I’ve had a jar of Danival Organic Puree Pumpkin languishing in the back of my cupboard (bottom shelf) for years. I bought two jars of the stuff to make pumpkin pie and a failed experiment with the first jar led me to conclude that was NOT the pumpkin pie puree I was looking for (but really, is there any substitute for Libbys?).
But with this recent detox and the sudden inclusion of lots of soup in my life, I decided to unleash the pumpkin in hopes of a quick lunch soup fix. The fix was a success, using a recipe from the ever reliable How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It’s my most loved and most used cookbook and once again it delivered the goods. His recipe uses fresh pumpkin but here’s how I did it using pumpkin puree.
500g jarred or canned pumpkin puree (or 3lbs fresh winter squash like butternut or acorn, peeled and chopped)
vegetable stock or water
Heat the oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the curry powder, garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or so until fragrant.
If using pureed pumpkin, remove the pot from the heat. Add a little water and scrape up any spices that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. (If using fresh pumpkin, add the pumpkin with enough water or stock to cover and simmer until the pumpkin is soft.)
Put the onion mixture into a blender with the pumpkin and enough water or stock to achieve a desirable soup consistency.
Put the blender contents back into the pot and on the heat. Let it heat thoroughly. Taste, season and serve.
Breakfast: A variation on the black and blue smoothie, made with blackberries, mango, avocado, kale, flax seeds plus a dash of cinnamon and a couple drops of orange flower water.
Lunch: Besan cheelas (Indian chickpea flour pancakes) with Indian cabbage salad and coconut coriander chutney. Not sure why I took so long to make these pancakes – they’re quick, easy and awesomely delicious, plus that have that eat-with-your hands delight that makes them all the more satisfying. You can also make them non-Indian style (the Italian version is called farinata). I love to wrap the cabbage salad inside the besan cheela and eat with chutney, so I made some coconut coriander chutney following this recipe but it was a little mealy (the recipe uses desiccated/dried coconut). Maybe I should have soaked the coconut first? Or maybe I need to face a real coconut and bust out the hammer.
Dinner: If I’ve learned one thing on my detox, it’s that if you saute any kind of vegetable with onions and garlic, then puree it with cashews and veggie stock, you get the most amazing silky smooth soup that’s basically a vegan version of all those “Cream of” style soups that I have such fond memories of. Today’s was a “cream” of celery soup inspired by my friend Sharon, garnished with that crispy kale I’m so into at the moment.
I’m now scheming all kinds of other creamy soups I can make… cream of cauliflower… cream of broccoli… cream of asparagus! And let’s just give a shout out to the whole vegan protein bonus that the cashews bring to the soup. I reckon other nuts will be worth trying… almonds, brazil nuts… pistachios!
When tomatoes and peppers are back in my life, I’m thinking an almond version of the classic African peanut soup will be worth a try. Next week!
Today I’m catching up on some highlights from my summer road trip through France and Spain. And since it seems I’ve been talking a lot about chilled summer soup revelations lately, here is a story about such a revelation from mountain high!
I was nearing the end of my summer road trip through France and Spain. I had just bid my travel buddies farewell at the airport in Bilbao and had four nights before I needed to catch my Brittany Ferry in Santander and reluctantly head back to Britain and life as usual.
I had already set my sights on the Picos de Europa, part of the Cantabrian mountains, about 20 km inland and conveniently just a couple hours drive from the Santander ferry port.
The mountains called to me, not only for its proximity to my exit point, but for its impressive massifs magically packed together in a relatively small space. People rave about the wonder and awe of the Picos. And I liked the idea of hiding away in the mountains for a few days before having to face the real world again.
I chose as my base Posada de Tollo, a mountain house about 10 minutes’ drive from Potes, the main market town in the Picos. I chose it for being unabashedly dog friendly and for reviews that its food was “scrummy”. But the place had a lot more going for it than that.
My first impressions were of the clean and modern entry room with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin posters on the walls, Leonard Cohen playing on the radio, and Berta. Berta had a nose ring and wore black from head to toe except for a few dramatic grey streaks in her long hair and a pair of ginormous slippers, designed in the style of ogre feet (with painted toenails and all!).
After checking in I said I’d like to have dinner at the posada in the evening, and Berta got all excited because this was the first year she was cooking with vegetables she’d grown in her garden. She also seemed to like the challenge of cooking for a vegetarian.
I spent the afternoon walking to and from Potes via the Picos’ wonderful system of hiking trails (a whole other story in itself) and was ravenous by the time I got back. So when Berta brought out a huge basket of bread and a giant bowl of something red and seemingly delicious, I became almost giddy. (Forgive the lousy photo, but I was working with my iPhone and the rapidly fading light of Spain at sunset. Life could be worse.)
Berta explained that the dish was a “soup” traditional to Extremadura, a community in western Spain where her family is from. The soup is made with roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes and – what was that spice I tasted? Berta called it “comino”, and because my Spanish is pathetic, I had to use powers of deduction to realise it was cumin! Not toasted, she said, just ground to a paste with garlic and salt, then mixed in with the tomato and red pepper and a generous amount of “good” (Berta stressed this word!) olive oil.
The dish is called “Moje de Pimientos Asados Con Tomate y Comino”, which translates to “Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Tomato and Cumin”. And being a “dip”, you’re meant to sop up the “soup” with lots of bread.
This vegetarian soup was as magical as the Picos. Of course, part of the thrill was having a home cooked meal made by a recipe that had been passed down through the generations as it were. But also, it was just really really good. Pure, simple, seasonal ingredients: a true case of the sum being more than the parts! And the cumin – a real dash of genius, giving the soup just a little hint of smoky earthiness.
And the final lesson: life is too short for lesser quality olive oil. Use the good stuff, and use it generously!
Also known as Moje de Pimientos Asados Con Tomate y Comino.
4 red peppers
3-4 ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin seed
Roast the peppers in the oven or over an open flame until black all over. Remove into a sealed container. Once cool, peel the peppers, de-stem and de-seed them, then slice into strips.
In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, cumin and a good pinch of salt until it forms a paste.
Dice the tomatoes into big chunks (you can peel them if you’d like by blanching them in boiling water).
Combine everything together with a good glug of quality olive oil. Let sit for an hour or so to let the flavours marinade. If it’s not “soupy” enough for your taste, add a bit of water (and more olive oil if you’d like) to the desired consistency.
Serve cold or at room temperature with bread.
Picos de Europa
I went to Spain with Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400; www.brittany-ferries.co.uk), which has sailings from Portsmouth to Santander. It’s about a two hour drive from the Santander ferry port to Potes, the main market town in the Picos de Europa.
I stayed at Posada de Tollo (Mayor, 13, 39575 Tollo, Spain; www.posadadetollo.es), about 10 minutes’ drive from Potes. It’s a mountain house with friendly owners, friendly dogs, home-cooked meals and incredible views of mountain summits and villages.
Breakfast: Green smoothie made with 1 pear, 1/2 peach, 1/2 avocado (~60g), 1 date, 1cm cube of ginger, mint, ice and enough rice milk to blend.
Lunch: Everything salad made with leftover bean, fennel and tuna salad from day 10 to which I added lentils, carrots, radishes, lettuce, cucumber and avocado. It wasn’t hugely inspired but it was quick and tasty.
Dinner: Another revelation involving soup and courgettes. This time, pureed courgette and cashew soup. The soup itself was VERY simple – onion, garlic, celery, veggie stock and courgettes (peeled to make the soup so white and velvety) plus a small handful of toasted cashews. It all got blitzed in the vitamix into a silky smooth puree. The cashews added that extra hint of richness you might otherwise get from cream. A recent conversation with fellow detoxer and Rave Coffee friend inspired me to top the soup with crispy kale chips, now officially known as The Best Soup Garnish Ever. I was going to herb up this soup with dill and parsley but when it came to tasting, I found that I liked its simplicity, and I think the kale would have overpowered the herbs anyway.
I’m trying to go gung-ho on soups-for-dinner for the rest of the detox, as stipulated in the Clean Program Manual. But even with the cashews, I’m finding it a challenge to not go to bed hungry, and extra challenging to go to the gym in the morning. I have even woken up in the middle of the night, ravenous! Occasionally I cave, which basically voids the whole 12-hour without food window, but there could be worse detox transgressions.
I feel I need more protein, most likely, and pureed vegetable matter just doesn’t cut it. So more pureed pulses and nuts, I think. I may also bust out the juicer attachment of my food processor and make myself a juice to have with dinner. Sounds messy, but also really nice. I may never drink wine again (as if).
Dinner: An amazing new soup! Made with onion, garlic, carrots, chickpeas, coriander and cumin seeds. This was like eating velvet. I garnished it with a couple steamed broccoli florets (inspired by this chickpea soup), lemon and tahini sauce, za’atar and fresh parsley. Really good and very satisfying. I basically used smitten kitchen’s recipe for carrot soup with tahini and crisped chickpeas but omitted the crisped chickpeas and instead subbed about half the carrots in the soup with cooked chickpeas. It worked and I’m loving this tahini thing as soup drizzle.
