Tag Archives: Soup

Simple, Cleansing Pork Pho

Pork Pho

A Fantasticaly Fresh TV Dinner

I have eaten rather well lately: at new lunch spots with my ladies; a rich lamb tagine, cooked for me by my friend from the Morning Claret; and a veritable feast of dim sum that I cooked up last Sunday, for the lunar new year. I had great fun doing it, but I did learn that it is probably OK to make some things in advance and heat them through on the day. There are so many intricate little dishes to make for a proper dim sum feast. I made char sui pork, with which I then made sticky rice and char sui bao (as well as chicken and mushroom hom bao). I made crispy seaweed (with curly kale), pak choi in garlic, and braised aubergine. I also made these excellent vegetarian shumai that Petra from Food Eat Love posted the other day. They were delicious, and gave me the courage to try other dumplings too. I’ve never quite understood how to tuck up the dumplings, but Petra’s clear instructions just clicked with me, and so I gave them a go. Unfortunately, I need a bit more practice before they look lovely, so there are no photos.

Encouraged by the success of the shumai, I decided to go all out, and have a go at xiao long bao, or the special pork dumplings, that are filled with mince and pork. Mine were loosely based on the Serious Eats Soup Dumplings. Nothing like a good bit of over-reaching to really show your skill. Or the limitations of it, in any case. More practice needed there, too, I think.

Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious, but not that soupy, as I managed to put slightly too much meat in the filling, and so the thin and delicate pastry broke. I’m not going to be put off, however. I was very pleased with them, and I will get better, I’m sure.

I made the Serious Eats stock for the bao, but I deviated a bit from the filling. For one thing, I don’t eat prawns, because I can’t really find any that could be said to be produced sustainably. Instead, I grated in ginger and garlic, and I put coriander through the pork mince.

After all that eating, today I was in search of something cleaner, and simpler. The Big Guy was out for dinner tonight with work, so as well as clean flavours, I wanted something simple, but that was comforting enough to settle in on the sofa with to catch up on some TV.

Having feasted so well at the weekend, I was not without leftovers, particularly the very good stock, and some of the xiao long bao filling. Despite needing the practice, I wasn’t in the mood for more dumplings, so I ventured further south for tonight’s dinner. Just like I deviated a bit from the Serious Eats filling, I have deviated a bit from a traditional Vietnamese Pho, but the resulting soup was just as fresh and comforting as I’d imagined it would be.

Cooking-with-Herbs-300x252

Since this dish contains herbs (and if I’d have had Vietnamese mint, I’d have added that too), and is Chinese/Vietnamese inspired, I have also decided that it is perfect for this month’s Cooking with Herbs, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. She is also hoping for recipes inspired by romance for this month, in light of it being Valentine’s day soon. I’m not so sure about all the romance, but I do know this soup is a great way to show yourself some love if you have over-indulged, or if you have a night to yourself.

Recipe: Pork Pho

The amounts given here are enough for one person.

Ingredients

For the Meatballs:

100 g minced pork

½ tsp soy sauce

1½ tsp rice wine

A pinch of sugar

A small clove of garlic, finely grated

A 1 cm piece of ginger, finely grated

Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped

For the Pho

400 ml good stock – I used chicken and pork from Serious Eats. Just chicken stock is also fine, but please don’t use stock cubes

½ tbsp fish sauce

½ carrot, cut into thin batons

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 cm ginger, cut into thin batons

40 g rice noodles

2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal

20 g mange tout, sliced on the diagonal

1 chilli, seeds in or out, whichever you prefer, sliced thinly on the diagonal

3-4 sprigs of coriander, leaves whole and the stalks finely chopped

Pinch of salt

Juice of about a quarter of a lime

Method

First, mix all of the meatball ingredients together, then roll them into small balls. You want them to be about marble size. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to help them to keep their shape.

Cook the stock with the fish sauce, garlic, ginger and carrots. Add the pork balls, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles. When cooked, drain, and add them and the vegetables to a deep bowl. Sprinkle  the herbs on the top.

Season the soup with salt, as required. Pour the soup over the noodles and the vegetables in the bowl, and squeeze in lime juice to taste.

Serve immediately, in front of the TV, and enjoy in peace.

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A Summer Soup for Winter, Mostly From a Cupboard

Winter Vegetable Soupe au Pistou

A Staples Stand-By

The Big Guy has been worrying about our plants. More specifically, he has been fretting over a rather leggy basil plant, that really was on its last legs. After the third day of him agonising, I decided that we should use up the whole plant. Whilst mulling over winter uses of basil, I kept coming back to the thought of soupe au pistou; the Provençal summer soup.

Try as I might, I kept returning to the pistou, which is like pesto, but without the pine nuts. In fact, I couldn’t really think of anything else, so I gave in. Instead of courgettes and peas, it had to be about what I had knocking about. Between the fridge and the garden, I knew that I could come up with the goods.

Despite the name, the original recipe is more like a summer vegetable stew;  thick with beans, squash, tomatoes and alliums, as well as vermicelli. I could easily substitute most of these for suitable winter vegetables, so I went on a domestic forage.  As well as the basil, I grew thyme, garlic, carrots and cavalo nero (amongst other things), so these were definitely going in. The fridge yielded half a butternut squash, some aging tomatoes and a leek. If I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, I would have substituted these for half a tin of chopped tomatoes. That’s the brilliant thing about store cupboard soups – you use what you have.

I was also excited to experiment with cooking dried beans in my new pressure cooker. I’m dying to test the assertion that you can cook dried beans without a pre-soak, which will be amazing for someone who can forget to do the little things, like me. However, when I went to look, the cupboard was bare of dried beans, apart from some kidney beans I have, which wouldn’t have tasted right in this soup. I am still reluctant to forego the pre-soak for these beans, due to the toxins they contain. With a sigh, I added dried beans to my shopping list and went for tinned instead. I generally prefer dried beans for taste and texture, but I always have a tin or two on stand-by, because I am also a realist about my lack of foresight. Since this was a root-around, use-up, make-d0 type of soup, I wasn’t going to go shopping for beans, so I made use of what I had.

The classic soupe au pistou always contains starch. I used vermicelli, because I had some. Other pasta shapes (especially the small ones, such as ditolini, risoni, or stellini) are fine – or you could break up spaghetti into small bits and use those. You could add rice to this soup, in case you don’t have any pasta, or you can’t eat wheat. If you use rice you’ll need to add it much earlier than I suggest adding the pasta, or use pre-cooked rice.

This soup may be a winter version of a summer classic, but the intense smell as you mash the pistou is like a shot of glorious summer in a winter kitchen.

Since this is a winter warmer, and definitely comforting, I’m entering it into this month’s Cheese Please, over at Fromage Homage. There are some really great recipes there this month, so do come over and have a look.

Cheese Please blog badge

Recipe: Soupe au Pistou du Placard

Ingredients

For the Pistou:

1 fat garlic clove

A good pinch of salt

30 g basil leaves

About 60 ml extra virgin olive oil

About 40 g parmesan cheese, finely grated (or mature vegetarian cheddar, since parmesan is not vegetarian)

1 tomato, peeled and de-seeded (optional)

For the soup:

1 leek, washed and sliced

2 carrots, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or ½ tsp dried thyme

1.5 l vegetable stock

400 g butternut squash, or pumpkin, diced

100 g cavalo nero

400 g can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 medium tomatoes, diced; or half a tin of chopped tomatoes

100 g vermicelli noodles, rice or any other small pasta shape

Method

Make the pistou. I like to use a pestle and mortar, but you can also use a small food processor. If you are using the food processor, either mince the garlic first with a chef’s knife and the salt, or grate it on a microplaner before adding it to the processor.

Whichever method you are using to make the pistou, add and blend the ingredients in this order: garlic and salt, basil, some of the oil and cheese. Be sparing with the both the oil and the cheese. You must taste as you add these, because all basil will vary. You want  fairly thick pesto, but it still needs to be flavoursome. Once the pistou is to your liking, stop adding things.

Make a concasse of the tomato and stir it through the pistou. Traditionally soupe au pistou has tomato flesh gently crushed into the pistou with a pestle and mortar, which you can also do if you prefer. If you are using tinned tomatoes, omit the tomato from the pistou, or you risk diluting it too much.

Prepare all of the vegetables for the soup. I decided to cook the cavalo nero stalks separate to the leafy greens. So, I stripped the greens from the stalks, and sliced both. Slice the stalks into 1cm chunks, like the rest of the vegetables. Slice the greens thinly, and keep them separate.

Sweat  the leek, carrot and the bay leaf in the olive oil in a deep pan, until the leek turns a vibrant green. Add the garlic and thyme and sweat off for another minute or so.

Add the stock, and simmer for a few minutes, or none at all, if you prefer your carrots crunchy. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Add the pumpkin and cook until you can just pierce it with the point of your knife. The time required will depend on the size of your dice. It took me about 5 minutes, based on 1cm dice.

Chuck in the beans, chopped tomatoes, and cavalo nero stalks, and allow them to simmer for five minutes, before adding the vermicelli and the greens.

Allow the soupe to cook until the pasta is al dente. Check for seasoning, and serve in deep bowls, topped with a large dollop of the pistou.

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Of Seeds, Stories,Swapping, and Soup

Zaad Ruilen

On Your Marks, Get Set, Swap

(c) A. Doherty 2012

Well, what a week it’s been. I have been busy with a lot of networking, about which I hope to be able to bring you more later. Today, I am on my way to the Food Guerrilla event in Rotterdam, which I

The week started (or last week ended, depending on your viewpoint) with the Seedy Penpals, Cityplot and Mediamatic Zaadruilen (Seed exchange) on Sunday. The day started out bright and crisp, a great day for a seed swap. We headed over to the Mediamatic Fabriek with bags full of seeds, and the hope that there would be enough variety to share.

Unfortunately for us, the heavens opened just before 2.00, when the swap was due to start. Although I was inside, and couldn’t see out, I knew from the sound that it was raining cats, dogs, and probably a few farm animals as well. I am sure that this put many people off, as the mediamatic events are usually very well attended. Nevertheless, quite a few intrepid people did make it, and brought a lot of seed to boot. It was great to make connections wit more people who want to grow and share seed, and to find out about all the initiatives that there are in town, or that people want to get off the ground.

