Archive for the ‘Soup’ Category

Creamy spiced lentil soup

8 November 2018

Balthasar and I bonded over soup.

It was an inset day, which means no school, and after a sunny autumnal swim in the nearby lido — outdoor swimming pool in British lingo, in this case heated year-round to a luxurious 25°C — we went to reap our effort’s reward: e5 Bakehouse. Breakfast was over, we shared a spicy lentil soup with mustard seeds (and cake, but it was the soup that caught our attention). We vowed to recreate it, paying particular heed to the mustard, and, in an emphatic move against Thomas’s tyranny of chunky soups, solemnly swore to blitz it to a creamy smoothness.

It was practically a random recreation, with the available bits and pieces in the fridge. It was practically perfect.

Creamy spiced lentil soup

4 to 5 small onions
1 whole head of garlic
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
Sea salt
3 leeks
5 or 6 carrots
1 kg potatoes
3/4 of a large acorn squash
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock — or just water
175 g red lentils
A large handful of kale
Finishing touches: yogurt mixed with toasted ground cumin and fennel and lemon juice; a sliver of olive oil or chili infused oil; if available, black lava salt

Toast the mustard, cumin, and fennel seeds in a small pan until they start becoming fragrant (this takes a few minutes only). Grind and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables —
Chop the onions.
Smash and peel the garlic.
Peel, thoroughly wash to remove all grit, and chop the leeks.
Peel and chop the carrots.
Peel and wash the potatoes and the acorn squash and cut them into small chunks.
Remove the kale’s tough stalks, wash thoroughly, and chop into strips.
Note: The size of the vegetable chunks is not crucial as the soup will be puréed, but the pieces should be fairlyhomogeneous in order to cook at a similar rate, and — if time is of the essence — the smaller or finer the pieces, the faster they will cook.

Cook the soup —
Brown the onions in lots of olive oil. Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring continuously, for a few minutes. Season with salt.

Add the leeks, cover the pan, and let them cook for a few minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, and squash. Season.

Add the stock and/or water so that the vegetables are covered generously and floating around comfortably when stirred.

After about half an hour of a gentle and constant simmer, add the lentils. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, checking on the level of liquid and adding some if necessary.

Check that the vegetables and lentils are cooked through, then add the kale and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes more until it has softened too.

Blend/purée the soup in batches until very smooth.

Serve immediately with one or all of the finishing touches.

Nettle soup aka ‘Stone Soup’

14 September 2018

I think of it as stone soup.

During our summer holidays in Brittany, nettle soup is always top of the list of meals we look forward to making. Still, the intent usually lies dormant until a fateful evening when we are caught off-guard with no dinner plan. There are always nettles about: in the bits of garden that haven’t been mowed, in the field at the bottom of the drive where a solitary horse used to live. The horse is long gone, the field remains ‘le champ du cheval.’ Armed with wellies, gloves, scissors, and a basket, it won’t take longer than ten minutes to gather dinner.

According to the folk tale Stone Soup, with just a soup kettle, water, a stone as decoy, and some craft, a clever traveller fools one mean farmer (or, depending on the version of the story, the inhabitants of a whole village) into relinquishing vegetables, one at a time, little by little, in order to make that initial ‘stone soup’ — a stone in a pot of water — taste better and better.

In my fairy-tale summer, the nettles are the stone, the nothing. Like that stone, they’ll need a bit of a boost in terms of depth and unctuousness. An allium of some sort, a couple of potatoes, a zucchini — all of which weren’t donated by villagers but are the neglected, long-term squatters of the vegetable crates in the cellar.

And in reality, nettle soup is the very opposite of stone soup. It has, it is true, sprung from nothing. But unlike the stone — ultimately discarded — the nettles are the very essence and raison d’être of the meal.

Nettle soup
Since the main idea of the soup is its fortuity, the ingredients and quantities are just indications. But the nettles must remain the focus, they should not be overpowered by the other vegetables.

A big bag of young nettle leaves
Butter
1 or 2 small onions or shallots, finely chopped
A few garlic cloves
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Some chicken stock if available
Depending on season and availability, a few of the following:
Leeks, zucchini (courgettes), carrots, fennel, etc (all of which need to be washed well or peeled and cut into slices)
Crème fraîche to serve

With a pair of gloves to avoid getting stung, pick fresh young nettle stems (in season in spring and summer) especially the most tender part close to the tip.

(Still protected by gloves) pick the leaves off the stems and wash thoroughly in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onions (or shallots). Sweat for a few minutes until translucent but not yet turning in color. Add a couple of garlic cloves and cook for a minute longer.

If using leeks, add to the onions and garlic now. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and any other vegetables and immediately cover well with water or/and chicken stock (there should be enough liquid to account for the nettle leaves later). Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the nettle leaves and cook for just a few minutes, until they are wilted and soft but still bright green! (Add a little boiling water or stock to cover the leaves if necessary.)