Breakfast: A very serious smoothie inspired by Laura made with cucumber, spinach, avocado, carrots, blueberries, blackberries, nectarine, dates, lemon and ginger. It worked!
Lunch: What I call “pretend tacos”, and my use for day 7 leftovers – refried black beans and mango salsa with avocado served in little gem lettuce taco “shells”. On the side, more leftovers: butternut squash and cabbage salad with lime, mint and cilantro.
Dinner: Black bean soup made very lazily by blending refried black beans with veggie stock. It was actually awesome and I’d do it again, maybe adding carrots to the mix. To garnish: the rest of the leftover butternut squash, white onion and avocado.
Breakfast: Black and blue berry breakfast smoothie with avocado, mint, dates and a dash of orange flower water (I highly recommend that dash – inspired by Persepolis!)
Lunch: Pub lunch in the sun with my neighbours at The Old Lodge on Minchinhampton Common. I had hake and steamed vegetables with pesto. Fizzy water to drink (detox success: I resisted my neighbour’s Prosecco temptation).
I’m currently not eating tomatoes or peppers as part of my 21-day “detox” experiment. The reason being that these vegetables, along with potatoes, eggplants and other vegetables of the nightshade family, are often rich in alkaloids that can be mildly toxic (so says Dr. Junger, who designed this detox, as does Ayurvedic medicine interestingly enough).
This has been challenging because tomatoes and peppers were a staple of mine, and with the weather being unbelievably warm, summery and beautiful here in the UK for the last few days, I’ve been madly craving gazpacho.
Last summer I tried Nigel Slater’s tomato gazpacho and absolutely loved it (the same recipe also led me to discover the joys of sherry vinegar). So this week I decided to try getting my gazpacho fix by using beetroot instead of tomatoes and peppers.
The result, as Kanna put it, was “very special” and “exceptionally good” (I blush – Kanna does not deliver her compliments lightly). I followed the recipe pretty closely – I used three very large beetroot, cut back on the smoked paprika, omitted the sugar, upped the cucumber and added some fresh dill. The garnish: sliced spring onion, more dill and cubes of avocado. We sprinkled the avocado with Le sel au piment d’Espelette, salt with dried pimento chillies (one of my summer road trip acquisitions from Espelette – when in Basque!).
As an added bonus, this soup also satisfied my craving for Cold Beet Soup, my Lithuanian grandmother’s family recipe where buttermilk (not detox friendly) is a key ingredient.
I almost hate to associate this soup with the detox, because it really stands alone as a delicious summer soup and a beetroot revelation. The only question I have is: have I created something new, or did I really just make borscht?
Scrub the beetroot well, then cook in boiling water until they are absolutely tender (pike a skewer through them – it should go through easily and the beetroot should fall off the skewer). Let the beetroot cool then remove their skins.
Now, get your blender ready. Coarsely chop two of beetroot, along with the red onion and cucumber, and add to the blender. Remove most of the green shoots (reserve for garnish) of the spring onion and add the white part to the blender, too, along with the garlic. Pulse until you get a soup that’s of the consistency you like – I like to keep it a little bit chunky.
Pour the soup into a big bowl. Finely dice the last beetroot and add that to the bowl, along with the sherry vinegar, dill, smoked paprika, olive oil and a bit of salt. Mix well, then taste and add more vinegar, paprika, olive oil, dill and salt to your liking.
Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let soup get cold and the flavours mingle.
Serve garnished with sliced spring onion, more dill and diced avocado. (A swirl of sour cream would probably be nice, too!)
Breakfast: Smoothie with 100g nectarine, 60g mango, 60g avocado, 80ml avocado, 1 date and a handful of mint. Highly enjoyable.
Lunch: Curried courgette soup – leftovers from Day 2
Dinner: Refried black beans, roast butternut squash, lime and cilantro coleslaw, fruit and avocado salsa
Another Airbnb dinner and the request was Mexican, so I made Rachel’s awesome frijoles negros to go with roast butternut squash and feta mole enchiladas (adapted from Rachel’s vegetarian tamales) along with the usual Mexican rice, salsas, guacamole, and corn chips. Really the only things off the radar were the corn tortillas and rice; I made a fruit salsa so that I could partake in some tomato-less salsa action (made with nectarine, mango, pomegranate, lime, coriander, avocado, salt and pepper). All in all, a great dinner and really nice conversation with my Aussie guests. That isn’t to say I wasn’t a little envious of their dinner…