That headline probably ought to be ‘Top six soups to banish a winter cold’ because the arrival of a cold a few days ago, apparently out of the blue, is what sent me scurrying for my favourite comforting soup recipes. Hot, liquid comfort food – ideally with lots of garlic and onions – is what I crave at the moment.
Whether you, too, are suffering a cold, or just want a soup to warm you when you get back from work or a winter walk, here are six soups which should cheer you up. They are all vegetable soups and all but one are vegetarian – from French country onion soup to roasted squash and tomato soup (below).
1) My fail-safe anti-cold soup is Elizabeth David’s Tourin Bordelais, a country recipe for a pale onion soup, served with slices of sourdough rubbed with garlic. I much prefer it to traditional French Onion Soup, and have found it cuts through the most miserable of colds. It is from French Provincial Cooking – still my desert island cookbook, as it is such a pleasure to read, as well as to cook from.
3 large mild onions
1 tbsp each butter and oil
2 egg yolks to thicken, if desired
A few drops wine vinegar
Slice the onions as finely as you can. Heat the butter and oil (Elizabeth David uses pork dripping, but I rarely have any) in a heavy saucepan, and cook the onions slowly, stirring until they start to soften. Season with salt, cover the pan and cook very gently for 30 minutes. The onions should be very soft but still a creamy yellow colour – you don’t want to brown them.
Pour over a litre of cold water, bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. If you wish to thicken (I don’t always), beat the 2 egg yolks in a bowl with a few drops of vinegar and a ladleful of hot soup. Return this mixture to the pan and stir until very hot, but NOT boiling (or the eggs will curdle).
The original recipe says to serve by putting slices of French bread baked in the oven into each soup plate and pouring the soup over. I think using toasted sourdough, which has been rubbed on both sides with a raw clove of garlic, is even better, especially if you have a cold. Serves 4-6.
2) A close second is this Lentil and Squash soup, based on Nigel Slater’s Dal and Pumpkin soup and probably the recipe I have cooked most often from his first Kitchen Diaries (my favourite of all his cookbooks – though that is a hard-fought title).
3) Today I opted for Celeriac Soup: creamy, wholesome and easy to make.
1 or 2 cloves garlic
500ml vegetable stock
3 tbsps single cream to garnish (optional)
Serves 3, although you could thin with extra stock to make enough for 4 more elegant portions. Slice the leek, and dice the onion. Peel the celeriac, and cut into 1 cm dice. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and add the leek, onion and celeriac. Crush or finely chop the garlic and add to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, stirring from time to time, for about 10 minutes until the veg are beginning to soften.
Heat the stock and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until the celeriac is really tender. Blend using a stick blender or liquidiser, check seasoning and drizzle a spoonful of single cream on each serving. You could also add chopped parsley or all manner of tasty, crispy toppings, but such sophistication can seem a step too far when you’ve got a cold – unless you’re lucky enough to have someone to cook soup for you, of course!
4) Parsnip is one of my favourite vegetables, and over the years I have made a number of different parsnip soups (you can, for example, pretty much substitute parsnip for celeriac in the recipe above). The absolute best, though, is Pastenak and cress cream from Elizabeth David’s Christmas. As I have said before, this book really is a treasure trove of unusual and delicious Christmas recipes. Pastenak and cress cream has become a fixture on our Christmas menus, but deserves to be cooked far more than once a year. Pastenak is the Medieval English word for parsnip, a corruption of the Latin name pastinaca. I particularly love the cress garnish – people seem to have forgotten about mustard and cress in their enthusiasm for putting coriander and flat-leaf parsley on everything, but mustard and cress adds a welcome note of freshness and heat here.
5) This is a recent entrant into my list of favourite soups: Roast squash and tomato soup (pictured, before blending, at the top of this post), originally a Sophie Grigson recipe, which I discovered through the excellent thesinglegourmetandtraveller blog. I think the addition of chilli flakes is definitely a good thing and I also popped about 4 unpeeled garlic cloves into the roasting tin, squeezing the roasted garlic out of the papery cases when I made the soup – as I said above, colds always make me want to eat garlic! The roasting really brings out the flavours and is definitely worth the trouble, especially as you could put the pan of vegetables into the oven ahead of time while you’re roasting something else. This is now my favourite squash soup.
6) Finally, Rowley Leigh’s Chickpea and Spinach soup is a hearty, substantial meal in a dish. It does require advance planning as you need to soak the chickpeas overnight. Although I suppose you could make it with tinned chickpeas, I don’t think you’d get the same texture and flavour as the original. The recipe includes lardons, but if you wanted to make it vegetarian you could omit these, and perhaps add a parmesan rind with the tomatoes to boost the umami flavour.
I hope one of these fits the bill for you too and would be interested to hear what other people find comforting to eat when they have a cold.