Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leek, Tomato and Tarragon soup

This is and old recipe of mine, from the days when I was realising that what I ate didn't have to come from a tin or packet but could be made from real things that were actually growing all around me! In this particular case it was the discovery of fresh herbs. The joy I got then of going out to the garden, picking a bunch of leaves and dropping them into my soup has never left me. French Tarragon in particular I love. It has that sort of "old house" mustiness to it, different to the earthiness of fennel seeds or that larger than life intensity of a star anise . . .

This is also a good one for the end of Winter, beginning of Spring because there will still be leeks standing and everybody has a tin of tomatoes in the larder. Finding fresh herbs might be more difficult, but as I say use whatever you have there'll be Rosemary out there and you can often find Parsley and Tarragon out there sheltering under the leaves and tangled dead stuff.

-Begin with a leek, an onion and a garlic clove. Peel them and as this soup will not be blended, chop them to the size you'll want in the final soup - chunky or small whatever you fancy.
-Fry them gently in some olive oil and butter, until translucent. This will take a good ten or fifteen minutes, don't rush it.
-Add in a tin of tomatoes (if whole I chop the tomatoes up roughly in the pan with a knife) and a pint of vegetable stock.
-Leave to simmer for a further fifteen or twenty minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed and the flavours all blend together.

(This would be a good time to make some cheese scones)

- Once the soup is cooked add in some salt if required and enough ground black pepper to give a warmth in the background (remember it is still winter)
- Now just before serving add in a good handfull or two of fresh herbs, use whatever you have - I like a good handfull of flat leaved parsley and a bit less than half of that of tarragon. Carefull with the Tarragon because it is quite strong.

Serve with your scones buttered still be warm from the oven - delicious.

Does everybody go through that stage in their cookery development? You know discovering that you can actually make things from scratch? I certainly did of course and I see my teenage boys doing it now. They still come and gaze into the fridge and larder, hoping some readymade delight will leap out to be eaten straightaway. Or at most after a couple of minutes in the microwave, because don't you realise that they are hungry right now and have things to do and cannot possibly wait . . . . But now I notice their heads turning to what I am doing at the stove. "What's in the pan?" they'll say. "Leek and tomato soup" I say "would you like some?" "No" they say automatically looking down at the frozen pizza in their hands and then back at the soup with a slightly puzzled expression, thinking . . . The seeds of change are there, beginning to germinate I think, it won't be long now.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

A mildly spiced Kumara and Cream Soup

Nothing new or startlingly different from me here, just a mildly spiced creamy soup. And you know, amidst the hectic bustle and stress of the modern grown up world don't we all need a little comforting familiarity sometimes. Like returning home after a journey this is the type of soup that I look for when it all gets too much out there . . .

- Peel and chop an onion, a clove of garlic and a small red chilli and cook slowly in some olive oil and butter. (I don't bother to remove the chilli seeds anymore, I just slice up the whole thing)

- After ten minutes or so add in two teaspoonsful of ground coriander seeds and the same of ground cumin.
- Peel and chop a Kumara (sweet potato) and pop it in the pan along with a tomato, turning up the heat and stirring it around.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of half strength vegetable stock, lower the heat to a gentle bubble and do something else for twenty minutes.
- Blend or liquidise the soup, return it to the pan and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and some salt and ground black pepper if you think it needs it. (mine needed a little salt, and black pepper is not really optional when I cook so in it went as well)
- Finally stir in a couple of tablespoonsful of cream as you reheat the soup. I don't like a lot of cream (and often use milk instead) but go with what tastes right for you.

Sit somewhere quiet and peaceful, forget the world outside and enjoy . . .

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Leek, Coriander and Coconut soup

Recipes evolve in strange ways. This soup started as an idea - Leek and Coriander soup. Coriander seeds that is not the green stuff that has all died away now anyway. These two make a beautifull combination especially in a pie with halved or quartered boiled eggs popped in. And as I was stirring the base of leeks, onion and celery whilst they cooked I kept smelling the strangest thing - coconut, so a quick search of the larder uncovered a tin of coconut milk and in it went as well and a creamy soup with a hint of spice was born . . .

- Put a big leek, half an onion and a stick of celery all peeled and roughly chopped as required into a saucepan with some butter and olive oil and left to fry slowly until all meltingly soft and fragrant.
- Add in two teaspoonfulls of ground coriander seeds, a sage leaf and a small potato peeled and chopped. Stir and cook for a further couple of minutes.

You could use just leeks of course but I like the combination of leek and onion and the celery was in the fridge anyway and it all goes to add more depth to the ultimate flavor. I always cook my spices in oil as well, either as part of the base or separately in some oil or butter if I am adding them at the end. I find that if I don't they have a sort of powdery taste, but also I love the way the fragrances come out as you warm them through in the hot oil.

- Pour in a pint and a quarter of vegetable stock turn the heat up until it comes to a gentle boil and simmer until the potato is soft, say fifteen minutes or so.
- Blend it all smooth and return to the pan along with a third of a tin of coconut milk - 100 mls or so. Taste it to see, you don't want the coconut to over power everything else.
- Add some salt and pepper if you think it needs it (mine did) and gently reheat.

Mild and creamy as it is, you need a bit of contrast to stop it becoming sickly so serve with a good squeeze of lime juice or even better do what I did and make a simple salsa of chopped tomato, chilli and lime zest and juice.

It was just what I needed today and hence absolutely delicious.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Beetroot and Cumin soup

Intense earthy flavours for Autumn here. This is a time of the woodlands and fields, of rich earthy smells and sight of your misty breath coiling away into the chill air. It is a time time for slow cooking, for deep complex flavours that echo the world outside and fill the house with enticing smells. You cannot get much more earthy than beetroot of course and paired with cumin forms a sublime combination. The cumin here is elevated to one of the main ingredients and if you get it right they will balance each other perfectly.

- Start with the beetroot. Boil two or three whole for a quarter of an hour or so before putting it into a hot oven (200 centigrade) for half an hour to roast.
- When the beet is nearly done, peel and roughly chop an onion and a couple of garlic cloves and fry slowly in some olive oil and some butter, this will take fifteen to twenty minutes and the onion will be translucent and look like it is bathed in honey.
- Add in two teaspoons of ground cumin seeds, stir and allow to cook for a minute then add a small potato peeled and chopped.
- Take the beets out of the oven, peel them chop into pieces and add to the pan.
- Pour in a pint and a quarter of half strength vegetable stock and leave to simmer until the potato is cooked.
- Blend smooth and return to the pan,
- Heat a dry frying pan and pour in a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds and toast until lightly browned. Add these to the soup.
- Lastly squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper if you think it needs any.

I like whole spices in my soups, They soften but keep their flavour and when you crunch one up you get a sudden burst of flavour as well as the extra crunchiness. Serve with a splodge of sour cream and some lemon zest, both of which will back up the lemonyness of the cumin.

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