Tag Archives: soup

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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Ajo Blanco

Do you remember the first time? By which I mean the first time you tried certain foods. There are a lot of things (Cake! Chips! Pasta!) that have just always been there, but then there are foods that I very firmly do remember trying for the first time. I can point to a family holiday to Port de Pollença on the north side of Mallorca as the first time I tried gazpacho. Sachertorte was at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Kanelbullar firs experienced in Stockholm’s Old Town. These are all pleasant memories as I liked the thing I was trying. You can probably guess where I am going with this…

Anyway, my first experience of ajo blanco was all rather different. It’s a cold Spanish soup, made with almonds and garlic, served with green grapes and olive oil. Sounds nice and refreshing, yes? Perfect in hot weather perhaps?

ajoblanco2

Well, the first time I tried ajo blanco is still seared into my memory in vivid detail. I was at a Spanish restaurant somewhere on the fringes of Shoreditch, the distinctly non-latin sounding Eyre Brothers. Looked great, friendly service, and then we came to order. Bread, olive oil, olives all consumed with glee, and then it came to choosing what to eat. While Spanish food has a reputation as being very meaty (and thus not very veggie-friendly), I don’t find this to be the case. There is usually enough in terms of vegetables, bread and cheese to keep me happy.

Anyway, on this occasion, they were serving ajo blanco which I remember being described as an almond soup with garlic. As I’d never seen it before, I thought I should take the plunge. I mean – it’s cold soup, how bad could it ever be?

Well, I expected some garlic, but this stuff took your breath away, almost literally. Pleasantly creamy to begin with, it broke down in the mouth within seconds into pure, pungent garlic, complete with an unpleasant burning sensation on the tongue and throat. Now, I like garlic, but lots of the raw stuff can be just horrible, which tends to lead to garlic oil seeping from every pore. I made it half-way through before giving up, but by this point, the meal was spoiled. The garlic had overpowered everything else. For the rest of the meal, all I could taste was garlic. Patatas bravas? No, garlic. Green salad? No, garlic. Frozen turrón dessert? Nope, still the all-pervading taste of garlic. Yes, I did mention to the staff that the soup was too strong, and one of the serving ladies was very sympathetic, but this little episode did put me off ajo blanco for years.

That is, until yesterday. I thought I would try making it myself as part of my attempts to make refreshing summer meals.

ajoblanco1

So I got my little mixer ready, and had a little think. Would I use garlic this time? Or more…dare I use garlic?

Well, I reasoned that the use of garlic was traditional, so it just had to go in there, somehow. Then I remembered a Pho soup I had made where garlic was added to the stock, and at the end of cooking, it was soft, mild and not pungent at all. This seemed like the perfect solution to my garlic issue, and so I blanched some cloves for a few minutes. Job done – garlic flavour, not garlic nightmare. However, you might find this approach to be a little mild. It you’re still after a little more “zing” you might want to rub the bowl with a cut clove of raw garlic before adding the other ingredients. That should still ensure your guests take notice, without gasping throughout dinner.

ajoblanco4

The rest was a complete breeze – throw stale white bread, water, almonds, seasoning, garlic and olive oil into a blender and liquidise until everything is smooth and white. One little tweak that I did make was to add a handful of pine nuts. They give a little extra flavour, but also help to emulsify the soup and get a great texture.

Once made, all that remains to be done is to make sure the soup is completely chilled, then serve. The traditional way is with a drizzle of olive oil and some sliced green grapes. This might sound strange, but the combination of fresh, juicy grapes and the chilled, creamy ajo blanco is fantastic. It’s also not that common, so makes a nice change from gazpacho when you’re looking for a chilled soup as a starter when it’s pushing 33°C outside (yes, that’s how hot it got today in London!).

And with that – my fear of ajo blanco has been overcome!

ajoblanco3

To make Ajo Blanco (serves 4):

For the soup:

• 3 cloves garlic
• 150g whole almonds
• Handful of pine nuts
• 80g stale white rustic bread (crusts removed)
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• 200ml water

To serve:

• olive oil
• 12 green grapes

1. Put the bread and water in a bowl. Leave to soak for 15 minutes.

2. Peel the garlic, slice in half and remove any green bits. Blanch for 3 minutes in a small pot of boiling water. Drain and leave to cool.

3. Skin the almonds – bring another pan of water to the boil, add the almonds and simmer for two minutes. Drain, and squeeze the almonds out of the skins (you can discard them – we only need the nuts!).

4. Put the garlic, bread, almonds, pine nuts, olive oil, salt and vinegar into a blender and blitz until very smooth. You may need to add more water to get the right consistency (think single cream). Pour into a large bowl and adjust the seasoning as needed – more oil, salt or vinegar according to taste. Cover the bowl and chill for at least two hours or overnight.

5. To serve, divide between four bowls. Slice the grapes in half and divide between the bowls, finishing with a drizzle of olive oil.

Worth making? Definitely! This is a really easy recipe to make, while the almonds and bread mean that it is light and fresh but still substantial.

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Fiery Lentil Soup

So what are you up to for Bonfire Night? Baked spuds around the fire, sweets or messy toffee apples?

Personally, I’m a big fan of a flask of soup with some bread to keep the cold out, and I’ve got a recipe that is a guaranteed winter warmer. It’s good old-fashioned lentil soup, which is probably one of the easiest soups to make and I think by far and away one of the most satisfying.

I’ve recently been adding a lot more spices to my food, and that includes a lot more chilli. I’ve actually started to get quite experimental, and I can only apologise to everyone who has been surprised to find allspice cropping up in a range of dishes (albeit – no disasters so far!).

However, today is not an exercise in culinary risk-taking. Rather, it’s my “normal” lentil soup which has been fortified by a sharp twist of lemon juice at the end, and a swirl of chilli paste (in the form of sambal olek). The result is something that is robust, satisfying and packs rather a punch in the flavour department. However, if you’ve got folks around who perhaps prefer things a little milder, adding the chilli at the end avoids them running around looking for glasses of water to kill the heat.

So if you’re off to some Bonfire Night festivities, wrap up warm, keep your pets safe, and have a great evening!

For spicy lentil soup (serves 4, easy to double/triple):

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated

• 3 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
• 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
• 250g red lentils
• 1 stock cube
• 1 litre hot water
• salt and pepper, to taste
• lemon juice and chilli paste, to serve

1. Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent (five minutes).

2. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for two minutes (don’t let them burn). If they get too brown or start to stick, add a dash of water.

3. Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds. If it seems too dry, add some water – this will form a thick paste, and as the water evaporates, it will become oily and cook the spices. Don’t be tempted to add more oil.

4. Add the lentils and carrots and cook briefly, then add the water.

5. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the stock cube, and keep simmering until the lentils are tender. Add more water if the soup is too thick, then add some salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, add a dash of chilli paste and a squeeze of lemon juice, erring on the side of caution!

Worth making? I think the addition of the chilli takes this from a good soup to a great soup. An excellent choice to keep the chill at bay this week!

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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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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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Vegetable Broth

In the words of Frank Loesser, “baby, it’s cold outside”. Yes, a little light snow and the south of England has come to a shuddering halt. We’re now being bombarded with headlines about “Frozen Britain” (yawn), but as yet, there is no news about how this affects that other news staple, the Royal Wedding.

What is beyond doubt it that it is very chilly, and that calls for proper winter soups. This one is a veggie version of Scotch Broth, so – obviously – lots of vegetables, plus potato and barley to add a bit of substance. I like my soups to be thick and hearty, something filling when you get in from the cold, or to prepare you to venture outside. I just don’t get clear soups, or basic bouillon. Filling, and mopped up with lots of brown, crusty bread. Mmmm!

I also like soups that have a bit of character – smooth “posh” soups are all well and good, but if you’re looking for something to serve as a meal, lots of chunky carrot, turnip, celeriac and barley will do the trick. This is also a super-easy recipe. Just chop up the vegetables, fry in a little oil, add stock and let it simmer for a few hours until the barley is soft. Job done. I’ve posted before about my love for barley, and I am going to go on about it again. I think it really brings something to a soup, a bit of chewiness and texture combined with the tender vegetables.

It’s also a good one as it is cheap as chips to make (read the ingredients – it’s all basic stuff, and quelle horreur very healthy) and can be quite easily made from the sort of thing that skulks around in the bottom of the fridge or, with these winter days, arrives in your weekly organic veg box. I know, that makes me sound so Stoke Newington la-di-da!

If you are making this soup, I’ve put a recipe below, but to be honest, the trick is just to get roughly similar amounts of autumn or winter vegetables, add some potato and barley, then sit back and let the lot simmer until the vegetables are tender. It can also be quite happily made with whatever you have to hand – leeks, celery etc. I like to aim for some vegetables that will turn soft and break down (making the soup thick and satisfying), while others hold their shape. I finished this one off with a couple of spoons of soy sauce, and added a scant handful of fresh thyme leaves to the soup 10 minutes before serving.

As an aside, normally I don’t use celeriac in soup (I use celery), but I decided to give it a try. And, rather marvellously, it cooks wonderfully, becoming very soft, then breaking down and adding to the thickness of the soup. I like to make little culinary discoveries like this!


To make Vegetable Broth (serves 4):

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large carrot carrots, peeled and diced
• 1 small swede, peeled and diced
• 1 small turnip, peeled and diced
• 3 small onions, peeled and diced 
• 2 scant handfuls barley
• 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

• 3 litres vegetable stock

• salt and pepper, to taste
• small handful fresh thyme

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the carrots, swede, celeriac, onions, barley and potato, and cook for 2 minutes on a medium heat, stirring from time to time.

Add the stock and stir well. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the barley is tender (about 30 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Towards the end of the cooking time, add the thyme (if using). Once ready, add more water if the soup is too thick, and serve with lots of crusty brown bread.

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Roasted Tomato Soup

More autumn food today!

I’m doing that terribly British thing where I go on about the weather. But the long, bright summer nights have gone, and my will to make salads and light suppers has likewise dwindled dramatically. As it gets darker, I like to come home and eat quick, easy, comforting foods. Forget light and fresh, this is the time of year where filling and spicy food comes into its own. Good homemade soup is just the sort of thing I want, and this easy tomato soup fits the bill.

This soup is a breeze to make – just chop up the vegetables, then roast in the oven and blend until smooth. By roasting the vegetables, you get the rich, intense flavour of the tomatoes, which marries well with the caramelised onion and garlic and the freshness of the thyme. This is a proper, satisfying, adult version of tomato soup, a million miles away from the stuff you get in a can. Perfect served up with a few slices of toasted bread covered in olive oil and rubbed with garlic.

For tomato soup (serves 4):

• 1kg cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
• 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
• 2 small onions, peeled and quartered
• handful fresh thyme stalks
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 50ml olive oil
• 200ml vegetable stock
• salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F).

Put the tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme, salt and olive oil  into a roasting pan, and toss gently(*). Roast for 25-30 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed and the vegetables are starting to brown.

Remove the roasting tray from the oven, and allow to cool slightly. Retrieve the thyme stalks, stripping off the leaves and adding to the tomatoes. Peel the garlic and put back with the tomatoes. Transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth.

Put the soup into a pan. Add the vegetable stock and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for five minutes and serve with lots of crusty bread.

(*) If necessary, use two roasting trays. Don’t pile the tomatoes up too high in one dish, as otherwise they will just sit in their juices and will not roast properly.

Worth making? Yes. This is easy and delicious, and a great way to make a satisfying autumn supper.

