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black bean chili soup

…but for some reason, I’m thinking that toasty, crunchy bits of tortilla might go down a treat with this black bean chili soup – my entry for Holler and Lisa’s monthly challenge. Maybe some melty cheese too. Mmmmmm. Melty cheese…

There will be some more text here, hopefully by tomorrow evening, but I’m sliding under the slowly-closing temple door, Indy style, to get this one in on time (deadline = midnight tonight), so please excuse the lack of usual waffle in the meantime (or maybe you’ll be happy about that!). Let’s just say it’s a real corker – I mean, two whole tablespoons of chili powder, folks – it more than qualifies for this month’s ‘spicy’ theme! (Naturally, there’s a cinnamon hit in there too 🙂 )

Espresso Black Bean Chili Soup adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

Chili serves 6 to 8 (Soup serves 3 to 4)

3 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
2 onions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 cups canned tomatoes
1/2 to 1 cup freshly brewed espresso, 1 to 2 cups brewed coffee or 2 tablespoons espresso powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 cup dark brown sugar or 3 tablespoons molasses
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 pound dried black beans, washed, picked over and soaked for around 8 hours (easy to do before slogging off to work)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Put the oil in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over a medium high heat. When hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

2. Stir in the tomato, espresso, brown sugar, cinnamon and beans, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily but not violently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans begin to soften, 30 to 40 minutes. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper.

3. Continue cooking until the beans are tender – anywhere from another 45 minutes to 1 hour and 30 mins. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt or pepper.

4. This is actually the point that the real recipe stops and I started playing around because the recipe produced a lot of chili and I had to think of different ways to use it all up. So, for a soupy treat…

5. Take about half the beans and place in a separate pan with 1 pint of stock. Whizz the lot up, until reasonably smooth.

6. Spoon in some more beans if you’d like a bit more texture. Freeze the rest of the chili to eat another day/turn into soup or feed it to your starving husband who says he ‘gets a bit of a tingle from the chili but it’s not blow-your-head-off hot’. 

Cook’s notes

Yep – I should have made about half of the recipe but didn’t think it through. And, with limited freezer space, I had to find ways of squeezing black bean chili into everything, except maybe my morning cereal.

Didn’t have any espresso, so I nicked some of Mr B’s fresh coffee. He was a bit upset about that until he tasted the end result. He is a convert 🙂

There may even be a better photo, if I get the chance to take a snap during daylight hours…

spicy lentil and pumpkin soup

Some days I think I should just rename this blog ‘I ♥ Soup’ or ‘Queen of Soups’, because we seem to be getting through lot of it around here at the moment. Tis the season, I guess. We all crave something hot, simple and hearty when the weather is playing silly buggers and daylight is just a dim memory. 

And right now I feel like the soup witch as I huddle over my bubbling cauldron of mysterious gloop, mumbling incantations to ward off the winter blues (and cackling like a mad ‘un, of course).

Except it’s just a big pot on the stove, filled with spicy dal-pumpkin soup and I’m not that bad or mad (yet) – just wishing February would get its skates on and disappear. It’s such an uninspiring time for anyone who loves cooking.

So it’s a big thanks to Holler at Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa at Lisa’s Kitchen for coming up with No Croutons Required – a new monthly challenge to create a veggie soup or salad, sometimes according to a theme. It’s the kick in the backside I’ve needed to look at my kitchen cupboards and cookbooks with a fresh eye.

The inaugural challenge is to cook a veggie soup ‘that even the most carnivorous diner would drool over’. Hence my witchy attempts to cast a spell over all soup-lovers out there with this offering from Nigel Slater 😉

Silky roasted pumpkin marries perfectly with the grainy texture of the lentils… the zingy spices make this a soup to warm your soul as well as your body… the fresh note of coriander lifts your spirits, whispering of better, brighter times around the corner. And in these dark, dreary days, who couldn’t do with a bit of hope like that in their belly?

Just remember, I’ll turn you all into toads if you don’t like it.

Dal and pumpkin soup from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

Serves 4 generous bowlfuls

You’ll need:

a small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
walnut-sized knob of ginger, cut into thin shreds
little bit of olive oil
225g split red lentils, picked over and washed
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground chilli
250g pumpkin, peeled weight, cut into fat chunks
small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1.5 litres veg or chicken stock

1. Put the onion, garlic, ginger and olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the lentils and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the tumeric and chilli and leave to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

2. While the soup is cooking, bring a medium-sized pan of water to the boil. Boil the pumpkin pieces for 10 minutes until they are tender enough to take a skewer without much pressure. Drain and set aside. (Or roast it in the oven for 20 to 30 mins at 200C/gas mark 6.)

3. Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the drained pumpkin. Put the soup through the blender until smooth. Stir in the roughly chopped coriander and check the seasoning (Nigel mentions that he likes more than the usual amount of salt in this soup). 

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any ground chilli, so I guesstimated with some chilli flakes. Seemed to do the trick.

I roasted the squash – I was shoving a bunch of other veggies into the oven, so it made sense.

roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup

Ah soup, glorious soup – there’s nothing quicker to make or better at warding off the cold, or offering comfort after you slip on some ice and measure your admittedly short length along the pavement.

Still, not too much bruised except my pride 🙂

This recipe from Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Express is fantastic, not just for the comfort factor but because it pretty much makes itself: roast the vegetables, then liquidise – that’s all there is to it. My kind of soup.

Rose also mentions that because the ingredients are rich in beta-carotene, this soup is good for healthy eyes, hair, nails, lungs and throat, and increased resistance to infection. So if anyone’s got the sniffles/lurgy/man flu this weekend, you’re practically on orders to try this out!

red peppers, sweet potatoes and red onions

Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup adapted from Vegetarian Express by Rose Elliot

Serves 4

You’ll need:

3 red peppers, halved and seeded
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
1 pint vegetable stock
Red chilli flakes to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2. Toss the vegetables together with some olive oil in a large roasting dish.

3. Roast in the oven for around 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little.

4. Blend the cooked vegetables in a liquidiser, together with the stock and red chilli flakes to taste.

5. Reheat, season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve. 

Cook’s notes

I served this up with some chunky garlic croutons – see the recipe below. Very addictive…

A friend of mine (hi Susan! 🙂 ) has a nice variation where you chuck a whole chilli in to roast with the veg. It all depends on how much heat you like.

Roasted parsnip and parmesan soup 

This recipe very nearly didn’t reach its proper soupy destiny for one exceedingly good reason: the crunchy bits. 

Let me explain. Any time Mr B. makes roast potatoes (and, for some reason, he always gets this task), he chucks in a couple of tiddlers because he knows I love the crunchy bits best of all and will jump around excitedly like a small child at the prospect. It’s the little things in life that make me happy. 

So when I pulled some roasted parsnips with parmesan out of the oven yesterday with the intention of whizzing them into soup, you can imagine what happened next. I mean, take a look:

 Parsnips roasted with parmesan

First one piece of crunchy golden parsnip disappeared down my greedy gullet… and then another… I tried to pull myself together a bit – they’d taste just as savoury and moreish with the addition of a bit of stock and the judicious application of a hand-held blender, I reasoned to my unreasonable self. Okay, fine, but I’ll just have one more piece… 

This all leads to a sort of ‘two in one’ recipe post (bargain!). If you’re looking for an interesting side dish for Sunday lunch, just follow the first part of the recipe. If you’d like a fantastic starter, or just a mug of intensely savoury and satisfying soup to come home to after a bracing weekend walk in the cold (ah, good intentions) then see it through to the end 🙂

Roasted parsnip and Parmesan soup from The Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups 

Serves 4 to 6 

You’ll need: 

450g parsnips, cut into lengths
50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
15g butter
A drop more olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 ¼ pints/1.35 litres veggie or light chicken stock
4 tablespoons double cream 

1. Preheat the oven to 2ooC/400F/gas mark 6. 

2. Simmer the parsnips in plenty of salted water for 3 minutes. Drain well and toss in half the Parmesan cheese.  

3. While the parsnips are simmering, put the olive oil in a roasting tin and heat in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Then arrange the parsnips in the roasting tin, add the butter and bake for around 45 minutes, basting frequently. 

4. In a large soup pot, warm up some more olive oil and cook the onion gently until soft, without colouring.  

5. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Add the stock, stirring constantly and bring to the boil. Add the parsnips. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. 

6. Allow the soup to cool a little and then pureé it together with the remaining Parmesan cheese in a liquidiser/or in the pot with a hand-blender. 

7. Stir in the cream, taste for seasoning, reheat and serve. 

Cook’s notes 

I usually forget to do the bit with the flour. Never missed it, so if you’re gluten-free then don’t worry about this step. 

I like my soup a little thicker (like stand-your-spoon-upright thick), so I never add as much liquid as suggested in the recipe above. 

The cream went right out the window in a token gesture towards saving my figure. Milk works just fine instead.

