Three winter soups, the ultimate comfort food
Put your leftovers to work with these great soup recipes
Mushroom soup: quality of the mushrooms will be very important here. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Soup is a simple liquid dish. Typically savoury, it’s made by boiling meat, fish or vegetables in stock or water. That’s it.
But it’s a lot more for me. Making soup is a means to using leftovers, including those limp-looking vegetables in your fridge, and is a primary means for getting value and flavour from vegetable trimmings, bones and shells.
The mother of a school friend was known as “Soupy” because she famously always had soup on the range. Hers was a house you went to for soup, never tea. As a result, soup became synonymous with instant comfort and nourishment. Her soups were always different while still being made from the same basic ingredients depending on what stock she had on the go, which vegetables were in the garden and sometimes they had the addition of a bit of spice brought back from a trip abroad.
Soup making should always start with what’s in your kitchen followed by what’s in season. This way it’s fun, interesting and, above all, economical.
Get your base right and the rest will work out. To get the flavour into your soup, you must put the work into the first few steps of the making; slow cooking along with proper seasoning is vital and you will be duly rewarded.
Thanks to our new food evolution, soups have taken on a whole new life giving us so much more to play with and bridging the gap between a soup and a stew. Ramen (Japanese), laksa (Malaysian), borscht (Eastern European) and dal (Indian) all give us permission to experiment while allowing us to discover new ingredients and techniques. Cooking these dishes over the years have inspired me to use leftover sauce from a stew, curry and gravy to turn into or add to a soup.
A basic soup can be dressed up and served for any occasion, the addition of hazelnuts or a splash of oil to a mushroom soup instantly takes it from home cooking to restaurant status. Making an Agresto (walnuts, anchovy and parsley) to add to an artichoke soup transforms the dish to a sensation. On a rainy day, add a spoon of your pesto to liven up soup or a spoon of hummus into an otherwise thin broth, giving you instant substance and additional flavour. Add a preserved lemon chopped finely to a potato and leek soup, or a spoon of baba ganoush to a courgette or red pepper soup.
This recipe is based on the mushroom soup from my childhood when we would pick mushrooms very early in the morning and make it for breakfast. Of course the quality of the mushrooms will be very important here. I usually buy organic and a mix of regular and chestnut varieties when available.
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 small sticks celery, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
1 litre of the creamiest milk
Heat a medium saucepan and melt the butter, add the chopped onion, celery and garlic and season very well with salt and lots of pepper. Cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat, stirring often. Turn down the heat, place a tight-fitting lid on top and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.
Next, slice the mushrooms thinly and add to the softened vegetables. Increase the heat and cook the mushroom for a few minutes until they are well reduced down and have released their juices.
Lower the heat, taste and add more seasoning if needed, remembering you are going to add milk which needs lots of seasoning to bring the flavour through.
Add the milk, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 5 minutes or until you are happy with the taste.
SPICY SQUASH SOUP
This soup is ideal when the cupboard is looking bare and you want a bit of comfort. The nuts add texture and protein but if you don’t have them to hand, your soup won’t suffer.
50ml olive oil
2 large onions
2 sticks of celery
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic
3tbsp fresh ginger
1tbsp fresh or ground turmeric
3tsp ground cumin
¼tsp chilli powder or to taste
1kg squash, peeled and roughly chopped
750ml stock of your choice
1 can coconut milk
100g cashew nuts, toast and chopped
Heat a medium saucepan and add the oil followed by the onions and celery and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften, place a lid on top and allow to simmer on a low heat for another 5-10 minutes.
Add in the garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin and chilli powder and cook for another few minutes.
Add the squash and stock, replace the lid and bring to the boil and allow to simmer until the squash is very soft.
Add the coconut milk and bring back to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and add seasoning if needed.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before whizzing to a puree. Mix in the chopped cashew nuts just before serving.
FEEL GOOD SOUP
This is our happy soup, full of ginger, turmeric and cumin. Celeriac would also be a great addition when it’s in season.
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 sticks celery, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
2tsp ground black pepper
1-1½ litres tap water
400g parsnips, peeled and chopped
400g turnips, peeled and chopped
250g beetroot, peeled and chopped
4tbsp fresh ginger, grated or chopped very small
3tbsp fresh turmeric, grated or chopped very small
2tsp cumin seeds or ground
Warm a large heavy-based saucepan, add a good splash of oil followed by the onions, celery, carrot and add the salt and pepper. Mix well.
Cook the vegetables for a least 5 minutes or until they are starting to soften, on a medium to low heat, mixing now and again.
Turn the heat to the lowest and (use a heat defuser if needed) put on a tight-fitting lid and cook for at least 20 minutes, the longer and slower you do this the better the flavour.
Add the water along with the parsnips, turnips, beetroot, ginger, turmeric and cumin. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft.
Whizz the soup until smooth. If it is too thick, down add some water and bring back to the boil. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche.