Here’s a wonderfully comforting soup, brightened with fresh ginger and chilli, to lift your spirits and warm the cockles of your heart.
It’s also fabulously easy and takes no more than 20 minutes ‘active’ time.
Winter soups can sometimes lean a little close towards cloying, but this strikes a very delicious balance between thick and comforting and bright and spicy. It’s also vegetarian and vegan, gluten and dairy-free.
To a large extent it is a “That’ll Do” soup, in that precise measurements don’t really matter, so let me bestow upon you the freedom to chuck in what you have to hand: keep the chilli seeds in for fiery spice, add more ginger/garlic to taste, etc.
Spiced Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash
2 sweet potatoes
2tbs vegetable oil
3 red chillies
3 cloves of garlic
8cm bulb of fresh ginger – 3-4 thumb-sized pieces.
2 tbs vegetable bouillon
- Cut the butternut squash and sweet potatoes in half lengthways and place on a lined baking sheet, cut side up.
- Put the baking sheet in the oven and turn the heat to 200C, 180C Fan. BONUS: while they bake, the oven will smell like cake.
- Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- When cooled, scoop the seeds from the squash and discard. Scoop the flesh of both into a bowl. Discard the skins.
- Peel and chop the onions and garlic. De-seed (or don’t) the chillies and chop. Chop the ginger (peel if you like, but I don’t).
- Heat the oil in a pan and add the chopped vegetables. Cook gently over medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked squash/sweet potato and the bouillon.
- Add water to cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Use a stick blender to blend the soup smooth.
- For best results, puree the soup in batches in a liquidiser. Blitz each batch for two minutes. Add more water if the soup is too thick.
- To store: ladle into suitable containers and freeze.
- To serve: Heat through gently. Taste & adjust seasoning.
Who doesn’t love soup? Especially during the colder months. Sure, some of them, thick and hearty after hours of gentle simmering, can be a meal in a bowl.
But not all of them need take such extended preparation. Leek and potato soup is wonderfully comforting on a cold day, and only takes about 30 minutes to make from scratch, using simple ingredients that take little time to prepare. This one recipe can also be served in a variety of ways depending on whether you want a quick warming mug for lunch, or serve a striking and surprisingly economical special occasion starter.
Texture: Use of floury potatoes means this soup will puree to a wonderfully smooth and velvety texture. Nevertheless, I do like to have a little texture for visual as well as gustatory variety, so I hold back some of the cooked, cubed potato to add as a garnish.
Flavour: The soup is only simmered for a brief 20 minutes and this mellows the flavour of the leek. To lift the flavour, I like to briefly cook a little chopped leek in some butter and then either stir into the whole just before serving, or just spoon over the top of the cubed potatoes.
Visual Appeal: The photographs don’t really reflect it, but this soup is a beautifully pale green colour. It really makes the buttered leeks (if you’re using them) pop. If you aren’t inclined to ‘faff’ buttering some leeks, you could always snip a few dark green chives into the bowls to serve.
Garnish: Grated cheese and/or bacon bits are especially fine.
My daughter recently declared this her favourite soup, even ahead of tomato soup. She likes it best with a melty cheese toastie cut into fingers to dip in. This is her helpfully holding a spoonful of delicious soup garnished with potato cubes and buttered leeks. Unfortunately, what she’s not so keen on is any of the things I thought added so much to the presentation, i.e. the aforementioned buttered leeks and potato cubes. So after this picture was taken, I just put everything back into the blender and whizzed it smooth and she was happy. The buttered leeks still add their pop of flavour, just with none of that pesky texture.
Leek and Potato Soup
2 tbs butter
1 large leek or 2 medium
450g potatoes – floury type (Maris Piper or similar)
4 level tsp vegetable bouillon powder
salt and ground white pepper to taste
2tbs butter for buttered leeks, if using
- Peel and dice potatoes into cubes – about 1.5cm.
- Remove the outer leaves of the leek and shred finely using a mandolin or with a sharp knife. If you’re going to butter some of the leeeks, set aside 4-5 spoonfuls.
- Melt the first lot of butter in saucepan and add the potato cubes and leek.
