom). Remove the seeds and the top from the Bell pepper. Chop all of these veggies into 2" pieces. Place them in a roasting pan large enough to hold them in one tight layer without much space left. Toss the vegetables in Olive Oil to cover and then cook in the oven for about 1/2 an hour to 45 minutes, checking to see that none of the onions downright burn (it's okay if they get a bit dark). If you've got the chicken bones, roast them along with the vegetables; but don't cut 'em at all; you're going to have to pick them out later. Adding the chicken skin will add lots of flavor but also lots of fat. However, the first time you have this soup, it's just heavenly so why not be decadent?

Get the chicken stock and the bottle of wine (that's not in the ice bucket) boiling in a stock pot that will accommodate the stock as well as the vegetables. Bring to a slow, slow simmer (when you put the hot veggies in the thing's gonna start boiling like mad).

Time for more wine. (Just think, between the heat of the oven and stove, and the effect of the wine, you won't have to use blush today and you'll still have a lovely, healthy glow about your face!) Wait for the veggies to finish, checking every 10 minutes (Give 'em a stir to re-coat with oil as long as you have the oven open). Relax and enjoy the wine.

Now might be a good time to core and seed the tomato, and wash and cut the Okra pods lengthwise so you can pick 'em out later. Don't hesitate to sing "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Add the cooked vegetables to the stock pot. Add the tomato, Okra ,curry, Tarragon, garlic and sugar. Bring to a simmer, if not already boiling. Turn the oven down to 175 degrees fahrenheit (if you're serving the soup hot; else turn off the oven).

Add the chicken breasts, whole. Cook until finished, about 15 minutes. Do not over-cook the breasts or you'll have white meat the texture of sawdust. Transfer the poached breasts to a plate and refrigerate.

Time for more wine. You're gonna have to do some real work, now.

Once the potatoes are the correct consistency, pick the chicken bones and skin out of the pot. While you're at it, try to get the Okra out, too. It's actually not that hard, because you're going to have to spoon the vegetable soup mixture into the blender or food processor to puree it, in small batches, to a fine consistency. It's easiest to start with more veggies than stock, even if you end up with stuff the consistency of baby food at first. You see, the vegetables offer more resistance alone than with lots of the soup in there to lubricate them, so you'll get a smoother puree with fewer bits of potato/carrot skin and lumps. If you have what's called a "china cap" sieve, use this when dumping the pureed product out of the machine and into the serving dish (oven-proof if you're gonna serve it hot). Puree everything and get it into the serving bowl. Chill if you're serving it cold; else place the serving bowl in the warm oven if you think the soup needs heating. Add the chicken breasts, chopped finely, to the puree mixture.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Mind that even if it's a bit salty, you're going to add a cup of heavy cream to this mixture. You can add the heavy cream all at once, or bowl-by-bowl, using a spoon to draw it out from the center of the bowl to make big white stars in the middle of each soup plate. Garnish with the finely minced green onions.

This soup was famous and popular many years ago but somehow fell out of favor around the 1950s in all but the most de luxe dining establishments. It's still served (a different recipe) at New York's famous restaurant "21" on 52nd Street West of Fifth Avenue. But then, "21" serves a $30 hamburger, also. Senegalese soup was a favorite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York as well as the Copley Plaza in Boston. It was on the Titanic's menu (not the last one, however). What a shame Celine Dion wasn't on the Titanic, too. Oooh. The very thought of Ms. Dion's visage, particularly her nasal appendage, wherefrom all of her wailing is rumored to come, is forcing me to finish my bottle of wine. Gotta go and open more for my guests.

Happy Eating!

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