Parsnip Bisque

In the late 90’s, I was once browsing a colourful recipe book called Weddings, or something like that. It might have been written by a celebrity chef named Martha Stewart, but I’m not entirely sure, and it had been lent to the Zen Center kitchen. Who knows why? Maybe there was a big wedding afoot…

Amidst the curlicues and instructive flowery pages of how to arrange “your wedding” was a rather peculiar soup made from parsnips. It seemed a bit misplaced for wedding fare, but I decided to give it a go. It really was quite a remarkable soup, with a subtle sophisticated flavour and an interesting shade of pinky-orange that resembled the colour of Lobster bisque – not that I had any intention of making a lobster bisque myself. Indeed, you could say that this soup cleverly belied its humble origins. That’s one of the fun challanges of Zen cooking; take a simple ingredient such as parsnip, and turn it into fine soup for just a few pennies.

This recipe has since been lost or buried in one of my old kitchen notebooks (as parsnips were not so readily available until recently) but thank heavens, not completely forgotten.  Here is a similar rendition on the above theme that we cooked up the other night during a silent retreat in the Zen River kitchen.

Serve with sour cream dolloped on top.

Makes about 2 litres (8 cups)

Parsnip Bisque


500 g (5 medium, about 3 cups) parsnips
1 red bell pepper (1 cup)
1 large red onion (1 cup)
3 bay leaves
2 medium cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
1¼ litres (5 cups) water
1 teaspoon lemon juice, or ½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika powder
Dash of nutmeg, or to taste
Dash of white pepper, to taste
Sea salt to taste


  • Peel and cut the parsnips into equal sized rings.
  • Deseed and cut the bell peppers into large wedges.
  • Peel and cut the red onions into large pieces.
  • Peel the garlic.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan over low-medium flame. Add the red bell peppers, red onions, and peeled garlic cloves, and fry until the onions and the skins of the bell peppers are caramelized a nice dark colour, about 20 minutes.
  • Put the water and bay leaves into a pot, then stir in the parsnips, fried bell pepper, red onion and garlic.  Bring to a gentle boil, turn the flame low and simmer until the parsnips are soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.
  • Remove the bay leaves and blend with an immersion or kitchen blender until silky smooth.
  • Season to taste with the paprika powder, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper.

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