Tag Archives: Onions

Scottish Food: Skirlie

Burns Night might have passed, but I’ve got one last Scottish recipe that I would like to share. This one is great, as it is both incredibly tasty, very simple to make and really rather healthy given that the main ingredients is the wonderfood that is oats.

This dish is called skirlie, and I’ve been making it rather a lot recently. You can more or less make it from cupboard and fridge staples, and the taste is definitely a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Skirlie is made from onions that have been browned in butter or olive oil, and then you add some pinhead oatmeal and leave the lot to cook until the oats are slightly toasted. Season to taste. Voila! If you’re trying to imagine the taste, it is something like an onion stuffing (or at least, how a vegetarian might imagine stuffing to taste…). If you’re wondering what pinhead oatmeal is, it is the stuff that looks like little grains of oats, rather than the big, fat flakes. I don’t think there is any reason you could not use rolled oats, but don’t try to use oatmeal or oat flour, as they are too fine.

skirlie1
I’ve tried to find out more about skirlie, but this seems to be one of those traditional Scottish dishes that doesn’t really have a lot to say for itself. No links to the Jacobites, no links to Robert the Bruce, and not (as far as I’ve seen) a favourite of Queen Victoria during her visits to Balmoral. This just seems to be a good, honest, traditional recipe, and that’s that! If you’ve got any secret knowledge, please do share! What I was able to find out is that skirlie is traditionally made with beef dripping as the fat to brown the onions, so if that’s your thing, you might want to have a go for a more “authentic” flavour. I think butter works well instead, but of course you can go for a completely vegan option by using olive oil.

This really does have the flavour of a very traditional dish, but for its simplicity, it really packs a flavour punch. To make this well, I think there are a few secrets: first, get the onions really cook down slowly until they are nicely browned, which can mean taking the time to get them cook for as long as you can on a very gentle heat. Next, let the oatmeal cook for quite a while, so that you develop some “nuttiness” in there. Finally, get a little creative with the flavours. You’ll need to add some salt, but this also benefits from some black pepper and aromatic herbs. One version I’ve seen uses generous amounts of fresh thyme and lemon zest, which makes this into a very aromatic, fresh-tasting dish.

There is, however, one way in which my version of skirlie really veers away from more traditional recipes. All the versions I was able to find told me to add the oats to the onions, and cook the lot, job done. However, I tried this and found the resulting skirlie to be a bit too dry for my liking. This would be fine if you’re serving it alongside something with a lot of sauce, or plan to mix it into mashed potato for some added flavour and crunch, but on its own, I was not convinced. The answer was simple – just add some water at the end of the cooking time, then keep cooking. It will initially boil up and thicken, looking a bit like porridge (at which point you think “oh no, porridge for dinner!”), but keep cooking and it will dry out a bit, but it will turn fluffy and the oats will be slightly tender. The end result is something with a texture a bit like brown rice.

To serve this, I think it really is best as a side dish, to provide a bit of variety from rice or mashed potato (or as I say – mix it into the potato!). You can also add other vegetables, such as mashed carrot or swede, or even some pan-fried spinach or kale for a properly healthy dish. Yes, it contains butter, but all those oats have to be doing you some good!

skirlie2

To make Skirlie (serves 4 as a side disk):

• 2 large onions or 6 shallots
• 40g butter
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 150g pinhead oatmeal
• 1 lemon, zest only
• aromatic herbs (thyme works well here)
• salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• water

1. Peel the onions/shallots, and roughly chop. As the oats are fairly fine, you want the onions to add some texture.

2. Put the butter and olive oil in a frying pan. Heat until the butter melts, then add the onions/shallots and fry over a medium heat until they have a good brown colour.

3. Add the pinhead oatmeal and lemon zest, plus herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently – the oats should start to brown, but should not burn!

4. Optional. Add some water to the mixture – it will thicken initially, but keep cooking until it starts to look try. Try the oatmeal – if you prefer it to be softer, add more water and keep cooking until you get the desired consistency.