- Stir over medium heat until the until leeks soften.
- Add the milk, water and bouillon.
- Cover and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked (20 mins-ish).
- While the soup is cooking, melt the remaining butter in a pan and cook the remaining leeks.
- When the potatoes are cooked, remove about a cupful and keep warm. Puree the remainder, either using a stick blender or liquidiser.
- Return to the pan and taste. Season using ground white pepper and salt.
- Heat well before serving, but don’t let it boil.
- NB You may need to thin the pureed soup if the potatoes are especially starchy. It should have the consistency of double cream/custard.
- Add the potato cubes and buttered leeks to serve.
Simplicity is the order of the day with today’s post – the ultimate comfort food of tomato soup and a toasted sandwich. But just because it is simple, doesn’t mean there should be any compromise on flavour, and these recipes have maximum flavour with minimum fuss. Not as minimum as opening a tin, I grant you, but for just five active minutes of your time, this soup can be supped in just under an hour and is so simple, after the first time you won’t need to refer to the recipe ever again.
But do keep coming back to the blog, because I’d miss you otherwise!
This soup is extremely low in fat, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan.
Makes approx. 1.5 litres
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes – Aldi ‘Sweet Harvest’ are best for colour/flavour/value
2tbs vegetable oil
3tbs concentrated tomato paste
1 litre vegetable stock or water + bouillon
1 large potato to make 300g once peeled/cubed
salt & pepper to taste.
- Pour the chopped tomatoes onto a shallow ovenproof dish and spread out into a thin layer.
- Place in the oven and turn the heat to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, stirring thoroughly after 15 minutes, or until no excess liquid is visible.
- While the tomatoes are baking, peel and chop the onion.
- Add the oil to a saucepan, then add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. The object is to concentrate the flavour through evaporation, without allowing the onion to caramelise.
- When the tomatoes are done, scrape them into the saucepan with the onion, and add the tomato paste, stock and cubed potato.
- Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until the potato is cooked.
- Use a stick blender to puree the soup.
- Rub through a fine-meshed sieve for extra smoothness.
- Return to the pan and warm through.
- Taste & add salt and pepper as liked.
- Add garlic: peel up to 6 cloves of garlic and toss them in the oil. Lift out and stir into the tomatoes to roast in the oven.
- Spice it up: red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika or herbs such as rosemary or basil.
- Crunch time: Make some sippets by dicing bread into 1cm cubes and either frying them in a pan with oil or bake in the oven until crisped and brown.
- Meatify me! : Make some little meatballs from beef or lamb mince, fry them in a pan, drain on kitchen roll and add to each bowl before serving.
- Creamy: Add a little double cream or creme fraiche if liked, but in all honesty, it doesn’t need it.
- Fast Forward: If you need this even more quickly, this can be ready in as little as half the time. Once the tomatoes are in the oven, put everything else in the saucepan and simmer while the tomatoes bake. When the tomatoes are ready, stir everything together and blitz smooth.
Regular listeners will recall that over the winter I was without my oven, which included the grill I used for making toast. Yes, my kitchen is so small, I can’t afford to sacrifice the counter space for a toaster. So I used this method to make toast in a large non-stick pan, which makes delicious and perfect toast if you are prepared to wait the 10 minutes it takes to brown.
More usually, I use this method for toasted sandwiches because kitchen….small….no counter space…..etc, etc. but also because the toasted sandwiches it make are so much nicer than the ones I see made elsewhere AND it gives me a chance to have a bit of a rant, so here goes.
- Butter on the outside of the bread.
So greasy, and so messy too. I mean come on, people, we’re living in the 21st century with all its wonderful technological advances and more kitchen gadgetry than you could shake a stick at, which includes non-stick pans! There’s simply no need to go slathering on great schmears of butter on every available bread surface. Lay a slice of bread in a dry non-stick pan over heat, and it will brown, no fat needed.
- Squished bread
Whether by panini press or, if you’re old like me/in the UK/ both, by those electric sandwich makers, I’m just not a fan of bread being compressed and then welded together by melted cheese the temperature of LAVA. If you need industrial equipment to force your sandwich down to a manageable height for your mouth, you’re doing it wrong.
