Bell Pepper Bisque with Giant Croutons

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.  

I hope that wherever you are on this earth, you’re enjoying the seasons
shifting and embracing the changes that come with that. When I started writing
this post, it was a very hot day, and now, just 48 hours later, I can feel a
significant shift in temperature and weather. Here we go, fall! I’m happy you’re
here.

Big thanks to my friends at Foragers Farms for letting me crash the greenhouse at the crack of dawn to get these pics.

Love to all, happy fall!
Sarah B

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