ASEED were also there. They brought seeds, and they also gave a workshop on seed saving, and the importance of maintaining plant varieties that are being lost as we see more and more of our plants (particularly food) being grown from fewer varieties that are bred to look good or last well on our supermarket shelves, or be resistant to pesticides etc.

This issue is becoming increasingly more important as we see more and more laws passed globally that try to restrict the distribution of seeds, and concentrate it in the hands of a few companies, instead of using traditional methods of saving a portion of the harvest to grow the following year. This weekend in Vienna,  a group of NGOs are getting together to discuss proposed legislation in the EU that would become even more restrictive on the sharing and saving of seeds, and the issue of owning “intellectual property” of seed varieties and genetic strains. I think that it is important to push back about this, for many reasons, and look forward to being able to do a small part in the push to amend this legislation, and make it possible to continue to grow, save and share my own seed.

People came with their own seeds, some that they had bought, but many that they had saved themselves. I took a lot of seeds, but my favourite was the runner beans that I have grown from seeds that my Dad gave me. I love to share that story, and many people were interested, and took some for themselves. I also learned a few of the stories that other people told along with their seeds too.

Making the Rangoli

Seeds of Something Beautiful

As we were doing the event along with Mediamatic, we also included an artistic element. We made a beautiful rangoli from pulses. A rangoli are colourful Indian artworks usually made from seeds, coloured flour, rice or sand traditionally made by Hindu women to use as decorations at festivals. I also learned that the form has been used to plot out a farm and the rotation system, so that you had a visual representation of what should be planted where, that is easy to follow, even if you may not read. I think that is a lovely idea.

Rangoli made with pulses

Edible Art

Since they were edibles, we thought that we would share them with the people who came to swap seeds, so we made a Souper Seed Mix. We gave packages with beans or lentils, that we used in the rangoli, plus a spice mix. Obviously, there was no way that I was going to waste all that good seed. I figured that people could then choose to plant them, or eat them.

I tested this recipie first, using home grown Harlequin potatoes, but you could use any firm-fleshed potato. It turned out that the potato was the only seed of all of the ingredients that I used that did not appear at the swap, but I expect that this was more due to the time of year.

So, here is my Rangoli Soup. A few people from the swap have already tried this, and the reports have been good so far. It seems it id good, with or without the art!

Rangoli Soup

Seeds to Form a Souper Mix

Recipe: Rangoli Soup

Ingredients:

100 g dried beans, split peas or lentils

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp mustard seed

½ tsp nigella seed

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp tomato puree

Pinch chilli powder

1 clove garlic, grated

3cm piece root ginger, grated

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 bay leaves

2 sticks celery, diced

350 g potatoes, diced

2 carrots, sliced

250 g pumpkin, diced

300 ml vegetable stock

1 tin crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Chopped parsley or coriander

Method:

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. If you have lentils or split peas, you skip the soaking stage. In fresh, cold water, bring the beans up to the boil and then simmer until tender. This may take between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the type of bean. Once they are cooked, drain the water off, and set aside.

In a dry pan, toast the spice seed mix, until they brown, and the mustard seeds start to pop. Grind them to a powder.

Make a paste with the seed powder, turmeric, chilli powder, garlic, ginger and tomato purée.

Gently fry the onion,celery and bay leaves in the oil, until they are translucent.

Add the paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring well so that the spices don’t burn.

Add the carrot, potato, pumpkin, the cooked beans,  stock and tomatoes, and cook until the vegetables are tender – about 10 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with some chopped coriander or parsley sprinkled over the top.

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A Shaggy Mushroom Story

Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom

Shaggy Ink Cap

I have just got back from the UK, where I was attending my sister’s wedding.  She and her groom did a lovely job, with the help from friends and family. A great time was had by all, and the weather mostly held off. Congratulations to my sister and her new husband!

I also managed to fit in a little bit of a forage, between the wedding day and the train home. I found some blackberries, at last. This year has been terrible here, probably because of the lack of pollinators. I got enough for a couple of good crumbles, or maybe even a pie. I also got a sizeable amount of rowan berries, which I am experimenting with. I will bring you the recipe shortly.

I found these little beauties. I wasn’t looking for them, in fact I was busy with other things, but once you start to forage, spotting things in fields and hedgerows becomes like second nature. You can’t help but investigate, which often leads to thinking up ways to use your finds.

As Shaggy Ink Caps do not keep well at all, I quickly made them into a tasty little soup. It was really delicious, as they have a nice nutty, mushroomy taste. I did not get pictures, because (as the name suggests) it was a grey/black colour, not unlike food containing squid ink. I think that adding wilted and chopped spinach would help to make the dish look more appetising, if you are averse to odd-coloured food. Don’t let the colour put you off, the soup is definitely worth it.

I have given the recipe below, in case you come across any for yourself.

WARNING: It is very easy to confuse the Shaggy Ink Cap with the Common Ink Cap. Both are edible, but the Common Ink Cap will poison you if you eat it with alcohol.There have been no reported fatalities from this kind of poisoning, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable.  In fact, alcohol is best avoided for at least the next day too, to be on the safe side.  Please also stick to Basic Fungus Foraging Rules when picking mushrooms.

Common Ink Cap Mushrooms – not to be taken with alcohol

This soup was enough for 2 people, and will freeze well before the cream is added.

