Simply delicious summer soups and salads
Master these tasty soups and salads by Rory O'Connell
Having a few good techniques up your sleeve is helpful for all cooks, and being able to make delicious, seasonal and nourishing soups and a salad of fresh leaves is useful in any kitchen.
The recipes I have chosen here are a good illustration of this point. When these skills are mastered, you can expand and respond to the best ingredients of each season, thereby getting better quality and value for money – and also keeping the food in your kitchen exciting.
Take the green vegetable soup: it's not an earth-shatteringly exciting title, but when properly made to achieve a brilliant green colour and a silky smooth consistency, it is delicious and smart enough to serve in any company. The potato thickens, the onion adds punch and the green vegetable of choice is the dominant flavour. This recipe can be a friend to you right through the year.
The carrot, coconut and lemongrass soup is certainly more exotic in name and relies on a more varied shopping list, but involves a similar technique to its green cousin.
Exactly the same points can be made about the salad recipes. A salad of leaves is a year-round staple which reacts to the best of what is available in your garden or the shops. At the moment, I am adding leaves and flowers from my pea and broadbean plants, as well as mint and the rampant wild chickweed and bittercress which seem intent on colonising my garden.
The beef salad, like the carrot soup, relies on more exotic flavours, but will require you to approach the preparation and serving of the leaf element of the recipe with the same care as you apply to the bowl of greens.
From Rory O'Connell's book 'Master It: How To Cook Today'; £25, published by Fourth Estate
Roast fillet of beef with roast peanuts, Asian dressing, mint and coriander salad
This is a great mixture of flavours and textures to combine with an extravagant fillet of beef. The amount of beef is scant, but there is so much else going on that I find it sufficient.
The sauce, dressing and salad leaves can be prepared in advance, so the final assembly is pretty straightforward. The tingling tastes in this dish are both delicious and refreshing.
Fillet of beef is the most tender cut of beef and is best served somewhat rare. It dries out considerably if cooked to well done, but have it just as you like it.
The salad should include one crisp type of lettuce, such as Little Gem.
If possible, get peanuts with their skins on for the peanut sauce, as the skins add a depth of flavour. Do not be tempted to use roasted salted peanuts for the sauce – it will be disgusting.
The chilli used in the Asian dressing should be quite hot, such as a serrano pepper, but taste a tiny bit before using it in the dressing and add it according to the preferences and heat threshold of your guests.
When tasting a raw chilli, taste a tiny bit from the fat middle of the chilli. This is the part that gives an accurate indication of the overall heat. Chillies of the same variety can vary in strength, so tasting is really the best way to find out what the true heat is.
Heat fiends might like to use a bird's-eye chilli here.
Serves four to six.
YOU WILL NEED
500-600g fillet beef, trimmed of all gristle
1 tbsp olive oil, for rubbing on the beef fillet
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 handfuls mixed greens such as rocket, mizuna, Little Gem and watercress
1 handful mixed mint and coriander leaves
4 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle For the roast-peanut sauce 100g unskinned peanuts
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 tbsps water
1 tbsp peanut or sunflower oil
80ml chicken stock
Maldon sea salt For the Asian dressing 2 tbsps white-wine vinegar
1 tbsp ginger, very finely chopped
1 level tbsp garlic, very finely chopped
2 fresh chillies, seeds removed and very finely chopped
1½ tsps soft dark brown sugar
1 level tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
Maldon sea salt, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. For the sauce, place the peanuts on a baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. Shake the pan occasionally to ensure that the nuts are browning evenly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. They do not need to be peeled.
While the nuts are roasting, dry-roast the cumin seeds briefly in a small frying pan and then grind to a fine powder. Place the cold peanuts in a food processor with the ground cumin and puree to a thick consistency with the water and oil.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer and add to the peanut puree. The consistency should be similar to pouring cream. Taste and correct the seasoning. Reserve for later.
Mix all the dressing ingredients together, then taste and correct the seasoning.
