Soup and bread, as simple can be

This Christmas, I lucked out in the cookbook department in a big way. Every tome that I had my beady eye on is now blissfully in my possession, and I couldn’t be happier. It was with a leaden suitcase that I returned to London, ready to get back into my kitchen, and make a big ole mess without my poor Mum looking on in horror.

In prime position on my bookcase, and in no particular order, are Simple by Ottolenghi (gifted by my ever thoughtful housemate), Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, Planted by Chantelle Nicholson, and Slow by Gizzi Erskine (all three from my lovely godparents).

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It is common knowledge that Ottolenghi can do no wrong, and having tried, tested and devoured all the recipes he’d made public from Simple, it was one I had to have.

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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has received critical acclaim aplenty this year, for being a cookbook of a different kind. Instead of telling you what to cook, it sets out to teach you how to cook, by understanding the titled four elements in great depth. As it requires as much concentration as a scientific textbook, I’m still only on the Salt chapter, but already it has made me question the way I cook and I’ve picked up many an informational nugget. There are recipes further into the book, but with no photos to show the finished article. The author wants her readers to be confident enough to make a dish without relying too heavily on the recipe, something that I admire and appreciate in a food writer. Why spend valuable time reading an overly wordy recipe, when all you really need is the bare bones? Her ethos of trusting your instincts and gaining a deeper understanding of the cooking process appeals to me, as I hope to move away from relying on recipes and begin to create my own.

At this time of the year, I do tend to eat more simply. Less elaborate salads, more hearty fare. The first recipe I gravitated towards in Simple was his curried lentil soup. It just happens to have the added benefit of being suitable for veganuary, and the post-Christmas purse strings. The only adjustments I made to the original recipe were to add a leek (why have one allium when you can have two), two big knobs of fresh turmeric (because, health properties!) and I doubled it (to fill my freezer).

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Curried Lentil Soup  (serves 8, recipe adapted from Ottolenghi’s Simple)

Ingredients

  • rapeseed oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 thumb sized knobs of ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 thumb sized knobs of fresh turmeric, grated, or 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 packet of coriander, separated into finely chopped stalks & leaves
  • 300g red lentils
  • 2 x 400g tin tomatoes
  • 2 x 400ml tin coconut milk
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The original recipe, for the purists out there.

Method

Heat enough rapeseed oil to coat the base of a large saucepan over a medium high heat. Add the onion & leek and saute for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft & golden. Add a pinch of salt at this point. It does nothing to affect the seasoning, but it helps to break down the onions.

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Add the garlic, ginger & turmeric, and stir for another 2 minutes. Add the spices & coriander stalks, and saute for another 2 minutes (you want to cook out the spices a little here). Add in the lentils, give a little stir to coat them in the mixture, then pour in the tinned tomatoes & coconut milk, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Fill two tins with hot water, and add this too. Give it all a good stir, and bring to the boil. Simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring every now and then to make sure the lentils don’t catch on the bottom of the pan. When the lentils are cooked, have a taste. Add a generous amount of black pepper. Not only does it enhance the flavour of the soup, but it interacts with the turmeric to make it more active, increasing the goodness. Lentils generally can take a lot of seasoning, so add salt to taste. Samin Nosrat says to keep adding and tasting, adding and tasting, until you taste that ‘zing!’.

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Pour into bowls, top with toasted pumpkin seeds, coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy, like I did, with a slice of your best homemade bread, the recipe of which comes from a good friend of mine, Christophe.

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Christophe is the best butler a chef could ever hope for. He is not only the best in the (butler) business, but he’s exceptionally handy in the kitchen. When I’m lucky enough to work with him at a dinner party, it’s like having two chefs in the room. I can ask him to plate an element of the dish while I finish something else, and no joke, he does it better than I could have done myself. He tells me about how he and his wife (who is also an accomplished chef) make everything from scratch, sprout their pulses & bake homemade bread. Have you ever heard of such #couplegoals?! This is just one of the recipes he’s shared with me, and I am going to share it with the world. Or rather, whoever reads this page. If you have a mixer, it’s the easiest thing in the world, cheap as chips, with absolutely no additives or preservatives. Bake it, slice it, freeze it, and you’ve got homemade fresh bread every day of the week.

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Wholemeal Bread (makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

  • 400g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 100g rye/spelt flour
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp sunflower/pumpkin/sesame seeds
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 1 tsp honey or sugar
  • 300ml warm water

Mix the water, yeast & honey in a jug. Mix the flours, salt & seeds in a large mixing bowl. If making this in a mixer, attach the dough hook, pour in the liquid and let it do its thang for about 10 minutes. If making by hand, incorporate the liquid into the flour slowly using one hand as a claw, until it comes together into a dough. Knead for 10-15 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Pop the dough into a big oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove somewhere warm until doubled in size, about an hour. Grease a loaf tin with butter & flour. Knock back the risen dough, and form it into a smooth sausage shape to fit in your loaf tin. Cover this with oiled clingfilm, and leave to prove for another hour until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 200°C, and bake for 20-25 minutes. When it’s golden brown all over, turn it out, knock on the underside and if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Leave to cool for a bit before slicing and digging in. In my opinion, the crusts at either end are the best bit, and never make it into the freezer.

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