Category Archives: soup

Smoky roasted butternut squash soup (Serves: 4/6 – Preparation time: +1hr)

Pumpkins and squashes come in all manner of shapes and sizes and in my opinion they are one of the most versatile vegetables that you can cook with.  The good news is right now they are in season and fairly cheap to buy!  For today’s recipe I have decided to keep things simple and turn butternut squash into a wonderfully velvety soup which is perfect served in a mug for bonfire night or as a starter for a dinner party with crusty French bread on the side.

The vibrant orange colour of this soup is hugely inviting and has the effect of making you warmer simply by looking at it. However, it is the paprika in this recipe transforms this soup – turning it from the sweet delicate taste of the squash into a rich smoky flavour that makes you want to keep going back for more.

This is definitely a recipe to try this autumn/winter whilst butternut squash is in season and at its best.  The soup freezes well so can be made up in large quantities and squirrelled away until you need it.  Enjoy!

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Gazpacho (Serves: 3/4 – Preparation time: 15 mins)

I told my Spanish friend Alejandro that I was going to make Gazpacho this week and he quizzed me about what I intended to put in it to ensure that I was making what he deemed to be an authentic Spanish Gazpacho.  When I dropped ‘lemons’ into the list of ingredients that I intended to use, he promptly stopped me and told me in no uncertain terms that lemon is not a Gazpacho ingredient and that the vinegar is all that you need – and I have to say that now having made it without lemons that I agree with him.

For those of you that are less familiar with Gazpacho it is a cold tomato soup made using raw ingredients and there is absolutely no cooking involved.  All you need to make it is a sharp knife and a hand blender – simple.  Whilst summer is drawing to a close this is a great option if you are looking for a refreshing starter or light lunch.  The underlying flavours are both tangy and slightly creamy making you want to go back for more.  Enjoy!

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Minestrone soup

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I should really call this recipe ‘Fridge Soup’ as it came about as a consequence there being a lot of fresh vegetables in my fridge that needed using.  In reality it is a take on Minestrone, a thick vegetable soup.

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to make a soup so long as you use a good stock, it is largely a case of seeing what you’ve got and working with it. Soups can be smooth or chunky, cold or hot and can be really versatile.

For a while I couldn’t bring myself to eat blended soup, this was largely as a result of my grandmother who religiously ate soup that contained lambs liver along with various vegetables that she would have lying around. Now, I am a fan of liver (pan fried with onions and bacon), however when cooked to oblivion in a soup which is then puréed is another thing. I am pleased to say I got over my aversion to blended soup a number of years ago and love a velvety pumpkin soup or roasted tomato soup that have been blitzed.

So why make this soup? Well, it uses scraps up, you can change the ingredients according to what you have in your fridge/pantry and it will provide you with a hearty bowl of soup at the end. I don’t normally added tinned tomatoes to a soup but I really feel it adds a great base flavour to this chunky soup.

My one tip for this soup, try and avoid cutting the veggies into big pieces as it will impact the cooking time. You want the vegetables to be diced so that they are roughly 1cm cubes. If they end up bigger then 1cm  it isn’t a problem just add the pasta to the pan about 5-10 mins after you’ve added the tomatoes and stock and cook the soup for a little longer. Enjoy!

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Minestrone soup (serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 carrot (diced)
1 courgette (core removed and diced)
5 mushrooms (diced)
1 red pepper (deseeded and diced)
1 onion (diced)
1 handful of smoked lardons
1 tin of tomatoes
1tsp teaspoon of sage
1tsp of thyme
1 chicken stock cube
600ml water
2 small handfuls macaroni pasta
seasoning

Steps:

1. Start by preparing all of your vegetables.
2. Heat some oil in a heavy bottomed pan on a low temperature, add the onions and cook slowly until they start to soften.
3. Next add the lardons, cook for a couple of minutes stirring occasionally before adding the rest of the fresh vegetables.
4. Allow the vegetables to sweat for around 5-10 minutes.
5. Finally add the herbs, stock cube, tinned tomatoes, and pasta.  Season well, turn the heat up to a medium temperature and leave to bubble away for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed.

 

Beef pho

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 Whilst “pho” is a Vietnamese dish I think I first discovered my love for it in Hong Kong.  I used to spend hours perusing the Time Out website looking for the best restaurants to go.  I came across an absolutely brilliant tiny little restaurant in Wan Chi that was known for its spicy beef pho and it certainly lived up to its reputation as it was absolutely delicious and I went back there many times during my 6 months.  Ever since I tasted that pho have been trying to recreate the dish and have come up with a recipe that I am very happy with it is slightly less spicy  and is extraordinarily simple to make!

For those of you who don’t know what a pho is, it is a fresh and fragrant noodle soup which can be spiced up to suit your palate.  Recently I have been cheating when I have been making this dish after work, buying a box of prepared stir fry vegetables.  However, yesterday I managed to make it to Shepherd’s Bush Market and was able to buy a whole host of fresh vegetables which I sliced up and threw into the mix and it was absolutely delicious.

As I mentioned before the dish is incredibly straightforward and can be made for large numbers of people with no hassle whatsoever.  I enjoy this meal all year round and at the moment am eating at least once or twice a week varying it by changing the meat or fish I put into it.  My preference is to make the pho with beef as you throw it in raw just before serving and it cooks in the broth.  If you are making the pho with prawns then you should at them at the same time as the noodles.  Alternatively if you are adding chicken, slice it finely and add it to the saucepan at the very beginning.

So if you are looking for something that is fresh, easy and packed full of vegetables then this is definitely something that you should give a try!

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Beef Pho (Serves 2 people)

Ingredients:

  • 150-200g of beef steak (finely sliced and any sinew and fat removed)
  • 1tsp thai green curry paste
  • 2tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1-2tsp honey
  • 1” ginger (finely sliced)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • fresh chilli (quantity will vary depending on how spicy you like your food)
  • ½ a red onion (finely sliced)
  • handful mange tout
  • 1 large carrot (peeled and finely sliced)
  • ½ red pepper (finely sliced)
  • 7-8 pak choi leaves (sliced)
  • 75-100g vermicelli noodles
  • 1pt- 1 ½pts good quality chicken stock
  • juice of 1 lime
  • handful of freshly chopped coriander
  • 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil

Steps:

  1.  Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan except for the beef, coriander, lime juice, noodles and stock in a pan.
  2. On a high heat fry the vegetables very quickly for 1-2minutes.
  3. Add the stock and boil for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the noodles and for a further 1-2 minutes.
  5. Serve the soup in bowls adding the beef, coriander and lime juice just before taking it to the table.  Enjoy!

(Note – the vegetables can be varied according to what you have available so don’t worry if you can’t get pak choi just use another cabbage for example savoy cabbage or even bean sprouts instead.)

 

French Onion Soup with Cheese Croutons

I know it is a little late, but … Happy New Year to one and all!  I hope that everyone has had a suitably indulgent Christmas and New Year.  I have just returned from a trip to the UK –  just in time as the snow arrived two days ago and we have been snowed in ever since.  However, as I type this blog the first snow plough is passing along the top road, doubtless to the dismay of our neighbours’ children who are enjoying a ‘snow day’.

This type of weather demands warm food and I can think of nothing better than a good soup.  If you have got the time then French onion soup is delicious.  The secret to a good French onion soup is taking the time to let your onions soften completely otherwise you don’t get their beautifully sweet flavour coming through (and I think we all know about the side effect of uncooked onions…).

This type of soup tastes infinitely better if you use a good beef stock, not only as it gives a slightly richer flavour than a chicken stock, but it deepens the colour.  This is really a soup to try, but just make sure you don’t rush it. Enjoy.

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French Onion Soup with Cheese Croutons (Serves 6)

Ingredients:

For the soup:

  • 1kg onions (finely sliced)
  • 2/3 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 4/5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1l stock (preferably beef stock)
  • 2 ½ glasses dry white wine
  • Seasoning

For the cheese croutons:

  • 6 slices of French bread
  • 100g grated Emmental or Gruyere

Steps:

1. Gently heat the oil in a large pan.

2.  Add the onions and sugar, cover with a lid and cook very gently, stirring occasionally for 30-40 minutes on a low heat until they are soft.

3.  Add the thyme and the wine and cook for about 10 minutes on a slightly higher temperature.

4.  Then add the beef stock, season well and cook for a further 10-15 minutes.

5.  Just before you are ready to serve, remove the sprigs of thyme from the soup and make your croutons by toasting the slices of French bread, scattering over the cheese and then melting under a medium grill for 1-2 minutes.

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Cauliflower and blue cheese soup

Cauliflower is fairly good value at the moment and I have been trying to think of some different things to do with it.  As cauliflower and cheese is a classic combination I thought I would try it in a soup.

I found that blue cheese works well in the soup as it adds a salty creaminess that doesn’t overpower the flavour of the cauliflower. By adding crème fraiche, I found that it enhanced the creaminess of the cheese and helps to make the soup silkier.  The lardons give yet another texture – especially if you can make them golden brown and slightly crunchy.  However, they aren’t strictly necessary but are a nice addition.

I served this soup with homemade cornbread which added a light sweetness which lifted the soup, however good French bread would work just as well.

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Cauliflower and blue cheese soup

Ingredients:

  •          1 medium cauliflower (cut up into medium sized pieces)
  •          1 onion (diced)
  •          2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  •          2 bay leaves
  •          1 small bunch of thyme (tied together)
  •          1 ½  litre stock (vegetable or chicken)
  •          50g blue cheese (e.g Bleu d’Auvergne)
  •          3 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  •          ½ tsp pepper
  •          50g lardons (for decoration, optional)
  •          oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

  1. Place the onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaves in a large pan with a little oil and sweat on a medium heat until the onions are soft.
  2. Add the cauliflower and stock, bring up to the boil and cook until a knife goes easily through the cauliflower.
  3. Remove the thyme and bay leaves then, liquidise the soup.
  4. Put the soup back into the saucepan and add the crème fraiche, crumble in the cheese and season.
  5. Cook for 4-5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Meanwhile cook the lardons in a hot saucepan until they are golden brown and crispy.
  7. Serve the soup with a few of the lardons scattered on top with some French bread or cornbread.

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Moroccan spiced tomato, spinach and chickpea soup

Ages ago a friend had been telling me about a soup that she had bought for lunch one day that tasted amazing.  Apparently it was a tomato based soup containing both spinach and chickpeas.  Having harvested a large crop of spinach from the garden last week I decided to do my interpretation of the soup as I knew little else other than those three ingredients.

Earlier in the year we froze huge quantities of tomatoes that we had peeled and roughly chopped (having removed the tough core and any blemishes).  So, after raiding the freezer and de-thawing the tomatoes I was able to make the soup.   I found the spinach gave it a slightly earthy taste whereas the chickpeas added a slight bite and texture.   The Moroccan spice mix known as ras-el-hanout (a handy thing to have in your cupboard for flavouring couscous or lamb) gives the soup real warmth and honey stops it becoming too overpowering.

Moroccan spiced tomato, spinach and chickpea soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 onions (diced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 200g chickpeas (drained)
  • 200g fresh spinach (washed and torn)
  • 800g – 1kg chopped tomatoes
  • 2tsp ras-el-hanout (spice mix)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 2 heaped tbsp honey
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1.  Fry off onions, garlic and ras-el-hanout in a little oil.

2.  Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, stock cube and half of the honey and cook for 10 minutes.

3.  Taste the soup and add the rest of the honey (as required) and season well.

4.  Add the spinach, cook for a further 5 minutes.

5.  Remove from the heat and semi-blend the soup using a handheld liquidiser.  Serve hot with a little French bread.

A hearty chestnut soup

Given that chestnuts are very much in season at the moment I thought I would share another recipe in quick succession.  We ate this today for lunch and it was ideal after a long morning of painting.  I did all the preparation for the soup first thing so that I could literally throw everything in a saucepan and cook it when I came back into the house for lunch.

The soup is a wonderful combination of flavours, the carrots and chestnuts provide a certain sweetness, whilst the lardons add the right amount of salt to give it balance. The soup was fresh and filling and I am fairly sure we will be enjoying another batch of this again next week!

 

A hearty chestnut soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 2 carrots (peeled and diced)
  • 2 baby/small leeks (sliced)
  • 12-15 chestnuts (see chestnut preparation)
  • 100g lardons
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 litre of good stock
  • seasoning
  • oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

1.  Place the lardons in a saucepan with a little oil and cook for 2-3 minutes on a high heat.

2.  Add the carrots and potatoes, stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes.

3.  Add the stock, leeks, thyme and seasoning, stir and cook for 10 minutes.

4.  Finally add the chestnuts and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Serve.

Autumnal soup

I have been mushroom hunting over the last couple of days as the weather has turned recently, producing “perfect” mushroom growing conditions – so I have been told.  This is the first year that I have turned my hand to this local sport as the land surrounding where we live is meant to be very rich for mushrooms.  In the spring I collected St George mushrooms (that were delicious in a rabbit pie) and Girolles which I used in an array of sauces.  However, I have only ever found three Cepes which are meant to be the most common mushroom in our area.  Earlier in the year I asked a local family who are members of the hunt whether they felt it was a good or bad year for mushrooms.  After much conferring they announced that it was a very poor year as they had only been able to find 20 kilos of Cepes in three hours!  This made me think that I am clearly doing something wrong, or I am not getting to the mushrooms before the other mushroom hunters.

So, now that the conditions are right I have decided to give mushroom hunting another try and recently I have come across several different types.  This has been great though the next problem has been that I have been unable to identify them bar one, a rather unattractive mushroom called ‘Langue de Boeuf’ (Beef Tongue).  A few days ago I went to the local pharmacy as they are supposed to be trained to identify mushrooms – however, unfortunately the man who would normally be able to help was away.

 

Today, one of our workmen with a great knowledge of all things to do with nature was on site, so I consulted him even though the mushrooms were a couple of days old.  He took a good look at them and said the following wise words, “as I do not know exactly what they are, you need to apply the number 1 rule of mushroom hunting, if you are even the slightest bit unsure what type they are NEVER eat them!”  He then regaled a story of one of his friends, who went mushroom collecting one day and came back with some mushrooms he thought he recognised, he ate some of them but as they didn’t taste particularly nice so he fed the rest to his dog.  That night the man was terribly ill, to such an extent he was admitted to hospital the following day but fortunately he recovered, the dog however sadly did not, and died.  Taking both this story and the number one rule of mushroom hunting into account I decided the best approach was to place the mushrooms in the bin.  (If anyone does have an idea what type of mushrooms these could be please do let me know.)

After my failed attempt at mushroom hunting I headed in the direction of our vegetable garden and decided to see if there was anything that was ready to be picked.  I found some baby turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, a diminutive pumpkin and a Praying Mantis.  I felt the best way to enjoy them (the vegetables not the Praying Mantis) was to put them into a chunky autumnal soup.  I decided to not to blend the soup because I wanted to keep the flavours separate as Jerusalem artichokes can overpower the other flavours when everything is all blending together.

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Carrot and red lentil soup

Each week we buy a 2kg bag of carrots which disappear fairly rapidly.  You might think that this is because we, as a family absolutely adore carrots and can’t get enough of them – but this is not the case.  The truth is, there is a lot of competition for carrots in our house from our four legged friends, in the form of our two donkeys (Sampson & Delilah) and two dogs (Shadow and Biggles).  I suspect you might be thinking -donkeys and carrots sure, but dogs – really?!   When we got the donkeys five years ago the standard form of bribery treat was carrot – the dogs quickly cottoned on to this and started to lurk around the donkeys whilst the carrot was being given and in an attempt to not show an form of favouritism the dogs were duly given a bit of carrot.

Sampson (right) and Delilah (left)

Over the years “CARROT” has become one of the few words that the dogs respond to.  Shadow who is a 12½ year old Belgian Shepherd will now only go outside in the evenings if someone goes to the fridge and gets out a piece of carrot (I think our dogs have us all figured out).   I wish I could also say that I was joking when I tell you that Biggles our 8 year old Springer Spaniel comes rushing into the kitchen when he hears a vegetable peeler being taken out of the drawer and will sit by me until he receives the carrot peelings (he always looks so disappointed when it turns out I am peeling potatoes instead).

Today, I decided it was our turn to enjoy the carrots rather than giving them to the animals.  I’d made some stock the other day and I wanted to use it in a soup.  So, this morning I set to work and made a Carrot and Red Lentil Soup.


Carrot and Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 200g Red Lentils
  • 4 large carrots (peeled and chopped)
  • 2 small onions (diced)
  • 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds (crushed)
  • 1 litre stock
  • Seasoning
  • Oil (for cooking with)

Steps:

  1. Prepare the lentils by soaking them in water for 30-45 minutes, then drain.
  2. Place the onions and garlic in a large saucepan with a little oil and some sugar.  Cook on a low heat until soft.
  3. Add the cumin, coriander and carrots and cook stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes, before adding the stock and the lentils.
  4.  Cook on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the carrots are cooked.
  5. Season according to your tastes and then liquidise the soup, before serving with a little cream or crème fraiche.