Weekday Soups for Winter

Spiced Vegetable Soup

Spicy Chard Soup with feta-Sourdough Dumplings


A benefit of going meat-free in January is that it makes us more creative about midweek cooking.

One consequence is that we eat more soup – substantial soups that we make in big quantities and eat over more than one day. Should we do this during the rest of the year too? Of course. Do we? Of course not. At least we’re on trend, because the nutritionists constantly tell us that the new year is the time to give our guts a rest, with soup the ideal way to do this.

Some soups are dead simple; these two are a bit more involved, but (with some reservations in the case of the Chard Soup) they are worth the effort.


Spiced Vegetable Soup

This Spiced Vegetable Soup is from Sabrina Ghayour’s excellent Persiana. There is a lot of veg involved and it’s thick, warming, spicy (maybe slightly too spicy on this occasion) and what you need on a winter’s evening. The accoutrements make it look more like a proper meal than a soup, and the leftover herb paste, a sort of Middle Eastern pesto, keeps in the fridge for other uses – I have even just spread it on sourdough toast. This recipe makes a vast amount of soup – it gave us three supper and three lunch portions – and I guess you could easily change the vegetables to suit what’s available and what you fancy.

The recipe link gives all the details, but here’s the basic method. Using our widest deep pan, I sweated a butternut squash, cut into biggish chunks, two chopped onions, three chopped leeks, three crushed garlic cloves and three medium potatoes, cubed. Once the vegetables had started to soften but certainly hadn’t taken on any colour – about ten minutes – I added five chopped tomatoes (I didn’t skin them first) and a medley of spices: 4 heaped tsp ground cumin, 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp paprika and 3 tsp chilli paste. The chilli paste was why the soup turned out a bit too spicy because I could only find harissa in the cupboard (I managed to forget the tubs of chilli paste cubes in the freezer…). I stirred well to make sure the spices coated all the veg, then covered the lot with boiling water. Sabrina suggests that it now needs 4 heaped tsp of salt, but as always I added less and thought it was fine.

I let the contents of the pan simmer for about 30 mins, until the squash was soft, then pureed the soup in a blender. When the blended soup was back in a pan, I added two tins of chickpeas (minus a handful or so) AND their liquid and gently simmered for another 20 minutes, before adding a diced courgette and cooking for a final 20 minutes. The courgette adds a different texture and colour, but it was a discordant note in winter – I’ll leave it out in the future unless it’s courgette season.

While the soup was simmering, I fried a sliced onion in a little olive oil on a high heat until brown and crispy. I added the handful of reserved chickpeas and set aside once they had taken on a little colour.

Also while the soup was cooking, I made the herb paste: generous handfuls of parsley, coriander and dill, a handful of pistachios, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper and about 6 tbsp of olive oil – or enough to give a pesto-like consistency when it was all chopped together in a small food processor

I served the soup in big bowls, with feta crumbled over the top, a couple of tablespoons of herb paste drizzled into each bowl, and the fried onion and chickpea mix scattered over.

Warming, filling, spicy and with some nice chunkiness from the chickpeas – much more a main course soup than a starter.


Spicy Chard Soup with Sourdough-Feta Dumplings

This Spicy Chard Soup is a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe from the Guardian. Although it’s worth it, there is some faff involved. Of course there is: it’s Ottolenghi! As I have found in the past with the great man, his recipes either work a treat or something goes totally wrong – nothing in between. Clearly the flaw is not with him, because he is a perfectionist with the most precise measurements in his recipes. So when it doesn’t work, I always assume the problem is on my side. On this occasion, the flaw was with the dumplings, as I’ll explain. By the way, is a soup still good for you when there are dumplings involved?

This is so different from Sabrina Ghayour’s dish that it doesn’t feel like it should bear the same name – this is more of a broth, with no pureeing. It delivers sharp, hot, sweet and sour, almost fruity flavours that are every bit as warming on a cold evening, and again there’s plenty of veg involved. Like the other soup, the recipe makes enough for at least a couple of suppers for two, plus a lunch or two.

The recipe link has detailed instructions, so I’ll just cover the basics. Ottolenghi suggests making the dumplings first, and maybe it went wrong because I was working on the dumpling mix and getting the soup going. I cooked a chopped small onion in a little olive oil until soft and, when cool, mixed this with 2½ tbsp flour, 170 g sourdough breadcrumbs (sourdough blitzed in a food processor), ½ tsp grated nutmeg, 40g toasted pine nuts, a handful of chopped parsley, 1½ tsp chopped thyme, the grated zest of two lemons, and two beaten eggs.

So far so good. Then I added 140ml vegetable stock, and the mix became instantly far too runny even to think about moulding into dumplings. Ottolenghi instructs us not to use bouillon, so maybe my stock needed more viscosity but I am doubtful that would have made a difference. My advice would be to add the stock slowly so that the mix becomes wet but nevertheless still malleable – I suspect you will not need it all. I retrieved the situation by adding considerably more flour and breadcrumbs than in the recipe. This must have changed the intended taste and made them denser – but they were still pretty tasty. Once I achieved the required consistency, I crumbled in 125g of feta, trying to keep it chunky, and formed small dumplings. I didn’t measure out 40g portions as Ottolenghi suggests but made what I considered to be dumpling-sized balls – the size of a ping pong ball, but not as round. I must have been pretty close: Ottolenghi’s method should deliver 18 dumplings, I ended up with 19!

For the soup, I quartered two medium onions and separated each quarter into ‘petals’, gently cooked them for about five minutes in olive oil with 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2 tsp tomato puree and a spice mix (1 tsp ground cumin, ½ tsp paprika, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, 2 cinnamon sticks, 8-10 cardamom pods). This makes a bit of a mess of the saucepan because the dry spices stick no matter how much you stir, the goodness being released when water is added later.

While the soup base was gently frying. I separated the chard stalks and leaves, slicing the stalks into 2cm pieces and shredding the leaves. The recipe suggests 700g chard, but my bunch was nearer 1kg, and so thick were the stalks that I halved them along their length as well as slicing. I added the chard stalks to the onion and spices, and cooked for 10 minutes, continuing to stir.

Next, I added three tomatoes, skinned and diced, 1 litre vegetable stock (Ottolenghi’s recipe uses chicken stock), the juice of two lemons, 1½ litres water and salt. I brought this to boiling and let it simmer for just under 10 minutes, before adding the shredded chard leaves and simmering for 7 or 8 minutes. You really do need a big pan for this!

Finally, I dropped the dumplings into the soup and poached for a little more than the 10 minutes suggested, until we were ready to eat.

This is a lot of work for a weeknight, but the recipe produces so much soup and the fragrant broth, the warming, sharp spiciness, the goodness of the chard and the texture of the dumplings do make it worthwhile. Just be careful with the dumpling mix!


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