Tag Archives: Soup

Hot, cheap and saucy

Recent meals have been conjured up to combat a few sad truths: January malaise has set in, it’s freezing out and we have a LOT of root vegetables around. And did I mention it’s freezing?

Last Thursday I hit upon a winner, a perfection of a basic curry I’ve been trying to get right for a long time now. The trick was moving my sauce to North Africa by adding harissa. Who knows if I’ll get it right again, but with any luck the act of blogging it will help cement it in my brain.

I started by slicing an onion and slowly caramelizing it over a medium flame in a little olive oil. The trick is to let the onions sit undisturbed for minutes at a time, but without burning them. Take your time with this. It took me 30+ plus before mine were browned and totally limp.

To this I added a hunk of sliced ginger – I used shoestring thickness slices for no good reason – and two cloves of garlic, also sliced. Let these cook for 10 minutes or so, until the ginger is nice and soft. Turn down the heat if you’re worried about the garlic burning.

I then added a teaspoon/teaspoon and a half each of cumin, cinnamon, tumeric and corriander, a few grinds of black pepper (add a little water if there isn’t enough oil to absorb the spices), and a big spoonful of harissa paste. Harissa varies a lot from blend to blend, so the amount you use depends on how hot yours is, and how hot you like your food.

So now the flavors are developed all that’s missing is the liquid to actually make it a sauce. I added spoonfuls of plain yogurt and water until I was happy with the texture and flavor. To finish it off I stirred in a whole bunch of chopped cilantro and squeezed a lemon into the pot, and turned off the heat.

What did I do with my magical sauce? On day 1 I poured it over roasted carrots, potatoes, parsnips and cabbage (weird, I know, but weirdly good), and some couscous. Day 2 I added it to some good chicken stock I’d livened up with some fresh ginger and more harissa, and added my leftover couscous and veggies for the cheapest, most warming supper I think I’ve ever made.


Pea soup from Canadia

Yellow split pea soup

Having grown up in The Great White North, I am often asked ‘what is Canadian cuisine?’ My response is always that there no clear answer – Canadian culture has been so heavily influenced by the massive waves of immigrants over the country’s history that meals can vary greatly depending on regional populations: British, French, Scandinavian, German and (more recently) Asian and American foods all have their place. If I have to think about ‘traditional’ Canadian meals I instantly come up with dishes that would have be served to loggers and pelters: hearty meals that often use preserved meats or game made with ingredients that were either in season or had a long shelf life.

This split pea soup is one of the dishes that I find most comforting and although variations would be found around all of Scandinavia, Northern Germany and The Netherlands, it was also a staple of early Europeans in Canada – likely due to the affordability and long shelf-life of ingredients – even today, having sourced the ham hock from a posh butcher in north London this was under £3.

It might look like gruel, but this a delicious, healthy, high-protein soup that really satisfies after being out in the cold.

Recipe (serves 4)

2.5 Cups of yellow split peas

2.3 Litres of water

1 Ham hock

2 Medium carrots (finely chopped)

2 Medium onions (finely chopped)

1 Teaspoon of dried thyme


Salt to taste – you likely won’t need any if the ham hock is salted

Rinse peas and place in a large pot with the water, bring to a boil and allow them to simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside for 1 hour.

Add ham hock to peas and water, bring to the boil and add the chopped onion and carrot – reduce heat and simmer for about an hour and a half. You will have to skim the surface a few times during this period. Remove the ham hock – separate any meat from the fat and bone, return to the soup. Continue to simmer for another 20-30 minutes or until very thick – you might need to whisk the soup together as the peas start to separate and stick to the bottom. If serving immediately no binding agent is required, but if you will be serving the next day (which adds to flavour), stir in some roux 15 minutes before removing from heat.

To make the roux, melt 1tbs butter in a sauce pan and add enough flour to form a thick paste, cook for a few minutes to prevent roux from tasting like raw flour.

This soup really hits the spot after a long day of clubbing baby seals, but is equally brilliant reheated as an easy meal on a cold London evening.

– Ryan

The best soup. Ever.

I went looking for something light-but-exciting for dinner on our first night back after eating ourselves to death in France. Little did I know I’d found the world’s greatest soup on epicurious – from Self no less. It’s fresh, it’s light, it’s spicy, and it’s so simple it barely feels like cooking.

