By mere coincidence I’m posting a delightfully simple Mexican soup recipe, well loved in this house, because I’m putting it out there right now – it’s got chocolate in it. This is my take on what is still one of my very favourite cookbooks. Jack has published another book after this, which I still need to see, but I think that her first book deserves to be a classic. There is no need to write a second positive review because by now I’m sure you all know how much I like the recipes and Jack’s honest way of writing. She is a master at turning a few simple ingredients into something special, with the help of a little bit of chocolate. It does make a difference so don’t be afraid to add it.
It’s still reasonably cold in the Med and I’m still nursing a very bad cold. My neighbour’s kid is having a ball running amuck right above my head, most probably sitting on a desk chair and sprinting across the corridor. Either that or playing boċċi. Who knows? Can’t imagine the grief he’s giving his mum, but I can definitely picture the grief he’s giving me!
So just when my head starts to ache I decide to post two recipes on C&T. Simple stuff but they are just the things I want to eat when I’m inside with quite some time to spend in the kitchen. There will be plenty of chances in the future for chips. That’s exactly what’s keeping me going! *Checking my forehead for fever*
There’s no denying it: I love food and spending time in the kitchen, but sometimes there is a limit, even for me. I don’t feel guilty about it – I used to but not anymore. J and I eat well throughout the week. Dinner prep is easy and quick most of the time anyway but I try to make every meal as varied as possible. Again, sometimes within limits, because you cannot be superwoman everyday. If you are, I applaud you. Really. No sarcasm here.
Times like these call for easy solutions, especially when I’m eating alone. I find that there’s no joy in that but it happens sometimes when J is abroad for work. He found a recipe by Alton Brown for lentil soup a few years back and we come back to it repeatedly, changing the ingredients according what we have in the fridge at the time. You know that I love a good steak, but there’s plenty of room for hearty soups in my life as I’m sure there is in yours. It might not be attractive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good; and comforting.
I remember one day, quite a few years back (I think I must have been 6 or 7 years old), when my mum and I went over to my grandma’s house. My nan had a large blue kitchen with a huge table in the middle. I opened the pantry and found two packets of small round pasta. I poured some water in a pan, emptied the packets of pasta into the water and swirled it around with a wooden spoon. I had no idea how to switch on the hob (thank goodness for that), so I left the pasta just there, imagining it was cooking. By the end of the afternoon this concoction was a gloopy mess; it would not magically turn into pasta soup obviously, but it was my creation and I felt so proud of it, until my nan told me off.
Fast forward almost 30 years, and this memory has stuck with me ever since. Every time I make an easy soup I am transported back in time to that sunny kitchen. For the life of me I cannot copy and paste the link onto this website so I’m giving the recipe here. It’s just a guide. What I don’t suggest though is adding potatoes. You will end up with cement. Take it from me: been there, done that and I won’t do it again!
Don’t be intimidated by the last ingredient. You can use a number of spices instead. I go for ground cardamom, ground ginger or even sumac. You need:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 450g red lentils
- 400g can of chopped tomatoes (optional)
- 2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (you can use mixed spice or cumin)
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, ground ginger or sumac (Alton suggests ground grains of paradise but stick to my suggestions if you don’t have it.)
All you need to do is sweat the onions, carrot, celery and salt into a large pot. (You need the salt to soften the veggies.) Add the lentils, tomatoes, stock and spices. Stir to combine the ingredients. Turn the heat up till everything comes up to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. If you want to, blend everything with a stick blender. (I would invest in one of these.) Taste and add some more seasoning if required. Serve hot. Enjoy!
First things first: Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a good start to the year and also hope that the rest will be better still. Though it can be really depressing. All those parties and with great food during the holidays, then…boom…everything’s gone (except the Christmas spirit of course) and everyone’s back to normal. I bet you heard or even thought the dreadful D word (yes..diet) a million times already, and it’s not three days after New Year’s Day yet.