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Red Kobucha Pumpkin Soup

If you’re a compulsive pumpkin carver, you’re probably left with a familiar issue, namely what to do with all that pumpkin flesh! In years past, I’ve thought that I would use the lot to make delicious pies, curries and soups.

Well, I was swiftly disabused of those notions. For it seems that while those giant sphere-like pumpkins look pretty cool when carved and lit up, the flesh cooks down into something a bit watery and insipid. All is not lost, and you can certainly cook up something if you add lots of spice and a decent amount of cream. However if what you want is something brilliantly orange in its autumnal splendour, you’ve got to look a bit further afield. If this is what you want, then red kabocha pumpkin is a good choice.

Now, it’s fair to say that kabocha pumpkin isn’t exactly what you would call a bit of a looker. It’s a deep reddish-orange, but the skin is rough and irregular. Not great for lantern carving, but excellent for cooking.

Kabocha is perfect for making soup. You’ve got the colour, but helpfully you don’t need to mess about with peeling it. Just cut off any odd-looking bits, remove the seeds, but otherwise you can leave on the skin to boost the colour of the final dish. Something like this.

pumpkin_cubes

I’ve kept the ingredients in the soup recipe fairly simple – it’s similar to a recipe I posted a couple of years ago, with not much more than pumpkin, a little potato, onions and stock. However, I did want to be a little creative, so I added a dash of curry powder, some cumin and a good old dose of…allspice! Yes, a rather strange choice for a soup, but it was a bit of a nod to pumpkin pie spices. It’s a matter of taste, but you want to add enough to add some rich spiced flavour, but not so much as to overpower everything else in the soup.

The soup is topped off with some pumpkin seeds , toasted in the oven and finished with a little more allspice. All in all, a bright orange antidote to all that candy that will doubtless be consumed in the next couple of days.

kombuchapumpkinsoup1

kombuchapumpkinsoup2

So with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my pumpkin lanterns from previous years….Happy Halloween!

To make red kaboucha soup (serves 4):

For the soup:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 1 small potato
• 500g red kaboucha squash, skin on

• 1 teaspoon curry powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground allspice
• 750ml vegetable stock

For the pumpkin seeds:

• 2 large handfuls pumpkin seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

• 1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Put the olive oil and chopped onions in a large pan. Cook over a gentle heat until the onions are caramelised and lightly browned but not burned (around 5 minutes).

2. Add the spices and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

3. Add the vegetable stock , bring to the boil, and simmer for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin flesh and the potato are very soft. Add any water (if needed) and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. In the meantime, make the toasted pumpkin seeds: put everything into a bowl, stir well, then transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven at 150°C (300°F) until toasted (watch them – the go from golden to burned faster than a witch on a broomstick!).

5. Once the soup is ready, put into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve, then reheat briefly before serving. Finish each bowl of soup with a sprinkling of the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Worth making? It is indeed! This is really easy to make, vegan, looks great and the allspice adds an unexpected little extra something.

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Pumpkin Pita Pie

When it comes to selecting blogging themes and developing ideas, pretty much everything I do is based on ideas I have or some sort of national or international event (Olympics, Royal Wedding, Norwegian National Day), but from time to time it’s nice to get a suggestion of something new. And so it was then I was recently asked by the folk at Sunvil Supper Club if I wanted to try a recipe for pumpkin pita pie. It sounded rather nice, so I thought I’d give it a go and said yes.

At this point, I’ll share a learning from a now-wiser person – don’t agree to do anything when you are on holiday, as you will feel for a couple of weeks as if you have all the time in the world. Then you arrive back home in your blissed-out state, only to realise you’re up against the baking clock. Eek!

Anyway, this recipe is for a Greek savoury pie combining the sweetness of squash with the saltiness of feta, and enlivened with a dash of mint. It’s all quite easy to make, although I did come up against two little issues during my attempt.