Remove from the heat and purée the soup until unctuous using a hand mixer or, in batches, in a food processor.

Finally, a game-changing tip from my peripatetic sister — inspired by the Egyptian soup molokhia: Just before serving, smash or finely chop a couple cloves of garlic and cook in a puddle of butter in a corner of a skillet. Remove just as it turns golden and stir into the soup immediately before serving.

Garnish with crème fraîche if desired.

Asparagus soup

11 May 2017

IMG_1005

It all starts with the memory of a chilled asparagus soup served with black salt. It was at a friend’s house and I was smitten with the combination. I immediately proceeded to buy black salt — i.e.  Hawaiian lava salt — which added nicely to my slightly frivolous collection (never fewer than five or six salts in the house at any time). And the black salt became the wallflower of my pantry cupboard. Always there, rarely noticed. But every time I did, I thought of asparagus soup.

Quite a few years later, here, then, is the ideal — though entirely optional — use for black salt.

IMG_1006

Asparagus soup recipe inspired from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories

The soup requires only four ingredients and is very simple if the use of a food processor and then a food mill doesn’t seem like too much trouble.

4 small leeks
1 medium potato
600 g (1 1/2 lbs) green asparagus
120 g (1/2 cup) butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Black Hawaiian lava salt to serve (optional)

Prepare the leeks by removing all the green leaves, slicing thinly, and washing thoroughly to remove any grit. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks.

Wash and trim the asparagus stalks to remove the tough ends. Reserve some asparagus tips to garnish the soup: about 8 to 10 tips if the asparagus is quite thin, or 4 to 5 tips to be each cut in half (lengthwise) if the asparagus is thicker. Roughly chop the rest of the stalks.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stew the leeks over low heat until soft (about 5 to 10 minutes), taking care that the leeks don’t color.

Once the leeks have softened, add 750 ml (3 cups) water and the potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the potato pieces have cooked through.

Add the chopped asparagus stalks (not the reserved tips) to the soup at a lively simmer for another 5 minutes until the asparagus is cooked. *Take care not to overcook at this point, it will damage the delicate taste of the asparagus.*

Transfer the soup to a food processor and blend thoroughly until the soup is as smooth as possible. There will always remain strands from the asparagus, however, which is why the soup then needs to be passed through a food mill (or a fine mesh sieve, but I’ve always found that to be much too fussy).

The soup can be served hot or chilled. Before serving, quickly sautée the asparagus tips in a little olive oil in a small frying pan. *If reheating, use very low heat and take care not to let the soup boil as it will distort the flavor.*

The soup should be garnished with black salt or regular flakey sea salt and pepper, and/or a spoonful of crème fraîche.

IMG_1017

Related recipes

Asparagus salad ** Cauliflower soup ** Roasted leeks

Travel | The lentils of Castelluccio

13 November 2013

DSC_0624

The best thing I ate in Italy was a bowl of lentil soup. This is not to disparage all the other wonderful, perhaps more refined things we enjoyed there, but this was, quintessentially, a perfect meal.

We went to Umbria this summer to attend the wedding of two very close friends. Many of the guests, like us, took the opportunity to spend a few days or, as we did, a full week in the somewhat remote and very beautiful region.

The festivities were to take place on a Saturday in a small paradise of an agriturismo (farm-hotel) outside Norcia. We’d barely arrived, quite a bit later than planned, on the Friday evening, when we were swept off for an improvised dinner in town with a hodgepodge of guests. We ordered chaotically, dined boisterously, and drove the waiters mad as our posse of children challenged local Italian kids for a football match in the piazza. It was cliché like a recent Woody Allen film, just with many many more children. It was great. I don’t remember what I ate that evening.

DSC_0638DSC_0631

Two days after the wedding the feted couple organized a hike up Monte Vettore, the highest peak of the Sibillini range, the mountains against which Norcia is nestled. The road from Norcia winds up the lush forested mountainside to a crest, which, on the other side, reveals a large, treeless plateau encircled by higher peaks. It’s an unexpected sight. Off in the distance to the North, an earth-toned village perched amid the towering hills presides, alone.

DSC_0629

I didn’t, at first, realize where I was. Not when everyone stopped their cars, awestruck by the symphony of colors, patchworked in neat rectangles all over the valley. Surely they didn’t grow flowers up here? Only when our host explained that the flowers grow wild among the lentils, did it hit me: Castelluccio, of course! I know the lentils of Castelluccio, world famous little pulses often mentioned in the the same breath as French Puy lentils. If I think carefully, I even remember that Simone comes from the region of Castelluccio and some years ago brought us a bag of precious lentils from a home trip. Here we are — amazing!

