Archive for ‘Soups’

April 17, 2012

Recipes for nettles

This is perhaps a point at which foraging for food becomes a prickly subject. All those features and TV cookery programmes that see chefs scouring wild landscapes for sea buckthorn or roaming the woods to find edible funghi… all that foraged food can seem ever so exotic, fit for a restaurant such as Noma in Copenhagen or one of its many followers. And yet, there’s a much more common ingredient, which grows in abundance, and which is probably due a revival, and which great so many kinds of recipes. It is, of course, the humble nettle. Why aren’t we all out there picking them?

Down the trail near our house nettles are shooting up all over the place at the moment: their fresh young leaves so green – not like the old deep green and tough-looking leaves found later in the year. But it’s not just about being in the countryside – I used to see nettles peeking through railings and rising up at the edges of the parks and canals of urban East London.

I’ve never picked any, though. Have you? Is it just me that’s been missing out? I had a lovely bowl of nettle soup once, at Petersham Nurseries. It was something of a revelation in its delicate greenness. And then it was forgotten again.

But when this damn rain stops I’m going to head out with some thick gloves and pick some nettles. And I’m going to make something with them. Watch this space.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas that might convince you to do the same.

For those of you who might want to make your own fresh pasta, try Blanche Vaughan’s nettle ravioli here. The Guardian feature is worth a read in any case, to put your mind at rest about how to treat nettles and their avoid their stings.

More recently in the Guardian is Hugh FW and his recipes for a nettle soup, a risotto and a nettle and feta filo pie. They’re here.

Happy foraging. Let us know how it goes!

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February 6, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Sweetcorn and chickpea soup with greens and a chilli-soy salsa

Sweetcorn; chickpeas; kale. Should they go together? A chilli-soy salsa? It’s that last piece of description that gives away the some geography to this soup: it’s an Asian, perhaps Thai or Indonesian-influenced concoction and the background note under the combination of leaves, kernels and legumes is a spicy coconut broth. The salsa – well, though the word might shout Mexico and link to the sweetcorn, it’s a thoroughly Asian-influenced topping too. Let’s make it…

For the salsa we finely diced one red pepper, finely sliced two spring onions and a finely chopped red chilli (or two). Combine these together. Next, toast a handful of sunflower seeds in a dry frying pan for 5-10 minutes, tossing them occasionally and taking care not to burn them. When they’ve started to turn golden take them off the heat and splash some soy sauce over them. They’ll become slightly sticky. Leave to cool and then stir into the salsa. Finally roughly chop a handful of coriander leaves and add to the salsa.

The soup is something of a fusion of West and East but the ingredients complement each other perfectly and are often found together in varying combinations around the world. The kale could be Savoy cabbage, cavolo nero, spring greens, spinach or even pak choi. We had some kale left, so that’s what went in the pot – and it’s great with chickpeas.

First, make a ‘curry’ paste: grate a 1-inch piece of ginger, finely slice three cloves of garlic and three medium shallotts. Finely slice two green chillies (strength to your licking) and two sticks of fresh lemongrass. Place all these ingredients in the jug of a food processor/blender. Now add 2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and ground turmeric. Add half a cup of water and blend to get a smooth, thick sauce.

Heat a large saucepan, add a dash of sesame oil and add the curry sauce, cooking it for five minutes – you should smell the aromas. Then add a medium-sized tin of sweetcorn kernels, a tin of chickpeas and a tin of coconut milk. Stir. Then add 600ml of vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or so then add some handfuls of roughly chopped greens. Cook for 5 minutes more if you’re using soft greens (spinach etc) or 10 minutes if you’re using tougher cabbage or kale etc.

Check the seasoning and serve, topping the bowl with a good spoonful of salsa and a squeeze of lime.

January 29, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Greens and Noodles with Citrus Broth

We have already documented our feelings about Nigel Slater’s TV series and, judging by the amount of people who find themselves reading this blog after searching for the words ‘Nigel Slater creepy’, then many of you are of a similar opinion. Poor soul.

He doesn’t always help himself, however. In a recent Guardian newspaper feature he advocated using fresh, lighter flavours to accompany an Asian-inflenced dish of greens, instead of ‘the dark, almost sinister spicing of the past’.