First, the recipe wasn’t too clear about whether I should be using just tinned pumpkin puree, just mashed up butternut squash, or some combination. I think it was a choice, rather than both, and the fact I failed to read the recipe until I got home was a bit of a bummer. I had just come back from the United States, where the shelves were groaning under the weight of tinned pumpkin. But could I find it in Clapham? Nope. I had a look in a few stores, but wherever it was, it was hiding from me, and I just gave up (remember that jet lag?). I went instead for the idea of just mashing up a whole squash. That seemed the way that a Greek granny would do it, so I should do that too.

Feta_Pie_2

Feta_Pie_1

The second thing I grappled with a little bit was the way that the pie should be formed. I assumed you lined the tin with several layers of pastry, brushing with olive oil between each layer, then dump in the filling, then cover again with more filo. However, it was (inevitably) more complex than that, involving preparing sheets of pastry, brushing with oil, adding a little filling, rolling into a cigar shape, then lining them up in a coil in the pan. Once you know what you’re doing it’s a breeze, but I would advise you not to use a pastry brush for applying the olive oil. Just put the oil into a bowl and dip your palm in there. It’s more fun to do it this way, and your hands will end up nice and soft.

To finish off my pie, I took a bit more filo and tried to wrap it artfully into a sort of swirl on top, and when it came out the oven, it did indeed look golden and inviting. The flavour of the pie is superb – rich sweetness and sharp salt, topped with very crisp pastry, complemented by a green salad (as suggested in the original recipe). This pie is tasty while warm, but is also nice cold, so I’m looking forward to wedges of this over the next few days for lunch.

feta_pie_4

However, if I were to have another go at this recipe, I’d make one little tweak. Instead of the pie shape, I would instead make smaller fingers of the filling wrapped in filo, like mini savoury strudels. Christmas is just around the corner, and we’ve all the need for handy little recipes that we can use to wow our guests. This should be super-easy to make ahead of time, then just pop into the oven, serve with drinks and enjoy the kudos.

However, if you’re convinced the by the coiling approach, this is how it looks – rather nice, yes?

feta_pie_3

To make a Pumpkin Pita Pie (adapted, original recipe here):

• 1 large butternut squash (around 500g once peeled)
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 onions
• 340g feta, crumbled
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
• 2 tablespoons uncooked rice or bulgar wheat
• freshly ground black pepper
• 400g filo pastry

Prepare the squash:

1. Peel the squash, remove seeds and chop into chunks. Place in a large bowl with a spoonful of olive oil and mix with your hands until the squash is coated. Put the squash chunks into an overproof dish, and roast in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for around 45 minutes until tender and the edges are just starting to brown. Turn off the heat, and leave the squash until cool (easiest to do this the night before, and leave to cool overnight).

Make the filling:

2. Chop the onions, and saute with two tablespoons of olive oil until they are lightly browned and translucent. Leave to cool.

3. Take the cooled squash and mash or puree as you prefer. I like chunks of squash, so prefer to mash and leave some texture.

4. In a bowl, combine the squash, feta, cooled onions, eggs, mint, black pepper and rice/bulgar wheat. Mix until combined, but make sure you still have visible pieces of feta.

To assemble to pie

5. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Get hold of a large springform pan (the recipe called for one that was 14 inches (35cm), mine was nearer 9).

6. Take a piece of filo pastry. Lay it lengthways in front of you, and brush olive oil on the lower half (or smear with your hands). Brush again with oil. Add a little of the filling along the middle of the strip, then roll into a cigar. Aim for 1 inch (2.5cm) diameter. Brush with olive oil, or rub with oily hands.

7. Repeat the process, placing each roll into the pan, start at the edge, to build up the pie. You should end up with some sort of spiral. To keep things neat, arrange the rolls with the seam underneath, and lay the coils in the tin as tightly as you can.

8. One all the filling has been used, brush the top of the pie with a little more olive oil, then bake for around 50 minutes until the top of the pie is a rich golden colour.