This is a tricky one I know but we really need some heart-warming food, especially in this cold weather. And let’s face it, dieting doesn’t mean eating for two weeks and starving for the rest of the year. Well, it could be an interpretation of this to some people, but I don’t think it’s the healthiest one. (Oh, and please please please, don’t be mean to others by making them not eat too!) To be honest, after the holidays I don’t crave heavy foods, not even the sweet stuff. Also, lately I’ve had some veggies in the fridge which needed to be either used or thrown away, and you know how much I hate throwing food away if it still can be cooked. I had quite a lot of parsnips and some carrots which were waiting to be made into a nice thick gooey soup.
Mentioning carrots, a friend of mine recently asked me if this season’s pick were sweeter than usual. It’s like eating a whole packet of sweets she said, which made me think back. J made a big batch of carrot soup about a week ago in which I couldn’t help adding loads of fresh pepper. So for now I am definitely off carrots, in large quantities that is! But somehow I love parsnips. Although sweet, they have a hint of spiciness. I’ve read that parsnips are only grown in colder climates, ergo there’s no way I will find them back home, so I intend to make the most of them here. They are good for you anyway…
The following is a recipe for a parsnip soup with a twist. It’s also got some mustard in it which gives it that wintery kick and some paprika for smokiness and is food for the soul. Well that’s how I think of it. This soup is very forgiving so as long as you taste it along the way to adjust the seasoning, it will taste great. Unfortunately I have no alternatives for parsnips, but you’re invited to my place anytime for lunch. Ooops…I have to keep my word now, don’t I?! For this Parsnip, Paprika and Mustard Soup you’ll need:
- 25g butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 450g parsnips, chunkily diced or cubed
- 1 leek, roughly chopped
- 3 medium potatoes, quartered
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1.5 litre vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons wholegrain or Dijon mustard, heaped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- pepper, to taste
- In a medium sized pot heat the oil and butter, then add the parsnips, leeks and potatoes. Stir until the vegetables are coated well, keep an eye on it for around 5 minutes and add the paprika. Stir again.
- Add the stock, let it boil, then leave to simmer for around 20 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Blend the whole lot either with a hand blender, or pour it into a free-standing one to mush it up.
- Now is the time to add the mustard, sugar and pepper and taste it to get the seasoning right. You’ve got it.
Invite 4-6 people for lunch and serve immediately with some fresh crusty bread on the side.
Now this is the season for heart-warming dishes. When the weather does not cooperate, I love spending time in the kitchen. When I want comfort I try to turn to something tasty and nutritious whenever I can, though I never say no to some chocolate! However there are times when not even chocolate does the trick. On the whole I prefer savoury stuff rather than sweets, so I make soup instead. Soups can either be boring or exciting, insipid or bursting with flavour. Good ones are just that: good.
What I am giving here is just a guide. And by no means am I saying that this is the prefect recipe! You know me more than that…and cooking is not rocket science. But this is how I go about making it. Just don’t let it influence you too much. There are no rules here; the thickness, texture and taste depends totally up to you. It’s a carrot and butternut squash soup, great for this time of year, at least in the UK where it’s getting chilly. I’m not sure if my Maltese readers will see the point in giving a recipe for soup now, since apparently it’s still warm there! Ah, you lucky lucky people! Remember that you could substitute the squash with pumpkin. Just a note before I give you the recipe: the photo shows my carrot soup. I didn’t use any squash here. It’s because the actual butternut soup photo I took isn’t presentable. So unfortunately this will have to do for this post. Maybe you cannot see any difference but I just wanted my readers to know. I will eventually replace it. You will need:
- 500g butternut squash, cubed and roasted (with a drizzle of olive oil)
- 200g sweet potatoes, cubed and roasted
- 200g carrots, sliced
- 1.5 to 2 litres vegetable stock
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ½ teaspoon powdered ginger
- pepper to taste
In a heavy-based pan put the squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, stock and spices together and wait for everything to boil. When the veggies are soft, blend the soup and add some pepper, and remember to taste at this stage. Serve in warm bowls and you could garnish with fresh parsley or coriander if you have some available. So easy and comforting. Enjoy!
Note: There is no need to roast the squash and sweet potatoes but doing so will give more depth to the soup so I wouldn’t recommend skipping this step. Also you could add some freshly squeezed orange juice for a more zesty flavour. The potatoes will make your soup nice and thick and gooey.