Recipe: Shaggy Ink Cap Soup

Ingredients

6 young Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms (before they flatten out and look black and kind of slimy)

1 tbsp olive oil

Small knob of butter (optional)

1 medium onion

1 fat garlic clove

400 ml chicken or vegetable stock

100 ml cream (or milk would probably do)

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Leftover pasta to thicken (optional)

Method

Chop the onion, and roughly chop the garlic, and sweat them off in some olive oil, until translucent.

Roughly chop the caps of the mushrooms, and chop the stalks reasonably finely. Add to the onion and garlic, and add the butter. Season well with salt and pepper, and fry off. This stage may take a while, as you want to try to drive off the black moisture that will seep from the mushrooms.

At this point I added the pasta, to give a bit of bulk. You could also add leftover rice, or cooked potato. You could probably also add raw potato when you sweat the onion. Or leave out the starch altogether. I mainly added it because it was in the fridge.

Add warm stock, and the chopped stalks of the parsley. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Blitz in a food processor, or with a stick blender until it is as smooth as you like your soup. I don’t like it completely smooth, so I don’t do this as long as I could if I liked a more homogenous texture.

Return to a pan, and add the cream and the chopped parsley leaves. Warm, but do not boil. Taste for seasoning, and serve.

You can also add a swirl of cream in the bowl if you want it to look a bit more fancy, but really, how fancy can a kind of grey/black soup get?

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A Silky Soup for September

Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

A Change in the Seasons

OK, so I was clearing out the fridge, but this is a great way to use the last tomatoes and aubergines of the season, and the first sweetcorn of the next one.

At the moment, we are trying to avoid calorific food, but I am determined that does not mean that we will miss out on flavour. This is easy when you can pack your salads and other dishes with loads of fresh herbs, but as we near the end of the herbs in the garden, I am looking to spices to plug the gap. And they are doing a great job.

My Sister just had her hen do, and I made everyone roasted aubergine with a chermoula spice rub. Partly because I was doing vegetarian, and also partly as part of my quest to make more middle eastern food.

When I found a couple of aubergines in the fridge, I initially thought I was going to make a chermoula and aubergine soup. When you roast or burn aubergine in its skin, it develops a lovely smoky, silky texture, as you can see from Baba Ganoush and similar dips. That was also going to give the soup a richness without the need for fat or cream, which is perfect for how I’m trying to eat at the moment.

As I kept poking, the fridge also relinquished some tomatoes and half a red pepper. In the spirit of not wasting food, I decided that they could go in the soup as well. And since I was already roasting the aubergines, I may as well roast these too, making the oven use more efficient, making it easier to peel the veg, and also to develop a bit of flavour, especially of the later developing vegetables that may not quite reach their full potential.

At this time of year, the sweetcorn are just appearing too. The Big Guy loves fresh corn, and we had a few cobs, though not yet from our garden. Since the soup was to be spicy and smoky, I didn’t want to just let the golden little kernels cook in the soup itself, I wanted them to add to the overall smoky flavour, so I decided to put a cob under the grill until the kernels were browned.

I had also intended to use some preserved lemons to add to the soup, in keeping with the chermoula idea. I was going to chop them fine, and use them to garnish the soup, but when I tasted it, it definitely didn’t need a sour salty note. Instead, I opted for a spoonful of yoghurt, to counter the fact that the chilli I had used was much hotter than expected!

This soup is great for the start of September, as the summer turns to autumn, and the nights get that bit colder. And it turns out that aubergines are great to add creaminess to a soup without the need for dairy too.

Recipe: Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

2 medium aubergines

½ red pepper

6-8 tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic, still in their skins

salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 cob of corn, with the husk removed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

750 ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Method

Heat the oven to 200 °C

Cut the aubergine and the tomatoes in half. Arrange the aubergines, pepper and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, and season with the salt and pepper. Slosh over 1 tbsp of the oil, and toss the veg to coat with the oil. You want the aubergine and tomato cut side up; but the pepper skin side up, because you want it to char.

Put in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on a bit of colour. After about 15 minutes, add the garlic cloves, so that they don’t burn to a crisp. You want them to be golden and soft, not crunchy.

Once the vegetables are roasted, put the grill on high, and put the corn underneath it. You will need to turn it as it cooks. If you have a separate grill, which I don’t, you can do this at the same time, it may take a while.

Meanwhile, dry fry the cumin until it is fragrant, then grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder.

Sweat the onion in the rest of the oil, until translucent. Add the chilli and cook for another minute on a gentle heat, then add the spices, and just cook through.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins, and add to the spice and onion. Allow to sweat on a gentle heat while you scrape the creamy flesh from the aubergine. Add this to the saucepan, and cook for 2-3 minutes to combine the flavour.

The tomato and pepper should also be really easy to skin as well by now. Mine just slipped off. Discard the skins, as these are indigestible, and hopefully the pepper skin will have blackened and blistered, so will be bitter and unpleasant anyway.

Add the flesh of the tomatoes and the pepper, along with any juices in the roasting dish to the saucepan. Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a food processor, until it is smooth and rich.

Run a knife down the corn, to remove the kernels, which should be brown and succulent, not black.

