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Live Below the Line: Tasty vegetable & BARLEY (but a little bit ugly) SOUP, ready for winter…July

28 Jun

20130628-070300.jpgSoup… a way to save money, loose a little weight and boost my vegetable intake.  So, why not!  I love soup, I really really do.  I hate soup when my tuppawear opens and it leaks all over my bag, but this is a very rare occurance and it is the ONLY time I dislike soup.  I cannot think of any reason why people should not make it and eat it in summer… it lasts in the fridge, the taste increases (for the better) overtime and I just love it… as I am sure you will to.

I think soup is a traditionally quite a nothern staple.  I know as a little girl we were served a smooth vegetable soup as soon as my mum thought one of us had even a slight cold (evidenced by a little cough or a sneeze that she noticed and prayed upon).  Rather than it being a torturous occasion to have this soup, we would relish it and if we were really good mum would either make some homemade bread to go with it, some baked chicken wings or (my personal favourite) a little cheese on toast.  I have  (over the years of living away from home) tended to experiment with soups and now, as an adult, see them as a great way to boost my vitamins, minerals and even my fibre intake – with added pearl barley.  I am also more than happy to order them for dinner in a restaurant, as they are generally inexpensive, heart warming and really really filling.

I love pearl barley, nearly as much as I love soup.  It really bulks out a dish, but it is a wholegain and is great for your digestive system, as it is high in fibre and wholegrain goodness (extra B vitamins and some essential fatty acids).  It is also very cheap and if fills me up, so there is not much more that I could want from a food product!  If you haven’t cooked with it before, there really is no need to worry.  It is extremly simple to use, you just need to ensure you cook it until it is soft (like rice!).

I have decided to make this recipe a part of my ‘Live Below the Line’ series, as it really is THAT cheap to make.  You don’t even have to add the chicken (maybe just add some more veg if you don’t) but if you don’t have a lot of money and want something wholesome, healthy and low in calories, high in nutrients then you really don’t have to look any further… here we go!

PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes

COOKING TIME:  45 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions

COST: 42p per portion (without the chicken it would be cheaper at 20p per portion)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 chicken thighs or 3 drumsticks (£3.00 for 6 thighs, so £1 for 2 – you could use a wing or drumstick, I prefer to buy de-boned thighs just to save me some time but using the drumsticks would cost about 88p)
  • 1 chicken stock cube (10p)
  • 2 carrots (12p)
  • 1 potato, or 5 new potatoes with the skin on (28p – see if you can buy them singulary or if there are any offers on large bags or reductions)
  • 1 large onion (if you buy a large bag of about 16 onions for £1 then use 2 of these as they are a little smaller – this will set you back about 12p)
  • 1 cup of pearl barley (59p for a 500g bag of this and you will need about 150g of dried pearl barley, so this will cost 17p)
  • Water (to cover, about a litre)
  • Black Pepper (to taste – a store cupboard ingredient)

HOW TO MAKE THE CHICKEN & BARLEY SOUP…

The first thing to do is to finely dice your carrots and your onions and pop them in a large pan.  To this add a dash of olive oil and cook for 5 minutes until they are just start to soften.

Whilst the carrots and onions cook, soak the pearl barley in a bowl with boiling water and place to one side (for about 20 minutes).

Add the chicken, and the stock cube to the pan and then cover with water.  If you are using a medium sized pan, fill the pan until the water level comes to about 2cm below the top (it should be about a litre, but you may need more – it depends if you want a thick chunky soup or a slightly more watery, soup).  Place a lid on and bring to the boil.  Once boiling reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  At this point the chicken should be cooked, so remove from the pan and place on a chopping board.  You need to cool the chicken down, so that you can shred it.  If you do this whilst it is still hot you will have very sore hands!

The pearl barley should now have softened a little, so pour into a sieve and then rinse until the water runs clear.  This will mean you have removed some of the starch, which is fine.  Add this to the soup and again return the soup to the boil.  Dice the potatoes (with the skins on for extra fibre) and then add to the pan.  You need to cook this until the pearl barley is soft… it’s a little like cooking rice.  If you don’t cook it through it has a hard centre which tastes bitty and unpleasant.  It will take about 20 to 30 minutes for the pearl barley to soften, so once boiling, reduce to a simmer and continue to cook.

Once the chicken is cooled, remove the skin and discard, then shred using a fork (or your fingers… after all they were they best tools we were born with) and then add this back into the soup.  Discard the bones and continue to cook the soup until all the vegetables etc. are soft.  I would add my pepper with about 5 – 10 minutes of the cooking time left and then taste to ensure I have added enough.

This soup should not be blended to a smooth consistency – which is why it is important to dice the vegetables nice and small.  Then serve… use a nice bowl to make it look a little prettier and if you wish serve with some nice chunky brown bread.  YUM!

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The finished soup! I know it does not look that appetising, but that is because everything (the pearl barley) has sunk to the bottom and is all I could photograph was the watery soup… believe me it TASTES AMAZING!

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ABC, 1..2..3… with SIXTEEN SiZzLinG Sausages, sizzling in a pan…

21 May

photo‘Why am I calling this an ABC recipe?’ I hear you ask… well… this recipe was sent to me by Anna Buttery and it’s a Casserole!  But making this recipe is also as simple as ABC, 1… 2… 3.  The ingredient list looks lengthy and potentially quite ambitious, but I assure you it isn’t really.  It is all about having the confidence to ‘have a go’ and even if you don’t do everything to the letter, it doesn’t matter as with something as simple as a casserole you can’t really fail.

Follow these simple steps and make a delicious, hearty dinner that you will be extremely proud to show off to your friends and family.  I made it this weekend after Anna recommended it to me, as my parents were visiting London and I had them and 2 hungry house-mates to feed, so the 5 of us sat down to dinner and really enjoyed this meal.  The herbs, wine and balsamic vinegar gave the casserole a fabulous flavour and I found that the recipe wasn’t too expensive make, so I could happily feed everyone for under £10.

I bought some garlic bread and baking potatoes (which I roasted in the oven at the same time as the casserole) as my carbohydrate and they complimented the dish well.  On finishing the meal I still had 4 sausages left, so I had 2 meals for work too.  Just sublime!

PREPARATION TIME: 20 minutes (including cooking the sausages)

COOKING TIME: 1.5 hours

MAKES: 8 portions (to feed your family, or to freeze)

COST PER PORTION: 91p… this gives everyone 2 sausages, lots of beans and casserole sauce and if you then add a carbohydrate to this you want to add an extra 25p per person for a potato or some garlic bread or maybe even some rice.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 16 Cumberland sausages – I bought 3 packs from Sainsbury’s for £5 and used 2 packs, using these offers is a great way to save money – £3.34
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes – 69p
  • 1 bag Sainsbury’s cherry tomatoes – £1
  • 200g tomato passata – 24p
  • 3 gloves of chopped/crushed garlic – 4p
  • 4 whole garlic cloves – 5p
  • 2 large onions (red or white)
  • 2 rosemary sprigs – from my garden so free to me!
  • 1tbsp fresh thyme – also from my garden so free to me!
  • 1 can of cannellini beans – 69p
  • 1 can of baked beans – any brand will do, I had a spare tin of Heinz, Branston are cheaper and have more flavour but the Sainsbury’s own are the cheapest, so the choice is yours – 70p
  • 150ml Red wine – only use this if you have a leftover bottle lying around, I did so this went in.  If I hadn’t I would not have opened a bottle for this, as I just cannot afford to.  For this reason, and because we are using up leftovers this is pretty much a freebie!
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar – 30p
  • 1 red chilli with seeds or 3 tsp chilli powder – this is a store cupboard ingredient, or if you have a chilli plant in the garden it’s pretty much free!
  • 1 tsp paprika – this is a store cupboard ingredient, so we don’t need to include this in the costings.
  • 1 Kallo stock cube – beef or pork is fine, use Kallo as they are organic, have less salt and more flavour, cheaper stock cubes mean you are paying for expensive salt! – 12p
  • 2 stalks of celery – 10p
  • 100 ml water – if you do not use the red wine increase this to 200ml

HOW TO MAKE THIS DELICIOUS CASSEROLE…

So, the first thing to do is to cook the sausages! Lets get them going in the frying pan, turning them a quarter turn ever couple of minutes so that they become nice and golden/brown all over.  This should take about 10 minutes.  Once done remove them from the pan and place them on a plate to rest.  Do not throw all the ‘sausage juice’ left in the pan away, as this is where most of our flavour is going to come from.

IMG_5413

…my sixteen sizzling sausages, sizzling in the pan!

Next, peel and chop the onions in to 8ths and separate a little.  Throw these into the pan with all the sausage juice and cook until golden.  To this add the little pieces of celery, the chopped/crushed garlic and then the pressed, whole garlic cloves in their skin. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes and then add the chilli, the chopped up rosemary, the thyme (leaves only, not the twig bits as these will get stuck in your teeth).  Cut the cherry tomatoes in halves and then add to the pan and leave for another 5 minutes.  Now add the balsamic vinegar and the red wine and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes.  IMG_5414

Finally add the stock cube, the tin of chopped tomatoes, the baked beans and the cannellini beans.  I would also add the water at this stage, as in the oven the sauce will reduce somewhat and you don’t want a dry casserole!

IMG_5415

Stack the sausages, as per the picture in your casserole dish.  This will allow the sauce to get in between the sausages and allow everything to mingle nicely together.  To this add the casserole sauce, and if there are any sausage juices on the plate where the sausages have been resting, put these into the casserole and mix a little.  It should look a little bit like this now…

IMG_5416

Cover this with tin-foil and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for an hour.  If you want a jacket potato wrap this in foil and put this in the oven now too. For the last 30 minutes remove the tinfoil, reduce the heat in the oven to about 140/150 degrees and allow some of the liquid to evaporate off.  The sauce will become all sticky and gooey in this time and become extra tasty.  Now you are ready to serve – with the carbohydrate of your choice.  YUMMY.

photo-3

The final casserole… all scrummy and ready to eat. It may look like an ordinary casserole, but believe me it’s a taste sensation. THANK YOU ANNA BUTTERY xxx

I’m not French but French Onion soup I am… with very scrummy, very cheesy *CHEESE CROUTONS*

8 May

crutons

From the feedback I have received for my last post in my ‘Living Below the Line’ series, I decided to make a slightly more ‘extravagant’ version of my French Onion Soup, for those of us who would like to indulge a little bit and eat this soup like the French do… with CHEESY CROUTONS.  The best cheese to use for this is a traditional Gruyère cheese, as this has a rich cheesy flavour with a stringy, soft texture (when melted).

When I was in Paris last year, I made sure that I had this soup as a starter or as my lunch each day.  I wanted to see how different restaurants made it and after ordering it for my lunch on the first day, and trying the traditional soup for the first time I was not only delighted, but I was hooked. It was THE most incredible French onion soup I had ever eaten and I have wanted to recreate it for a while now, but haven’t dared in case I did not do it justice.  But, this recipe was amazing and it took me straight back to my first day in Paris.

PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes

COOKING TIME: 1.5 hours

MAKES: 4 portions

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 large white onions
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 40g butter 
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2.5 pints of boiling hot water
  • 275ml white wine (this is a really important ingredient to get a really authentic tasting soup)
  • 2 beef stock cubes
  • approx. 1 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 small ciabatta bread
  • 80g Gruyere cheese

HOW TO MAKE THE SOUP…

Let’s start by preparing the onions.  So, chop in half, peel and then slice.  We are going to make half moons of the onion so that we have large pieces of onion in our soup. Delicious.  The onions are the star of the show after all.

Heat the oil and the butter in a pan until the butter has melted and then add the onions and cook on a high heat.  You will need to keep stirring this and then letting it cook for a minute, stir, cook, stir cook so that the onions do not stick, but just allowing them enough time to soften and caramelise.  Once the edges of the onion are just starting to become golden, like this…

soup 1

.. the onions with the butter and the oil, just becoming golden around the edges.

We can move onto the next stage where we are going to get as much flavour from the onions as we possibly can.  So, we need to pay close attention to the onions as they could burn and if that happens we will have to start again from scratch.  We are going to turn the heat down to low – as low as it will go and allow the onions to cook for a couple of minutes and then stir and repeat.  Ensure you are scraping the bottom of the pan each time you stir to make sure NOTHING is stuck to the bottom.  After half an hour the onions should be golden brown and have reduced to quite a small quantity in the bottom of the pan.  If this is the case you are ready to add the stock.  If not, keep going for another 10 minutes or so.

Now add the 2.5 pints of boiling water, the 275ml of white wine and the 2 beef stock cubes.  Turn the heat up to high and once the stock cubes are dissolved and the soup is at a rolling boil reduce the heat to low and allow it to reduce for 45 minutes.  This will allow the soup to thicken a little as the volume of liquid reduces.

soup 2

The onions have coloured the soup and added a fantastic deep brown/golden colour to the soup. The stock cubes, water, wine and pepper have now been added and we are ready to reduce the soup for 45 minutes.

Whilst the soup reduces, slice the ciabatta bread to create giant croutons – if you are making this soup to serve 4 people I would make 8 croutons, therefore 8 slices of ciabatta, so that everyone gets 2 croutons. Ciabatta bread is the best to use as it is a slightly more hardy bread… if you were to use white sliced bread it would completely disintegrate in the soup and you would be left with crouton mush.

Place these onto a baking tray and grill, until they are just slightly golden.  Turn over and repeat on the other side.  Whilst the croutons are being toasted you can grate approx. 80g of Gruyere cheese.  If you use the smallest grater this will be best as the cheese will melt more quickly.  Once the croutons are toasted remove them from underneath the grill (using your oven gloves) and sprinkle with approx. 10g of cheese on each one.  Place back under the grill until the cheese is melted.

Once you have reduced the soup and it is looking thicker than when you first added the stock, then you are ready to serve the soup.  Use a ladle to spoon the soup out into the bowl and then place 2 croutons in the centre of the bowl.  You are now ready to eat… ENJOY!

crutons

My version of French Onion Soup with Gruyere cheese, CHEESY CROUTONS.

I thought I would take the opportunity to show you a few little snaps from my trip to Paris… and most importantly the French Onion Soup from the *Cafe du Centre* – it was truly incredible.  I hope this recipe inspires you to make this soup.  It is a real treat and not too indulgent if you are watching your waistline.

Cafe Paris French Onion 1 Me ParisLou Paris

Live Below the Line – Part 2: I’m not French but French Onion soup I am…

6 May

french onion 1My first recipe in this series came in a lot higher than I wanted it to, so I thought I would maybe try a soup next.  This has coincided with me having a real craving for French Onion Soup and my reminiscing about my trip to Paris last year, where I ate possibly the best French Onion Soups I will ever eat.  This soup is also a firm favourite of my fathers, so I am writing about this in the hope that it will a) cost a lot less than my first recipe; b) be incredibly tasty and my father will also be inspired to make it; and c) that the flavours will take me back to Paris, if only for the evening and within my memories.

This soup is traditionally served with Gruyère cheese croutons on the top of it, but as we are living on £1 a day I think we are going to have to forgo the croûtons and simply enjoy this delicious soup.  I have added some black pepper and thyme to the recipe to increase the flavour, in the hope that we won’t miss the croûtons to much.  Let’s have a go…

PREPARATION TIME: 5 minutes

COOKING TIME: 1.5 hours

MAKES: 6 portions

COST: 29p – I am much happier with the cost of this recipe, it is all about portion size and eating a little less.  Ideally this soup would feed 4 people, but we are stretching out to serve 6 in order to keep the cost a little lower.  You could have my couscous for lunch and this soup for dinner and still have 12p left for breakfast and snacks.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 large white onions – £1 for the 3 onions from Sainsbury’s local, however you could get these much cheaper in a local grocery store.  I needed 4 onions so this cost me £1.33
  • 1tbsp olive oil – this is a store cupboard ingredient, so we are not going to include this.  Granted you would have to buy this at some point and it is quite expensive, but for the sake of this challenge, we are going to have to cut a couple of corners, sorry.  You don’t NEED this, so if you are low on olive oil you can leave this out.
  • 35g butter – Asda own brand butter is £1 for 250g, so this is a snip at 14p
  • 3 cloves of garlic, roasted – it was 20p for the bulb and 2 cloves will set you back a mere 3p
  • 2 tsp brown sugar – at Tesco I found dark brown sugar for £1.39 per 500g, so this will be approx. 2p
  • 2 tsp plain white flour – 1.5kg of Asda Smartprice flour is a mere 40p, so a couple of teaspoons of this will be about 2p
  • 3 pints of boiling hot water – free… woooo!
  • 2 beef stock cubes – it is always best to buy in bulk, so if we get a large packet of these which include 24 cubes, one cube will set us back 9p and 2 cubes will therefore be 18p
  • approx. 1 tsp black pepper – free… this is a store cupboard ingredient
  • 1 tbsp freshly picked thyme leaves – free… wooo!  I am lucky enough to have these in my garden, so I am going to pick theses and use these.  I know not everyone can do this, but if not then it isn’t an essential ingredient so you can leave it out.

HOW TO MAKE THE SOUP…

Let’s start by preparing the onions.  So, chop in half, peel and then slice.  We are going to make half moons of the onion so that we have large pieces of onion in our soup. Delicious.  The onions are the star of the show after all.  Now heat the oil and the butter in a pan until the butter has melted and then add the onions and cook on a high heat.  You will need to keep stirring this and then letting it cook for a minute, stir, cook, stir cook so that the onions do not stick, but just allowing them enough time to cook.  Once the edges of the onion are just starting to become golden, like this…

soup 1

.. the onions with the butter and the oil, just becoming golden around the edges.

We can move onto the next stage where we are going to get as much flavour from the onions as we possibly can.  So, we need to pay close attention to the onions as they could burn and if that happens we will have to start again from scratch.  We are going to turn the heat down to low – as low as it will go and allow the onions to cook for a couple of minutes and then stir and repeat.  Ensure you are scraping the bottom of the pan each time you stir to make sure NOTHING is stuck to the bottom.  After half an hour the onions should be golden brown and have reduced to quite a small quantity in the bottom of the pan.  If this is the case you are ready to add the flour.

Add the 2 tsp of flour and stir it into the onions so that there are no lumps.  Now add the thyme, pepper, cook for 2 minutes and then add the boiling water and the 2 stock cubes crumbled up.  Ensure everything is mixed together well and then turn the heat back up.  Once this is on a rolling boil reduce the heat to low and allow it to reduce for 45 minutes.

soup 2

The onions have coloured the soup and added a fantastic deep brown/golden colour to the soup. The stock cubes, thyme, flour and pepper have now been added and we are ready to reduce the soup for 45 minutes.

Once you have reduced the soup and it is looking thicker than when you first added the stock, then you are ready to serve the soup.  Enjoy!

french onion 2

The tastiest soup I have had in a while… YUM!!

(If you have had a very low cost lunch you could stretch to a slice of toast with this… but no butter and please ensure it’s wholemeal bread.)

Gemma’s Marvellous Medicine #2 – Chicken Noodle Soup

24 Feb

Image

I hope you all enjoyed my blog yesterday ‘Gemma’s Marvellous Medicine #1 – Honey & Lemon Drink’?  If not, do have a little read, as it will hopefully help you to start feeling better, as there are a lot of colds and bugs going around at the moment.

The other thing I made for myself this week, to give me a little boost, is this ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’.  As a little girl, whenever I was ill, my mummy would make me chicken soup – now this was generally the tinned variety, but if you have had a similar experience, you will know what I mean when I say it makes you feel better instantly.  Me and my friends call this recipe ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’, as it is the ‘pick-me-up’ you need – a hot, tasty and fresh soup, which warms the cockles of your heart.  It is delicious!

This recipe also costs very little to make – my calculations for how much it cost me are below (though remember I bought all of my ingredients in a local supermarket in central London, so the  price will be slightly higher due to that).  It cost me £3.62 to make this recipe and I took the other portions to work for my lunch, so per portion it was 90p.  BARGAIN!  So lets get cooking this tasty, cheap, Chinese chicken noodle soup!

PREPERATION TIME: 5 minutes

COOKING TIME: 30 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions of soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Chicken Thighs (98p)
  • 1 tin of ‘naturally sweet’ sweetcorn (you can use any you like, but I think that this is the tastiest) (65p)
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (£1)
  • 2 chicken stock cubes (50p)
  • 1 egg (29p)
  • 75g noodles (I use wholemeal noodles for an extra health boost, but any noodles are fine – or even fine spaghetti if you cannot buy noodles) (15p)
  • 1 tbsp cornflour (5p)
  • 1 pint boiling water
  • Black pepper to season

HOW TO MAKE THE SOUP…

Grab a large pan and place it on the hob.  Fill the kettle with cold water and get that boiling.  Open the tin of sweetcorn and pop this in the pan, then dice the spring onion into small pieces (about 5mm) and throw this in the pan.  When I work with people from the community, teaching them to cook, the first thing they do with Spring Onions is to chop the top 6 – 10 cm off and throw them in the bin.  This makes my heart sink!  NO!  The green tops of the onion are fantastic for us.  You may want to tidy the spring onions and cut off the first 2mm, but you really must use all the spring onion.  The green part holds different vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C, iron and folic acid) which are essential for our good health.  So, please do not waste any of this fabulous vegetable.

Place the chopped spring onions in the pan together with the 2 chicken thighs and then add the pint of boiling water.  Turn the heat on – to a medium heat so that the water is gently simmering/bubbling, but you don’t want it on a rolling boil – this is too hot.  Now add the 2 stock cubes and the black pepper (I use quite a lot of this) and then give this a good stir, to dissolve the stock cubes.  Place a lid on the pan and leave the soup to cook and the flavours of the chicken, sweetcorn and spring onions to come out and flavour the liquid.

We need to allow time for the chicken to cook through – this should take about 20 minutes.  After this time, remove one of the thighs, place it on your chopping board and cut into it.  If there is no blood it is cooked.  Remove the other thigh, repeat this process and then leave the chicken to one side.  If they are not cooked, pop them back into the water and leave for 5 minutes then repeat the checking for blood.

Now we need to work on our soup, so lets add the noodles and let these cook – this will take about 10 minutes.  Whilst this occurs crack your egg into a mug/cup and whisk – as if you are going to make scrambled eggs.  In another mug add the 1 tablespoon of cornflour and add water to this to make a fairly thin mixture.

The noodles will be cooked by now, so get a fork, place this into the soup and make small whisking motions in the centre.  Continue doing this whilst you very slowly pour in the whisked egg and you will see small bits of white egg form in the soup.  This is what you see in all the chicken and sweetcorn soups you get from the Chinese take-away/restaurant, and when you eat one of these later it will be just delicious, but it also adds to the Chinese authenticity of this dish. YUM!

The soup will be quite thin and watery now – unlike those in the Chinese, so we need to thicken it.  This is where your cornflour and water mixture comes in.  Stir the soup with a large spoon and slowly add the cornflour, you will notice the soup thickening.  Add as much/as little cornflour as you like to make the soup the consistency you want.  Once the soup as cooled it will thicken much much more, so go steady and use less rather than more!

Finally, shred the cooked chicken thighs using forks (if they are hot) or your fingers.  You want to make lots of little chicken strands, not huge chunks of chopped up chicken – for some reason it just doesn’t taste the same, or wrap around the noodles and egg if you chop the chicken, so avoid this and get your hands in!

Add the chicken to the soup, stir well and after 5 mins (once the chicken is heated through again) serve this in a large bowl.  You can add more pepper to taste if you like!

Now, you will feel satisfied and will hopefully have a little smug smile on your face as you battle your germs.  HAPPY EATING!Image

Ps.  My soup (as per the picture opposite) looks very purple!  This is right and it is not your eyes playing tricks on you!  I used wholemeal noodles which I get from my local Vietnamese supermarket and when you cook with them they look like little purple worms in your soup.  I also went a little overboard on noodles – so my soup was very purple and quite stodgy.  Kids will love the purple noodles, you could even rename the soup chicken worm soup – just to get them to give it a try!

Winter Warm… Spicy Butternut Squash Soup!

24 Jan

Feeling cold?  Feeling a little down?  Feeling like you need a boost of vitamins and minerals?

Look no further!  This week I have been making this delicious winter warmer, and as per usual I took a recipe I know and then mixed it up a little.  It’s the time of year where we all need a good, hearty soup for our lunch/dinner to keep us warm, but so we feel like we are being good to ourselves too…. It is January after all!  I know I require soup at this time of year! So, why not make this recipe and then  freeze some of the portions for another day (see below), or you can pop it in a warm flask or Tupperware and take it to work with you for a delicious lunch.

If you want to eat this with some bread, try to choose a wholegrain/brown bread, as this will be packed with wholegrain goodness!  You could even have a tasty scone (see my next recipe, coming soon!) and make sure you eat these warm, with piping hot soup!  WOW!

Makes: 6 portions

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes (until all the squash is soft)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 carrots (finely chopped)
  • 2 stalks celery (finely chopped or grated)
  • 1 Leek or 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 large Butternut Squash (diced or grated)
  • 4 handfuls Red lentils
  • 2cm grated ginger
  • 1 ½ tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground chilli OR 2 fresh chilli’s, finely chopped (or enough to suit you!)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/grated
  • 1 tin reduced fat coconut milk
  • 2 litres / 8 cups water
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • Black pepper to season
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 handful of finely chopped fresh coriander – to serve (optional)

Method:

Wash your hands, get all your equipment and ingredients ready and then before you chop anything wash all your vegetables.

The lentils need washing next.  Place your 4 handfuls of red lentils into a large bowl.  Add lukewarm water and using your hands rub the lentils together.  You will notice the water turns cloudy.  Drain the water and repeat until the water is clear (approx. 3 rinses).

Next the lentils need to be cooked.  Most people would probably put the lentils in towards the middle/end of the cooking process, but this isn’t the right way to use lentils in your cooking.  It’s best to cook them and allow them to soften before you add any other ingredients.  So, place them in a pan, add the 2 litres/8 cups of water and bring this to the boil and then allow the lentils to simmer whilst you prepare the vegetables.

Now you are ready to start preparing your vegetables.

It’s really important when making a soup to ensure that all the vegetables are cut to the same size – this will ensure they all cook at the same speed.  So, if you are grating your vegetables (this will reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes) then you need to grate the carrots and the butternut squash.  If you are chopping – chop the carrots, butternut squash, celery and onion (or leek) so they are all the same size – no more than 1cm cubed.

You will notice that the pan with the lentils in is boiling away nicely, but that foam has developed on the top.  Spoon off this foam and throw it away – it doesn’t add any flavour, in fact just the opposite!

So, you’re ok to put all your vegetables into the pot now.  Place them in carefully – do not burn your hands and then add all of your herbs and spices.  Chilli is a flavour that some people can handle and others can’t, so if you are not sure just add 1tsp.  If you are brave or just like spicy food you can add a few more – but you must taste after each one to check it’s not too spicy.  If it is too spicy it could be inedible. Add the crushed/finely chopped garlic, stock cube/s and ginger.

Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Finally add the reduced fat coconut milk, stir well and take off heat.  I choose to use reduced fat coconut milk as it just reduces the calories a little, without taking away any of the flavour – so why not?  I think this is a slightly healthier option; especially if you are watching your calorie intake!

If you prefer a smooth soup then blend the soup with a hand blender or food processor for a thick, smooth consistency.  If you like chunky soups then you can leave it without blending; it will taste just as good.

Serve with brown, wholemeal or granary bread for an additional treat – or to make the meal even heartier.

WHY THIS RECIPE?

Squashes are in season from August right through to March, so they are a fantastic winter vegetable.  They are a great source of fibre, to help you feel fuller for longer and they also contain lots of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  Vitamin C is really important in the winter months as it helps boost the immune system, which can help you fight off colds or even prevent you from getting them in the first place.

Soups, as you will know are a great winter warmer!  So, if you live alone, don’t discount this recipe as it makes 4 portions.  Get creative!  You could make this recipe, eat one portion right away and freeze the other 3 for occasions you fancy some hearty soup.  Ensure to freeze it in suitable containers so that you can easily defrost and reheat the soup – you may just need to add a little more liquid when you come to heat it up again.  Alternatively, you could take this soup to work in a flask as a tasty, healthy lunchtime treat or out on a walk in the biting cold to help you defrost and re-energise.

If you decide to eat some bread with this soup, try to choose a healthy wholemeal/brown bread.  Wholegrain/brown bread is a great alternative to white bread as the wheat is not refined, so you get the wholegrain goodness, which includes extra fibre, B vitamins and essential fatty acids.  The increased fibre will keep you feeling fuller for longer!