Soups


Grilled vegetable and butterbean gazpacho

I first fell in love with gazpacho when I visited a small Andalusian village on the hills as a child with my parents. Some years ago, watching the hit Pedro Almodovar movie ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (in which gazpacho plays a significant part) cemented my passion for the chilled Spanish tomato and raw vegetable soup.

Over the years I have tasted several variations, including white gazpacho made from almonds and grapes, and the newly fashionable (at least in the UK) watermelon gazpacho, which is a little too sweet and insubstantial for my taste.

This recipe started life as simply grilled vegetable gazpacho, which I prepared one lunchtime from leftover barbecued vegetables, including roast potatoes. More recently, when I made the soup again, I substituted the carb-laden potatoes with protein-rich butterbeans. It worked perfectly well as the beans provided the creamy texture just as the potatoes had done. This soup is rather like salmorejo – the thick Andalusian tomato and bread soup – in texture. It is at once hearty, tangy, savoury, refreshing and redolent with tastes of the Mediterranean summer.

The butterbeans I use in this recipe are the large Mediterranean variety called ‘gigante’. They’re available in delis, health food stores and department stores’ food halls. (In the UK, you can often buy them in jars from Sainsbury’s ‘Special Selection’ section). You may use regular butterbeans, or even chickpeas (garbanzo beans) which are common in Spanish cuisine.

Use any combination of Mediterranean vegetables – adjusting the solids to liquids ratio accordingly – and hand around a good variety of toppings so that your guests can choose what they like. Just make sure that your summer tomatoes are very red, ripe, juicy and packed with flavour, otherwise the soup will be insipid.

I often serve regular red gazpacho at the start of a barbecue, but this recipe is substantial enough to be almost a meal by itself. Serves 4.

8 medium tomatoes, halved
1 medium red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and halved
1 medium green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and halved
1 medium courgette (zucchini), trimmed and thickly sliced
1 small baby aubergine (eggplant), trimmed and cut into chunks
6 spring onions, trimmed
Approx 4 tablespoons cooked gigante butterbeans (large lima beans), drained
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 fl oz/ 125 ml tomato juice, chilled
12 fl oz/ 350 ml vegetable stock, chilled or at room temperature
3 tablespoons olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, or more to taste
A pinch of paprika
A pinch of ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Fine grain sea salt
Ice cubes

Optional toppings (Prepare a few of the suggested garnishes for your guests to choose. Don’t use them all though, otherwise the flavours will clash or dominate!):

Very finely chopped red onion
Very finely chopped yellow bell pepper
Very finely diced cucumber
Diced avocado, drizzled with lime juice
Finely sliced celery
Finely sliced pickled gherkins
A few pickled green peppercorns in brine, drained
Smoked paprika
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
Whole almonds, blanched, skinned and lightly toasted
Hard-boiled egg, shelled and finely diced
Croutons

1.    From tomatoes to spring onions listed above, barbecue, roast or grill all the vegetables until tender.
2.    Once cooked, peel and core the tomatoes and peel the peppers. Roughly chop all the vegetables and allow them to come to room temperature.
3.    In a liquidizer or food processor, combine the chopped grilled vegetables with the cooked beans, garlic and tomato juice and blitz for a few seconds.
4.    Add the stock, oil, vinegar, spices and seasoning and blitz the mixture until it is smooth but still retains plenty of texture. Add a little cold water if the texture is too thick.
5.    Refrigerate the soup for 1 or 2 hours. Serve chilled with ice cubes, and hand around optional garnishes of your choice.

Mexican green pea soup

I love shelling peas – somehow it makes me feel like a proper, grown-up cook. I imagine Elizabeth David used to shell tender peas in her garden on warm sunny days, pick a few herbs and sauté her green treasures together in unsalted butter. Simple but, I’m sure, utterly delicious.

I unfortunately made the mistake of declaring to my friends and family members how much I love shelling peas and how therapeutic I find it – because now, almost every time they see me in the summer, they give me a big bowl of peas to shell.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour Laura went one step further. We were sitting down watching tennis during the Wimbledon Championships, when she put an enormous BUCKET of pea pods in front of me and asked – in a terribly polite, gentle, unassuming British manner – whether I would very much mind shelling them. It took me two hours to get through the lot – thankfully, it was a five-set match – and once I was done, she asked me to cook with them!

This is the soup I made with some of the peas (the rest were subsequently used in pasta, risotto and curry). The soup is known as sopa de chicharos, and versions of the recipe, often made with dried green split peas, are found all over Mexico as well as Cuba.

Laura and I wolfed down the vibrant emerald-hued soup with sweetcorn and red chilli muffins straight from the oven – but it goes equally well with cornmeal bread, wholemeal pumpkin seed bread, or tortilla chips. Serves 4 – 6.

2 oz/ 50g finely minced flat-leaf parsley
3 oz/ 75g butter
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground white pepper
1 medium egg
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 pints/ 1 litre well-flavoured vegetable stock
1 lb/ 450g fresh green peas (shelled weight)
1 large avocado, peeled, halved, stoned and thinly sliced

1.    Mix the parsley with 1 oz/ 25g butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
2.    Lightly beat the egg and combine well with the parsley butter. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
3.    Heat the remaining butter in a large saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Fry the onions until soft but not browned.
4.    Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add the peas, lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes with the lid on.
5.    Remove the lid, and carefully drop in the parsley mixture one teaspoon at a time.
6.    Cover again with the lid, and cook for 10 or 15 minutes or until the peas are tender.
7.    OPTIONAL STEP: If you want smooth-textured soup with a glossy sheen, blend the soup using a hand blender. Otherwise leave it as it is. (This is my own preference – a clear soup with whole green peas and fluffy, eggy bits floating on top – but many people prefer it blended).
8.    Season the soup to taste. Serve in bowls garnished with the sliced avocado.

asparagus-soup

Nothing sings like springtime more than asparagus: it’s the first thing I want to eat at the start of the new season of brighter days. The subtle, grassy flavour of asparagus, so out of place on our menus any other time of the year, comes into its own in warm weather. When the last of the cold spell leaves us, I always ask myself, “Is it pasta primavera season yet?” – and then proceed to use asparagus in pastas, stir-fries, salads, and soups such as this.

This soup is made with the finest ingredients: locally grown asparagus from the farmers’ market, the freshest artisan-made unsalted butter and cream, home-made vegetable stock (or asparagus cooking water), and a shower of the sprightliest of spring herbs from the garden.

Use green or white asparagus according to preference: the French value the white variety for its superior flavour, whereas the English believe green asparagus tastes finer. Serve the soup with rustic French country bread or good-quality baguette – warmed, and smeared, if you like, with a little Dijon or wholegrain mustard. Serves 4.

2 lb/ 1 kg green or white asparagus
1 oz/ 25g unsalted butter
4 shallots, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
2 pints/ 1 litre mild vegetable stock
2 tablespoons mixture of fresh tarragon, chervil and chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon celery salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Fine sea salt (optional)
9 fl oz/ 250 ml crème fraiche or single cream

1.    Snap off the woody stems from asparagus spears, and discard them (or use them to make stock).
2.    Cut the asparagus into approximately 3-inch pieces. Steam for around 3 to 4 minutes. Refresh in cold water and set aside.
3.    Melt the butter in a soup pot, and sauté the shallots for 2 or 3 minutes on medium heat. Add the cooked asparagus pieces, and stir for another minute or two.
4.    Add the stock, most of the herbs (reserve a few for garnish), celery salt, and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with lid, and simmer for 30 minutes. The asparagus should be very tender. Let the soup cool slightly.
5.    Blitz the soup in a food processor until smooth, then sieve into a clean saucepan. Pour in the crème fraiche or cream. Heat gently, but do not allow to boil. Season with white pepper. Taste the soup – it should already have enough salt because of the vegetable stock and celery salt, but add some sea salt if necessary.
6.    Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with the remaining fresh herbs. Add swirls of extra crème fraiche or cream if desired, and serve immediately.

veg-cocido

This is my inauthentic vegetarian version of cocido, the classic soup-stew from Madrid. Cocido is one of Spain’s national dishes – old-fashioned fare that harks back to medieval times, with origins in a Sephardic Jewish recipe. It is made with a range of meats and sausages, combined with chickpeas and vegetables; and each region has its own variation. A Spanish person would argue at length as to what constitutes real cocido.