‘Sinister’? What, cumin? Ginger? C’mon Nige. Did you a recipe backwards and find some hidden meaning in it?

Well, it didn’t stop us from trying his suggestion, although we pimped the recipe by leaving out the fish sauce, adding a dessert spoon of tamarind paste and throwing in some oyster mushrooms and rice noodles for four minutes at the end to make a more substantial stew. And very nice it was too. Fiery, fresh and fragrant. And definitely not sinister in any way.

Nigel’s recipe is here.

January 28, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Sweet Potato and Chickpea Soup ‘Berbere’

What a cold winter’s night really needs, of course, is a warming bowl of nutritious soup. This one was made after a rummage through the fridge and kitchen cupboards. We had some sweet potato that wasn’t long for this world, a tin of chickpeas, an onion, spices… and that’s all you need.

Now, we’ve often made a sweet potato and chickpea soup, or a butternut squash and chickpea soup and, usually, we spice it up with a little chilli and some cumin. But I’m bored of it: the cumin so often overpowers if it’s the dominant spice… and this was the thought in my mind as my eyes set upon a tin of ready-mixed ‘Berbere’ spice (widely available, just like this here that we picked up in the supermarket).

Berbere refers to the Berber peoples of North Africa. I’ve always associated Berbere spices with Morocco, having visited that country, but a little research reveals that the mix of spices including chilli, cumin, coriander seed, fenugreek, cloves, allspice, ginger, cardamom, plus varying others, as well as the term Berbere, is recognisable in Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali cuisines. The exact origin, and infinite variations, could no doubt be argued over for longer than it would take the IMF to do the right thing and cancel African debt, so let’s just say that it’s fiery, with some sweeter notes than you might get in Indian spice mixes.

To the soup: it’s one-pot stuff. In a large saucepan or stockpot, saute a finely chopped onion in a little olive oil for 5 minutes. Add a clove of finely chopped garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. While it’s cooking, peel two large-ish sweet potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks and add to the pot. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Next add one tin of chickpeas. Then add the Berbere spice mix. We added a heavily loaded dessert-spoonful. You might want to add less – it’ll be fine. Chilli addicts could also add one fresh red chilli. Stir in and then add around 500ml of vegetable stock – maybe a little more depending on the size of your potatoes. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Take off the heat, leave to cool until lukewarm then blitz it with a hand blender. Don’t overdo it though, it’s best if the soup is a little coarse. Reheat, season with salt and pepper and serve, perhaps with some crusty bread.

It warms the cockles, this one.

January 16, 2012

Recipe: Smoked garlic soup with parsley pesto

We received a gift of some smoked garlic at Christmas – from the rather famous Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. It’s been ages since we’ve had any smoked garlic and quite frankly I couldn’t remember what we’d done with it in the past other that, well, enjoy it. For some reason I though a soup must be something in which its aromatic properties would hit the right note and, after a little internet search, I found this recipe here, from Gino D’Acampo, which is what we’ll be eating tomorrow evening.

September 15, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Italian bean soup with basil

Wednesday 24 August

A rather delicious bowlful of soup from Ella, who will often pep up a tomato-based Italianate recipe with the addition of some basil leaves, garlic, and olive oil, pounded with a mortar and pestle. It’s a good trick and produces something akin to pesto, but with a bit more tang and a little less gloop – great to have a spoonful with some soup.

Essentially, this is hearty one-pot stuff, taking an onion, garlic, chilli, pepper, courgette, tomatoes, a tin of butter/borlotti/pinto beans, and some stock and bringing them all together.

So, in a large, deep saucepan or stockpot, fry a sliced onion for 5 minutes until soft, then add two cloves of chopped garlic and some fresh chilli (as much as you like). After 2 minutes add a sliced bell pepper, seeds and pithy bits removed. Cook for 5 more minutes then add a roughly diced courgette. Stir. Then add either a tin of chopped tomatoes or 4-5 medium tomatoes, skins removed and chopped. Stir again then add a litre of vegetable stock or water. Simmer for as long as it takes for the liquid to reduce and the soup become, well, soupy. The longer the better really as the flavours increase with time on the hob. Serve with the basil ‘sauce’.

