At my supper clubs, I always offer alternatives for people with dietary requirements, but I don’t want anyone looking across the table and seeing something they wish they could have had. So for any alternative dish on my menu, my rule is that it has to be fundamentally similar to (and as good as) the dish that it’s based on. It’s a rule that can sometimes be trying, but occasionally it pays dividends. This soup is one of those dividends.
I’d just been dazzled by a smoky bacon and sweetcorn veloute at the Oxford Kitchen and I was looking to steal the idea for an upcoming supper club. However, for a vegetarian guest I also needed a meat-free alternative. I remembered the blackened skins of my wood-oven-roasted red peppers and thought, with their smokiness, they might make a passable substitute for the bacon. But I was wrong. They were miles better.
In the end, I didn’t bother serving or even making the bacon version, but this smoky red pepper and sweetcorn soup has appeared on more than one supper club menu, and frequently gets cited as people’s favourite dish of the night. It’s my favourite too, because it reminds me of the incredible opportunity that can exist within the challenge of having to come up with alternatives.
- 4 to 6 red peppers
- 2 heads of corn on the cob
- Salt, white pepper and lemon juice to taste
- Smoked paprika and/or cayenne (optional)
Blacken the peppers over a direct heat on a barbecue, directly over a gas flame or under the grill. Keep turning them until the skin blisters and is black and burnt all over.
Take the peppers off and allow to cool. When they cold enough to handle, peel off the burnt skin. Trim the tops off the peppers and scoop out the seedy core.
Toast the sweetcorn well all over. Cut the kernels from the cob and blend kernels and peppers with 1 to 2 cups of water.
Parse through a fine sieve and discard the pulp.
Season with salt, white pepper and lemon juice to taste. Add cayenne if you like it spicier or smoked paprika if you like it smokier. Serve hot as an amuse bouche or a stunning starter, or chilled with a dash of vodka as a souped-up Bloody Mary.