Beetroot soup

I love beetroots, especially roasted or in soup. In fact roast beetroot soup is just brilliant, super tasty and very easy to make. I just had some for lunch so I thought I’d share my recipe.

What you need (makes enough for 6 as a light lunch):

1kg of uncooked beetroots

2 large floury potatoes

2 medium onions (chopped)

1 litre of stock (I used the simmering liquid from a gammon a cooked the day before)

rapeseed or sunflower oil

What you do:

1. Wear rubber gloves or you’ll end up with beetroot stained hands!

2. Top, tail and peel the beetroots and cut into quarters (make sure they are roughly even sized so cut larger beets into eighths).

3. Put beetroot pieces in a bowl, pour over about two tablespoons of oil and toss the beets to get them evenly coated.

4. Roast the beets for about an hour in the oven at R6/200C, turning once or twice. Its nice id the corners catch a bit but not too much. They are ready when you can slide a knife in easily.

5. Gently cooked the onions in a tablespoon of oil for about 10 minutes so they are golden and soft.

6. Meanwhile boil the peeled potatoes until soft but not falling apart.

7. Add the cooked beets and potatoes to the onions, pour on the stock. Taste for seasoning. My stock was well seasoned so it didn’t need any more at this stage.

8. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly.

9. Blend to a relatively smooth soup using your preferred method/gadget. Pour back in the pan and warm through.

To Serve:

Good things to sere with this are:

– crusty bread and butter or tangy goats cheese

– dollop of creme fraiche/greek yoghurt/cream to swirl in



Warming stew: Lentejas

Its pouring with rain today in London making the autumn evening dark even sooner…whats needed is a warming stew.

I’ve made this one a few times but the first time I did was back in early 2010 when the lovely people at Orce Serrano Hams sent me some of their chorizo and morcilla to try. This dish adapted from the Moro cookbook seemed the perfect way to try them out.

It’s pretty easy and quite and of course you can use chorizo and black pudding sourced in the UK but the Orce morcilla was something truly special, well worth treating yourself or friend to.

My Lentejas (Lentil, chorizo and morcilla stew)

200g of whole chorizo sweet or spicy as you prefer, slice into 2cm chunks

200g of morcilla or black pudding from your favourite supplier, slice into 2cm chunks

1 large onion, chopped


smokey paprika

chilli flakes

250g of green lentils

10 peppadew peppers, sliced (optional)

stock or water

Heat the oil and then add the sliced chorizo and fry over a medium heat to cook and low the spicy juices to flavour the oil. Push the chorizo to one side and add the onion and peppers if using, cook for 5-10 minutes over a low heat to soften. Add the lentils and then the spices. Pour over the stock and bring to the boil. Drop in the sliced morcilla and top up the liquid so everything is just covered. Simmer until the lentils are cooked  and the liquid absorbed (20-30 minutes).

Serve with steamed greens or cabbage and mash or sourdough bread.


Soups and Stocks

Although spring definitely feels like it might be on the way some days are still pretty cold and so a warming soup is just what’s needed, here’s some thoughts on soup I wrote for Francoise Murat & Associates newsletter in January. I think I might just have soup for lunch tomorrow.

January is a funny month. For some people it feels slow and difficult, winter is most definitely with us, its cold and its dark, summer seems such a long way off whichever way you look at it. For others it’s a chance to think afresh of a new year with new challenges, making resolutions and feeling energised by the possibilities. But what has this got to do with soup? Well the versatility of soup and the range of recipes out there mean it can work for whichever way you see January. It can be warming and comforting or bright, lively and refreshing. Hearty or light, you can make it whichever way suits you best.