I think that’s how Ella made it, in any case.

And one final thing, we did already allude to this soup in an earlier post, here. Which leads me to say that yes, this is our weekday variation.

September 13, 2011

Recipe: Squash and Cider Soup

We almost – almost – had a butternut squash soup for last night’s dinner. It didn’t happen in the end, in part because I wanted a squash soup with a twist and something that didn’t feel too wintery (it’s not yet mid-September, whatever the wind is telling me as it rattles the windows and blows dark grey clouds across the creek).

This Squash and Cider Soup, here, from the New York Times, would have been perfect (and yes, that’s what I was thinking: it does seem a particularly English, Septembery soup for a US publication).

As the serving suggestion recommends, I think this would make a lovely lunchtime soup in a mug. We don’t do enough of that.

September 6, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Chilled fennel soup with halloumi croutons

Wednesday 17 August

As I type this the wind is rattling the windows and the skies are a deep grey – a kind that Elle Deco would probably say is very fashionable for an accent wall right now. Yes, the sky is all rather Farrow and Ball.

It was a lovely evening when I made this soup, however. Ella was late coming home and I was pottering about after a day’s work. The recipe, here, is by Yotam Ottolenghi and would also make a fab lunch – perhaps with a light glass of Vinho Verde. I made rather a lot of croutons, as you can see. But I do like halloumi! And I know, fennel, chilled, soup? Give it a go – especially if you’re fond of a hearty gazpacho or almond based ajo blanco.

August 8, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Roast tomato and pepper broth with potato, butter beans and greens

(Our last home-cooked meal in London)

Believe it or not this hearty yet summery supper came about as a way of emptying our fridge and store cupboard before our impending move from the city. It’s typical that we would have a couple of peppers, some tomatoes, a few old spuds and half a cabbage (or similar) lying around. It’s also typical that this is the kind of thing we’d end up making with those ingredients.

The first job was to roast a red and a yellow pepper, just coated with a little olive oil, along with a couple of chillis and three cloves of garlic, still in their skins. Also into the oven went a small tray of halved tomatoes, skin side down, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. They both need to roast at around 190 degrees for 25 minutes or maybe a little longer. The tomatoes should be starting to collapse and the peppers’ skins almost blackened in parts.

When done, drop the peppers into a plastic bag, tie it and leave to cool/steam for a few minutes – this will help loosen the skins a little. Leave the tomatoes to cool a little, in their roasting tray.

After 5 minutes or so, take the peppers from the bag, slice them open, deseed them and peel as much skins from them as you can (but don’t worry too much if some skin remains). Slip the garlic cloves from their skins and chop the stalks off the chillis. Tip all the roasted veg into a food processor and blend until smooth.

Next, pour the roast veg sauce into a large saucepan/stockpot and add 400ml of water or vegetable stock. Heat until it comes to a boil and then leave on a slow simmer. It should look like a rustic tomato soup.

Now, take your potatoes and boil them until just tender and steam whatever greens you have (dark green cabbage, kale or cavolo nero), stalks removed, for around four minutes or, again, until just tender.

Tip the potatoes and greens into the soup along with a tin of butter bins (other white beans would be fine here but the size of the butter beans is good with this) and simmer for five minutes.

Serve, if you like, with crusty bread.

Depending on the exact amount of ingredients this will turn out more like a stew or more like a soup. I don’t think it really matters. What counts most of all is the deep, rich flavour and aroma of that roast tomato and pepper broth.

One final thing: we’ve described this as summery. Why? Well, because ripe summer tomatoes and the ‘new’ potatoes we used seem to shout of that season. But this is a dish that translates to autumn or winter too. I’d try to make it more ‘stewy’, less ‘brothy’ for those darker months.

July 16, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Lettuce, pea and cucumber soup

Sunday 26 June

This is the second entry for the 26th of June, following on from the morning’s veggie sausages.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Cucumber, in a soup?’ Well yes, actually, and it really works by adding some substance to the light summer greens. I’m not sure how, but it does.

The recipe we took it from is by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and includes the herb lovage. We couldn’t find any lovage and replaced it with flat-leaf parsely. It probably misses the point but hey, we’re all friends here. The soup was good. Go on, try it: the recipe’s here.