Worth making?This is a classic flavour combination, and works very well in a pie like this. The mint is a welcome addition. Highly recommended, either as a pie or as the basis for festive party food (just reduce the cooking time).

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Halloween: Spicy Pumpkin Soup

The leaves are turning riotous shades of red and gold, and there are pumpkins to be seen everywhere! The witching season is nearly upon us…and who can resist making a pumpkin lantern? Not me anyway. This little fellow is now perched on the windowsill to spook passing children who are hoping to extort sweets from strangers.

But while pumpkin lanterns look frankly awesome in the dark, you are inevitably left with lots and lots of pumpkin to use up. And, of course, it would be a shame to waste it.

In carving this bad boy, I ended up with a large bowl of shredded pumpkin flesh, thanks to my carving technique. I cut the top, scooped out the seeds, and then used a spoon to scrape back the flesh. The less flesh left inside the pumpkin, the brighter the orange glow from the pumpkin when you put a candle in there, and of course, that’s what we want to see!

This approach, however, means that any recipe that suggests slow-roasting chunks of pumpkin flesh is pretty much out of the question. This left me with two basic choices: pie or soup. Given that I’ve just survived making one of the most sugar-packed sweets on the planet, I opted to make a big pot of something savoury.

Pumpkin soup and I have had a slightly odd relationship over the years. My early attempts were not great. I tended to throw everything in a pan and let it simmer. The resulting soup was often bland, watery and lacked much colour. That something so insipid could come from something as vivid, orange and downright fun as a pumpkin seemed desperately unfair.

Since those early attempts, I have refined my approach, and I reckon I have nailed it. First thing is to fry some onions for a long time over a gentle heat so that they caramelise nicely. Then add lots and lots of spices. You can add pretty much whatever you like, but I find that cumin, curry powder and some paprika are great, plus a good dash of turmeric to add a bit of earthiness and some colour. The pumpkin flesh is then added to the onions and fried for around five minutes, so it starts to cook but doesn’t just go watery. It is at this stage that you see just how much water the pumpkin actually contains already, so when you do come to add some stock, you see why you don’t need so much of it. I also add a potato to the simmering broth for a little extra richness of texture. Finish it off with a nice big dash of double cream and it’s a perfect autumn warmer – a thick, rich, spicy soup.

For me, pumpkin soup needs to be silky-smooth, so it has to be pureed to within an inch of its life, and then passed through a sieve. However, it is also nice to have a bit of texture to provide some contrast. So how to do this when you’ve just gone to great lengths to ensure the soup is essentially texture-free? Well, there are two easy ways to do it, and not mutually exclusive. Some black pepper croutons are great in this soup, as are some pumpkin seeds that have been lightly toasted in a little oil and some spices. This all helps to make the dish richer and more spicy, with a welcome crunch in the soup.

When it comes to serving this soup, you can score some easy points on presentation by drizzling over a tablespoon of double cream, and the a spoonful of olive oil. Slightly Jackson Pollock, assuming that Jackson Pollock ever made pumpkin soup. But if he did, I have no doubt it might have looked something like this.


Happy pumpkin carving!

To make pumpkin soup (serves 6-8):

For the soup:

• 4 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon curry powder
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

• 1 teaspoon paprika
• flesh of one large pumpkin
• 1 litre vegetable stock

• 1 potato, peeled and diced
• 4 tablespoon double cream
• water, as needed
• salt and pepper, to taste

For the croutons:

• 2 handfuls cubes of bread (baguette or sourdough)
• freshly ground black pepper
• large pinch salt
• 3 tablespoons olive oil

Put the olive oil and chopped onions in a large pan. Cook over a gentle heat until the onions are caramelised and lightly browned but not burned (around 5 minutes).

Add the spices and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the vegetable stock and the potato, bring to the boil, and simmer for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin flesh and the potato are very soft. Add any water (if needed) and add salt and pepper to taste.

In the meantime, make the croutons: put everything into a bowl, stir well, then transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven at 200°C (400°F) until golden.

