Spinach and Wild Garlic Soup (vegetarian, vegan option)
The wild garlic time is nearly over, so make the most of it with a final extra. The perpetual spinach in the allotment is now bursting forth with new growth, despite the rain, so there’s enough harvest to make this beautiful green soup.
Outside of wild garlic time, you can use a couple of cloves of garlic to give that pungent background taste which complements the spinach so well.
Light and tasty springtime lunch, garnished with the white flowers.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Cook the onion gently in vegetable oil until transparent. Don’t let it brown. Add the garlic cloves if using and stir to cook. Add the potato pieces to the pan with the vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes to cook through.
Add the spinach leaves and wild garlic leaves and cook for 10 minutes.
Liquidise and check the seasoning – you might need salt, depending on the saltiness of the stock you used. At this stage you can cook and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days or freeze.
When ready to eat, warm up the soup, and add the milk if using. Don’t boil, or you will curdle the milk.
Serve with a swirl of sour cream and a lovely scattering of garlic flowers.
Celery and Squash Soup (vegan)
Sometimes an accidental combination just sings out loud. A few sticks of celery and half a butternut squash are denizens of the Monday fridge, leftovers from the weekend. But rejoice! The lightness and slight bitterness of celery balances the sweetness and creaminess of the squash and the two flavours meld like cheese in an omelette. It’s even good enough to make on purpose. It’s a great lunch time soup with a simple salad and some good bread.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Gently fry the onion and celery in a little vegetable oil until tender, 5 minutes. Add the cubes of squash and stir around. Add the vegetable stock, relish, and a little grind of pepper. You probably don’t need salt as the stock is salty enough but taste and adjust to your liking.
If you have had the oven on and you know you’re going to make this soup, you could also roast the squash cubes for 30 minutes in a medium oven with a little oil, but I wouldn’t put the oven on just for that.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then cool and liquidise. You can add the reserved celery leaves before you blend or hold them back for a garnish. Check the seasoning and serve.
Beetroot Soup (vegetarian/vegan)
Sometimes the simple things are the best, especially for lunch. Beetroot soup is sweet, earthy, friendly and really good for you. All sorts of things are said to lower blood pressure, but I understand that beetroot is among the few things to be proved to do so, other than prescribed medicines.
A straightforward vegetable soup, it’s easy to make, cheap and cheerful – who can resist eating something of such an amazing colour? Be warned, it can turn your urine pink – nothing to be worried about, just shows you have an efficient set of kidneys doing what they should do and filtering your blood.
You can cook your beetroot in a number of ways – wash the roots, remove any fibrous rooty bits and any tops and leaves (you can cook those separately like spinach), and then boil, or microwave. I prefer to roast mine when I have the oven on for something else – just wrap the beetroots individually in kitchen foil, and put them on a small roasting tin in the oven at whatever temperature you are cooking, for about 1 ½ hours, so if you are roasting a chicken, they will take about the same time. If you are making toad in the hole, just leave the beetroot in the oven for a bit after you take out the Yorkshire puds. I leave the beetroot in the oven to cool down after I put the oven off, it just makes sure they are fully cooked through and totally tender. When cool (and you can do this the day or so after) take off the foil, rub off the skin, and then use the cooked beetroot.
Serves 6 Timings: 20 minutes if using cooked beetroot.
Fry the onion gently in a little oil until tender – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the beetroot cubes and the stock and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then liquidise. You don’t need to strain through a sieve as there are no fibrous bits in beetroot (unless it's the last harvest from the allotment, in which case do please strain it!).
Warm through and adjust the seasoning – you may need to add some salt and pepper.
Serve with a swirl of sour cream if you like or plain yoghurt and some good bread.
Evocative, creamy – it feels like a holiday in California or Boston just thinking about this substantial seafood soup. There are so many recipes, the New England version which is mainly clams or the Pacific coast version which is more fishy. You can thicken the soup with potatoes or with a flour/milk mixture. I like to cook this soup for an easy weekend lunch – it’s tasty, filling but not too heavy, so you can go for a good walk with the family afterwards or have a board game if the weather’s bad, without your lunch making you drop off to sleep. I’m lucky enough to live near one of the UK’s best fishmongers (thanks, Evans of Didsbury!) so I can take my little containers down to the shop and ask for a handful of clams or mussels and a handful of fish pie mixture and get just what I want. But if you are reliant on a supermarket fish counter, don’t hesitate to ask, and don’t hesitate to substitute some types of fish for the others here. I prefer to save my smoked fish for a kedgeree rather than overpower the delicate fresh flavours but a robust smoked haddock chowder is also a classic so if you try it, let me know the recipe and I’ll use it on this page another time.