I made a few little modifications to the printed recipe, and one major change: in a very half-assed way, I made my own chicken stock. Don’t let this put you off! All I did was put 3 frozen chicken leg and thigh bones in about a liter of water, brought it slowly up to a boil and tossed in some chinese five spice (a teaspoon or two) and some chinese black vinegar (a tablespoon or two). Simmer away for an hour or so, or however long you have, strain, and voila!

As the head notes to the original recipe stated, don’t be frightened by the long list of ingredients. I’m a slow chopper, and this took less than 10 minutes of prep. Also, while I followed the recipe and added chicken pieces, I won’t next time. The soup just didn’t need the extra expense or dead animal.

After that, here’s what you need:

  • 1.5 liters cooking liquid (I just added water to my stock)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin (the recipe called for brown sugar but I didn’t have any)
  • 1 tbsp of sricha or other asian hot sauce
  • Juice of two juicy limes
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, minced (choose your thumb size based on your affection for ginger)
  • 1-2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 lb boneless chicken breasts, cut in thin 3-inch-long strips
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 sliced chestnut mushrooms (slice them big if you want to pick them out before eating, like us)
  • 1 cup snap peas
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • handful chopped cilantro

Ok, this is really easy now. Put your cooking liquid into a big pot with your soy sauce, mirin (or sugar), sricha, lime juice, ginger and garlic and boil 5-10 minutes.

If you’re using chicken, toss the pieces in the 3 tbsp corn starch, and add it and the mushrooms to the pot. Simmer fo 15 minutes.

Remove from heat, add red peppers, cilantro and snap peas, and let sit for 3 minutes.


You’re welcome.


Cheap and cheerful: Garlicky noodle soup

With Jesse out of town for 10 days and a hectic few weeks after that, our cupboards were looking seriously pathetic. We had a food delivery coming in a few nights so didn’t want to shop, and needed to find something to fill us up on a chilly spring night.

The base of a very cheap dinner

The base of a very cheap dinner

What we had: dry pasta, garlic and assorted frozen vegetables. You could see a general idea take shape, but when you hate tomatoes, improvising pasta sauce is generally too much effort. However, Mark Bittman has a recipe for garlicky vermicelli in broth that, when you come right down to it, really only needs noodles and garlic for a passable supper. And with a few more ingrdients it’s good enough even for nights when you aren’t in desperate straits.

Disclaimer: I have yet to find a way to do this that doesn’t result in an amusing but very real mess.

Start with half a pound of angel hair, or some other fine dry pasta, and find some way to break the noodles up into small pieces. I’ve tried breaking them by hand, putting them in a bag and bashing them with a rolling pin, double bagging them, etc. It’s always fun, but I’ll never get all the broken strands of capellini out of my How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Next, peel and mince half a head of garlic.

Put 1/4 cup of olive oil in a deep pot over medium high heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes and then add the broken pasta. The idea is to get the pasta toasted and brown. It won’t brown evenly, but after 7-10 minutes of frequent stirring it should all be golden, with some bits nice and dark.

Add 4-5 cups of water or vegetable stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes, until the pasta is cooked, adding more liquid if needed/desired. I threw in some frozen spinach, and have added chopped broccoli rabe near the end of the cooking time in the past for a bit of color/nutrition. Garnish with some grated Parmesan if you’re so inclined, and enjoy!


Spiced carrot soup

Spiced carrot soup

Spiced carrot soup

I’ve made this soup a couple of times this winter, and it’s a real beauty. It involves ginger, coriander and lime – some of my favourite ingredients.  It’s also a doddle, and very light and healthy.   Another plus is that it can be made a day ahead of time, so it’s a great dinner party starter for those who don’t like to do too much work on the night.

The only thing that was labour-intensive was grinding the coriander and mustard seeds.  As I don’t have a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, I used my pepper grinder.  It took an age and I felt like I’d been rock climbing afterwards because my arms were so sore.  I have admittedly pathetic hands, but I’m now mulling over investing in a spice grinder.  Thoughts?

Recipe after the jump. Continue reading

Soup for lazy people – like me!

I used to find soups terribly intimidating but over the last few months have learned to overcome my fear, turns out they are dead easy.

I can therefore heartily recommend one of my favourite websites for recipes, www.bbcgoodfood.com

My latest success was their all-in-one chunky winterbroth, I didn’t even use pesto and my spinach, following Eve’s advice, was frozen spinach, not fresh.