Once the soup is ready, put into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve, stir in the cream, then reheat briefly before serving. Finish each bowl of soup with a swirl of cream, a swirl of olive oil and a few croutons.

Worth making? When you’re faced with the aftermath of pumpkin carving, this is a great way to use up the pumpkin flesh. The slight warmth from the paprika and the spices make it a great lunch or supper dish as the weather starts to get colder.

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Split Pea and Lentil Soup

Oh, we had a shocker of a cold day recently. It has been great – warm and sunny – then wham! It gets nippy and you remember the unpredictability of living in London.

So…I rooted around in the cupboard and found a packet of split peas that had been languishing in the corner. I had bought them a while back to use in a curry from an Anjum Anand recipe , thinking they would make a decent substitute for pigeon peas that she recommended. I thought this on the basis that they look the same and are the same colour.

Well, that particular episode ended in a bit of a disaster – choosing ingredients by colour alone is not a great rule of thumb, as I hadn’t realised that pigeon peas and split peas have significantly different cooking times. So the vegetables were cooked and starting to get soft while the peas remained stubbornly hard. I had not choice but to cook until the peas were soft, and it did all break down into a tasty spicy broth, but I’ve since started making that particular curry recipe with yellow lentils (cooking time – around 20 minutes – and it’s de-lish!).

But back to the languishing split peas…for a cold day, what could be more fitting than split pea soup? This time, armed with the knowledge that these can be pesky little critters to cook, I left them to soak overnight. I’m not sure that this is entirely necessary, but it worked so if you’re not in a hurry, go with the soak. I also paired this up with some yellow lentils. The theory was that the lentils would break down as the soup cooks, and leave the split peas whole (but this time – hopefully cooked!) for a bit of texture.

I thought about whether I should spice this recipe up. Curry? Cumin? Coriander? All possible, but in the end I just added a little freshly ground black pepper and left the flavour of the peas as the main highlight of this soup. I might play around with the flavouring when I make this again, but I thought it was rather delicious just as it is.

It was perfect for a slightly more inclement weather, with a drizzle of olive oil and a few croutons on top for some crunch.

And the next day, the hot weather came back!


To make Split Pea and Lentil Soup:

• 150g yellow split peas
• 150g yellow or red lentils
• 2 large onions
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 1.5 litres water
• 1 stock cube

Leave the split peas to soak overnight in cold water. Drain the next day.

Peel and finely chop the onions. Put the onions, olive oil and pepper in large saucepan and fry over a low heat until the onions are soft and slightly browned.

Add the drained peas, lentils and water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low heat and simmer for 1 hour until the lentils break down and the peas are soft. After the first 30 minutes, add the stock cube and stir well.

Just before serving, check the seasoning and adjust

Worth making? Get past the time for soaking, and this is a very easy and tasty soup which takes very little effort. It’s great on its own, or can be boosted with a little spice.

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Red Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

I posted a recipe for onion tartlets a couple of weeks ago, and today’s recipe is a bit of a variation on a theme. Red onions instead of white, and goat cheese instead of tangy cheddar.

To make this really merit a separate post, I made a few further changes. I swapped tart cases for bread and turned them into crostini. The caramelised onions are spread ono slices of toasted sourdough baguette, then topped with crumbled goat cheese and grilled.

This really is something for when you’ve got people over for drinks, and those people love onions!

To make red onion and goat cheese crostini (makes 10-12, depending on size of bread):

• 8 large red  onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
25g butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 glass (125ml) red wine
• baguette stick, plus extra olive oil
100g goat cheese

Peel the onions, cut in half, and slice very thinly. Place in a frying pan with the sugar, butter and olive oil, then cover and cook very gently for about an hour, stirring from time to time. The onions are ready once they are soft, translucent and starting to caramelise. The onions might look unappealing and grey at one stage, but they will get their colour back towards the end.

In the meantime, set the oven to 180°C (350°C). Cut the bread into diagonal slices, brush with a little olive oil, and bake until lightly golden. Remove and allow to cool.

