Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ravi Soups: "Hot Tubs for the Soul"

Receiving rave reviews since opening his first location eight years ago, Ravi Soups continues to be one of Toronto’s favourite 'soup kitchens.' Affectionately known as "the Prince of Soup," Ravi Kanagarajah sadly passed away in 2013, but since then his brother Suresh has carried on the thriving family business. The talented Sri Lankan–born chef obtained his reputation for soups as a saucier at Mildred Pierce before opening the first location in Toronto's entertainment district in 2007. Growing up, Ravi delivered his mother’s pastries to restaurants every morning before school. “I'd go into the kitchens and learn what the chefs were doing.” At the tender age of 14, he took over the family restaurant and ran it until was bombed in 1987 during Sri Lanka’s violent civil war. “It was completely demolished. My mother handed me my passport and said, ‘Get out.’ 


Suresh and Ravi Kanagarajah

After cooking in Europe for a few years, Ravi moved to Toronto where his uncle worked as a dishwasher at Mildred Pierce, so Kanagarajah took a cab directly from the airport to meet him at the restaurant. “He was busy, so I started helping out. The owners saw me and said, ‘Who’s that little kid?’ The young cook was hired on the spot and stayed at the celebrated bistro until 2002, working his way up to saucier while becoming famous for his soups. After stints at Avalon and The Drake, Ravi took over the Black Camel space and realized a dream with Ravi Soups. The space hasn’t changed much from its Camel days: a takeout counter and cash up front and a cozy 25-seat room at the rear. By noon there are lineups out the door serving an intoxicating selection of luxurious soups served with flaky cheddar cheese biscuits and tart red pepper jelly. "Ravi spent the last few years teaching me everything he knew about the restaurant," says his brother Suresh Kanagarajah. "All the recipes, the little secrets. Nothing will change."

A tiny A-Frame heralds frost-bitten patrons into Ravi Soups

The narrow Adelaide Street location has a steady lineup every lunchtime

Porcini Mushroom Wild Rice Bisque with crispy shallots and truffle oil

A warm homemade cheddar cheese biscuit comes with every hot delicious bowl of soup

'Ravislaw' with spinach, napa, mint, pineapple, mango, thai basil, cilantro, 
crispy shallots, lime, chili aioli   

New to the menu, Ravi's Seafood Soup with clams, mussels and fish

Curried Apricot and Red Lentil Soup - vegan
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of chef Ravi Kanagarajah

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped, peeled ginger
2 tbsp mild curry powder
1 plum tomato, cored and chopped
1 cup diced dried apricots
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
8 cups water
3/4 cup coconut milk
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Crème fraîche
Chopped cilantro, or Thai basil

In large pot, heat oil over medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they're lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the garlic and ginger. Cook, while stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook 1 minute. Then add the tomato, apricots, lentils and water. Raise heat to high, and when the mixture starts boiling, reduce to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apricots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Using a handheld immersion blender or food processor, purée the soup then return to the pot over low heat. Stir in the coconut milk and season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche and sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

Red Curry Corn Chowder - lactose-free
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Ravi Kanagarajah

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup chopped yellow onions
3 tbsp finely chopped, peeled ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste, or more to taste
6 cups corn
4 cups water
1 cup coconut milk
Kosher salt to taste

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup corn — although Ravi Soups uses blue crab meat with crispy shallots
Kosher salt to taste
1/4 cup Thai or regular basil, cut into a chiffonade

In large wide pot, heat the oil over medium. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and cook while stirring, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Stir in the corn and water. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk and simmer another 2 minutes. Let the soup cool slightly, then purée the soup in a blender of food processor, for 2 minutes until smooth.  If desired, strain the mixture through a sieve into pot over medium heat and keep warm until ready to serve. For garnish, heat the oil in small skillet over medium-high. Add the corn and season to taste with salt. Cook, stirring, until it's lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve the chowder in bowls garnished with corn and finely chopped basil.