Friday 24 November 2017

Soup it up

Wrap yourself around a hot, hearty, wholesome bowl of soup to keep out the winter cold, says Brenda Costigan, and savour the earthy flavours of oxtail, mulligatawny and paprika

The word 'comfort' is described in my dictionary as "a person or thing that consoles": or "thing(s) which bring bodily ease".

With the minimum amount of fuss and expense, these classic soup recipes provide you with both nutrition and comfort on a dull winter's day.If these soups are made the day before, they can be heated up in a jiffy, and they could be described as really fast food!

Oxtail soup

Oxtail soup was a firm favourite in Ireland for many years, though it seems to have fallen out of favour recently. However this bony, inexpensive cut of meat can be made into a wonderful soup. The flavour is excellent, but slow, careful cooking is needed to make the meat soft and tender. For best results, make this soup the day before it is required. This not only allows the excess fat to rise to the surface and set, making it very easy to remove. It also allows all the flavours to mellow together. Oxtails are not always easy to get, so check with your butcher. Failing the oxtail, shin beef could be used instead. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

1 oxtail, sliced

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 large onions, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)

1 carrot, sliced

2 sticks celery, chopped

1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped

1 potato, peeled and chopped

1.4-1.75L (2 1/2-3pt) beef stock

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons butter (for kneaded butter, optional)

2 tablespoons flour (for kneaded butter, optional)

To serve:

60ml (4 tablespoons) brandy (optional)

Parsley, chopped

Trim as much excess fat as possible off the sliced oxtail. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and brown the slices of oxtail on all sides. Lift them out, and add the peeled, sliced onion and the chopped garlic. Fry them until they are soft and golden, adding the brown sugar, if you are using it. Add the oxtail slices back in, and then add the sliced carrot, the chopped celery, the peeled, chopped parsnip and potato, and the beef stock. Stir well, and then add the bay leaves, the thyme, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and the Dijon mustard. Bring it to the boil. Remove any scum that comes to the surface. Cover the saucepan with a lid and simmer very gently for about 2-3 hours until the meat comes off the bone easily. If you prefer, you can cook the soup in a heavy casserole with a well-fitting lid for 3-4 hours in the oven, which has been preheated to 150 C, 300 F, Gas 2. Leave the soup in the saucepan and stand it in a cool corner overnight. The next day, lift off any fat that has settled on the surface. Lift the meat out of the soup and remove the bone. Cut the meat up into little pieces and put them back into the soup. If you like, you can thicken the soup with some kneaded butter, see below. Heat the soup up when required. Add the brandy, if you're using it, and scatter the chopped parsley.

Kneaded butter:

Mash together two tablespoons each of butter and flour. Drop enough of this paste, in small bits, into the briskly simmering soup, stirring well to mix until the correct thickness is achieved.


Wonderfully flavoursome, this classic soup is also ideal for serving on the cooler days of the year. The small gammon (ham) knuckle adds a great flavour to the soup. If you can't find one of these easily, then some smoked streaky bacon -- in one piece -- is an excellent substitute. Split peas come in green or yellow; choose the green ones for this soup. Because they are split, they will cook more quickly and they do not require any pre-steeping. They swell up considerably when they are cooked. If you can't find them in your local shop, then they are readily available in health-food shops. They are rich in vegetable protein. Serves 6.

You will need:

450g (1lb) gammon knuckle or 350g (12oz) streaky bacon (in one piece)

2L (3 1/2pt) water

1 chicken stock cube, crumbled

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 celery stick, chopped

1 potato, chopped

1 leek, thinly sliced and well washed

400g (14oz) green split peas

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 sprigs parsley

A little salt and generous amounts freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

Parsley, chopped

Croutons (optional)

Put the gammon knuckle or the streaky bacon, whichever you are using, into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Drain, and put the meat back into the rinsed-out saucepan. Pour in the measured water and the crumbled chicken stock cube. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on at a tilt to allow the steam to escape, for about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat the olive oil, and fry the chopped onion and garlic, without browning them. Then add in the chopped celery and potato, and the thinly sliced, well-washed leek. Cook together for a few minutes and then transfer the contents of the pan into the saucepan with the meat. Then add the green split peas, the bay leaf, the thyme, the parsley, the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and cover, leaving the lid at an angle to allow the steam to escape.

Simmer for another 45-60 minutes until both the vegetables and meat are tender. Remove the remaining sprigs of the herbs. Lift out the meat. Cut away all the fat and bone from the meat, cutting the meat into little pieces. If you like, the soup -- without the meat -- can be buzzed in a food processor to make a smooth, thick puree. Then return the soup to the pot, adding in the meat pieces. Serve, with the chopped parsley, and the croutons, if you're using them.


As with all well-known recipes, there are many versions of this soup. The curry powder in the ingredients hints at the soup's Indian origin. Translated literally from Tamil, the name mulligatawny means pepper water, and the recipe was brought from India by the British. This soup is wonderfully sustaining on a cold day. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

40g (1 1/2oz) butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped (seeds and stalk discarded)

1 carrot, finely chopped

2-3 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon fresh root ginger, grated

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1.25L (2pt) chicken stock

1x400g (13oz) tin chickpeas, drained (see note)

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)

Natural yogurt, to serve


If you like, before you add them to the soup, buzz the chickpeas in a food processor for a few seconds to partially chop them -- however, they should still be rather coarse.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the olive oil. Fry the chopped onion and garlic until soft. Then add in the chopped celery, the green pepper and the finely chopped carrot. Stir for a few seconds, before stirring in the curry powder with the grated fresh ginger and the ground cinnamon.

Add the cayenne pepper, if you're using it. Stir for a half a minute or so, then stir in the chicken stock, the drained chickpeas, the bay leaf and the chopped parsl ey. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.

When the vegetables are tender, add the lemon juice, if you are using it. Serve with the natural yogurt to spoon on each portion.


This Hungarian soup contains a delightful mixture of finely diced vegetables and meat. The soup is flavoured with mild Hungarian paprika -- but you can use hot paprika if you wish. Serve in small portions as a starter, or more generous servings, accompanied by some crusty bread, to make a light meal. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, cut in 0.5cm (1/4in) dice

1 garlic clove, chopped

25g (1oz) back rashers, finely chopped

1 heaped teaspoon paprika

175g (6oz) lean pork chop, cut in 0.5cm (1/4in) dice

700ml-1.1L (1 1/2-2pt) chicken stock

1 medium/large carrot, finely diced

1 medium/large potato, finely diced

1 medium stick celery, finely diced

110g (4oz) mushrooms, finely diced

1 tomato, finely diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 sprig fresh thyme

100ml (about 4fl oz) creme fraiche

1 heaped teaspoon cornflour (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and cook the diced onion, the chopped garlic and the finely chopped rashers over a medium heat until the onions turn pale gold. Stir in the paprika and stir over the heat to release and develop its flavour. Add the diced lean pork and just enough chicken stock to cover the pork. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Next add the finely diced carrot, potato, celery, mushrooms, tomato and the remainder of the chicken stock. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the bay leaves and the fresh thyme. Bring to the boil, and cover the saucepan with a lid. Reduce the heat and gently simmer for another 20-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Put the creme fraiche into a bowl and mix with the cornflour, if you are using it. Stir some of the hot soup through it to make a runny mixture, and then add this mixture to the saucepan. Bring gently to the boil, stirring. Taste, and add salt and freshly ground black pepper if required. Remove the thyme and the bay leaves and serve.

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