So there I was, about to attempt a fancy, swirly sourcream pattern in some beetroot soup when I realised that the blobs had shaped themselves into a cute Scottie dog – or should that be a West Highland terrier? Hmmm, I thought. You can get coffee art, so why not (accidental) soup art? I’ve invented soup art!

Then I remembered that soup art already exists – in restaurants. That’s what they do.

Oh well, it was still extremely tasty and a rather vibrant pinky-purple to boot.

And there’s a sneaky, hidden ingredient to make this a proper winter warmer… vodka! Only a teeny bit, mind – 2 teaspoons per serving. Just enough to give a little kick.

But, seeing as I’d like to enter this recipe for the Weekend Herb Blogging event (hosted by Kalyn’s Kitchen), let’s concentrate on the beetroot and what it can do for you, as I think we all know what the vodka does in large enough quantities. And how.

After rummaging through a couple of books*, I found out that:

  • Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of manganese and potassium.
  • However, don’t throw away those beet greens – they’re even more nutritious because they’re richer in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, as well as containing magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin B6.
  • Beetroots have long been used for medicinal purposes, mostly to treat liver disorders, because they stimulate the liver’s detoxification process (bringing us back to that vodka…).
  • The amazing colour comes from a pigment called betacyanin, which is apparently a powerful cancer-fighting agent.
  • Beet fibre has been shown to have ‘a favourable effect on bowel function’ (such a lovely way of describing it).
  • Those last two points mean that beetroot is thought to help protect against colon cancer.

So there you go. Beetroot – an all-round winner in the ‘good for you’ stakes, as well as being pretty to look at (once cooked, admittedly) and a pleasure to eat. What more could you possibly want?

Tipsy beetroot soup from A Paradiso Year (Autumn and Winter Cooking) by Dennis Cotter

Serves 6 to 8 people

You’ll need:

800g beetroot
3 onions
6 cloves garlic
half a bulb fennel or 1 stick celery
olive oil
100g potato
1,500ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon fresh dill, fennel or lovage
large pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to season
vodka
sourcream to serve

1. Cook the beetroot in boiling water until tender, then peel under cold running water and chop coarsely.

2. Meanwhile, chop the onions, garlic and fennel or celery, heat some olive oil in a pot and cook them until the onions are soft.

3. Chop the potato and add it to the onions, along with the beetroot, the stock and your chosen herb. Bring this to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the potato starts to break down. Add the cayenne pepper and the balsamic vinegar. Blend the soup to a smooth purée, season well with salt and pepper.

4. Pour the soup into the bowls and put a teaspoon or two of vodka into each serving. Then drizzle a little bit of sourcream over the top and serve.

Cook’s notes

I’d maybe double the amount of potato suggested but that’s just because I like a really thick soup.

Vodka – I tried the soup both with and without it, and it works both ways. So if you don’t want alcohol in your lunchtime soup, don’t worry, it’s still delicious.

*The fantastic beetroot facts came from The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Dr Michael Murray and Dr Joseph Pizzorno, with Laura Pizzorno.

Note to self: please, please, please remember to check the settings on the camera before taking any pics. Otherwise you’ll end up with slightly blurry pics of your very last cup of fennel soup and will be left with no other choice but to post it on your blog because the recipe’s so darn good it can’t possibly wait for another day. Nnnnnrgh!

Fennel and almond soup from Little Red Gooseberries by Daphne Lambert

Serves 4

You’ll need:

4 fennel bulbs
1 leek
50g butter
1.2 litres (2 pints) vegetable stock
4 tablespoons ground almonds
Salt and pepper

1. Cut the fennel leaves from the bulb and save for decoration. Remove the tough outer layers of the fennel bulb and chop the remaining bulb into small pieces. Remove the outer leaves from the leek and slice into rounds.

2. Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and stir in the fennel and leek. Sweat gently for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to to boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the ground almonds and cook uncovered for a further 10 minutes.

3. Cool slightly then blend the soup until smooth. Heat through and divide between 4 bowls.

4. Serve garnished with the chopped fennel leaves (although I used some lovely purple watercress I found in the farmers market last weekend).

Cook’s notes

As per usual, there was something I tinkered with or, in this case, left out because I didn’t have it 🙂 The recipe specifies that 2 teaspoons of pastis should be added at step 3. So if you like a stronger aniseedy flavour, go for it. However, although I love fennel both raw and cooked, I dislike stronger aniseed flavours like liquorice, so I was perfectly happy with my non-pastis version of this soup.

I’m sure it’s possible to cut the butter down for this recipe but it does add a gorgeous rounded-out flavour that complements the fennel and almonds rather well, so I’m loathe to mess with it.

Time to use up some of that produce I dragged home from the Temple Bar Food Market the other day…

First up is some lovely-looking kale from McNally’s Farm, North Co. Dublin. The lady at the stall suggested that all I needed to do to keep the kale fresh was trim the stalk ends and plonk the lot in a jam jar of water – no need to bother with the fridge.


And she was right. The kale was a bit limp after the trip home but perked up when I gave it the recommended treatment. That’s osmosis at work, folks.

Unusually for me, there was no dithering over what to do with this bunch of kale. It was always destined to become soup.

A couple of weeks ago, we were in Limerick to visit some good friends, M. and S.. S. is also a keen cook, so talk inevitably turned to favourite recipes, new cookbook finds and what we’d both been making recently. Unsurpisingly, I raved about Dorie Greenspan at great length. When I finally stopped to draw breath, S. took the chance to recommend an excellent recipe from The Soup Kitchen, a book we’d both picked up for a song in the bookshop bargain section. No idea why it was going so cheap as it’s a great book, full of interesting recipes – ranging from the simple and comforting to the ridiculously complicated/slightly intimidating… Oh… Maybe that’s it.

Anyhoo, colcannon soup has been on my hitlist ever since that chat with S.. It’s one of the easier recipes from the book – much more my style. But simple doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. And it makes the perfect lunchtime meal to combat the chillier weather that’s creeping in.

Sometimes less messing around leads to better results.

Colcannon soup – recipe donated by Darina Allen to The Soup Kitchen, edited by Annabel Buckingham and Thomasina Miers

(Serves 4 to 6)

For the soup, you’ll need:

55g butter
450g floury potatoes (I used Roosters), peeled and diced
120g onions diced
salt and pepper to taste
1.1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
130ml creamy milk

For the buttered cabbage/kale, you’ll need:

450g Savoy cabbage/kale
40g butter

1. Melt the 55g of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoe and onion and toss in the butter until well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 6 to 10 minutes. Add the stock, increase the heat and cook until the vegetables are soft.

2. Meanwhile, make the buttered cabbage/kale. Remove any tough stalks or leave and then cut into fine shreds. Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan with 20g of butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, add the cabbage/kale and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes. Toss again, add salt and pepper as needed and then stir in the remaining butter.

3. Purée the potato and onion mixture in a food processor/blender and return to a clean pan. Add the cooked cabbage/kale to the soup. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Thin with milk to the required consistency.

Cook’s notes

OK, I did mess with it a little bit. Colcannon is traditionally a creamy mashed potato dish with cooked cabbage mixed in. Kale is sometimes substituted but cabbage seems to be more usual.

And, when I weighed the kale, it turned out I only had about 250g rather than the 450g specified. Oh well, I could always bulk out the greens with some spinach that only had a couple of days left before it started going mushy. But it turned out that I wouldn’t need it. Although the kale cooked down, it was still pretty bulky and filled the soup nicely (see pic above). So I’m not sure what 450g would look like. Maybe it would be more cabbage/kale with a bit of soup at the bottom of the bowl.

There’s a lot of butter in the recipe. I balked at just how much to start with but then shrugged my shoulders and thought,’Try it this way first, then adjust later (and go for a run in the meantime)…’ So if I work out a way of reducing the fat without compromising the buttery flavour, I’ll update this post.

Actually, I think it looks more like an egg yolk surrounded by the white of the mug in the above picture. But that’s a loooong post title.

A weekend trip to York for a christening meant we only returned to Ireland very, very late last night. After sleeping in and still feeling groggy, a trudge to the shops for supplies wasn’t really on the cards, so I had to russle something up for lunch from whatever I could find lying around – preferably something that didn’t require a lot of effort.

Which led to…

Garlicky butternut squash soup
, adapted from Soup Kitchen
You’ll need:
1 butternut squash
2 or more unpeeled cloves of garlic (I used 5, but it depends how garlicky you want to go)
Some olive oil
1 pint of veggie stock
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/ gas mark 6. Slice the butternut squash into segments and place them in a roasting tin, along with at least two cloves of garlic (or more to taste.)
2. Toss the squash and garlic with some olive oil and then put the tin in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the squash is soft and browned around the edges.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.
4. Scoop out the squash flesh, pop the garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to a blender, along with the pint of veggie stock. Blitz.
5. Adjust the seasoning to taste and reheat the soup if necessary.

6. Serve.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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