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Lamb and lentil soup

Spiced Lamb, Lentil and Tomato Soup

Lamb and lentil soup

Every summer I buy lamb mince with the intention of making kofte with it and every summer I panic and decide that kofte are incredibly difficult to make and I’ll ruin them*. I find myself looking at a bag of lamb mince slightly nervously and then I just make meatballs. Again.

This time I happened to have been flicking through Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe and had seen a soup involving lamb mince and lentils and thought I could finally branch out of my meatball rut.

Unfortunately I went out and drank a couple of glasses of red wine before coming home to cook it for dinner and failed to notice that Silvena’s recipe was actually for rice, lamb and lentil soup until I had a third glass of wine and couldn’t be bothered to follow the recipe. I took inspiration at that stage from Keith Floyd and went for just making it up as I went along. The result was bowls that were scraped clean and no hangover from the wine either. That’s quite a soup.

Spiced Lamb, Lentil and Tomato Soup (serves 4)

  • 400g minced lamb
  • 1 teaspoon onion seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kirmizi pul biber or smoked chilli flakes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 200g red lentils
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh mint to serve

This is a very easy soup to make. Start by heating a dry frying pan on a medium heat and add the onion and cumin seeds. Allow to fry until they start to smell aromatic. It should take about 30-45 seconds. Watch them with an eagle eye or they burn and become bitter. Tip out of the pan onto a clean plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add the lamb mince. Fry it off until the fat starts to come out of it and then add the toasted seeds back in along with the paprika and pul biber. Stir it all well and cook through completely. It should take about 10 minutes.

Remove the cooked lamb from the pan and using the fat from the lamb which is now infused with the lovely spices, sweat the onion and garlic over a low heat until they becomes translucent. This will take about 12 minutes.

While the onions and garlic do their thing, boil the lentils for about 10 minutes in salted water. Drain them once they start to look softened and return them to a large pan. Stir the lamb and sweated onion and garlic through it all and then season well. Red lentils need a generous hand with the salt cellar for me.

Tip the chopped tomatoes into it all and stir well. Add the chicken stock and simmer it all for 25 minutes until the lentils swell up and the soup thickens. Keep an eye to make sure the lentils don’t burn or start to boil dry. They have a habit of that if left to their own devices. You might need a slug or two more of stock.

Serve the soup in deep bowls. Chopped fresh mint scattered on top and stirred through as you serve complements the smoky spicy flavours of the dish perfectly.

I loved this soup. Easy, flavoursome and incredibly filling, it makes the lamb go a long way and made a real change from my usual lentil based soups which tend to be a little worthy for my real enjoyment. Lots of flavour is obviously what I was missing up until now!

 

 

 

 

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Two very different Christmas leftover soups

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Happy New Year! Well, that’s Christmas over for another year. The tree’s gone, the decorations are down, and the last hints of spice in the air are fading fast. Miss South and I made the most of the season in our respective locations… both making Christmas puddings for the first time; cooking up a great main meal and seasonal accompaniments; and getting creative with leftovers. After all, getting good mileage from leftovers is one of the best things about the holiday season, isn’t it?

Here are two recipes for Christmas leftover soups, based on main dishes we’ve previously posted about over Christmas. Both have proved their worth (and have been road-tested with others) and provide a good way of taking your leftovers in a different direction. After all, If you’re going to splash out on a large cut of meat, make sure you make the most of everything around it… from boiling liquid to bones. You can’t beat a warming soup in winter: it’s the best form of central heating around, and a great way to make ingredients and flavours go a bit further. Whether it’s a thick, hearty black pea and spiced beef soup, or the exotic joys of a fragranced Vietnamese-style pho bo, you should find something to whet your appetite.

Black pea and spiced beef broth (serves 6-8)

Black pea & spiced beef soup

Although it’s not based on a traditional recipe, this is a very northern dish in heritage and at heart. It’s got mixed Irish and Lancashire parentage, but I reckon a variation on this would feel equally at home in large swathes of Nordic or Eastern Europe too. It’d certainly keep the cold at bay. The spiced beef I used here followed our previously published recipe, which was based on Niamh Shields’. It’s established itself as a family tradition over the last three years!

We’re predisposed to pair pulses and pork on the blog as they’re natural BFFs, but here the sensuous spiced notes and savoury stock of the beef and its broth work really well with the dusky black peas* (not black-eyed peas).

Miss South and I first experienced black peas, parkin and cinder toffee on Bonfire night on a farm above Rochdale in the mid 1990s; that combination of frosty air and scaldingly-hot peas was a happy and formative memory for us both. When I moved to Manchester a few years later I visited Bury market and enjoyed the pleasures of a styrofoam cup of peas and black pudding on a winter morning (tip: you can fashion a spoon from a black pud link by biting the end off strategically).

Dried black peas

*Black peas (aka maple or pigeon peas) are a bit of a rarity outside of East Lancs and the South Pennines, and I’m conscious many readers might not’ve heard of them before. They’re delicious, and deserve to be better known. They’re on sale just over the West Yorkshire border here in Todmorden around Bonfire Night, but you might struggle to get them out of season, never mind outside the region. Even most of my books on regional British specialities (Andrew Webb, David Mabey, Laura Mason & Catherine Brown etc) don’t mention them; and while Mark Hix does in ‘British Regional Food’, he mentions the Lancashire black or parched pea alongside a differently cooked Lenten ‘carling’ or ‘carlin’ from Tyneside and the North East. (if you want to know much more about black peas, I’d suggest this well-researched and comprehensive piece here).

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh chilli
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 litres stock / liquid from boiling the spiced beef brisket
  • 250g dried black peas (you can substitute with marrowfat or other dried peas, but the taste is quite different)
  • 6 medium sized potatoes (I used Maris Pipers)
  • (optional) salt and pepper to taste
  • A sprinkle of finely sliced beef per person
  • A dollop of sour cream

This recipe assumes you’ve cooked the spiced beef already. Ensure you retain all the liquid you’ve boiled the beef in: it should last, properly covered in a cool place, for a few days. You may want to strain it through a fine sieve or some muslin, as you’ll likely get some bits from the ground spices at the bottom of the pan.

Start the day before, by soaking the black peas in a large bowl, covered in water with plenty of room for them to swell up. Add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to help soften them. Leave the peas to soak overnight. In the morning, rinse them well.

I had around 3 litres of stock from boiling up the spiced beef: I reduced this by a third so it was more intense. It was quite savoury; with the sugar, salt and spices really coming through strongly. I was concerned it’d be too strong, but those wee peas soak up liquid and flavour.

Cover the previously-drained peas with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and then boil hard for 10 minutes, before simmering for a further 30 minutes. Meanwhile sauté the finely chopped red onion and chilli slowly in a heavy-based pan, so it softens and starts to melt down.

Rather than continue to simmer the beans on the hob, I decided to make the soup itself in the slow cooker, but you could easily keep it in a pan. However making meltingly soft black peas is particularly good in the slow cooker as it’s self-contained and cheap as chips to run for hours. I left everything bubble for a few hours, then threw in the peeled, chopped potatoes for 30 minutes. Once they’d softened and cooked, I used a hand blender to process the soup, keeping it rough and textured rather than a smooth purée. Another 20 or so minutes just to soften everything down, and it’s ready to ladle into bowls.

Ideally serve with a dollop of soured cream, and sprinkle with chopped matchsticks of the leftover spiced beef on top. Garnish with some finely chopped chives or some flat-leaf parsley for a dash of colour.

Pho bo (generously serves 4)

Home-made pho bo

My first taste of a decent pho was when Miss South took me to one of the Vietnamese places on the Kingsland Road in London about ten years ago. I’d heard it was one of the best breakfasts known to mankind, and I was smitten on the first slurp. I’ve been going to Vnam Café on Oldham Road in Manchester since it opened to get my hit in the north, but making your own is extremely satisfying, and a great way to get the most from beef bones. In fact this was so good we made it twice within the space of a fortnight last Christmas (as my girlfriend and I had two family Christmas meals; one in Manchester, the other in Belfast). Both times we used beef forerib which we’d roasted as a joint for the main meal. This is the kind of recipe which can certainly improve with specialist ingredients, such as Thai basil, but we didn’t adhere strictly to this prescribed recipe either time, and it tasted fantastic. I’d defy anyone to turn their nose up at this after a night on the tiles over the Christmas period. Just don’t plan a big lunch if you have it for breakfast…

It’s based on this recipe which I suggest you follow; I’ve added some personal notes below. I’ve enjoyed Andrea Nguyen’s Viet World Kitchen blog for years, but it was her recipe for pho which prompted me to finally buy her wonderful book ‘Into the Vietnamese Kitchen’, which I can highly recommend. Her additional tips on making pho are as useful as the main recipe. However there’s no set rule for making this soup, so feel free to substitute or ad lib if required.

Ingredients

For the broth

  • Beef bones (in this case, from fore rib, but anything large and preferably with marrow is good)
  • some nuggets of fat from the beef
  • 300g brisket or similar beef cut
  • 2 mid-size onions, halved
  • 6-8cm ginger, sliced lengthways
  • 5 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons rock salt
  • 3 tablespoons rock or palm sugar

For the finished bowls

  • Noodles (ideally flat rice sticks, but we used rice vermicelli first time, and something like dried ramen next)
  • Fresh mint and coriander leaves, torn roughly
  • Beansprouts
  • Birds-eye chillies, sliced thinly
  • Beef (we cut thin slices from the cooked rare rib meat, and poured the hot broth over)
  • Scallions (spring onions), sliced and briefly blanched to take the edge off them
  • Limes, cut into wedges
A key tip for the start; char your ginger and onions. Slice them, then hold them over the gas flame on your hob until they char nicely round the edges. This gives a lovely richness to the broth. Then add salt, spices, sugar, fish sauce, bones and the cut of braising beef to the pot. First time I made this, I used normal granulated sugar. Second time, at our mum’s, we used rock sugar…and it was so much better. Alternatively you could use some panela, or at least some sticky muscovado to give more depth and aroma to the sweetness in the broth.
Bones, beef, salt. sugar and spice

First time, I used the slow cooker to make the broth overnight to allow all the flavours a chance to meld and mix wonderfully. Plus, the aroma you’ll wake up to is something else! At our mum’s we simmered the stock for several hours in the evening in a cast iron casserole, then let it cool overnight, before giving it some more time in the morning. This quicker cooking time was balanced out by being able to use more beef bones, giving a richer stock. However if you can, use the slow cooker for maximum flavour impact!

Strain the dark, delicious broth to remove any bits of spices and aromatics. You’re wanting to retain just the liquid. If you’ve used any braising cuts of meat in the stock you can retain it ready for a sandwich, shredded. Then put the broth back on the heat to keep warm.

The magic of pho for me is that tantalising counterplay between the slowly simmered, aromatic broth and the crispy fresh ingredients in the bowls. It’s bright and fresh, yet deep and complex. So ten minutes before you’re ready to serve, cook your noodles til al dente; then douse them in iced water to arrest their cooking further. Place them at the bottom of a deep, wide bowl; then add bean sprouts for crunch (I’ve also added mandolin’d carrot for brightness and bite). Add the meat, then pour over the hot broth. Let each diner garnish accordingly with fresh herbs, slices of chilli and scallion, and perhaps a squeeze of lime juice to taste. Happy slurping! Read more

Brixton Caldo Verde

I love soup. Warming, nourishing, easy to make and very useful for using up bits and bobs in your fridge, it’s a very useful addition to any cook’s repetoire. Some soups are just a delicious dinner and rarely thought of again, but some are classics that end up defining a nation and becoming famous outside their home. Vichyoisse, gazpacho, tom yum, minestrone, we all know and love them. But one that deserves to be on that roll call is the Portuguese staple caldo verde or ‘green broth’.

Originally published at Brixton Blog…

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Blackened corn chowder with deep fried bacon

Blackened corn chowder & deep fried bacon

I adore sweetcorn in soup. I love those corn soups thickened with egg in Chinese restaurants and every year when the cobs are in season I make the divine chicken and sweetcorn soup from the first Leon cookbook, all sweet with corn and sticky with marinaded chicken. But this year I had branched out a bit and been using the first ears for salsa. I’d roasted them on the barbecue til smoky and tossed them with scallion and avocado and lots of lime and watched my dinner guests not scrap over the last spoonful.

Making the most of my glowing coals last weekend, I did some sweet potatoes on the embers and charred as much corn as I had in the house, setting it all aside for a less sunny day when I wanted the flavour of summer. It didn’t take long and by Wednesday I needed to be reminded it was August and turned my attention to the leftovers and immediately thought of a summer soup…

Bacon and corn are natural bedfellows, but I wanted this soup to be easily meat free if you baulk at battered bacon or don’t want to use chicken stock, so the bacon tops it and the stock can be vegetable based. I’d top it with avocado in this case and add some hot sauce to the soup.

Blackened corn chowder with battered bacon (serves two)

  • 2 ears sweetcorn
  • 2 orange fleshed sweet potatoes
  • 2 scallions
  • 200ml stock
  • 100 ml milk
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 50g rice flour (or all self raising if you don’t have rice flour)
  • 150ml ice cold sparkling water
  • pinch cayenne
  • milk to cover
  • oil for frying

First blacken your corn. The best way to do this is roast them over the barbecue, but you could parboil the ears and then pass through a gas flame or under a smoking hot grill until charred in places. Leave to cool until you can handle the corn and then strip the kernels off with a sharp knife.

If you are using vegetable stock, chop the ears in half and simmer in with your veg to make a super corn-infused stock for the soup.

While that’s doing, cut your bacon rashers in half across the way so you have twice the number of pieces and then cover them with a bit of milk. This will help the batter stick to the bacon and not just slide off in the hot oil.

Chop your scallion and sweat in a bit of oil. If the sweet potato is raw, chop it small and sweat too. Then add in the corn and just cover the veg with stock (you may need less than the amount stated) and simmer until everything is tender. Then take a third of the soup out and blend the remaining, adding the milk as you do. Add the chunky third back in and warm the soup gently.

Put your oil on to heat and make your batter by combining the two flours and the water and cayenne to make a thick, but not solid batter. The rice flour and sparkling water will make the batter very light and puffy, making sure the rashers cook quickly and without becoming shatteringly crisp. Lift the rashers out of the milk and into the batter and then into the oil. The batter puffs and spits slightly but a minute each side should do it. Drain on kitchen roll.

Serve bowls of warm soup with two rashers of bacon on top. The soup is sweet with the veg and the salty slightly spicy bacon cuts through it beautifully. Everything tastes so summery and the bacon is amazing. Cooked til tender enough to split the rasher with a spoon’s edge and crunchy with batter, you’ll want your bacon deep fried every time, not just when the sweetcorn is in season!

 

A real split pea souper

Soup 1

I am not the shopping fiend I used to be. I can spend all day trekking up and down the West End and come home with nothing to show for it but slightly raised blood pressure and sore feet. But occasionally when I’m out I still make impulse purchases, which explains why last week, I came home from ‘just nipping out’ with a bag of pig’s trotters.

Dazzled by their cheapness and pinkness, I couldn’t quite resist even though I had no idea what to do with them. Then inspired by a conversation about soup with Mister North, I remembered this mouthwateringly porky potage in the shape of erwtensoep or Dutch split pea soup. Thick as a plank and designed to be packed with piggy goodness, the pig’s trotters would make the perfect base.

Well known for their tendency to toward the gelatinous (and good for them. The jelly in a pork pie is the best bit) I figured something as absorbent as a split pea could take the risk and it would simply thicken everything up nicely if the stock seemed a bit gloopy.

I was also swung towards this soup by the addition of celeriac. Another impulse purchase back in the summer at Homebase saw me buying ten tiny celeriac plants in a tray. I planted them out, expecting only about a third of them to take. Fast forward six months and my patio is a convention of celeriac. All ten are thriving. I have a forest of leaves and a lot of celeriac needing eaten. Adding some to the soup was a start.

I began the prep with the weirdest bit and gave the trotters a shave with a spare and unused Bic razor. Not only are they quite pink and unnervingly delicate with their little nails, pig’s trotters are quite bristly. These were Tamworths and the fuzz was decidedly auburn. Much and all as I love red hair, I don’t want it in my dinner…

Trotters attended to, I turned my attention to the veg, trimming, peeling and cubing. Nothing difficult, just a little bit of time and effort. In went a rather sad looking leek, a few carrots, the whole small celeriac, an onion or two and a good handful of celeriac leaves for depth. I basically halved the amounts in the recipe above. I layered half a cup of split peas on the bottom of my Le Cresuet, then put the trotters on top, along with a spare rib pork chop. You’d add in the pork ribs and the bacon about now if you had them.

Then pile your diced veg on top, adding the other half cup of the split peas to the top. The meat will be hidden and it’ll look like pure vegetable and pulses. I added a few leftover stock ice cubes from the freezer which I think might actually have been pheasant. You always seem to get a dead pheasant in Dutch still lifes. I figure it couldn’t go amiss. I then topped it all up with 3 cups or 750ml of cold water and brought it to the boil before turning down to a simmer and leaving well alone for about an hour. No stirring, no poking, no peeking. Just leave it and get on with life.

An hour later take the lid off and see how the water levels are. You’ll want to check the texture of the stock and loosen it up a bit if it looks too thick and wobbly. I added a splash of water and then left it for another two hours or until the peas had softened and swelled and started to break up. Don’t cook it until they are total sludge. When you leave the leftovers overnight, the peas will soak up the remaining liquid and thicken and if you overcook you’ll be left with concrete not soup. Fish the trotters out and discard (I had enough skin and gristle with the tail). Give the peas a quick chivvy with the potato masher to thicken everything. Marvel at how a bog basic pork chop has become soft strands of loveliness and get stuck in with your spoon.

I was aware that pork and pulses are a good thing. I was expecting to like the combo in this bowl of soup. I wasn’t expecting to fall completely in love with split pea soup. But one mouthful and I was smitten. Rich with sweet porky flavour, it was bursting with taste and both the stock and peas gave it a suprisingly silky texture. It was fantastic. I practically licked the bowl clean and wanted a second helping, but wow, this soup is filling. I compromised by having it for breakfast next day.

Embrace this sudden cold snap and make this soup immediately. Use any pork on the bone to make a stock or take the challenge and buy some trotters for you instead of the dog. Add bacon, use up some smoked sausage, throw in some chorizo, use the leftover stock from doing a ham, the choices are endless. Just make sure you keep it porcine and it will reward you with being easy, cheap, healthy and filling. I impulse purchased some pork ribs today so I can make it again immediately…