Success with minimal effort!

Success with minimal effort!

– Stef

When recipes are wrong

For someone who’s constitutionally unable to follow a recipe, this gets me surprisingly upset. Last night I made split pea soup with chorizo. The experience was fraught from the start:

  • I couldn’t remember if I was making split pea or lentil soup, so had to buy both split peas and lentils.
  • I seem not to have read the recipe, so cooking was well under way before I realised (at a quarter to 8) that it wouldn’t be ready for 2 hours.
  • I also did not notice that the recipe doesn’t say when to add the chorizo to the soup.

I must have finally read the damn recipe 15 times before accepting it really was missing an instruction. I wound up adding the cooked chorizo with about 30 minutes of the stated cooking time left. After about 15 minutes, the balance of flavors was just right, but the split peas were far from being done. The peas were still far from being done at 10.30 when I just chucked the whole thing in a blender, and would up with a hearty sausage soup. Not quite what I was after.

The soup was a hit, though that could have something to do with the several bottles of wine I plied our dinner guests with while waiting to eat.


Non-starchy comfort food

Asian soup

Replacing creamy risottos as my favourite comfort food for this winter is an amazingly easy-to-cook, Asian-inspired soup.  It feels far more healthy than my usual winter go-to foods (where starch, and more starch, plays a starring role).

I’ve cooked this a few times before and really enjoyed it, but I made it last night using the turkey stock I made on Thanksgiving (the first time I’ve ever bothered to do that…and bother is definitely the right word).  It brought it to a whole new level of richness…yum!  I fear that reverting to stock cubes in the future will be a disappointment. I also use soba noodles…I’ve tried rice noodles in the past and I much prefer the texture of the wholewheat soba noodles.

Recipe from Sophie Wright via The Guardian.

You can substitute meat or seafood, or just use veggies.

1.5 litres chicken stock, made from a cube is fine

2.5cm knob of ginger, finely sliced

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 medium red chilli, finely sliced

2.5cm piece of lemongrass, smashed with the back of your knife

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

200g soba, buckwheat, or glass noodles

1 head pak choy, sliced in half through the root

4 shiitake or chestnut mushrooms

1 handful of beansprouts

Sprigs of coriander, to garnish

Start by making a fragrant poaching stock. Place the stock in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the ginger, garlic, half the chilli, lemongrass, soy sauce and fish sauce. Allow to infuse for a couple of minutes.

Add the chicken breasts and slowly poach to keep them moist inside. They should take 8-10 minutes, depending on size. Halfway through cooking, add the noodles. With one minute to go, add the pak choy, followed by the mushrooms and the beansprouts. Don’t over-cook the mushrooms or they will go slimy and spongy.

To serve, remove the chicken from the stock and cut into slices to make it easier to eat. Place in big bowls, pour the broth on top, and sprinkle with the reserved chilli. Garnish each bowl with a sprig of coriander.


Thai coconut soup

I just finished my first non-Doritos based meal of the weekend: this tasty, spicy Thai-ish soup adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I bought the book to try to spur myself into eating more veggies. So far I seem to only choose recipes that, while they contain no meat, also contain no vegetables. Well, baby steps.

Before I get to the soup, do you ever use Bittman’s recipes? I like him, but the timings always seem to be off. Or is it just me?

Neutral oil

An onion or two, chopped

Couple cloves of garlic, minced

A hunk of ginger, minced or grated

Tablespoon or so of lemongrass, minced

Tablespoon curry powder

1 or 2 chiles, chopped

1 litre vegetable stock

1 can coconut milk

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

Cilantro to garnish

In a pan, cook the onion in the oil over medium heat until it is soft and started to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Toss in the garlic, ginger, curry powder, chile and lemongrass and stir it around for a minute or two. When it is all nice and hot, add the stock. Bring to a boil, and simmer.

After 10 minutes or so, add the coconut milk to the soup stock, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until it’s thickened just a bit.  Add the soy sauce, lime juice and cilantro. Et voila, soup!

Note: As with most things I cook, this isn’t the handsomest soup. But it tastes good! And because I tend to overdue the chiles, and use hot curry powder, I serve the soup over rice.

If feeding more than two people, you’d need another dish.