Divide the soup between 2 bowls, add a tablespoon of yoghurt to each, and sprinkle the corn kernels over the top.

Perfect to come home to after a day’s foraging, whether that be outside or in the fridge!

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A Soup for Summer

Summer Vegetable Nage

Summer Soup A-Swimming

For the past two years I have been experimenting with poaching. I have poached chicken, fish and even lamb. I love the tenderness that poaching lends meat, and it makes it really difficult (though not impossible) to  over cook.

The basis of a really good poached dish is the poaching liquid itself. This can be really simple, such as using water and maybe a few drops of vinegar when poaching eggs. More commonly, the poaching liquor, or nage is used to impart flavour and herbal notes to the thing you are poaching.

Nage comes from the French verb nager: to swim. The basis is a really good stock, and probably adding extra vegetables, which are then discarded.

Lately, nage has come to mean a delicate broth that gets served with the dish, but that can hold its own on the plate. The vegetables that were added for flavour are usually still removed. I hate wasting perfectly good food like this, and have been thinking that the basis of a poaching nage would make a delicious soup in its own right.

I had a vegetarian friend coming to dinner, the weather was stuffy, and I had broad beans, peas and herbs reaching their peak in the garden. I decided that I would experiment. The peas and beans should impart their soft sweet taste of summer, and the other vegetables needed a little bite. Unless you have few teeth, soft mushy vegetables are not pleasant, and certainly not what I wanted to represent a light summer soup. I served this dish as a delicate starter.

One of the herbs that I have in my garden is chervil. This delicate herb is often quite difficult to find in shops or markets in the Netherlands and the UK, but it really easy to grow, in the garden or on a windowsill. It has a delicate aniseed flavour but it really can add a lot to a salad, soup, fish or chicken dish, and will add a lot to a herb sauce. I really recommend that you have a go at growing this delightful little herb.

Herbs on a Saturday Challenge badge

Because I have used chervil and parsley in the soup, I am entering it in the June Herbs on Saturday, hosted by Karen Burns Booth at Lavender and Lovage. I really feel that this summery dish really captures the light herbal notes that are perfect for June.

The lemon zest trick was inspired by Nathan Outlaw, I think, but I’m not really sure where it came from. Don’t miss out that step though, it is important.

This soup really needs a good stock. You won’t be able to make it with a powder or a stock cube, it will be far too salty, and will also take away from the light herb flavours. Luckily, using the trimmings from the vegetables from this dish and a cabbage leaf or two, you can make a really good stock to use as the basis of the dish, with no waste. You definitely won’t regret it.

Recipe: Summer Vegetable and Herb Nage

Ingredients

Juice and zest of a lemon

700 ml of good quality vegetable stock (no cubes please)

100 g peas, shelled weight

200 g broad beans, shelled weight

2 shallots, finely chopped

4 summer carrots, finely chopped

1 bulb florence fennel, tough outer leaves removed and finely chopped

4 sprigs chervil, finely chopped (including stalks)

Small bunch curly leaf parsley, finely chopped (including stalks)

Any fronds from the fennel, finely chopped.

Salt to season

Method

Cook the lemon zest in a dry pan until you can smell the essential oils have been released. You will need to keep stirring, to help prevent burning.

Add the stock to the pan, and bring it to boiling point. Then lower the heat and simmer it for five minutes. Take it off the heat, and let it cool.

Cook the beans and the peas in unsalted boiling water. You can use the same pan, if you like, but the peas will need to go in after the beans have been cooking for a couple of minutes. Please take care not to over cook the vegetables. They really only need minutes, although the exact time will depend on their size. You will definitely not need longer than five minutes, even for large beans.

When cooked, drain the vegetables, and run them under a cold tap, or add to an ice bath to stop them cooking any further. Double-pod any broad beans bigger than half a centimetre in length. I know that this can seem like a hassle, but it really is necessary, and will give a much better balance of flavour overall.

When the stock is completely cold, add the lemon juice.

The next stages are very quick, so as not to overcook the vegetables, so please make sure that you have done all the chopping, don’t be tempted to continue chopping stuff while something  else cooks.

Soften the shallots for a minute or two on a low heat. You don’t really want the flavour of your best extra virgin olive oil here, so use a light olive oil, or sunflower oil. Be very careful, shallots can catch quickly, and you don’t want them to even start to colour. Keep stirring them.

Add the carrot and the fennel to the shallot, and sweat them all off for a minute, again, not allowing them to colour.

Add the cold stock, and bring it up to boiling point. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables just begin to soften. This will take no longer than five minutes, as the vegetable pieces should be quite small.

Taste and season with a little salt if you need to. You don’t need pepper for this dish, it will totally change the delicate balance of the flavours.

Add the peas and beans, and simmer for about a minute to allow them to warm, but not really cook more.

Finally, stir through the chopped herbs and serve this light, refreshing summer soup immediately.

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Spring Lamb Soup

Spring Lamb Soup

Lovely, Lovely Leftovers!

So yesterday I promised you a great recipe for the leftovers from my Bulgarian-ish  lamb. I’m not going to disappoint you, and neither will this soup. Once you have already made the lamb, it really is very minimal effort to make.

This sort of thing is really the best way to use up leftovers – minimal effort, but just different enough that it is not just a repeat of the meal from the day before. Oh, and delicious, of course!

You will use up the vegetable sauce, and the meat, and add bits of your own. If you don’t like chicory, then you can use baby gem lettuce in the same way instead. I might be nice to add a thinly sliced spring onion with the peas, or instead of the peas. If you don’t have parsley, you can try mint. that’s the other great thing about dishes like this, they really are completely adjustable to what you like and what you have in the cupboard.

Recipe: Spring Lamb Soup

Ingredients

150 g Puy lentils

4 heads chicory, the forced kind

A little oil for frying

200 g broad beans (podded weight)

1 l vegetable sauce leftover from Bulgarian-ish Lamb

200 g cooked lamb

100 g peas, shelled or frozen

2-3 drops Worcestershire Sauce

Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Method

Cook the puy lentils in plenty of water, until they are almost done. Don’t salt the water, it makes their skins tough. Drain when they have reached this stage.

Meanwhile, halve the chicory, or cut it into quarters if it is large, but it is really better to get smaller ones. Heat the oil in a frying pan. When the oil has warmed, add the chicory, flat side down at first, and cook for a minute or two until the leaves start to colour, then flip them over to colour on the other side. Remove from the heat when they are coloured on both sides.

Cook the broad beans in boiling, unsalted water for three minutes, then drain them and double pod them. I think the reason that people think that they don’t like broad beans is because no-one has taken the trouble to double pod them. It isn’t all that much effort, and the results really are worth it. Unless you have the tiny baby beans, in which case they are fine just as they are.

Heat up the vegetable sauce, add the lentils, lamb and the chicory, and cook for five minutes. Add the beans and the peas and cook for a further minute. Season with a little Worcestershire sauce. Stir through the chopped parsley, and serve with crusty bread.

The whole meal takes less than 20 minutes to prepare, and what could be better, tastier, or easier than that?

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Random Erwtensoep of Kindness

Busy Shipping Canal near home

So Cold, Even the Gulls are Ice Skating

I first heard about the Random Soup of Kindness Challenge on Vanessa Kimbell’s blog via Twitter. I was immediately drawn to it, because it is a brilliant idea, but also it reminded me of the people  that I used to work with in a former life, when I was an Energy Efficiency Advice Centre manager.

Every year in the UK (and other places, but it is marked in my home country) thousands more vulnerable people (i.e. the elderly and those with certain medical conditions) die in the winter than the summer. This is called Excess Winter Death (EWD), which claimed over 20,000 people in the UK in the winter 2009 -10. The figures are getting better, but it is still a shocking amount of people.

The causes of excess winter deaths are complex, but a good deal of it can be attributed to people in poor housing conditions being unable to  heat their homes, either for practical or economic reasons. This, in turn, exacerbates ailments and medical conditions, making them susceptible.  I have met elderly people who regularly have to decide if they have lunch or if they put their heating on for an hour.

People who cannot afford to adequately heat their homes are said to be in Fuel Poverty. It affects lots of households, not just the elderly, and the situation will only get worse with rising fuel prices and in the current recession. I am priviledged enough to never have been in fuel poverty, but I have live in a very inefficient rented home. I know first hand how miserable it is to be cold. It is not something that I would want for my neighbours, especially those who can’t move around much to keep warm.

Frozen Boat

Frozen In

I loved this challenge, because it is a really practical way that everyone can help someone address the issues associated with being cold. Please have a go at this easy way to reach out to the vulnerable people in our own communities, make sure they are OK, help them out in this desperately cold weather, and offer them internal heating and a good meal.Of course, not all elderly people are in the same position as I describe above, but who would say no to a friendly visit and some hot soup? It really can make a real difference to your neighbours, and won’t take too much effort on your part. And that is the least that you will get from having a go.

Having got the necessary, if somewhat shocking stuff out of the way, I’d like to tell you about my first foray into Neighboursoup. I say my first foray, because I got so much out of it that I am definitely going to do this again.

Frozen Canal View

Frozen Canal - Near my Street

I live in a great street where all the neighbours are pretty friendly, and we all have a chat if we see each other, or help out with the odd pint of milk, or bucket of water or whatever, here and there. I love it, it feels good to know that there are other human beings in your street, instead of just other people, if you see what I mean. It is the first time I have lived somewhere with such a sense of community since I was a little girl.

One such neighbour is an older gentleman, who is the most helpful man. He is always ready to lend a hand by taking you to the garden centre; or helping us find a scrap metal merchant when we discovered someone had dumped a ton of old metal pipes in our pond; or look out for the flat if we are away. He has been invaluable to us as a neighbour. I am always trying to give him something back, but he doesn’t often let me. He has occasionally accepted chutneys and jams from me, which he repays with more jam jars. I really feel that I owe him.

As soon as I heard about this challenge, I knew this would be the way that I could get to repay his kindness, do him a good deed, and one that he would not be too proud to accept. I also knew that I would have to make him a traditional Dutch soup, because he does seem to have traditional Netherlander taste (for example, he refuses to even try my marmalade!).

There is no Dutcher soup than Erwtensoep (pronounced ur-teh soup), which is a thick, stewy blend of split peas, pork and vegetables, served with a smoked sausage. I have to admit that I have never really fancied this soup, given that I hate peas, and I did try a really horrible version when I come here on a trip as a student.  But, I knew that it would be exactly the right soup for my neighbour, so I decided it was the right soup for the challenge.

Since I had no idea what a really traditional erwtensoep should contain, I had to go digging for a recipe. I stumbled across this one, which seemed like it was as good a place as any to start.

I remained pretty loyal to the proportions given in the recipe, but I had purchased a half kilo of split peas, and couldn’t see any other use for them, so I added all of it, and adjusted up the meat and water accordingly. I stuck with the amounts of the various vegetables, but I used larger ones than suggested too. So the actual proportions were:

500 g Split peas

2.5 l Water

1 Dried bay leaf. I would normally use 2 fresh, but I only have a small bay tree, which I am trying to be really kind to, having lost another one last winter.

500 g belly pork

3 large leeks

1 medium celariac

1 large carrot

4 potatoes

Handful celery leaves. It is common to find ‘leaf celery’ sold as a pot herb in the Netherlands. If you can’t find this, you can use the celeriac leaves, lovage, or flat leaved parsley, as a suitable substitute.

1 smoked sausage.

Because this is a really common dish here, I was able to find this sausage in my organic butcher’s shop. I have never seen it in a butcher’s in the UK, but it is basically the same as the smoked sausages you can get in the chiller cabinet  – e.g. this one from Matteson’s, although I am sure there must be others available.

First Stage of Making Erwtensoep

At this stage, I was still thinking it would not be for me

I followed the recipe, and found that it took about an hour on a low simmer for the pork to be cooked so that you could easily shred the meat. The original recipe does not make that clear, but I guess it depends on the cut of the meat you use (should be fatty meat, that benefits from slow cooking).

I did not want to reintroduce a lot of the fat and the rind back to the soup. Of course, hating waste as I do, that is currently in my freezer to wait until I have a ham bone to make stock with.

I would have put a ham bone in the pot with this lot, to enrich the soup, but it was -14°C this weekend, so I guess many Netherlanders were making the same soup, so the butcher had run out.

This amount made LOADS of soup, and it filled about two thirds of my huge stock pot. It was enough for quite a few batches, so I gave soup out to four elderly neighbours, and still had enough left over for us to have some too. Much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. I hope that my neighbours also decide it is Lekker (tasty)!

Erwtensoep

Erwtensoep - Warming, Kind and Tasty - Who Knew?

It was brilliant to go and chat to people and practice my broken Dutch with them. People were very happy to receive their random soup of kindness. It gave me more of a warm glow than the soup itself did.

Unfortunately, my Dutch is not good enough to explain what a blog is to these elderly neighbours, so I gave up on the idea of trying to ask if they minded me taking a photo of them with said soup. You’ll have to imagine the look of joy on their faces.

So, I hope that you decide to join in the random soup of kindness. You don’t even have to have a blog to write about it on. You needn’t spend much money or time on a soup, but the sense of having contributed something really good to your community will be worth it in spades.

I am certain that you will get much more out of the experience than the time you put in. I have repaid kindness shown to me; met a few new people; been able to practice my Dutch; found out that I have been closed-minded to the delights of a pea soup; and have been glowing brighter than the readybrek kid because I did something nice for other people. I am already thinking about what soup I can do next that will be acceptable to my neighbours. I am thinking a pumpkin one, which I can also give to neighbours for whom pork may not be an option

Like with most voluntary acts, it really was a case of give a little, gain a lot!

Random Soup of Kindness Logo

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A Pho for Tết

Vietnamese Pho

Pho what a lovely soup!

Yesterday was the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by the Chinese, Korean, Bhutanese and Vietnamese cultures. It marks the first new moon of the first  lunar month. There will have been celebrations wherever there are communities of these cultures. They are also traditionally times for family, so there is even more reason to celebrate.

What better way to kick start my own New Year’s Resolutions than to jump right in at Lunar New Year and have a go at some asian food? I have eaten a lot of Chinese and Vietnamese food, so I thought that this is where I shoud start on this quest. Never one to make things easy for myself, I decided to have a go at Hom Bao (steamed buns) from scratch, but that will feature in my next post.

Because the Hom Bao would take up a lot of time, I decided to go simple with the Vietnamese dish. Pho in one kind or another is a staple dish, and it seems that every Vietnamese household has a recipe. I can’t say how authentic this is, but this is my version.

I chose Pho because it has lovely clean flavours, but also because it is a versatile recipe that is easy to adapt to local ingredients. The fact that I was ready to go with some chicken stock may also have helped in the decision, but I can’t say for certain!

Feel free to adapt the recipe below. Obviously, I used a meat stock, which gives the soup a big umami hit.  I have made a version of this soup with different vegetables and with beef stock before. The essential ingredients are the noodles, the chilli, the coriander, the lime and the asian spices and seasonings, to be honest. Use what you have, use stuff from the garden, or from the bottom of the fridge. You will still end up with a really tasty and filling soup. The amounts given here will serve 2.

If you celebrated yesterday, Vietnamese style, chúc mừng năm mới!

Recipe: Vietnamese Pho

Ingredients

500 ml decent chicken stock. Rich, homemade stock if you can – it isn’t hard to do, and the results will be worth it. If you really, absolutely must, use the stock you can buy from the chiller cabinet, don’t try this with a stock cube.

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise

5 cm root ginger, cut in half lengthways

1 red chilli, cut on a diagonal. Use whatever strength of chilli you can handle. If you really don’t like spicy food, don’t use a whole chilli, but you need at least a little.

Roots or stems of a small bunch of coriander

2 tbsp fish sauce (nước mắm)

3 tbsp Tamari Soy

Juice ½ lime

100g shitake mushrooms

50 g oyster mushrooms

2 servings rice noodles

20 g bean sprouts

½ red pepper (paprika)

2 carrots

A few mange touts

2 Spring onions

Some coriander leaves

Some mint leaves (if you can get vietnamese mint, so much the better), cut into a chiffonade.

Lime juice,  and pepper to season

Method

Add the cinnamon, star anise, ginger, chilli, fish sauce, soy and lime to the stock, and heat it gently. If you have coriander roots, scrape them clean, then press them with the flat of a knife to flatten them before adding to the soup. If you only have coriander stalks, cut them very finely, them add to the soup. Allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes, while you thinly slice the mushrooms. Add these to the soup and continue to simmer.

Meanwhile, julienne the carrot and the red pepper, so that the pieces are all of equal size. if you can get them really thin, you won’t need to cook them later. Halve the mange tout, and thinly slice the spring onion, both on the diagonal.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, then drain and refresh under the cold tap. Divide the noodles between two deep bowls. Add some bean sprouts over the top of the noodles, and the spring onions and mange touts over that.

Remove the spices and ginger from the soup. If you have sliced up the vegetables into fine matchsticks, there is no need to cook them, so add them to the deep bowls. If you have not managed such small vegetables, then add them into the soup and cook for a minute or two.

Season to taste. The most important seasoning here will be the lime juice, which will balance the saltiness of the fish and tamari sauces. You may need a little or a lot, so it is important to tase before and during its addition.

Ladle the soup over the noodles. It is important that it is steaming hot, but not boiling. Sprinkle over the corander and mint, and serve immediately with chopsticks and a spoon.

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A Yuletide Legacy

Ham and Bean Soup

A Legacy of Leftovers

The best legacy of a Christmas dinner has to be the leftovers! Since my mantra is Taste not Waste, I am delighted when I can challenge myself to use up everything, so that nothing is thrown out.

The recent festivities yielded an obvious, yet exciting choice. I had a 2cm slice of the baked ham left, along with some cooked carrots from the christmas dinner. I also had a pot of gelatinous stock that came from the boiling bag that I had kept. I initially thought that it might be too salty to use, but you should never pour fat down the drain, so I tipped it into a container, and put it to one side. It turned out that there was actually very little fat in it, and the stock itself was rich, but definitely not too salty.

For the mince pie and mulled wine party, I had intended to make a couple of dips, so I had soaked some chickpeas and some cannellini beans, but as usual my ambition far exceeded the time I had given myself, and something had to give.I was considering just cooking the pulses up, and freezing them, they would have been fine to add to soups or stews from frozen.

However, beans and ham are an excellent combination. If I had more ham left, I would have made a version of a cassoulet, with the addition of some sausage and a tomato liquor to stew it all in. There are a hundred other types of dish I could have tried, but I settled on a soup, as it would make what little meat I had go the furthest.

The result that I achieved from such humble ingredients was brilliant. The soup was so flavoursome and satisfying, it made me quite proud. It really was the perfect way to end the Netherlands Christmas celebrations.

Recipe: Ham and Bean Soup

Ingredients

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 leek, trimmed, washed and sliced into half moons

1 clove garlic, very finely chopped

Bacon fat to sweat the vegetables in

80 g ham, diced, more would be great, if you have it

1 tsp smoked paprika

200 g soaked weight chickpeas

300 g soaked weight cannellini beans

350 g ham stock. I have given a weight here, because the stock was solid when I added it to the soup. I would normally say that you could substitute one stock for another one, but in this soup, especially if you don’t have that much meat, I think that ham stock is integral to the flavour

Boiling water to cover

50 g cooked carrots. If you don’t have any leftover carrots, then use more raw ones

Small bunch chopped parsley

Method

Firstly, if you need to, soak and cook the pulses. You could also use a single tin of cannellini beans if you must, but the dried version will bring an extra dimension to the soup.

Prepare the vegetables, and sweat them off. I never throw away fat (of course) and I had a little fat left over from frying bacon, which I used to sweat off the vegetables, in order to maximise the flavour. This is by no means necessary, you could just as well use olive or sunflower oil.

Once the fat has melted, sweat off the onion, celery and the raw carrots for three or four minutes, before adding the leek. Leek burns easily, and the last thing you want is the bitter taste of burnt leek in this soup. When the leek is translucent, add the garlic and the smoked paprika, and let them cook off for a minute or so.

Stir in the ham and the beans, until they have a light coating of the smoked paprika, then add the stock and a little boiling water. The stock will melt down quickly. Top up the soup with more boiling water, so that the liquid covers the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender to your liking. Add the cooked carrots, and simmer for another minute, to warm them through. Before serving, stir through some chopped parsley.

Great the day that you make it. Even better when you reheat the last bowlful for lunch the next day.

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