Serves 4. Timings 30 minutes.
Wash the clams well, scrubbing if they need it. Discard any that are already open. Put them in a pan of cold water to cover them plus a centimetre, and the pinch of saffron. Bring to the boil. The clams will have opened. Strain the liquid into a bowl, through a fine sieve or one you have lined with muslin – you don’t want any of the possible bits of sand in your soup. Take the clams out of their shells, discard the shells.
In a heavy pan, big enough for the whole soup (I use a Le Creuset casserole pan) fry the chopped shallots and leek for a few minutes until looking towards transparent and cooked. Add the liquid from the clams, and the potatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are starting to go really soft and losing their edges. Add the chopped fish, stir in, and keep at a low simmer for a minute or so as the fish cooks. Add the clams and the scallops if using and cook for another minute to cook the scallops. Season carefully – the liquid from the clams will have been quite salty. Add a good squeeze of lemon.
Turn down the heat and add in the cream, stirring carefully and not letting the soup heat up again, you don’t want to curdle. Add the chopped fresh parsley and serve, maybe with another slice of lemon if people want to add their own.
Fragrant and fortifying!
Lentil Soup (vegan)
This is one of my personal standbys. It’s like a warm old woolly jersey. It doesn’t knock your socks off, but it’s delicious, smooth and full of veg. It’s also easy and quick to make from store cupboard staples and vegetables you are likely to have around. On that note, feel free to switch around the veg for whatever you have – add a leek, add the leftover cooked broccoli from yesterday, or a couple of Jerusalem artichokes. None of the quantities is exact, I just use a few vegetables and a handful of lentils per portion. Eaten for lunch with a piece of toast, it gently hits the spot, or rather strokes it.
In our first lockdown, to give my Lunch Club seniors a change from cake, sometimes I took round a portion of soup (in sealed clean jam jars which they solemnly handed back to me the following week), and this was one of them. Several people asked for the recipe, which I took to mean it had gone down well. It also freezes perfectly, so you can make larger quantities and have it to hand when a bowl of soup is all that you want. You can, of course, zing it up a bit. Add some chillies – fresh or dried – or some garlic, add some fresh herbs, add lemon, or add tomatoes – not all at once, I’d say, but try what you like. You can even add some curry powder with the frying vegetables if you like your life spicy.
Serves 6 Timings – 10 minutes preparation, 15 minutes cooking
Heat a little oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the onion, celery and carrots for a few minutes until they begin to soften and cook. Add the lentils and stir for one minute. Pour in the stock, bring to simmering, add the marmite and the Henderson’s Relish. Simmer for about 10 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper and any handfuls of fresh herbs you might have around.
Cook for another 5 minutes – the lentils should be very soft and mushy by now and the vegetables are well cooked. Leave to cool, then puree. When you re-heat you might want to add a little bit more liquid as it does tend to thicken up, but you can freeze without doing this, to better use the freezer space. Serve with a salad and fresh bread, or with garlic croutons.
Squash and Ginger Soup (vegan)
Squash makes the most wonderful soup anyway, and you can hardly go wrong with the simplest of recipes. This recipe is a take on one I ate in Germany in September (at the Krone in Ulm, thank you!) which has a bit more texture than a simple puree of squash and a bite more fresh ginger. The topping of toasted nutty pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil is luxurious. I am told there are health benefits from pumpkin seed oil, but I cannot vouch personally for them, I just like using a variety of plant oils in my cooking to give me a wide range of nutrients naturally, and it seems fitting to use pumpkin seed oil on a squash soup.
The grated squash gives body to the soup, you could eat this as a meal in itself. With a piece of fresh bread you wouldn’t need anything else. Simple, warming, invigorating.
Serves 6, timings 1 hour
Chop the onion and leek finely and fry gently in vegetable oil to soften, in quite a large pan. Peel the squash and cut into 1cm cubes. Add to the pan, stir to soften and begin to cook.
Peel the ginger and reserve the best, juiciest part – about ¼ of it. Grate the larger part and add to the pan. If there are stringy bits, chop them finely and add them in too – they will be liquidised later.
Add the stock to the pan, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until the cubes of squash are softened - you can poke a knife through and feel how soft they are. If the squash needs a bit longer (if you bought ready done cubes in a pack they might not be fully fresh and could be a bit hard) then give them a bit more time.
While the soup is cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds gently for a few minutes in a small dry frying pan. Careful, they will spit and crackle. Keep moving them about to avoid burning and when light brown, put on kitchen paper to cool.
Grate the reserved slice of pumpkin and grate the nice piece of ginger. Don’t be tempted to use the stringy bits of ginger that remain on the outside of the grater – this ginger will be eaten only very lightly cooked and you don’t want stringy bits in your teeth.
When the soup is cooked, let it cool a little and then check the seasoning – add salt, pepper and a dash of Henderson’s Relish. Liquidise the soup to a velvety puree and return to the pan.
Add the reserved grated squash and ginger. Bring the soup back to a simmer for 5 minutes, then serve with a swirl of pumpkin seed oil on each bowlful and toasty pumpkin seeds on top.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup (vegetarian/vegan)
The official start of Autumn. Forget your falling leaves or first frost. Your tastes migrate from fresh salads to warming soups and you know the season has ticked onwards. Jerusalem Artichokes are unfamiliar to many but worth seeking out. They’re a gift to the organic gardener: undemanding friendly sunflowered giants, needing no fertiliser or care other than staking, and delivering a fabulous harvest with a little digging. And what’s more, they make the most incredible creamy velvety textured purees and soups. Yes, you are going to ask, what about the wind? And indeed they do make you a little gassy, if you gorge on them first thing in the season. What you need to do is dilute the effect. Don’t eat them for every meal, and don’t eat a huge roasting pan of them the first time you harvest. I wouldn’t blame you, because they taste so nutty and sweet that way, but give yourself time. Approach them gradually, your gut will get used to them and benefit from the inulin they contain. This soup is a good way to start off - it’s a mixture of vegetables, not too heavy on the artichokes.
And for heaven’s sake – a vegetable that grows itself, tastes great, has massively amusing shapes when you dig them up, and makes you fart into the bargain – keeps the children amused for days!
Serves 6, 20 minutes preparation, 20 minutes cooking.
Brush the artichokes (they are VERY muddy) and peel them if they need it – I personally prefer to peel them but you don’t have to if you’ve got the smaller fiddly variety. This is the part of the preparation that’s going to take the longest. Slice the onion and begin to fry it in a little oil in a heavy pan. Peel the carrot, slice into small pieces, add to the pan. Clean and slice up the leek, add to the pan. Keep cooking as the vegetables soften – about 5 minutes. Add the stock and the sliced-up artichokes.
Cook for about 20 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and cooked. Liquidise and if you like, you can add some cream or milk to the soup to thin the texture. Check and adjust the seasoning.
Serve with sourdough croutons or just with fresh bread.
Pancake Soup (meat or vegetarian options)
Pancake and soup – once you get over the shock, what more comforting combination can you possibly imagine? This is a recipe common in the south of Germany called “flaedlesuppe” and you find it in nearly every neighbourhood restaurant. It’s very very easy, and just what you need to warm your insides on a horrible day. It’s a great lunch meal for half term with the kids home - I never met a child who wouldn’t eat a pancake. Or an adult, come to that; it’s difficult to resist eating bits off the edges of the pancakes when they come out of the pan.
Serves 4, 20 minutes if using pre-made beef stock.
Put the stock on to warm up while you make the pancakes.
In a bowl combine the flour, eggs, milk and beat with a fork to a thinnish batter. Add the chopped herbs and season really well with salt and pepper.
Heat up a small frying pan with a small amount of butter or oil, scoop in a ladleful of batter, swirl to make the pancake. Cook on one side for about 2 minutes to brown, then flip over to brown the other side. Continue making a stack of pancakes until all the batter is used up. The pancakes won’t be quite as thin as if you didn’t have the herbs in, don’t worry.
Take each pancake and roll it tightly, then slice it into thin strips – I cut it with scissors. Drop all the pancake strips into the simmering stock and warm through for a few minutes.
Add another sprinkle of chopped parsley or chives and serve. The soup doesn’t keep very well with the pancakes in, so eat it all in one go. I didn’t really need to say that, there are never any leftovers.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.