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Spicy Lentil Soup

Over the recent hard winter, I have been making a lot of lentil soup. It’s great as a quick lunch, cheap as chips, and has the bonus of being a filling, healthy dish. I know that lentils are just about the stereotypical vegetarian food (up there with unflavoured tofu), but I really like them. Lentil burgers, croquettes, heck, even on their own.

It took me a while to get my recipe for lentil soup quite right. As a child, my grandmother’s was the lentil soup, so I guess that I have been trying to recreate that over the years. I’ve also realised that it is the sort of dish that everyone has an opinion about (probably based on what their grandmothers used to make as well). Some like lots of pepper, others very salty, thick, thin, lumpy, smooth…lots of scope to vary it. So mine is quite thick and still has the texture of the lentils and whatever vegetables I’ve added. I also chuck in a load of fresh garlic, ginger and other spices to give the soup a real depth of flavour. You could add a bit more water and blitz it to a puree, but I find smooth soups just really, really dull.

I blogged a couple of days ago about my recently-acquired Espelette pepper…and this recipe needs spice…so is this a marriage made in heaven? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I gave it a go – the usual recipe, but I added less curry powder, and instead threw in a generous teaspoon of the Espelette. And…this works so well. The smoky, paprika-like flavour was there and there was a noticeable warmth to the soup this time, and it is flecked with little bits of red which looks pretty cool. In place of the usual black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, I sprinkled a bit more Espelette on top. My timing was good as well – a holiday weekend in London, and the usual rain has rolled in. This was just perfect for sitting on the sofa and watching a film.

For the soup:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 white onion, finely chopped
• knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated

• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons ground cumin seeds
• 1 tablespoons ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
• 1 generous teaspoon Espelette pepper
• 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
• 250g red lentils
• 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 1 stock cube
• 1 litre hot water

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent (five minutes). Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for two minutes (don’t let them burn). Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds (if very dry, add another spoon of oil).

Add the lentils and carrots and cook for one minute, stirring all the time. Add the tomatoes, and stir well.

Pour in the water and add the stock cube. Stir well, bring to the boil, the simmer until the lentils are tender (at least 20 minutes). Serve with a sprinkling of Espelette pepper.

Worth making? This is a great soup, and is easy to adapt to what you have in the store cupboard. It takes spices really well, so feel free to be creative. It’s great on a chilly  day, and freezes well in small batches.

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Parsnip and Curry Soup

Still cold in London’s glamourous N16, so another soup recipe. This time it’s out of necessity – I had a few parsnips that looked less than fresh and someone in the living room complaining of hunger and that their need to study meant they could not even think of getting food for themselves.

If I’m cooking parsnips, then I reach for the curry every time. Parsnips and curry are a great combination. I like parsnips, but their sweetness and perfume can be a bit much in a savoury dish, so the curry helps and makes this a great winter warmer. Be heavy handed with the curry powder – you want it to have quite a bit of heat to it. This combination also had the desired effect of silencing the demands for food from the living room, which can only be a positive sign.


HOW TO MAKE IT

This one could not be simpler and takes about 15 minutes (plus cooking):

• 2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
• 1 large potato,
peeled and chopped
• 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
• 3 tablespoons of olive oil
• knob of butter
• 3 teaspoons curry powder
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 liter vegetable stock
• yoghurt or creme fraiche

Cook the onion for 5 minutes with the oil and butter over a gentle heat. Add the parsnips and potato, and cook for a further 5 minutes. You will need to stir frequently as the parsnips start to caramelise and will burn easily if left too long. Add the salt, pepper and curry powder and stir well. Cook for another couple of minutes, then add a liter of vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Once the vegetables are tender, liquidise the lot and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghut and black pepper.

THE VERDICT

Another favourite (as mentioned, this effectively dealt with the cries for food from the sofa). One tip would be about the curry – if in doubt, add more curry. A perfect way to use up those less-than-photogenic root veggie and good when you’re not in the mood to measure carefully.

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