Lunch ‘n’ learn: soup

Winter is here, so for our first December workshop, there’s just one thing to cook — a bowl of cosy, comforting soup. Whether humble or hearty, velvety smooth or rustic chunky, there’s a soup for every soul; we’ll learn a general procedure which you can use to make a variety of different creations depending on the season, your mood, the occasion, and taste preferences… We’ll then apply this procedure in class to put together a delicious pot of goodness for our lunch. The recipe for the red lentil and pumpkin soup we cooked is below.

Soup procedure

I notice that by following this general procedure and varying the vegetables, grains, legumes, broth and spices, you can get a wide range of simple, delicious soups on the table any day of the year.

  1. The fat. Whether a hearty winter stew or a light summer gazpacho, every soup needs a little boost of flavour and nutrition from some healthy fats. I add as much as I need to cover the bottom of the pan so that I can sauté the flavour base ingredients, and that’s usually enough. If I’m cold or feeling festive, I might stir in a few glugs of olive oil towards the end of cooking for an splash of decadence. This is almost mandatory when making Ribollita; in our house we say the soup requires “Tuscan” amounts of olive oil 🙂 For soups, I usually stick to these basic options:
    1. Olive oil, not cold-pressed
    2. Raps oil, not cold-pressed
    3. Coconut oil: unrefined oil brings its unique flavour to the dish which works with Asian-style soups. Refined coconut oil has been processed to remove its scent and a is a good option when the coconut flavour would otherwise dominate.
  2. The flavour base. Fry together any combination of the following until soft and fragrant:
    1. onions
    2. leek
    3. garlic
    4. dried/fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, bay leaf… Leave more delicate herbs like parsley, dill, fresh coriander, etc as toppings at the end.
    5. spices like paprika, coriander, cumin, curry powder, dried whole chili… or spice pastes like Thai curry
    6. ginger
    7. tomato paste
    8. raisins or other dried fruit such as apricots
  3. The liquid. Add any of the following, or a combination, and bring to a boil:
    1. water
    2. vegetable broth
      1. The Foodoo Bouillon Paste from Mein Küchenchef is cool because it is made from food waste veggies and has no added fat, but as mentioned in class, it is quite salty.
      2. I sometimes make my own veggie stock along these guidelines. I like the trick of saving vegetable trimmings like the tough, green part of leeks, parsley stalks, carrot trimmings, etc in a freezer bag and throwing them in with the stock. I even save onion peels sometimes, but last time I over-did and my stock was very bitter 🙂
      3. I just saw a post about mushroom broth on 101 cookbooks which sounds like a delicious, versatile thing.
    3. coconut milk
    4. unsweetened plant-based milk such as soy, oat, or almond
    5. tomato juice (Passata)
  4. The veggies. Any seasonal veggies. The size and shape you choose to cut the veggies will affect the final consistency of the soup and the cooking time. Play around! Here are some examples, randomly categorized 🙂
    1. orange: pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots — these cook relatively fast, and are all good as blended soups or chunks
    2. roots: parsnip, celery root, jerusalem artichokes, parsley root, potato, beetroot — blended or chunky
    3. green / spring: broccoli, fresh peas, sugar snap peas, asparagus, leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach — these cook fast so add towards the end of the cooking process. I usually leave them whole, but you can also make a bright green soup by shortly cooking greens and then blending
    4. summer: aubergine, paprika, zucchini, tomato — blended or chunky
  5. The protein/carbs. Add any of the following in order of cooking time. Use a mix of different types of lentils/beans to make the consistency more interesting, e.g. lentils and chickpeas.
    1. Soft lentils like red or yellow hulled lentils will fall apart when cooked and make a creamy, hearty purée
    2. Green or black lentils hold their shape when cooked
    3. Yellow or green split peas
    4. Cooked chickpeas
    5. Cooked beans
    6. Millet
    7. Wholegrain wheat/spelt/barley, soaked overnight
  6. The texture. Leave the soup chunky or purée if desired. You can also choose to blend some of the veggies (e.g. a creamy root vegetable base) and then throw in some fast cooking veggies after (broccoli/cauliflower/leafy greens) after for just a couple of a minutes to add texture and colour. If you go the creamy route and want an extra boost, add any of the following while puréeing:
    1. soy/oat/coconut cream
    2. almond/peanut butter, tahini
    3. cooked white beans
  7. Final touches. Brighten up the final flavour by stirring in any the following after removing from heat:

    1. lemon juice/splash of vinegar
    2. chopped fresh herbs
    3. miso paste
  8. Toppings. Even a somewhat plain and boring soup can be brought to life by loading it with delicious toppings such as:
    1. chopped fresh herbs for flavour and colour
    2. roasted nuts/chickpeas for crunch
    3. croutons for crunch
    4. sprouts for crunch and nutrition boost
    5. drizzle of oil or balsamic reduction for flavour and because it looks pretty
    6. a few slices of avocado, when in season in Spain

Most important: use all your senses (smell, taste, hear, touch) and taste often!

If cooking has been an intimidating prospect, I think this soup procedure is a good place to start. It is forgiving and does not demand exact quantities and if you are mindful and taste along the way, it is rare to end up with something truly inedible at the end. At the worst it will be just “okay” and at best, a delicious, nourishing, home-cooked meal.

Soups I like

Here is a non-exhaustive list of soups I like that are generally simple, delicious and nourishing:
  • Classic Gazpacho in the summer
  • Thai-spiced pumpkin soup or butternut squash, leek and apple soup in autumn. When blending pumpkin soup, I heard that one can throw in the pumpkin seeds and let them cook together with everything and then blend — extra nutrition and flavour twist! I will try this soon.
  • Saving stale bread for a big pot of comforting ribollita in the winter
  • A pot of simple vegetarian Borscht like my Russian friend taught me — you have to eat it with some raw garlic cloves on the side. Hardcore, delicious!
  • In a hurry green curry in the spring, or any time of the year with different veggies and Thai curry pastes
  • Creamy chestnut and sage soup when the occasion calls for something simple yet sophisticated
  • Simple miso soup, any day
  • When I was a student, this Lively Up Yourself Lentil soup from my meagre repertoire was on regular repeat
  • Not strictly super simple preparation, because of burning the aubergine, but I really love Ottolenghi’s Burnt Aubergine soup from the Jerusalem cookbook. Here is an adapted version of it.

And I want to try this Georgian dried apricot soup soon!

Coconut red lentil soup

This is my take on this wonderful 101 cookbooks recipe. Most common pumpkins such as Hokkaido or Butternut Squash don’t need to be peeled, just scrub clean and chop.

  • ~3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ~150g shallots/red onions/spring onions/leek/regular onion or a combination
  • ~2 tablespoons peeled and grated ginger
  • 2 heaped tablespoons curry powder
  • 100g tomato paste
  • ~4 tablespoons raisins
  • ~4 tablespoons sesame seeds or coconut flakes
  • 400-800ml coconut milk (1-2 regular cans), depending on how creamy you want it
  • 500g pumpkin/carrot/sweet potato, chopped
  • 500g red lentils, rinsed
  • ~300-500g kale/spinach/chard leaves, washed and chopped
  • A splash of lemon juice (1/2-1 lemon)
  • toppings of choice: fresh cilantro or parsley, sprouts, toasted pumpkin seeds…
  • Heat the coconut oil in a large soup pot, then add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft
  • Add the ginger, curry powder, tomato paste, raisins, and sesame seeds/coconut flakes and stir to make a wonderfully-smelling paste. Keep stirring and frying for a few minutes.
  • Add the coconut milk and a little water, then add the chopped veggies and red lentils. Add more water to cover well, add a little salt or bouillon, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the veggies are cooked and the lentils are falling apart
  • Stir in the greens and cook for just a minute until they are wilted
  • Remove from heat, add a splash of lemon juice, and adjust the seasoning
  • Top with your favourite toppings (great with fresh coriander, when it’s in season!) and serve on its own or with some cooked Basmati rice


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