To assemble the salad, turn the oven up to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7. Heat a heavy ovenproof grill pan or roasting tin on the hob. The pan should be nearly smoking hot before you add the beef.
Rub the fillet of beef with the olive oil and put it into the pan. Allow it to brown all over, turning it occasionally to achieve an even colour. Season it with salt and pepper, then place it in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes. Use a skewer to check how cooked it is.
Remove the beef from the tin and place it on a small plate which you have turned over, so it is the wrong way up; this plate should sit on a larger plate. This allows any juices that escape from the meat to drain off and be saved for later.
Lower the oven temperature to 100°C/ 200°F/Gas Mark ¼ and put the meat back in to rest for 15 minutes.
When ready to serve, toss the salad leaves and herbs in a large oversized bowl with just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten lightly. Place on hot plates or a platter.
Slice the beef into 1cm thick slices and lay over the leaves. Drizzle a little of the peanut sauce over the beef. Add any meat juices from the resting plate, too.
Add a final flourish of sliced spring onions and serve immediately, passing around the extra peanut sauce in a sauce boat.
Year-round green vegetable soup
In this master recipe, we are aiming to achieve a smooth and silky soup, packed full of flavour and nourishment and bright-green in colour. This recipe can be seen as a year-round formula for the various vegetables that come and go as the seasons change.
By varying the green ingredient, you need never tire of this recipe.
The green vegetables that can be used here are many, but we have to choose one to get us going, so my choice is spinach. Choose strong and really fresh-looking leaves and the results will be dazzling.
If the spinach leaves are big, the central rib will need to be removed before measuring the leaves. If you are using baby spinach, the tender stalks can remain.
Nutmeg is one of the traditional flavourings for spinach and a small grating would be good here, but always be cautious with the addition of it as too much can spoil the dish.
Potatoes and onions are used in the soup base. The onion adds lots of flavour and the potato thickens the soup.
The green vegetable you use will be the determining flavour of the finished dish. Green cabbage at any time of the year, with tough ribs removed from the leaves and finely chopped, is excellent. You can also try nettles, watercress, wild garlic leaves, diced courgettes or cucumbers, Swiss chard leaves, pea and bean leaves, dark-green lettuce leaves and so on.
Chicken stock produces the most flavoursome result here. Serves six.
YOU WILL NEED
110g onions, peeled and diced
140g potatoes, peeled and diced
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
350g spinach leaves, or green vegetable of your choice, weighed after removing stalks
Nutmeg, freshly grated
Creamy milk, ie, milk and cream mixed in equal proportion
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and allow to foam. Add the onions and potatoes, season with salt and pepper and toss with a wooden spoon to coat the vegetables in the butter. Cover with a greaseproof paper lid and the lid of the saucepan and cook on a very low heat for 10 minutes or so. The aim is to soften the vegetables slightly, with no colour.
Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cover again with the saucepan lid. Simmer until the onion and potato are completely tender and starting to collapse. This will take about 15 minutes.
Remove the lid from the saucepan and add the spinach and nutmeg. Do not replace the saucepan lid. Bring to a simmer and cook until the spinach is tender. This can take from one to two minutes for baby spinach to five minutes for large leaves. If you cannot tell by looking at the vegetable if it is cooked, taste a little – it should be tender and slippery.
Puree immediately with a hand-held blender or in a liquidiser. Add a little more stock or creamy milk if the soup is too thick. Taste and correct the seasoning.
If not serving immediately, do not cover the soup as this will spoil the green colour. Serve in hot bowls garnished with a blob of cream or a few drops of olive oil. The soup can be prepared ahead and reheated later, though the green colour will not be as strident.
Carrot, coconut and lemongrass soup
I tasted a soup with these ingredients in Laos a few years ago. When I came home, I set about recreating that delicious flavour.
It can be difficult to achieve a really flavoursome result with carrot soup. However, with this lovely combination of flavours it works really well. It is worth noting that lemongrass grows successfully in this country in a glasshouse or conservatory, or even just on a south- facing windowsill.
