Time to veg out with a bowl of goodness
After all the excesses of the past month, we should get back to basics, suggests Rachel Allen. So get the pan bubbling on the stove and start creating some hearty, comforting soups.
Happy New Year! 2014 has begun, and the weeks of eating big, elaborate meals are over. Not that I'm complaining -- my hunger for roasted meats and decadent desserts has faded somewhat. I'm much more in the mood for simple food, such as winter salads and soups.
Soups, especially, are what I crave -- that nourishing comfort, which can only come from a meal in a bowl. Plus, soups are so easy to make. There isn't the coordinated timing of various different trimmings, or the fight for oven space for all the components of just one meal.
At this time of year, it's a welcome relief to see my stove top almost empty, populated only by one solitary, simmering saucepan.
The winter vegetables that are good now make for hearty soups. Carrots -- sweetened by their time in the hard winter frost -- make a gorgeous basis for a soup. I like simple carrot soups, but this recipe is a little bit different, with the gentle heat of ginger and rich, thick, coconut milk.
As well as that wonderful texture, I love the distinctive flavour of the coconut milk. However, if you don't have coconut milk, you could use half the volume of cream, and the soup would be just as good.
Celeriac makes a fabulous soup. They can be intimidating when they are whole, and protected by that thick and seemingly impenetrable armour, but with a sturdy knife, some heat and a little cream, they make a soup that is gently soothing and velvety smooth.
The flavour of hazelnuts goes particularly well with celeriac, but the crunchy contrast of the nuts is what makes this soup special.
The potato soup is distinctly Scandinavian, with the three main ingredients beloved of the Swedes and the Danes.
It's a simple potato soup, flavoured only by fresh dill -- the thin slivers of smoked salmon are added just before serving, so the heat of the soup very lightly 'cooks' the fish, really enhancing its flavour.
It's a divine soup, with just a little luxury, because January doesn't need to be all detoxing and denial!
Carrot, ginger and coconut soup
You will need:
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 800g (1¾lb) carrots, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, freshly ground
- 835ml (1pt 9fl oz) chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 x 400ml (14oz) tin of coconut milk
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons coriander, chopped
Put the sunflower oil into a large saucepan and place it on a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onions, and the finely chopped garlic. Cover with a lid and sweat the onions and garlic for 6--8 minutes, or until they are softened, but not browned. Stir in the grated carrots and the finely chopped ginger and the freshly ground coriander seeds, then cover the saucepan again with the lid and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. Pour in the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you're using, and the coconut milk, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2--3 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and liquidise it in a blender, or use a hand blender, then put it back on the hob and reheat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve garnished with chopped fresh coriander.
Celeriac soup with roasted hazelnuts
- You will need:
- 25g (1oz) butter
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 potato, peeled and chopped
- 1 celeriac, peeled and chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- About 900ml (1pt 12fl oz) vegetable stock
- 75ml (3fl oz) cream
- Handful of fresh thyme, chopped
- Handful of peeled hazelnuts, roasted (see my Tip, left) and roughly chopped
- 2--3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Melt the butter in a large saucepan on a low to medium heat. Then add the chopped onion, the chopped potato and the chopped celeriac, and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a butter wrapper or piece of greaseproof paper on top of the chopped vegetables, cover the saucepan with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for 7--8 minutes, stirring regularly.
Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a further 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are completely soft.
Add the cream and the chopped thyme, then blend the soup in a blender, or use a hand blender, until it is smooth and velvety. Taste for seasoning. To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls and sprinkle with the chopped roasted hazelnuts and the chopped fresh parsley.
Potato soup with dill and smoked salmon
You will need:
- 50g (2oz) butter
- 400g (14oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 800ml (1½ pt) chicken or vegetable stock
- 125ml (4½ fl oz) creamy milk (use half milk and half cream, or if you prefer, use all milk)
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
- 100g (3½ oz) sliced smoked salmon, cut into slivers, about 2cm x ½cm (¾in x ¼in)
Place the butter in a large saucepan and set it on a medium-low heat. Add the chopped potatoes and the chopped onion, then season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir, then cover with a lid. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you're using, then increase the heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are completely soft. Whizz the soup in a blender, or use a hand blender, then return it to the pan and add the creamy milk, or the milk, whichever you're using. You can add a little more stock or milk at this point if you'd like a thinner soup. Season to taste, stir through the chopped fresh dill, then ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the smoked salmon slivers and serve.
In Ireland, we are spoilt for choice with the great range of fish smokers. In West Cork, there is Woodcock Smokery, see www.woodcocksmokery.com; and the Ummera Smokehouse, see www.ummera.com. In East Cork, we have Bill Casey, tel: (021) 464-6955; and Frank Hederman, see frankhederman.com. Co Galway has the Connemara Smokehouse, see www.smokehouse.ie. There’s also the Burren Smokehouse in Co Clare, see www.burrensmokehouse.ie