Archive for the ‘Vegetarian’ 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.

Classic French tomato tarte with mustard

20 September 2018

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From memory, it was in Elle magazine; one of a sweeping collection of recipe cards, cut out along the dotted line, neatly organized, in a couple of bright orange bakelite boxes, color-coded and arranged by dish — starter, meat, dessert, etc. — most probably from the nineteen eighties. My mom’s.

This, at least, is how I remember it. Neither my mother nor my sister can recall where the recipe for this tarte — the clever combination of tomatoes with sharp mustard which mellows as it cooks — really comes from. In fact, it seems to be part of the French subconscious. As I was trying to corroborate the recipe’s origin I realized that according to the usual web search engines, in France ‘tarte à la tomate’ automatically defaults to ‘et à la moutarde.’

Regardless of whether it actually did once appear in Elle, there is no doubt that it is a French classic, and in my view firmly anchored in the 1980s. There are tomatoes, Emmental, mustard, a sprinkling of dried thyme at most. No fancy flours in the crust, no fresh herb flourishes.

I break these rules sometimes and add a few cut herbs, or substitute Comté for Emmental. But at heart the combination of tomatoes, mustard, and cheese remains. Its simplicity is testament to a recipe classic.

We make versions of it every summer, often on days when there isn’t a plan but always an enormous stash of tomatoes at different levels of tenderness that need rapid eating.

Tomato tarte with mustard

One uncooked savory pie pastry (see recipe below)
Strong Dijon mustard
Hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté, grated
Tomatoes, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried or fresh thyme (also oregano, basil)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Roll out the pie crust and carefully transfer to a well-buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork (so it won’t puff up as it bakes).

Spread a generous amount of mustard over the crust (like a shmear of cream cheese, the sharpness will mellow as it cooks). Sprinkle the grated cheese all over the crust. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Season with salt and pepper and thyme (or other herb).

Slide into the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden, the tomatoes cooked, and the juices bubbling.

Serve immediately.

***

Quick savory pie pastry

200g cold butter
200g flour
A pinch of salt
A little ice-cold water

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks.

Prepare the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the butter with your fingertips, crumbling the butter and flour together until most of the butter chunks have become grains, but other larger bits remain. Add a little ice water, just enough to gather the crust into a smooth ball. (It’s important not to overhandle the dough, which will ensure that it remains flaky when cooked.)

Let the rest dough rest, covered, in the refrigerator, for at least one and up to 24 hours.

If the dough has been in the refrigerator for a few hours, allow a little time for it to soften before rolling it out.

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

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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.

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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.

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Related recipes

Asparagus salad ** Cauliflower soup ** Roasted leeks

Brilliant spiced cauliflower

11 December 2014

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A recipe to arouse the taste buds amid the cloying seasonal onslaught of cookies and chocolate, Glühwein and Christmas punch. Cauliflower is a demure vegetable, and this method teases it from fading bystander to zesty leading lady.

I first tasted this elegantly spiced cauliflower at Newman Street Tavern a few weeks ago. It was so good, so unexpectedly addictive, that we asked for the recipe. More precisely, my friend asked, I didn’t exactly dare. What’s more, it wasn’t the first time that evening — the server had just brought from the kitchen the handwritten instructions for an incredible fennel and watercress soup. Asking for another recipe from that delicious meal was pushing it a bit far, surely? Or perhaps not. It was of course, evidence of our appreciation.

Brilliant spiced cauliflower, adapted from Newman Street Tavern, with thanks
I had to extrapolate a little, especially for the spice mix, as there were no measurements. I’ve tested the recipe a couple of times and I believe this version comes close.

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 star anise

2 tsps sweet paprika

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 pinch saffron threads

3 cloves garlic

3-inch piece of fresh ginger

Sea salt

Olive oil

1 medium onion

3 small tender celery stalks

1 cauliflower

Freshly ground black pepper

Sherry vinegar

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fresh dill and/or cilantro leaves

In a small skillet, gently toast the cumin, anise, coriander, fennel. Just enough to coax out the aroma (be careful not to burn the spices!). In a small blender, grind to a fine powder together with the turmeric, paprika, and saffron.

Crush the garlic and grate the ginger and mix into a paste with one teaspoon salt.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Cut the celery stalks into paper thin slices.

Wash and cut the cauliflower into small florets.

In a skillet large enough to fit all the cauliflower florets in one layer, heat enough olive oil to generously coat the pan. Throw in the spice mix and stir for a few seconds, then very quickly add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook for barely a minute then add the onion and celery. Add a little oil if necessary. **Again, be very careful not to burn the spices!**

Fry the onion and celery until translucent then add the cauliflower florets with a splash of water.

Cook for just a few minutes, until al dente.

To finish the dish, season with salt and pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with plenty of dill and/or cilantro leaves.


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