I like to make this soup with big carrots that have been sold with some earth still on them, and preferably after the first frosts when they seem to become deeper in flavour, so this becomes a late-autumn and winter soup.
Lemongrass is easy to source now. Bright green when fresh, it dulls to a pale straw colour when dried, which is the way it is sold generally in the West. Here, it needs to be sliced as finely as possible so that it will cook down and disappear into the pureed soup.
Coconut milk, like lemongrass, is an essential ingredient in the cuisine of southeast Asia and southern India. Like lemongrass, using it is an entry ticket to a new repertoire of dishes.
Apart from the colour, the general appearance can vary – sometimes there will be a thick and solid layer on top, which is the richer cream, with a watery, milk-like liquid underneath. Just stir the two elements together to mix.
Some brands of coconut milk have been emulsified to prevent the two liquids from separating. I avoid these, because I just want the coconut water, not the stabilisers and emulsifiers. The quality of tinned coconut milk varies quite a bit, so search out a good brand, such as Chaokoh.
Serves six to eight.
YOU WILL NEED
700g carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
225g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
2 stalks lemongrass
Maldon sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar, to taste
850ml chicken stock
500ml coconut milk
Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and allow it to foam. Add the carrots, onions and garlic and stir to coat in the butter.
Remove the coarse outer leaves and the tough ends from the lemongrass. Slice the trimmed stalk finely against the grain and add to the vegetables. Tie the tough outer leaves together with string and add to the pan.
Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cover with a greaseproof paper lid and the saucepan lid and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are beginning to soften.
Add the chicken stock, return to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are completely tender.
Remove and discard the tied-up lemongrass stalks. Puree the ingredients to achieve a smooth and silky consistency.
Heat the coconut milk to a simmer, add to the carrot puree and mix well. Return the soup to a simmer. The consistency will be slightly thick.
Taste and correct the seasoning, bearing in mind that carrots sometimes benefit from a small pinch of sugar to really lift the flavour.
Serve hot, garnished with the coriander leaves.
Making a perfect leaf salad is a technique that some cooks feel eludes them. It requires care and a light hand, but it is a skill everyone can acquire. Be gentle so as not to bruise the leaves.
Here are some key tips:
1 Choose leaves that are as fresh and as seasonal as possible. Tired-looking leaves will yield a tired salad.
2 Wash the leaves as soon as possible after getting them to your kitchen, even if you are not planning to use them immediately.
3 Remove damaged leaves and cut whole heads just above the base of the stalk to release the individual leaves. Do not wrench the leaves off the root or you will damage them.
4 Soak the leaves in cold water for 30 minutes before carefully draining and drying them in small quantities in a salad spinner.
If you don't dry the leaves, the dressing will just run off, leaving you with a puddle of watery dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl.
5 Keep leaves wrapped and cold if not using immediately after drying. I like to wrap them in a single layer of kitchen paper or a light damp cloth and then slip them into a large plastic bag or bowl before storing them in the fridge. Fresh leaves will keep very well for a few days this way.
6 Always accurately measure ingredients for a dressing or vinaigrette. The aim is to balance the sharp ingredients, such as vinegar or lemon juice, with the richer oils or cream to achieve a pleasant flavour that neither under- or overwhelms the leaves.
7 Place the leaves for tossing in a bowl that looks too big for the job. Plenty of space allows for a delicate tossing of the leaves.
8 Larger leaves should be delicately torn into large bite-sized pieces.
9 Always shake or whisk a dressing to ensure an even distribution of ingredients before adding a little less than you think you need to the leaves.
I use my hands to dress the leaves, allowing them to fall through my outstretched fingers. You may use salad servers. Add more dressing if necessary. The leaves should be very lightly glazed, not soggy.
10 Taste the salad before serving to see if a grain of salt is required.
11 Serve a leaf salad immediately after dressing.