As I witnessed and have now learned, Castelluccio lentils are grown in this valley without the use of pesticides, using an old tradition of three-year crop rotation alternating lentils, cereals (spelt, barley), and pasture. In 1997 Castellucio received the geographical protection certificate from the European Union. Only lentils marked Lenticchia di Castelluccio di Norcia — IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) are guaranteed to come from this plateau. ‘Norcia’ or ‘Umbrian lentils’ most likely do not.

DSC_0616

But we had a mountain to climb. A veritable caravan set off — adults, children, small children, babies — little groups trickling up the mountain path. Some were faster than others; not everyone made it to the top. For a while I tried to catch up with Leo, who had scampered off with a group of eager mountaineers, but as they receded ever farther up I thought better to wait for those lower down who were carrying Louise. It was a serious hike. A hike where, at some, you stop speaking to your companions for lack of breath. Where your mind starts to wander over the scenery, conjuring up the Mediterranean in the distance. The kind of hike that makes you hungry.

DSC_0655

It feels as though I practically ran down that mountain, even with Louise on my back, as the light deepened, probably because by then I knew what awaited at the ‘merenda’ (afternoon snack) planned in Castelluccio.

We were not the first to arrive, to plonk down wearily on the wooden benches with sprawling views of the valley below, and immediately a large plate of lentil soup arrived. It was very simple, with a half-submerged slice of bread and generous drizzle of olive oil. It tasted, as far as my ravenous palate could tell, mainly and, most deliciously, of lentils. It was probably the best soup I had ever eaten. That first bowl, and a second one, and most of Louise’s as well. The salumi and cheeses that followed are completely forgotten in the shadow of that soup.

Seeing the crops, trudging up Monte Vettore for hours, overlooking the fields and village, before digging into a bowl of soup made of the fruit of this sumptuous valley. That was perfect.

DSC_0633

I asked Simone for his mom’s lentil soup recipe, which she was most kind to share. Here it is, exactly as is. It should resemble very closely the one we had in Castelluccio. Mille grazie!

DSC_0733

“I’m glad to export the recipe for lentils: here is how I do it, but the variations are many.

Ingredients: lentils, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, sausage if you wish. Water: 1 1/4 lt. for 500 gr. of lentils.

Castelluccio lentils do not need preliminary soaking; for other kinds read instructions.

Rinse the lentils thoroughly. Put in a pot with cold water: lentils, onion, celery, carrot and salt. The amount of water must be such as to be absorbed during the cooking and the absorption may be different between the types of lentils; if they are too dry, add more boiling water. Boil over low heat for as long as is recommended by instructions on the package; for those from Castelluccio: 20 to 30 minutes.

After cooking the lentils should not be drained so it is important to measure out the amount of water.

They can be enjoyed with just a dash of olive oil or: put already crumbled sausage in a pan, some clove of peeled garlic, warm up then add the lentils already boiled as described above. Cook for 10 minutes, serve in bowl with lentils over a slice of toasted bread and a drizzle of olive oil. On New Year’s day lentils are served with pig’s feet for good luck. Enjoy your meal!”

DSC_0796

Spicy lentil and red kuri squash soup

17 November 2012

This is the soup you want to come home to if you’ve spent the afternoon outside and let dusk fall around you, the chill creeping until your cheeks are flushed and your fingertips frozen. If by any chance you’ve already cut the squash and prepared the cubes (undoubtedly the lengthier proposition in this recipe), the rest can be assembled fairly quickly.

The warmly spiced lentils and faintly sweet squash spring to life with a jolt of lemon, but what really makes the soup sing is the gremolata of parsley, lemon rind, and chili flakes. It is inspired by another incredible lentil soup I had at ABC Kitchen a couple of years ago. I kept note.

***

The soup

1 red kuri squash

1 cup French or Italian green lentils

3 small yellow onions

3 garlic cloves

A 2 x 1-inch piece of fresh ginger

Olive oil

Sea salt

Juice from 1 lemon

Peel and cut the squash into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Check lentils for small stones and wash in cold water. Peel and thinly slice the onions lengthwise (into half moons). Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger.

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until they become golden, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and a good pinch of salt, and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often.

Now add the squash and cook for another few minutes, stirring often all the way to the bottom of the pan to mix everything well. Season with more salt.

Pour in the lentils, cover generously (by at least 1 inch or 2.5 cm) with water, and cook at a gentle simmer until the both the squash and lentils are just soft, approximately 25 minutes.

Pour in the lemon juice, starting with 1/2 lemon, testing for acidity, and add salt if needed.

Serve with a large spoonful of gremolata.

The gremolata

Handful parsley

Zest from 1 lemon

1/2 tsp Chili flakes

Excellent olive oil

Finely chop the parsley. Mix with the lemon zest, chili flakes, and just enough olive oil to coat.

Related posts

Lentil soup with cumin

Parsnip and butternut squash soup with sage

Pumpkin leek soup


%d bloggers like this: