Wine & Food Killers: Spiced Spinach and Wild Garlic Soup with Poached Haddock and Matthias Warnung Whitey Weisswein

“Y’all, I need to tell you about this soup I made last night.” My phone lit up with
a message from my friend Jess, quickly followed by a photo of rustic ceramic bowls filled with an extravagantly green liquid.

“First, I don’t get excited about soup! I certainly don't get excited about spinach,” she wrote. But this spinach soup was unexpected. “Not since spinach and artichoke dip has spinach ever been this irresistible.” It was honestly the best thing she’d made all year, she said.

Spinach soup wasn’t exactly on my list of go-tos either, but like most, I find rave reviews hard to overlook. The recipe had come from a cookbook called Khazana, written by former Masterchef winner Saliha Mahmood Ahmed, and described as “a treasure trove of modern Mughal dishes”. In addition to the requisite greens, the soup had a base of caramelised onions and tangy yoghurt. It was spiced with fragrant dried mint, chilli and fenugreek leaves, as well as – regally – a golden pool of soaked saffron. Really, it had zero of the dull connotations that a phrase like “spinach soup” might conjure.

I was convinced. In this indeterminate portion of early spring when it might be 20 degrees one day and 2 the next, something spiced and warming – but so vibrant with life, so exactly chlorophyll-hued – was exactly what I wanted to eat. I thought back to the handfuls of wild garlic I’d found in a London park the weekend before and decided to add them, too. To make it even heartier, I decided on the addition of delicately sweet haddock, poached at the very last moment. (If you’re vegetarian, you might consider waxy potatoes instead.)

A soup this redolent of spring deserves a wine with similar life in it, and Matthias Warnung’s Whitey Weisswein more than plays the part. Hailing from Austria’s Kamptal Valley and made with a blend of Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau and Welschriesling grapes, this aromatic white is spontaneously fermented and experiences brief skin contact before it’s bottled unfiltered.

Grüner means “green” in German and, true to name, the wines it produces always have a wonderful liveliness. This blend has that same quality, along-side a subtle, rounded fruitfulness. If this isn’t spring in a bowl – and in a glass – I don’t know what is.

Spiced Spinach and Wild Garlic Soup with Poached Haddock
Adapted from Khazana
Serves 6

100g (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
400g full-fat Greek yoghurt
300g baby spinach leaves
Large handful basil leaves
Large handful wild garlic (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
800ml chicken or vegetable stock
Large pinch saffron threads, steeped in 2-3 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
1 teaspoon chilli flakes, divided 700g haddock (substitute cod, plaice or other flaky white fish), cut into 2-inch pieces
Small handful dill, to garnish

1. Begin by caramelising your onions. In a Dutch oven or other large saucepan, melt 70g of butter over medium-low heat. Turn the heat down to low and add the onions; season with a generous shake of salt and a good amount of black pepper. Cook, stirring very occasionally, for 45 minutes–1 hour, or until the onions are a rich, golden-brown. Caramelising is a slow process, but it is also very hands-off; don’t be tempted to raise the heat to speed it up, as that risks the onions scorching.

2. As the onions caramelise, prep the soup’s yoghurt and spinach/herb base. To a food processor, add the yoghurt, spinach, basil and wild garlic, if using. (You may need to add the leaves in batches, depending on the size of your food processor.) Blend together until uniform and vividly green, pausing to scrape down the sides as you go. If the mixture is very thick and struggling to blend, add a splash of water to help it along. Set aside.

3. When the onions have finished caramelising, raise the heat to medium and add the flour. Stir constantly for 3-4 minutes, or until the roux is a nice tawny brown colour. Next, pour the stock in a steady stream, whisking as you go, so that no lumps form. The mixture should be quite thick at this stage. Add the saffron and its soaking water, the mint, fenugreek and ½ teaspoon of the chilli flakes, and leave to simmer for five minutes.

4. To add the yoghurt mixture, turn the heat as low as it will go, as the yoghurt may split if it simmers or boils too vigorously. Add the mixture one tablespoon at a time, whisking well between additions, until it is fully incorporated. Season to taste at this stage; if the soup is thicker than you’d like, thin it out with a little warm water until it reaches your preferred consistency.

5. Add the pieces of fish and gently push them down into the pot so they’re entirely covered by the soup. Leave to poach over low heat until just cooked through, 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a quick brown butter chilli drizzle to garnish: in a small saucepan, melt the remaining 30g of butter over medium heat. Once it starts to foam up; add the remaining ½ teaspoon chilli flakes. Cook just until you see the butter turning brown; after that, remove immediately from the heat and set aside.

6. To serve, divide the soup between bowls, gently lading the fish pieces into each so they don’t fall apart. Drizzle over the chilli brown butter and garnish with the dill. Serve with a crusty piece of bread on the side, if you like.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box.