Traditionally, cocido is served elaborately in two or three courses. First, the broth is separated and cooked with rice or vermicelli and served as a light soup. Next, the chickpeas and vegetables are served separately; and finally, the meat is eaten on its own. The soup used to be ubiquitous in Spain, but nowadays is served mainly on special occasions. In Madrid, it is often sold in restaurants on Tuesdays – though I have not been able to find out the significance of this tradition.

I have retained the authentic combination of vegetables, but the herbs and spices are my own touch. They give the soup a bright, sprightly flavour. (If you want a denser, meatier flavour, omit the saffron and mint, and add a couple of cooked, sliced vegetarian sausages along with a little bit of smoked paprika. If you go down this ‘meaty flavour’ route, serve the soup with cornichons and pickled vegetables).

The cooking technique is somewhat unusual in that everything is boiled together, with olive oil added only at the end for a rich mouthfeel (rather than frying the vegetables in oil first, as is the case with many recipes). Many soups around Europe use this technique.

Cocido is a meal by itself, but you may serve it with Spanish bread, garlic bread, or any other bread of your choice. Serves 4.

350g/ 14 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
4 pints/ 2 litres water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed and sliced
1 large leek, trimmed and thickly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chunkily diced
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and chunkily diced
2 small turnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered
1 very small cabbage, trimmed and cut into 4 or 8 wedges
2 oz/ 50g green string beans, trimmed and halved
1 level tablespoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon Spanish saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
Bouquet garni made by tying together several sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and bay leaves inside a piece of muslin (cheesecloth)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g fine vermicelli, lightly broken if preferred
A few fresh parsley and mint leaves to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

1.    Soak the chickpeas overnight, or for several hours. When you’re ready to cook, rinse and drain the chickpeas.
2.    In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with the water, and boil them for an hour or so until tender.
3.    Add all the vegetables to the saucepan, including garlic and onions. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, and add paprika, saffron, bouquet garni, olive oil, and seasoning. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are tender.
4.    Towards the end of the cooking time, add vermicelli and cook, uncovered, for the length of time stated on the packet instructions (usually between 2 to 5 minutes).
5.    Add more stock if you wish.  Adjust the seasoning to taste. Remove the bouquet garni.
6.    Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with parsley and mint leaves, and pass around the extra olive oil for drizzling on top.

koreanbeansproutsoup

Nutritious, low in calories, filling, tasty, easy to make, and widely regarded in Korea as the perfect hangover cure – this is the ideal recipe for those of you who are detoxing.

Buy long, plump soybean sprouts from Korean or Japanese shops, where they come with their brown, stringy roots already removed – so you don’t have to go through the mundane and time-consuming process of doing it yourself. You can use mung bean sprouts if you can’t find soybean sprouts – but, please, not the insipid, watery variety sold in sweaty supermarket plastic bags.

For the best flavour, use homemade Asian stock – made from a few Asian vegetables such as dried shiitake mushrooms and fresh daikon (mooli) radish. Most Western-style stocks will interfere with the flavour of this dish (unless you can get a plain, neutral-tasting one. In the UK and Europe, Marigold brand is suitable).

Korean chilli powder and chilli threads are available in some Korean delis (in the UK, a few in New Malden stock them). If you can’t find chilli threads – which taste quite mild and ever so slightly smoky – use red chilli flakes instead.

This is such a simple recipe that its success depends on top quality ingredients. Serves 4 to 5.

2.5 pints/ 1.25 litres Asian-style vegetable stock or water
2 lb/ 1 kilo soybean sprouts, trimmed
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded
1 tablespoon dark toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon Korean chilli powder, or any other chilli powder
Salt to taste
8 spring onions (scallions), trimmed and sliced
Korean chilli threads, to taste

1.    Boil 1 pint/ 0.5 litres of the stock or water in a large saucepan. Add the beansprouts, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes.
2.    Add soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, chilli powder and salt. Then add all the remaining stock or water, and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes.
3.    Add the spring onions, and simmer for 2 more minutes.
4.    Ladle into soup bowls. Snip the Korean chilli threads with scissors, and garnish each bowl of soup with a few. Serve hot.

harira1

Harira is a classic lamb and bean soup that is eaten by Muslims when breaking the Ramadan fast. Each family has its own recipe. This vegetarian version is filling, nourishing and packed with earthy flavours and seductive aromas. The quantity of spices may seem a little extravagant – but the recipe serves a lot of people, and remember that pulses on their own tend to be quite bland. This dish is somewhat time-consuming to make, but well worth the effort – especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. The cooking time is greatly reduced if you use tinned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), white beans and tomatoes, and hot water boiled in a kettle.

If you don’t like the idea of adding raw eggs, simply make a plain omelette, cut it in small squares, and add it to the soup just before serving.  Traditionally eaten with flatbreads accompanied by dates and dried figs, you can also serve harira with sesame-studded flatbreads and a simple mixed-leaf salad. Serves 6 to 8.

4 tablespoons virgin olive oil, preferably Moroccan
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sticks celery, peeled and sliced
4 oz/ 100g chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained, OR 1 tin chickpeas, drained
4 oz/ 100g haricot beans, soaked overnight and drained, OR 1 tin haricot beans, drained
5 pints/ 3 litres water or lightly flavoured unsalted vegetable stock
½ teaspoon saffron, crushed in a mortar and steeped in 1 tablespoon water
1 level tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 level tablespoon cumin powder
1 level tablespoon coriander powder
Salt and pepper
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 oz/ 50g uncooked white long-grain rice, such as Basmati
2 oz/ 50g brown or green lentils, washed and drained
1 lb/ 450g fresh tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped, OR 1 large tin chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons plain white flour
6 fl oz/ 175 ml cold water
2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Paprika and lemon wedges, to serve

1.    Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, and sauté the onions, garlic and celery for a few minutes until soft and translucent but not browned.
2.    Add chickpeas, haricot beans and 5 pints/ 3 litres water or vegetable stock (make sure the stock is unsalted, or the beans won’t cook easily. I like to use the water I have soaked the pulses in – though if you’re using tinned pulses, do not use the water they come with). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the chickpeas and beans are very soft and tender. Depending on how old the peas and beans are, this could take 45 minutes to an hour.
3.    Add the spices, seasoning and parsley (reserve a few leaves for garnish). Then add the rice, lentils, and tomatoes, cover, and cook until the rice and lentils are thoroughly cooked. This may take 20 minutes.
4.    Make a roux by slowly mixing the flour with 6 fl oz/ 175 ml cold water, making sure that there are no lumps. Add to the soup and cook for a further 15 minutes.
5.    Adjust the seasoning, and add more water or stock if the soup is too thick.
6.    Stir in the eggs, if using, and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
7.    Remove from heat and, just before serving, add the lemon juice. Ladle the harira into individual soup bowls, sprinkle with paprika, and serve with extra lemon wedges.

pumpkin-bean-pasta-soup

This Italian-style soup is cheap, nutritious, filling, and very tasty. It’s easy to make, and a sure crowd-pleaser for a bonfire night party! The cinnamon gives it an intriguing background flavour. Serve with warm ciabatta or rustic country-style bread. Serves 4.

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced small
6 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
10 sage leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons Italian extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing and drizzling
2 litres vegetable stock
100g/ 4 oz very small pasta shapes
½-inch stick cinnamon
1 level teaspoon red chilli flakes
100g/ 4 oz cooked cannelloni or borlotti beans (from a tin)
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons vegetarian Pecorino cheese, coarsely grated

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C/ fan oven to 180 degrees C/ or gas mark 6.
2. In a greased baking tray, place the squash, tomatoes, onion, garlic, sage and rosemary, spreading everything around evenly. Season to taste, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and toss the vegetables lightly so that they are evenly coated.
3. Place the baking tray in the oven and roast for 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
4. Once cooked, let the vegetables cool slightly, then take the peel off the tomatoes. Discard the tomato peel, garlic, sage and rosemary. The garlic and herbs are only used to infuse the squash with flavour – you won’t need them in the soup as they will be somewhat coarse and bitter on the tongue.
5. Heat the stock in a soup pan and bring to the boil. Add the pasta, cinnamon and chilli flakes, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
6. Add the roasted vegetables and beans, and simmer for a further 5 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Add more seasoning to taste.
7. Ladle the soup in individual bowls, and sprinkle with parsley, cheese and, if desired, a little more olive oil.

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