Souper dooper

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of soup. I practically live off the stuff. It’s cheap, nutritious, healthy and so very easy to make. Soups beat the January blues hands down. And they make you feel fantastic, too.

Dahl is perhaps one of my all-time favourites, and my go-to comfort food. I’ve just got back from a trip to India and was surprised not to find so much of it there, but instead a dish called “dahl fry”, which was much thicker and richer version, more like a stew. Still delicious. But not really a soup soup.

So imagine my total happiness at being invited to a soup-making workshop this week with Abel & Cole, the veg box people, in South London. Abel & Cole actually delivers special organic soup boxes straight to your door, with all the ingredients needed to create healthy soups, with a recipe inside each one. But of course you could just as easily go out and buy your own veg on the day (best to go for organic and seasonal, if poss), and experiment with what you’ve bought. The thing I love most about soups are they’re practically impossible to mess up.

The workshop was taken by Abel & Cole’s recipe writer Rachel de Thample and nutritionist Vicki Edgeson. Together, Rachel and Vicki made two “crushies”, which are like cold, raw soups, or rather savoury juices. Everyone knows the benefits of juicing, so this is just the same principle but applied to soups and veg. Only you keep in all the goodness because you don’t extract the juice, you simply grate or blitz the veg in one go. They’re so energising, Vicki described them as “soup espressos”. Just looking at their colour, you could tell they were going to be the bomb. They made a really refreshing carrot, apple and turmeric crushy, and a Mexican avocado cold soup, which was a bit like liquid guacamole. Both were amazing, and were whipped up in next to no time, which just goes to show you don’t need hours to create a nutritious meal, nor do you need fancy gadgetry or expensive ingredients. Humble veg are plenty good enough.

You’ve got to eat crushies pretty much straight away, to really get all the goodness, but you could also wham loads of citrus in there (lemon or lime) and pop them covered in the fridge, or, better yet, freeze in yoghurt-pot-sized portions for another day. Most of the soups are vegan, and are really good served with toasted nuts (such as cashews and walnuts) or roasted veg on top, but if you feel like it, you could sprinkle over some smoked mackerel or crème fraîche.

After the workshop, we got to experiment with some ingredients of our own. Since being in Asia, I’ve got massively into coconuts (and coconut oil). I’m also loving avocados, ginger and turmeric. So I made a beeline for those, and continued the SE Asian vibe, with a twist on a Thai classic, tom ka, using coconut milk, lemongrass, chilli, ginger, avocados and watercress. The whole thing could be raw, if you wanted it to be. Or you could cook up a stock first and warm through the soup at the end. Up to you. No turmeric went in, but I did make a tea from that, and I’ll be talking about the benefits of turmeric in a separate post, because I think it deserves it. Dahl definitely gets the turmeric in – I’ve included my recipe below. I’d also love to learn how to make a good miso as I think fermented foods are incredibly good for you. Again, I’ll talk more about fermenting (and kombucha) in a separate post.

Here are few top tips from the day:

1. Pop a teaspoon upside down in your mouth while you’re chopping onions – it’ll stop your eyes from watering.

2. Use washed onion skins in your stock for extra nutrients and colour. You can make a basic vegetable stock (or tea) from grated carrots, grated onions, a bay leaf and the onion skins. Sieve before using.

3. Winter is citrus season, and the zest contains all the flavour without so much of the acidity, plus the oils contain the richest source of vitamin C.

4. Avocados do wonders for your skin. They’re full of vitamin E, and make you look amazing. Honest.

5. Use chilli sparingly. You can always put some in the middle of the table for people to help themselves to, if they want an extra kick.

6. Use seasonal, organic vegetables as much as possible. I know everyone says this, but really, our body functions so much better if you eat seasonally.

OK, without further ado, here are some January soup and crushy recipes for you to try. Please feel free to drop me a line with any feedback.

Mexican Avocado

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A semi-raw soup (there’s a bit of stock in it) that shows it’s easy being green. Recipe by Abel & Cole.

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • A handful of fresh mint
  • A handful of fresh parsley
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (or more, to taste)
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Get a saucepan hot. Coarsely grate your carrot and onion. Add a gloss of oil to your warmed pan. Stir in the carrot and onion. Lower heat. Sizzle for a few mins. Top up with 400ml water. Simmer for 10 mins.

2. Wash and dry your mint and parsley. Pluck the leaves from any wooden stems. Roughly chop the rest. Pop it in a food blender with 2 tbsp olive oil. Blitz till it looks like pesto, trickling in more oil, if needed.

3. Scoop in the flesh of your avocado. Add a few slices of chilli, the cumin, zest of both limes, juice of one and a bit of salt and pepper. Strain your stock. Add it. Blitz till smooth. Taste. Add more lime, salt, pepper, cumin and /or chilli as needed. No need to warm. Serve as is, or chilled with a dusting of cumin seeds on top.

Carrot & Turmeric Crushy

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This soup is full of vibrant ingredients that are sure to get you up and running. It really does taste as good as it looks. Recipe by Abel & Cole.

Feeds 2-3 

  • 500g carrots
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tsp-sized nugget of fresh turmeric, peeled
  • A slice of garlic
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 500ml water
  • A pinch of sea salt

1. Peel and roughly chop your carrots. Peel and chop your apple, discarding the core.

2. Place them in a food processor or blender with the turmeric, garlic, zest and juice of the lemon, a trickle of the water and a pinch of sea salt.

3. Blend, adding the rest of the water, little by little, till it’s as smooth as you can get it. It won’t be silky smooth using raw veg and fruit, but it will taste amazing. Taste. Tweak seasoning, add more turmeric if you like.

4. Sip the soup cold (like a savoury smoothie) or gently warm it.

Saffron Parsnip

A gorgeous, golden soup, garnished with oven-roasted parsnip crisps. Recipe from Abel & Cole.

  • 1 bag of parsnips
  • 1 onion
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pear
  • A pinch of saffron powder
  • A gloss of oil
  • 500ml boiling water or warm stock

1. Preheat your oven to 200C/Gas 6. Put a roasting tin on the top shelf to heat up.

2. Peal and dice all your parsnips apart from one. Finely chop the onion. Add to a large pot with the bay leaves and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a soft, rolling boil. Lower heat.

3. Peel and dice your pear. Add it to the pot with a pinch of saffron. Cook till the veg is mashably tender.

4. While it cooks, peel the remaining parsnip into thin ribbons with your veg peeler. Dust with a little salt and pepper. Generously gloss with oil. Mix. Arrange in a thin layer in the hot roasting tin. Roast for 5-10 mins or till the ribbons are golden and crisp. Remove from oven. Set aside.

5. Remove the bay leaves from the simmering veg. Blitz the veg and cooking water until smooth. Trickle in more water or stock till the soup is as thick or thin as you like. Taste and tweak seasoning as you blend. Garnish with your parsnip crisps.

Raw Thai Soup

Feeds 2

  • Half a chopped shallot
  • 1 sliver of garlic
  • Half a stem of lemongrass, chopped
  • The tiniest amount of fresh red chilli
  • A fingernail piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
  • A handful of coriander
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • Half a tin of coconut milk
  • 1/4 carrot, grated
  • A bunch of watercress
  • 1/4 avocado
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a blender, whizz together the shallot, garlic, lemongrass, chilli, ginger and coriander. You could then fry this very gently in the coconut oil, or leave it raw, and add the coconut oil into the blender. Add in the coconut milk, watercress, grated carrot, avocado and 1/2 pint of water. Blend together then season to taste. You could heat it through gently at this point, or leave it raw. Add a bit more water if it’s too thick.

Chilled Avocado Soup

Recipe from Abel & Cole

  • 1 large or 2 small (ripe) avocado/s
  • 500g natural fromage frais
  • 900ml tomato juice
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

Peel and stone the avocados. Chop them and then place, in two or three batches, into a blender with the fromage frais, tomato juice and garlic. Blend until you have reached smooth soup. Chill for 2 hours before serving.

Easy Dahl

Feeds 2

  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • Half an onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 piece of fresh turmeric root, chopped. Or 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • A one-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated or chopped
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 cup or a large handful of red lentils
  • 1 grated carrot
  • A squirt of tomato puree
  • 1/2 vegetarian stock cube – or make your own stock with grated carrots and onions, cooked in hot water then sieved
  • 1 bunch of chopped coriander
  • Lemon to taste

In a pan, gently fry the onion, garlic, ginger and spices in the coconut oil until golden. Add in the lentils and stir quickly before adding in the carrot, puree and stock. Pop a lid on and simmer for about 15-20 mins. Throw in the coriander and either serve immediately, or pour into the blender for a thicker soup. Garnish with more chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon, if you like.

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