Carrot and ginger soup

Carrot and ginger soupIt has been so cold this weekend that soup seemed the best option for a warming lunch, and I wanted something quick and not too heavy as we were going out to dinner. Waitrose have started selling very good value bags of  ‘not quite perfect’ carrots – though they look pretty immaculate to me – so I thought I’d make carrot soup. I used to have it often, but then got bored, and haven’t made it for a while. I fancied a fresh-tasting, really carroty soup with a bit of gingery heat. Makes enough for 3-4.

1 dstsp oil
½ onion
1 clove garlic
a walnut size piece of fresh ginger
600g carrots
750g vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Handful of parsley or coriander leaves
Greek yoghurt to serve if wished

Chop the onion finely. Top and tail the carrots, peel if necessary and chop into 2cm chunks. Heat the oil (I used groundnut but any neutral oil will be fine) in a large saucepan and fry the onion gently until soft. Meanwhile, crush or finely chop the garlic and peel and grate the ginger. When the onion has softened add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or two, stirring so it doesn’t stick. Heat the vegetable stock – I made it using Marigold vegetable bouillon.

Add the carrots, stir them about and then pour on the hot stock. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots are really tender. Blend in a liquidiser or with a stick blender and season with salt and pepper. Chop the coriander leaves or parsley and serve the soup with a spoonful of Greek yoghurt and a generous sprinkle of herbs.

As a variation you could add some butternut squash (raw or, even better, left-over roasted squash) for a more velvety soup, or add a small fresh red chilli at the start to make it punchier. You could also top it with the spiced onions from this recipe for lentil and squash soup, or with a swirl of olive oil mixed with the finely-chopped herbs – both of which are dairy-free. This soup won’t win any awards, but it delivered some quick, cheap, carroty warmth on a cold day.

How to Cook Perfect Rice

Every country seems to have it’s own version of perfection in rice cooking – my brother has become adept at cooking rice in the persian manner, complete with the prized crispy bottom layer known as tahdeeg, while Chinese food calls for sticky rice, which is easy to eat with chopsticks. However, this is the method we use, which produces reliably dry fluffy rice ideal for serving with Indonesian or Indian food. Indonesian rice dishes are eaten with spoon and fork, never chopsticks.

For 4 people I use 240g basmati rice, but if you’re cooking for Iranians or hungry teenagers you should probably increase that quantity to at least 300g – the instructions remain the same. I always use basmati rice – buy it in bulk from asian grocers if the supermarket price is off-putting – as it is so fragrant and gives a much better result.

IMG_1124Rinse the basmati rice and tip into quite a small deep saucepan. Cover with water to the depth of the first knuckle of your middle finger. Irene never salts the water when cooking rice – it can be seasoned once it has been cooked if necessary, but as its role is often to be the plain backdrop to a highly seasoned sauce this may not be necessary.


IMG_1125Cover the pan and bring to the boil (on 8 or 9), then turn down to a simmer (5 or even 4) and cook for 15 minutes (white basmati) or 20-25 minutes (wholemeal), at which point all the water should have evaporated and the rice should look dry and fluffy. Turn off the heat, and leave the pan with the lid on on the cooling hotplate to steam for a few minutes.


Squash ‘lasagne’

This dish evolved from Jamie Oliver’s lasagne – memorably cooked for a big family lunch by my brother, who gave me the recipe. I really like the combination of coriander-spiced butternut squash and mozzarella with the traditional slow-simmered meat sauce, and Jamie’s use of crème fraîche with anchovy instead of a bechamel is quick and effective. The end result is pretty rich, though, and the meat sauce takes 2 hours to cook in the oven (it’s not always easy to get minced shin of beef either). Moreover, the recipe makes enough for 10 and I rarely have that many people to feed.

So, first of all I substituted a meat sauce based on the one in Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy (a favourite and, in my experience, infallible Italian cookbook), and used a layer of ricotta, which goes well with the squash. I made a béchamel using a mix of stock and milk, and – wanting the taste of baked lasagne without the weight of pasta – I left out the lasagne itself, letting the squash provide the starchy layer. The end result is a lighter, gluten-free dish (if you use rice flour for the bechamel) with all the comfort and flavour of a traditional lasagne.

Meat sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
leaves of 1 good sprig of thyme
50g unsmoked bacon (or pancetta), chopped
35g butter
150g minced beef
150g minced pork
2 cans tinned tomatoes
250ml red (or dry white) wine
125g chicken livers, finely chopped

Fry the chopped vegetables, garlic and herbs with the bacon in the butter until the onion begins to colour. Add the minced beef and pork and fry, stirring for 3 minutes. You can also add a pinch of cinnamon (as Jamie does) if you like. Add the tomatoes and cover with wine, season with salt and pepper and simmer for at least 1 hour, adding water or stock if necessary – it should be just moist, not too dry but not too much liquid left either. Mix in the chopped livers. The original recipe has a little less meat, omits the garlic and herbs, and adds chopped prosciutto at the end. It also specifies dry white wine – I tend to use red just because I more often have some lying about. The chicken livers are important, giving a really rich flavour (and you can use the rest of the packet to make chicken liver salad!).

1 small butternut squash (or half a large one)
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed
1 dried red chilli, bashed
olive oil

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Peel and deseed the squash, then either cut into rough chunks or slice into 1 cm rounds (if you want to make a more solid lasagne-like layer). Drizzle with olive oil, season and sprinkle over the coriander and chilli. Roast in the oven for around 40 mins until tender to the point of  knife. It is worth turning the pieces at half time to make sure they cook evenly. While the meat sauce and squash are cooking make the béchamel.

Béchamel sauce:
40g butter
3 tbsp flour (can use rice flour)
250ml milk
250ml stock (1 tsp Marigold in 250ml boiling water)
grating of nutmeg
Melt the butter and stir in the flour over a medium heat. Cook for a few minutes then add the hot stock a little at a time, stirring all the time so that lumps do not form. Then gradually stir in the milk, season with salt and pepper if necessary, grate over a little nutmeg and leave to cook very gently for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

125ml ricotta
50g parmesan
When the squash comes out of the oven, turn it up to 200ºC. To assemble the lasagne, lightly oil an ovenproof dish, start with a thin layer of béchamel, then one of squash, and another of meat sauce. Dot over the ricotta, sprinkle over a little parmesan, then repeat the layers of squash and meat sauce. End with a layer of squash, cover with the béchamel and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top (you could follow Jamie and add some torn up mozzarella too). Bake for about 30 minutes until brown and sizzling. Serve with a green salad.

Rice pudding

I have been cooking this since I was a child – originally using the instructions in Mother’s Revo Cookbook, which came with her new electric cooker in the house she and Bryan bought in Longridge – and latterly following Nigella’s similar recipe from How to Eat (main difference is using butter rather than margarine!). I make it either in the yellow oval metal tin that came with that Revo cooker (we’ve had it as long as I can remember) or in a more elegant oval white stoneware bowl that Irene and I were given for our CP.

The ultimate in comfort food, rice pudding can also be elegant – when served with Pears in Red Wine, say, or with a salad of oranges or mango. Nigella says to melt the butter, but I don’t see the point when you’re about to put the pudding into a hot oven. Sometimes I put half a vanilla pod in, instead of vanilla essence, which gives a stronger vanilla flavour – especially using the amazingly fragrant vanilla pods that Irene’s father bought back from his travels.

4 tbsp short-grain rice
2 tbsp caster sugar
500 ml full-cream milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
15g butter
Freshly grated nutmeg

Heat the oven to 150ºC/Gas 2. Grease the pudding dish, and add the ingredients in the order given, dotting the butter on the top of the pudding, and grating the nutmeg on top. Cook slowly in the oven for 2 hours (my original recipe says 2½ hours but I find it can be stodgy if cooked so long), stirring after 30 mins and again after 1½ hours – I stir the skin in, but you can slip the spoon under the skin if you prefer.

I think this is at its best eaten warm (not hot) either alone or with some fruit (fresh or poached), but it is also delicious cold.

Plum (and other fruit) crumble

Based on Nigel’s Oat plum crumble from The Guardian (qtys for 4 – or 2 with seconds)


350g plums, stoned and quartered
2 tbsp caster sugar
a small knob of butter

50g plain flour
40g butter
50g ground almonds (can just use 100g flour if you prefer)
35g light brown or demerara sugar
40g rolled oats

Heat oven to 200ºC. To make the crumble, rub the butter into the flour, then stir in almonds, sugar and oats.

Put the cut fruit into the medium white pie dish with sugar, butter and 2 tbsp water. Tip the crumble on top and bake for 30-35 minutes until the topping is crisp and golden and the fruit is soft. Serve hot, with cream or custard.

For apple crumble, peel, core and slice 750g apples (for 6 people) and then cook them briefly in a saucepan (2 mins) with 1 tbsp butter , 3-4 tbsp sugar and a squeeze of orange juice or 2 tbsp water before tipping them into the dish. Crumble as above, double quantity, using all flour. Can add ½ tsp cinnamon, and chopped walnuts are a nice addition to the crumble.

Rhubarb crumble: trim 1 kg rhubarb, pull off any stringy bits, cut into 5 cm pieces and put into dish with zest of an orange and a little orange juice  (and a tsp of ground ginger if you like). Nigella uses 120g self-raising flour, 90g butter and 6 tbsp sugar (50/50 light muscovado and caster, method as above) to top her rhubarb crumble, though I really like substituting say 40g of the flour with ground almonds.


Chickpea and Spinach Soup

Chickpea and spinach soup

Rowley Leigh’s recipe from the FT, made by Marlene – really warming and satisfying. For 6

200g chickpeas
4 cloves garlic
1 chilli
1 onion
2 tbsps olive oil
100g lardons or pancetta (cd use smoked bacon), cut in small cubes
2 tomatoes or 100g tinned tomatoes, skinned & chopped
1/2 tsp pimenton picante or cayenne
a generous pinch saffron (if you have it)
750ml chicken stock
400g spinach

1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of cold water (or put in pan of cold water, bring to the boil and leave to stand for 45 minutes). Drain them, cover with fresh cold water and bring to a simmer. Skim the surface and then add the chilli and three garlic cloves. Simmer gently, not allowing the chickpeas to dry up, for at least two hours or until perfectly tender. Allow to cool in their own liquor.

2. Peel and chop the onion quite finely and stew in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with the last clove of garlic, chopped, and the lardons/pancetta. After 10 minutes, but without letting this mixture brown, add the tomato and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the saffron and pimento/cayenne. Now add the chickpeas, squeezing the pulp out of the garlic, together with its liquor and the chicken stock. Bring this to a simmer and season with a little coarse salt.

3. Pick the stalks from the spinach and wash the leaves in several changes of water. Heat a large pan with a film of olive oil and sear the spinach until it wilts. Drain, squeeze out any excess water, turn out on a board and chop it quite finely before adding to the soup. Check the soup for seasoning and serve with grilled or fried bread.

You could try making without the lardons and using veg stock and parmesan rind to make a vegetarian version. For more warming soups see Top six soups to banish the winter cold.

Nigel’s Banana Cake

From Simple Suppers

175g butter
175g sugar (caster & muscovado mixed)
2 eggs
75g ground toasted hazelnuts
175g flour
2 bananas, mashed
100g chopped dark chocolate (?)

Beat butter & sugar, add beaten eggs gradually, with a little flour. Fold in remainder of ingredients, turn into loaf tin, sprinkle with demerara sugar and bake at 170°C for about an hour.