When I first moved to England, I was mystified by the presence of watercress on the shelves alongside more common salad greens like spinach, “baby leaves” and arugula (“rocket”, that is). It’s available all year round, though it’s at its best April through September.
Still, even when watercress is at its prime, I have a hard time dealing with it raw – it’s flavour is bitter, slightly peppery, which I often find overpowering when served in a salad or as a garnish. So I’ve been exploring watercress’s other uses, treating it more as an herb, and in the process have discovered some great ways to use this pungent green outside of the salad bowl.
The sweet peas and refreshing mint in this recipe balance the peppery watercress, and it’s super delicious garnished with croutons, toasted seeds, or a hard boiled egg (or all of the above!).
This soup requires a blender – I use a Froothie power blender which blitzes even the toughest of pea membranes and watercress stems into a fine puree. If you are working with a stick blender or something less powerful, you can strain out any stray solids after blend it to get a silky smooth and luxurious soup. Enjoy!
Minted Pea and Watercress Soup
1 bunch of watercress, large (washed)
800ml of vegetable stock
30ml of sunflower oil or olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 potato, cubed
1 bunch of fresh mint, roughly chopped
400g of shelled peas, fresh or frozen
Coarsely chop the watercress, stalks and all, and place in a small saucepan with the stock. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook on a low heat until softened but not coloured. Add the potato, stir, cover and cook until soft. Add the mint, peas and infused stock and watercress. Season and simmer for 2 minutes
Place the soup in a blender and purée, then return the soup to the saucepan (you can strain the soup through a sieve if you like, to get rid of any tough-to-blend stalky bits, but if you have a powerful blender like a Froothie, it should be able to purée everything into a silky smooth soup)
Serve warm garnished with boiled eggs, toasted seeds, a swirl of sour cream, croutons, or whatever you like – meat eaters might enjoy a sprinkling of crispy bacon
Just a heads up: this post contains affiliate links to the Froothie website – I’m a ambassador for their brand because, well, their blenders rule!
I’m a massive fan of Rick Bayless’s tortilla soup but when I’m in a rush, this does me just fine. The key is good stock and dried pasilla chile which gives tortilla soup its unique (and totally perfect) flavour. The best thing about this soup is the garnish potential!
You’ll need a high-speed blender for this – I use an Optimum 9200 from Froothie. If you don’t have one, you can blend everything in a conventional blender and then heat on the oven in a pot (let it simmer for at least 10 minutes to let the flavours blend).
This time of year we’re all craving food that will lift us from the winter doldrums, excite the tastebuds, and negate the effects of holiday indulgence. This spiced pumpkin soup ticks all of the boxes, while still remaining true to the season and totally comforting.
Of course, curried pumpkin soup is a classic, but this recipe takes it up a notch by using homemade curry powder which is such a huge step above from the shop-bought stuff. Freshly ground whole spices are intensely more fragrant and flavoursome than pre-ground spices, which quickly go stale while sitting on the shelf.
The soup itself is very simple – you need little more than pumpkin (or other winter squash), onion, oil or butter, water and of course, the curry powder, which itself isn’t spicy so if you’d like a bit more heat in your pumpkin soup, feel free to add some cayenne or a chopped red chilli. I love this soup garnished with Greek yoghurt and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), but a good vegan standby is coconut milk and chopped coriander.
I do my soup-blending and spice-grinding in my Optimum 9400 blender which conveniently blends both wet and dry ingredients. But you could also use an immersion blender, spice grinder, coffee grinder, and so on to get the job done.
Spiced Pumpkin Soup
3 tbsp butter, coconut oil or a neutral oil like grapeseed
3 pounds of pumpkin or other winter squash (crown prince, butternut, kabocha, etc), peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp curry powder (see below)
Salt and pepper
5 cups vegetable stock or water
Sliced spring onions
Put the butter or oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. When hot, add the pumpkin and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft.
Add the curry powder, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, give it a stir and cook until fragrant (a minute or so). Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the pumpkin is totally soft (about 30 minutes).
Puree the soup with an immersion blender or jug blender (if using a jug blender, let the soup cool a bit as hot liquids can be explosive when blended!).
Serve hot with garnishes if you’d like.
Homemade Curry Powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg pieces
Seeds from 5 cardamom pods
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
2 dried curry leaves
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
Put all the ingredients except the fenugreek in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until lightly toasted and fragrant. During the last few moments, add the fenugreek.
Let everything cool and then grind to a fine powder (you can use a high powered blender for this, or a spice or coffee grinder). Store in a well-sealed container. This will keep nicely for a few months.
For more healthy blender recipes, check out my fellow #jumpstart15 comrades:
I’ve been living in the UK for over seven years now. Along the way I’ve become a British citizenship, I’ve acquired a wonderful dog, and I’ve accumulated a lot of “stuff”. But I still regard Chicago as my “home”. It’s where I grew up and almost all of my family still live there, as do many dear friends. And even after seven years, I still get a little “homesick” sometimes.
Food is a natural way to go get my fix of virtual family time. I am very grateful to my mother who put together a family recipe book, a collection of recipes spanning three generations and nine households. I turn to this book often, with the most stained pages being Auntie Jo’s Sunshine Cake (now legendary across the globe), Aunt Sue’s Cranberry Chutney (a must-have at Christmas, amazing with Stilton), my sister’s Ranch Dressing (Clausen dill pickle juice is the key) and Grandma’s famous Oriental Coleslaw (especially popular with my friend, Henry).
The recent onset of cooler weather, paired with the end of tomato season, compelled me to turn to another page of the family recipe book: Mom’s Tomato Soup & Dumplings. This is a classic and probably shares the Gold with Matzo Ball Soup for Ultimate Comfort Soups by Mom. In fact, it’s worth saying that my mom is a soup genius – her Shorabat Addas and Green Lentil Soup are two favorites that I make frequently. (When is your book on SOUP coming out, Mom?)
Back in the day, we used tomato soup from the Campbell’s can (jazzed up with fresh tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and grated cheese), but now that I grow my own tomatoes (and am wary of the salt and preservatives in tinned food), I make my own roasted tomato soup that is silky smooth without added milk, cream or cheese. The cheese element comes from the dumplings, which couldn’t be easier: mix up grated cheese, eggs and breadcrumbs then spoon in bits of the batter. The dumplings cook right in the soup.
In this case I was prompted to use Davidstow Mature Cheddar in my dumplings thanks to my latest blog post on Great British Chefs featuring this very soup. You could use whatever cheese you have on hand – it might be fun playing with feta, parmesan, gruyere or a combination of cheeses. You could also add fresh or dried herbs. Feel free to use whatever bread you wish for the breadcrumbs – I tend to go for wholemeal bread crumbs but white works just as well and sourdough is absolutely dreamy.
The soup is vegan without the dumplings. I haven’t tried vegan dumplings yet but there are a few recipes around, including these chickpea flour dumplings from Edible Mosaic and these rosemary dumplings from Post Punk Kitchen. In the non-vegan version, the eggs help puff up the dumplings making them nice and light. Without the eggs, the dumplings would seem very stodgy to me, so if anyone has some good suggestions for a vegan alternative, I’d love to hear them!
Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheddar Cheese Dumplings
For the tomato soup:
1kg ripe tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Small bunch of basil, separated into leaves and stalks*
600ml vegetable stock
grated cheddar (optional garnish)
For the dumplings
2 slices bread, crumbled (or about 1/2 cup bread crumbs)
3 eggs, beaten
2 oz grated cheddar cheese
pinch of salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F and cut the tomatoes in half. Arrange the tomatoes cut-side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about an hour, until the tomatoes are totally soft and beginning to char around the edges.
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over a medium heat and add the onion, carrot and garlic. Cook for about 7 minutes until softened. Meanwhile, chop the basil stalks, and then add to the pan and cook for another minute.
Add the roasted tomatoes (including any juices that seeped out) to the pan along with the vegetable stock. Stir and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, cover and leave to simmer for about 10-20 minutes (until the carrots are very soft).
Purée the soup in a blender (I used a Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender which works a dream for this purpose) then return to the pot and gently reheat.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings by mixing together all of the ingredients – you should have a moist doughy mix that’s easy to shape into small balls (about the size of a teaspoon).
Drop the balls into the hot soup and simmer covered for about 10 minutes.
Ladle the soup and dumplings into bowls and garnish with grated cheddar cheese and fresh basil leaves before serving.
* The impressive bunch of basil pictured in the top photo was grown by The Organic Farm Shop, who also supplied a few extra tomatoes to go in my soup. I also used their eggs for the dumplings and can only imagine that their award-winning homemade cheeses would have lifted this recipe even further. Their ingredients are top of class and the shop itself is a treasure, with a vegetarian cafe and Indian textile shop to boot. I highly recommend giving them a visit if you’re ever in the Cirencester area!
Last night I hosted my New Year Reboot cooking workshop at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath. The whole “reboot” concept is all about giving the body a chance to rest and recover after a season of excess, and get back to (or get started with) feeling awesome all of the time. The aim of the class was to provide strategies and recipes to help people design their own “reboot” according to their own personal tastes.
One of the strategies involves eating foods that are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free. Another strategy involves eating a lot of soup (easy to digest, nutrient rich meals – kinda like smoothies)!
One of the soups I demonstrated was this “Cream” of Cauilflower soup. Blended cashews give this soup its velvety creamy texture – no dairy required! And based on the mmm’s of the students, I’d say this was one of the top recipes of the evening.
You don’t need milk, cream or potato to make soups creamy – use cashews instead. You also get the protein and healthy fat bonus that comes from using cashews. Plus, adding cashews or any nut to your soup will ultimately make them more satisfying, keeping you fuller for longer and keep you from needing to snack later in the day. You can use this same recipe to make all kinds of vegan creamy soups – broccoli and celery are great here.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
salt, to taste
1 liter of water or stock
a large handful of raw cashews
Freshly ground black pepper
Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Cook the onion on a medium heat until it is soft, without letting it brown.
Add the cauliflower and 125ml water. Raise the heat slightly, cover and let the cauliflower cook for 15-18 minutes, until tender.
Working in batches, puree the cooked cauliflower with the stock and the cashews, then return to the pot and heat thoroughly.
Serve garnished with sauteed mushrooms, kale chips or whatever tasty garnish you can think of!
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).