Add the glass of red wine and balsamic vinegar to the onions, and season to taste with salt and pepper plus the dried thyme. Stir well, and cook off the liquid.

Top each piece of toasted bread generously with the warm onions, and crumble the goat cheese on top. Grill for a few minutes on a medium heat until the cheese has browned.

Serve warm.

Worth making? These are great bite-sized morsels that combine sweetness and savoury and are very, very moreish. They take a little bit of time, but are very well worth it and go down a storm with drinks.

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Guest Chef: Onion Tartlets

Very exciting, as today’s recipe is not one of mine, but is something my mum made last time I was visiting up in Scotland. Just a couple of weeks ago, but we still had snow outside, so spent most of the time indoors trying to keep warm. The poor cat didn’t know what was happening – it’s been at the mercy of the white stuff since mid-November.

I digress. This is the classic pairing of sweet, caramelised onions with cheese. The onions as basically shredded (so a bit of weeping is likely), and cooked with a glug of olive oil and a little butter and sugar until they are caramelised. Finish with a glass of white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice, allow the liquid to evaporate, then bake in the oven with cheese. the key here is to go for something with a decent flavour – Gruyère is the usual pairing, but a sharp, tangy cheddar will work just as well. Or if you feel greedy, a bit of both. But the result is great, and really for minimal effort.

Minimal effort? But surely you made the pastry, and that’s a faff! Well…time for a little confession. When we made these, we decided to take the “relaxed” option of using pre-made cases. Making pastry is pretty easy, and something I can do quite happily, but you can also buy some good all-butter pastry cases, and so we did that. Minimal fuss, so rather than all that sift-rub-chill-roll-chill again business, we just had to take care of the onions. As all the cooking is on a gentle heat to allow the flavour of the onions to develop properly, you probably don’t need to spend more than 10 minutes actually working in the kitchen. Spend it with the cat, watching it chase a silver thing on a stick instead!

The result is impressive, tastes great, and you can still bask in the “oh-I-made-them-myself” glory, while saving ourselves quite a lot of the hard work. Just don’t tell the guests! Or if you feel guilty, make your own pastry.

We also thought about some adaptations that I have on my “to do” list – using red onions, replacing the dash of lemon juice with a little balsamic vinegar, and crumbling goats cheese on top before baking. I expect great things!

To make 6 onion tartlets:

• 7 large onions
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 25g butter
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 glass white wine
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 6 pastry cases (8-10 cm diameter)

Peel the onions, cut in half, and slice very thinly. Place in a frying pan with the sugar, butter and olive oil, then cover and cook very gently for about an hour, stirring from time to time. The onions are ready once they are soft, translucent and starting to caramelise.

Set the oven to 180°C.

Add a glass of white wine and lemon juice to the onions, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir well, and cook off the liquid.

Divide the onions between the tartlet cases and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the top of the cheese has melted and is slightly brown.

Serve warm.

Worth making? These were great little tartlets, wich a rich and flavourful filling. The basic recipe can be easily customised depending on which onions and which cheeses you have to hand. If you’re ambitious, you could easily adapt them into amuse-bouche for those fancy parties we all host these days.

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Phở Chay (Vietnamese Vegetable Soup)

I’m not a great shopper. In all the New Year sales, there was little that I was focussed on buying, other than a set of very large bowls. Dull!

Or is it? Like millions of others, New Year for me (aside for sparklers, streamers and champagne at midnight) means that it’s time to try being a little healthier, and so I figured that I could use these larger bowls to start making healthy noodle soups, something that would be filling without meaning lots of oil or lots of pasta. With that in mind, here is one of my first attempts. I am calling this phở chay (Vietnamese vegetable soup). Or maybe faux-chay? OK, bad joke…

Now, I use the term calling quite on purpose.  I cannot make any promises about how authentic this recipe, but I can at least say that it is made from things that you stand a sporting chance of finding in a well-stocked kitchen and it is pretty darn tasty. Perhaps the only thing I don’t usually have in the house is lemongrass, which I just added as I found it skulking in the back of the fridge, the victim of a well-intentioned but never-attempted citrus and  lemongrass posset.

To bulk up the broth, I have also used the ingredients that I like in this sort of soup – marinated tofu chunks and green beans, and soba noodles as I much prefer them to rice noodles. Soba has the rich, earthyness of buckwheat, and I very much appreciate that it is more substantial and chewy than rice noodles.

Now, when you look at making a phở, it can look like one of those “bit of a faff” recipes, but in fact I have managed to do the whole thing in just over an hour. Just think of it as a simple two-step process:

Part the First: make the broth. I have omitted any attempts at frying anything to start with, and just throw it all in a large pot with lots of water. Onions and other vegetables, plus stock, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, to serve as the basis, and then a range of aromatics and spices. Star anise and cinnamon seem pretty much essential, and ginger is very much a “nice to have” (I’ve made it without ginger; it’s good, but with ginger it’s better). A teaspoon of sambal olek provides a little more heat, and a heroic amount of garlic tops the whole thing off. But I digress: put everything in a pot, boil then leave to simmer for an hour. One of the very useful things about this soup is that the broth will be strained to remove the vegetables and spices, so there is no need to waste time trimming things so that they look pretty on the table, unless that is your bag. But when you do come to strain the broth, keep the garlic cloves: they are transformed into soft lumps of sheer deliciousness, which are absolutely sublime added to mash or spread onto slices of very crisp bread.

Part the Second: adding “stuff” to the broth. I just go with whatever is to hand. Some sort of noodle is clearly essential, and while rice noodles are traditional, soba noodles really do work a treat here and I much prefer them. Visually not as much of an impact as white rice noodles, but the taste and texture really is great. I also like to add tofu, which I bake, then add to the broth to boil for 10 minutes before serving. This means that it has the chance to soften in the broth and the flavours mix. Then…top it all off with vegetables of your choice. Quick-cooking items such as mushrooms can be sliced and left raw, beansprouts can be thrown in as they are, while string beans or asparagus can be quickly boiled before serving.

Then, assemble it all! Put noodles and vegetables into your serving dishes, then ladle over the broth. Top with spring onions and a sprig of basil, and you’re done! Nothing more to do than get chopsticks and say: Chúc ngon miệng! (*)

For the stock:

• 10 cups water
• 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
• 2 stock cubes
• 2 sticks cinnamon
• 2 star anise
• 1 clove
• 1 cardamom pod
• 3 tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
• 1/2 stick lemongrass
• 1 teaspoon brown sugar
• 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
• 1/2 teaspoon sambal olek / chilli paste

To put in the soup:

• marinated tofu chunks
• 75g rice noodles / soba noodles per person, cooked, drained and rinsed
• 2 handfuls bean sprouts
• 2 handfuls mushrooms, sliced
• other vegetables (string beans, shredded lettuce, shredded spinach, shredded carrot), briefly boiled if necessary
• Thai or regular basil, mint leaves and/or lime wedges to garnish

To make the broth: Place all the stock ingredients in a large pan. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for at least an hour (can easily be made the night before and allowed to sit so the flavours are able to infuse the broth with their aromas and flavours). Once ready, strain to remove the solids and the broth is ready. You may have to add more water at the end, according to taste.

To prepare the soup: measure the “soup stuff” into bowl, and add enough piping hot broth to cover. Top with sprigs of Thai basil, mint and/or a wedge of lime.

Worth making? I was a little daunted by this at first, given that there are a lot of ingredients, but it was actually very simply to make. The only thing you need is time to allow the broth to simmer, so you get the maximum amount of flavour out of the spices – and I am afraid there is no shortcut for that. I would recommend trying to be light handed with the stock and soy sauce – you can always add more later, and we want the flavours of the anise, ginger, garlic et al to shine in this soup.

(*) Google tells me that this means bon appetit in Vietnamese! – I hope it does!

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury