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Sonia O’Sullivan: Homemade soup the perfect antidote after a cold night’s run

There is no better time of year to get reacquainted with some seasonal root vegetables

There is something about running along a carpet of fallen autumn leaves, surrounded by more autumn leaves barely clinging to the branches overhead, still waiting to fall, the clocks turned back already and those darker winter days creeping up fast behind.

It’s the most dramatic season change, and where I found myself earlier this week, back in Portland, Oregon in the northwest of America, where like home the brighter days at this time of year are cherished and savoured.

The autumn colours are not just around us in nature: they’re all around the local markets, the supermarkets and in the homemade recipes as we plan those warm wholesome meals to nourish the soul and warm the heart and calm the mind.

It’s a familiar feeling too, like those dark winter nights beside a roaring fire, or even just the fireplace app on the TV to add that old fireside warmth and glow.


Autumn into winter is the one season of change that you cannot avoid; it’s all around the colours, tastes and aromas and hints of cinnamon and spice filling the air. It started already with those Halloween pumpkins brightening up the doorsteps.

You can’t help but smile when you see a carefully decorated pumpkin; it’s as if the imminent dark and dreary nights need brightening up and we’re already being sensually warmed and prepared as we head for the darkness of winter.

As the leaves continue to fall and provide that soft carpet to run along and brighten your day, it’s a reminder too that salad leaves and summer days are long gone.

Seasonal friends

There is also no better time of year to get reacquainted with some of the more seasonal root vegetables and make an extra effort too with some peeling and chopping and dicing; pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, celeriac, parsnips, ginger, cinnamon, onions, cabbage and kale, these are all our seasonal friends now.

These are the staples that you can have in your kitchen, ready to mix and match and to build a healthy soup that you can have for lunch or dinner - or prepare in advance knowing it just takes heating up at any time of day.

When it comes to recipes I’m a bit of a magpie. I like to borrow a few from cookbooks then switch some ingredients in and out depending on what’s lying around and what needs using up.

When building a soup there should be very little waste of food. The weekly leftovers can deliver a special vegetable soup, a mishmash of everything you have, though it is nice to isolate some flavours and sometimes even have a few different flavour soups on the go at the one time.

This may mean overlapping as you get tired of one pot, saving in the fridge for a few days, or even freezing for longer, kept there as an emergency when you just don’t have the time for all the peeling and chopping to start from scratch.

Even the tops and tails and ends can be saved and turned into a vegetable stock, all simple and easy. You just need to get in the habit of keeping a stash in the fridge and making a batch as soon as there’s a selection of flavours gathered up.

The key to making any soup is to get the balance of flavour and taste and texture. It’s not good to have any one vegetable overpowering the rest, and some of my favourite winter soup recipes come straight from The Happy Pear. David and Stephen Flynn are well known for their energetic presentations and available online to answer anything you might be unsure of by just reading the recipes.

As much as Neven Maguire never fails for a perfect meal, The Happy Pear are my go-to for a winter soup. It helps that all their ingredients explore the world of vegetables, leftovers often tasting better on day two after all the herbs and spices develop and grow in flavour within the soup. It’s the winter go-to and a one bowl meal, and there’s nothing nicer than coming home on a cold night knowing just heating up the soup is all that’s required.

It’s hard to pick a favourite, for me a toss-up between belly hug lentil as a chunky soup, and the sweet potato coconut chilli as a smooth and silky blended soup.

These are some of the things I think about while out running this time of year, trying to make a list in my head of the ingredients I might need to pick up on the way home. I’m also planning out the day when I can best fit in a serious session of peeling and chopping, knowing one day’s work is a few days’ worth of meals ready to go, leaving more time to get out and about as the nights close in earlier each day.

It’s the perfect time of year to cook at home, warming up as you chop and slice and dice the vegetables and then heating up the kitchen as you start sweating the onions, garlic and ginger - the simple base for most soups.

Before I get started I like to make sure I have all the ingredients lined up so I don’t have to go looking for anything. Then it’s a very quick step-by-step process with time to clean up as you go along.

Slow cooking

It’s always satisfying to see how few ingredients are required and how simple it is. The cost is often much less than going for the quick and easy readymade product off the shelf, along with the pleasure one gets when taking the time and effort to introduce a bit of slow cooking to the week. It also allows for some re-engaging with the simple things in life, appreciating how much more wholesome and satisfying it is to make a meal from scratch, even better when you can share with friends and family.

When I’m travelling it’s not always easy to cart around a library of cookbooks, so I’m always picking up recipe cards in the supermarket or the weekend magazines, cutting out pages and taking photos, some never to be seen or found again. But just reading these seasonal recipes can plant ideas and give more purpose to any trip to the supermarket.

I’m always trying new recipes to put more flavour to every vegetable, making the vegetables not just a side show, but the hero of every meal, economical when in season and especially if you can find a local market or even grow your own.

Soon, Brussels sprouts will be jumping off the shelves, a staple around the Christmas table. There is so much more to the Brussels sprout, one of the most hated vegetables in America: all it takes is a bit of bacon, nutmeg, cream and crunchy breadcrumbs, which can turn the most hostile of vegetables into the perfect Brussels sprout crumble.

Now, who doesn’t like a good crumble?