- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Today’s beautiful, rich-tasting pepper soup is easy to prepare, especially once the peppers are roasted and peeled.

The peppers can be made ahead, and so can the soup. Bring to room temperature and reheat slowly.

Serve it with your favorite corn bread or warmed corn tortillas and a spinach salad for a light supper or thoroughly satisfying lunch.

Cream of roasted bell pepper soup

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups minced onion

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 recipe roasted bell peppers, with all their juices, but keep juices separate (recipe follows)

2 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic

½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Vegetable broth, as needed

1½ cups milk (soy or low fat is OK) at room temperature or warmer

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional, for the top:

Sour cream (thinned by whisking slightly)

Torn cilantro leaves

Place a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and wait about a minute. Add the olive oil, wait a few seconds more, then swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion and cumin, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent. Coarsely chop the roasted bell peppers, then stir in these, along with the garlic and salt. Lower the heat, cover the pan and let vegetables cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gradually sprinkle in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring to keep the flour from lumping, for about 3 minutes, or until very thick.

Measure the reserved bell pepper juices in a 2-cup-capacity liquid-measuring cup. Add enough vegetable broth to make 2 cups. Slowly drizzle this into the thickened mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk and keeping the pan over low heat. Let it simmer for 5 minutes or so, stirring often with a whisk or a wooden spoon. Puree until smooth with the milk, using a regular blender or an immersion blender. Shortly before serving, heat very gently (do not boil), then correct the salt, if necessary, and add black pepper to taste. Serve with a little sour cream and/or torn cilantro leaves, if desired. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Roasted red peppers

4 to 5 large red, deep yellow, or orange bell peppers in their prime

Extra-virgin olive oil as needed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees or have ready a grill with white-hot coals. If using the oven, line a baking tray with foil and a coating of olive oil; place the whole peppers on the tray in a single layer. If using the grill, just place the peppers directly on the grate. Roast or grill the peppers anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes (possibly a little longer, depending on the heat and the peppers themselves) using tongs to turn them every 5 to 8 minutes so they will char and blister fairly evenly.

When the peppers are quite soft and the skins are mostly blackened and appear to have shriveled, remove the peppers from the heat and transfer them to a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate, and let it stand for 20 to 30 minutes or longer.

Working over the bowl, cut out and discard the stems and seeds, then peel the peppers.

Mollie Katzen is the best-selling author of “Moosewood Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press).

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