Roasted root vegetable soup with cheese

To make really good soup though you need some good stock. Water will work in many recipes but I’ve rarely made a soup that isn’t enhanced by using stock rather than water, there is an extra layer of flavour and complexity. People will compliment you on the simplest of soups if you’ve used stock. Making stock doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as simmering a few vegetables in water with or without a few herbs right up to making a consommé, essentially a beautiful clarified reduced stock. I usually make stocks with the carcass left over from a roast chicken or the bone from a rib of beef, or keep the liquid from cooking boiled ham and use that as a stock, I like doing this because each stock carries some of the flavours of the original meal and it makes best use of the meat you’ve bought. You can also get bones or chicken wings specifically and make a stock with those. Most recipe books will explain how to make a range of stocks but ‘A Celebration of Soup’ by Lindsey Bareham is particularly thorough, if you can track down a copy, with recipes for just about every type of stock you can imagine. Stock is perfect for freezing and then always to hand. If you don’t have a freezer then some good quality stock or bouillon cubes will give you a better result than plain water.

So you have your stock. Where might you head next? These are the things I think about when building a soup:

Thick or thin: Do I want a broth with interesting chunky additions or do I want something thick and velvety smooth in texture. Clearly you can pick somewhere between these two but I like to decide which direction I’m heading on this one before anything else.

Herbs or spices: I usually either head for something based round European flavours and herbs or something mainly based round spices whether Indian, Mexican, Middle or Far Eastern. Then I narrow down a bit to a more specific cuisine British, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Chinese, Thai, Indian and so on.

Then I take a look in the fridge and the cupboards and see what fits with the ideas I’ve got. Of course a little bit of tweaking happens at this stage when I find a critical part of my genius soup is sadly unavailable, but usually it is easy to stay fairly close to the original idea. If there is left over roast meat that might feature, sometimes there are roasted root vegetables that can be included, or beans of various types, pearl barley or lentils, tinned tomatoes or passata, chorizo or pancetta or salami, fresh ginger or chilli, mushrooms, potatoes (roast potatoes are lovely in soup), peas and so on …… but not all in the same soup. I rarely follow a recipe specifically but I do always take a look in a few books to help my ideas and also make sure I’m not making some horror of clashing ingredients. Sticking to a few key ingredients and combinations that you know work from your other cooking really helps and of course, so does making a soup to a particular recipe every now and then to expand your repertoire.

Here are guidelines to 3 quick soups I make quite often (all recipes for 2).

Beany Pork Soup

  • 500ml stock (preferably ham but chicken or vegetable also work)
  • 1 tins of beans (e.g. chickpea, haricots, butter, red kidney) including the liquid in the tin if its got no added salt
  • Pancetta, salami, chorizo, bacon, left over boiled ham or roast pork, whichever you have
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (rapeseed or olive)
  • Herbs or spice to complement

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the meat that you are using and toss with the onions, allow to cook through if the meat is raw. Add the stock and the beans. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve with bread. I sometimes add finely shredded cabbage, greens or spinach to this soup or if there are cold cooked potatoes a couple of those to make it thicker and heartier (mush them in with a fork) or leftover cooked pearl barley.

Roast Root Vegetable Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • 500ml of roast vegetables (i.e. put them in jug to see how much you have), any mix you like. I particularly like it when there is beetroot as it makes the soup an amazing colour
  • Onion (chopped)
  • Oil (the same as you used to roast the vegetables)
  • Herbs or spices of your choice
  • Cheese to sprinkle on top

Sauté the onion in some oil and when translucent add the stock and the root vegetables. Add your chosen spices and seasoning and simmer gently until it is properly heated through, about 20 minutes. Either whizz in a blender, food processor or using a stick blender or mash with a potato masher. The texture can be anything from velvety smooth to quite chunky but it should all be well combined, this isn’t a broth with bits soup more a liquidy puree. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top and bread.

Spicy Soup

  • 500ml of stock
  • fresh ginger and chilli finely sliced
  • other spices of your choice
  • chicken or beef or prawns or vegetables, cut in small pieces (except prawns)
  • spring onions or garlic finely chopped
  • rapeseed oil

Have the stock already heated in a separate pan. Sauté the spring onions or garlic in the oil until softened. Add the ginger and chilli and sauté for a few minutes. Add any further spices and sauté briefly. Add the meat, vegetables or prawns and cook on a high heat like you would a stir-fry. Add the hot stock and bring to the boil. Serve immediately and add Asian seasoning such as soy sauce or nam pla if you wish. You can add noodles to the stock (cooking to the packet instructions).

Cooking with Tea

Last year one of the things I got up to when I went blogging AWOL was to attend the Tea Cookery workshop run by Pei of Teanamu. I’ve cooked with tea a little bit over the years using it to smoke duck, chicken, salmon and tomatoes (yes, tomatoes) and also to make a fruit cake that was one of my Grandma’s specialties where the dried fruits are soaked in tea overnight. All have always been delicious and the tea imparts a subtle yet rich flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes, so I was looking forward to learning more about using tea in cooking but not being much of a tea expert I didn’t realise the delights I was in for.

The location is lovely, Pei holds the workshops at his home and while Pei cooks, we watch and take notes, we eat delicious food over a leisurely two – three hours. Being invited into someone’s home to learn about food feels very special, more a meeting of friends than a food workshop. As Pei makes the dishes he explains about each one and we gather round the island worktop to watch and learn.

Pei uses a range of different teas to demonstrate the varying flavours and effects that tea can bring to cooking from the very delicate to the earthy. He stresses that the dishes he has created wouldn’t normally all be served at one meal as that would be considered an over emphasis on tea but there might be one course that contained tea in some form. Tasting the dishes I think that most people would be more than happy to eat a menu such as this and the different dishes with tea as a theme would create a talking point at a dinner, that is probably against all the ideas of balance that eastern philosophy has but in terms of taste to a western palate the dishes work in harmony.

Here’s the dishes we sampled:

Steamed Tofu in a Tuo Cha Konbu Broth

Tempura Vegetables with Shiso Sencha Green Tea Salt

Grilled Salmon with Lapsang Souchong Tea Rub with Matcha Noodles

Matcha Jelly and ding Dong Sorbet with Candied Azuki Beans

As you can see all the dishes were beautifully presented and all tasted amazing. Pei runs similar workshops (the recipes will vary with season) throughout the year. The food I ate and the teas we drank started me on an exploration of tea that is still progressing. I don’t think I had ever realised how different and how delicious tea can be.

With thanks to Pei for inviting me to attend the workshop as his guest.

Smokin’ tomatoes: an experiment

After enjoying the ‘In the Bag’ challenge so much I thought it would be good to join in another blog event. I spotted the ‘No croutons required’ event over at Tinned Tomatoes run by Holler.

It’s a vegetarian challenge, I’m no vegetarian but I do like a bit of a challenge.

One of the things I’m finding so great about food blogging is checking out the other food blogs and from that getting the grey cells moving to come up with new ideas or remember forgotten favourites. Suddenly lots of ideas come together and you want to try something different. 

This months ‘No croutons required’ has an extra twist – its been Holler’s birthday and so along with the soup or salad (based on tomatoes this month) we also have to come up with a birthday dinner menu for Holler – fortunately we don’t have to cook and test the whole lot together – though I’m thinking it might be wise to at least have tried the rest of the menu before?

So to business, the menu looks like this:

Smokey tomato and rosemary soup
Chickpea pancakes with wilted mixed greens and fresh cheese
Rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream 

Hope Holler likes it ?

Smokey tomato and rosemary soup:

This is (very) loosely based on the Tuscan soup Pappa al Pomodoro. 

First some tips and WARNINGS!

We are actually going to be smoking the tomatoes with a smoking mix of rice/tea/sugar so if you don’t like smokey foods forget it now. If you’d like to go an adventure with me hop on and keep reading.

Once the smoking thing gets going it really does make the house smell, well pretty smokey, so ideally do this in the garden, on a camping stove, on the gas ring of your fancy barbeque any heat source you can find. If not open all the windows, shut internal doors, put the extractor on max and hope for the best.

The smoke, as well as creating tasty smoked tomatoes, will get all over the pan/steamer you use so don’t use your best/favourite pan as its takes a lot of effort to clean up. Use a non-stick wok if you can and one of those cheap(ish) bamboo steamers. If you have a smoker use it (not them).

If you don’t like smokey or chargrilled foods you won’t like this – stop now make something else.

Be careful where you put the steamer down post smoking; don’t make an impossible to remove mark on your new work surface like I once did ?

Ingredients (for the smoking bit):

½ cup rice – don’t worry what type – I used basmati
¼ cup tea – whatever you fancy, the stronger the tea the stronger the flavour – I used Darjeeling
2 tbsp soft brown sugar (I think its this that makes a lot of the mess)
6-8 ripe tomatoes – medium size

  • Mix the first three ingredients together – makes about 1 cup of smoking mix.
  • Get a piece of foil about 3cm bigger all round than the base of the pan you are going to use. Fold the edges up, tip in the smoking mix, pop it in the bottom of the pan.
  • If you want to skin the tomatoes then nick the skin in a cross on the bottom, plunge in just boiled water for about a minute, remove and peel off skins. I can never be bothered to do this but it’s your call.
  • Put the pan with the smoking mix on the heat, cover the pan and let is start to generate smoke – about 5-10 mins to get a good flow.
  • Put the tomatoes on a piece of foil bigger than the steamer and fold up the edges but don’t cover the tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in the steamer.
  • When you’ve got a good amount of smoke then pop the steamer on top of the pan containing the smoke mix and smoke for up to 15 minutes depending on the intensity of smokiness you fancy – we did about 10 mins.
  • The tomatoes will have cooked and let out juices don’t loose these they go in the soup.

For the soup (2 as a hearty lunch, 4 as a starter):

the smoked tomatoes (as above) – use as few as or as many as you like to adjust the smokiness of the soup
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
1 pint vegetable stock (made with bouillon powder is fine)
4oz dried pasta, either small soup pasta, or whatever you have broken into smaller bits (I used linguine snapped into smaller lengths)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

  • Gently sauté the garlic in about 1tbsp olive oil for a couple of minutes but don’t let it go brown and bitter
  • Add the smoked and tinned tomatoes and squish them around to make sure they are in smallish pieces
  • Add the stock
  • Add 1 sprig of rosemary stripped from the stalk and roughly chopped
  • Bring it all to simmering point then add the pasta
  • Simmer for 10-15 minutes so its all warmed through and the pasta is cooked
  • Serve garnished with a small sprig of rosemary

And the taste – well it was pretty smokey. I liked it but Ian wasn’t convinced (which is odd because he’s usually a fan of smoked foods). I think if I did it again I’d smoke the tomatoes for less time, maybe use a very subtle tea – although Darjeeling isn’t usually though of as a strong tea the flavour after 10 minutes of smoking its pretty intense, and perhaps use fewer of the smoked tomatoes saving the others to make a bruschetta or toss in a salad.

As for the rest of the menu….

Chick pea pancakes with wilted greens and fresh soft cheese: I’d use the recipe in my Spicy chickpea pancakes post but omit the chilli, ginger and cumin seeds and add lots of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley instead. I’d wilt a mix of the nicest looking greens I could find probably spinach, kale and wild garlic for preference, pile these on the pancakes and add some lovely fresh soft cheese cut into slices (ideally I’d get some Stichill or Crowdie but any nice goats cheese would also work well) and then fold the pancakes in half and serve with some steamed leaks and purple sprouting broccoli.

For desert there’d be my Rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream, with a dash of stewed rhubarb and a little cream poured over so it freezes on the ice cream in the way I loved so much as a kid.

UPDATE (1/5/09):

I’m thrilled to say that I WON April’s ‘No Croutons Required’. I don’t usually win stuff so I’m quite excited and am going to be proudly displaying the winners badge in my sidebar :)

Thanks to all who voted, and for all the comments.

A pea soup for spring

It was the first day of spring on Saturday and the weather ran exactly to form – sunny and warm but with a slight bite to the wind. We all wanted something for lunch that fitted in with the weather – salad would perhaps be too summery and at first we though that soup would be too hearty. What we needed was something that was fresh enough to keep the mood of spring and summer to come but warming enough to take the edge off that wind.

After some time spent flipping through cookery books I found a recipe for pea soup that seemed to fit the bill. Now of course peas aren’t in season right now (and I’ve been working hard at cooking more seasonally of late) but in fact most of us never actually get to have really truly fresh peas straight from the plant, out of the pod and into the pot (or our mouth). Unless you grow your own peas, or know of an excellent source where you can be sure you will get the peas the same day as they were picked, then its very likely the case that the best tasting peas you’ll eat at home will be ones from the freezer. The frozen pea is actually pretty good, its well known that the time from picking to packing is very short and this preserves the sweetness (according to Bird’s Eye field to frozen is 2 ½ hours), and you can now get organic grown frozen peas to lessen the guilt of not buying fresh!

So we settled on pea soup. The recipe comes from a book called ‘The Little Book of Soup’ and was contributed by Gary Rhodes (it’s a nice little book and I’ve cooked a number of soups from it adapting as I go. It also supports homeless charities through donating 70% of proceeds). The recipe in the book suggests it feeds 4 as a generous starter but as we had 4 and this was our main dish for lunch I roughly doubled up the quantities (I didn’t actually have enough frozen peas to do double so I guess the original might be thicker in texture). Below I’ve listed the quantities I actually used and in brackets those quoted in the recipe:

1 litre of chicken stock (600ml water or stock)) – in my opinion stock is always a better base for soup as it gives an added dimension that helps lift the flavour up a level – but as you can see Gary suggests water and since he’s a Michelin starred chef and I’m not we have to grant that he might know a thing or two about making soup.
750g frozen peas (450g podded fresh peas or frozen)
salt and pepper
pinch caster sugar
2 desert spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt (100ml whipping or single cream)

The method is pretty easy you basically bring the stock to the boil add the peas bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the peas are tender. Then you add the seasonings of salt, pepper and sugar and liquidise/blend the whole lot with whatever kitchen implement you have to hand for that purpose. Gary suggests you could push it through a sieve to get a really smooth finish and I imagine for a dinner party this might be worth the effort but for a quick light lunch with friends I’d say it’s overkill and time ill spent. Put it back in the pan and warm through adding the yoghurt or cream (or crème fraiche would also work well) just before serving. We garnished it with some fresh chopped mint leaves or for a more wintery take you could try crispy lardons or strips of salami.

Taste wise it was just what we had hoped for, fresh flavours with depth from the stock and just enough soupy warmth to make it a great dish for the start of spring.

Baby its cold outside

Its been pretty cold the last day or so with a snow fall of about 6 inches today – something we haven’t seen for a long time (18 years according to the records). So its mostly all about curling up near the heater/fire/radiator with a warm drink and a small snack whilst contemplating which warming dish to have for lunch or dinner.


Soups and stews are the order of the day and better still if there are a few things to hand to cook one up relatively quickly. Who wants to have to scrape the snow off the car to go and get dinner in weather like this when the time could be better spent making snowmen and going for a brisk walk? So its been a search in the fridge and cupboards for things that can quickly be rustled up into hearty dishes. 

Porridge for breakfast – always good on a cold day; then a soup for lunch made from onion, canned beans, sliced leftover sausage (salami, ham or bacon would also do the trick) and the last bits of a cabbage  – a kind of muddled up caldo verdo/minestrone.

The search for dinner possibilities revealed beef stew leftovers (always happens when there are two of you to feed – stew and casserole recipes don’t seem to be devised for less than 4 – but hey why worry when they are almost always tastier on the second go). We added some big field mushrooms and then some pasta which we cooked and stirred in at the last minute.


All good warming dishes, no trip to the shops needed and plenty of chance to make snowmen because there won’t be another chance to do that for nearly 20 years!