- Squished fillings
I like to savour every one of the additions to my melty cheese sandwich filling, which is tricky to do when it is squirting out the sides from being squished by some gadget.
The good news is, you don’t have to suffer any of the above with my patent-pending, counter-space-saving, practically-foolproof method of toasty sammich creation! The outsides of the sandwich are crisp, browned and free from grease and the insides are warm and melty. And so without further ado, on with the method!
The Non-Gadget Toasty Sammich Method
- Put a clean, dry non-stick pan on medium-low heat to warm up.
- Take 2 slices of your bread. Now it can be artisinal sourdough, or pre-sliced from a bag, no judgement here. This method will work beautifully with all types of bread.
- Lay one slice on something that will help you transfer the sandwich to the pan – a palette knife if your balance skills are good, a cake lifter if they’re not.
- Add a layer of butter onto the bread (optional). You can use other things such as mayonnaise or chutney if you prefer.
- Whatever cheese you’re using, add half in a layer over the bread. Either cut it in thin slices or dice it in 5mm cubes. The smaller/thinner the cheese pieces, the more easily they will melt.
- Add any additional flavourings. Purists maintain there is only ever cheese in a toasty cheese sammich (see top photo) but I am of the opinion that cheese is merely compulsory, not exclusive. There are some suggestions below for fillings that pair well with tomato soup. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
- Finish with the rest of your cheese. When this double layer of cheese melts, it will gently cradle the rest of your sandwich ingredients and hold them together so that your sandwich doesn’t fall apart, even when cut.
- Add the final piece of bread, buttered or not, as you like, and press down gently.
- Transfer the sandwich to the pan.
- To help melt the cheese effectively, cover your sandwich with a lid, preferably one that doesn’t press down upon the sandwich itself. If you non-stick pan has a lid, then use that. Personally, I use a lid from a small saucepan that sits snugly over the whole sandwich but is deep enough not to compress it. Ensuring the cheese is mostly melted before you turn the sandwich will help keep your filling where it is supposed to be – inside the sandwich. A lid will trap the heat underneath, effectively making a little oven and help to melt the cheese faster.
- When the underside of your sandwich is browned, (depending on the heat of your pan, around 5 minutes), slide under your utensil of choice and gently turn it over. If the cheese is melted, then you can leave off the lid, which will also keep the toasted top of the sandwich from becoming soggy through trapped moisture.
- Toast for a further 5 minutes until the underside is browned, then lift out of the pan.
- Cut your sandwich with either a pizza wheel, or with a sharp, serrated knife: don’t saw at it, make a sharp, forward-and-downward motion with the knife. You can see from the picture below, how beautifully crisp, dry and unsquished the toast is, and how the filling is melted but still held between the bread.
- Overnight Bread, vintage cheddar. If you’re in the UK, I can recommend (black pack) Collier’s Welsh cheddar, Wyke Farms Vintage cheddar (in a green pack) or a newly-discovered favourite Welsh slate-cavern aged cheddar from South Caernarfon Creameries, available at Sainsbury’s deli counters.
- Overnight Bread, diced Brunswick Ham, thinly-sliced Jazz/Braeburn apple, vintage cheddar.
- Sliced wholemeal bread, mix of finely diced mature cheddar & Gouda, thinly-sliced pickled cucumbers/gherkins. NB For best results, be sure they are brined and not in vinegar.
- Bacon or Bacon Jam, mature cheddar, de-seeded, diced tomato (not pictured).
- Cheese and chutney (not pictured).
This is a fantastic winter warmer of a soup – I say soup, but it’s more accurately a meal in a bowl, with its thick, hearty mix of dried green peas, vegetables and flavourful meats. It is the sign of a good soup if your spoon can stand upright in your bowl!
In Friesland, the northern region of The Netherlands where my husband’s family come from, there is a marathon speed-skating race called The Elfstedentocht . It runs for approximately 200 kilometers in a huge circle around the eleven cities of the region. Because, for safety reasons, the ice needs to be of a minimum thickness for the race to proceed, sometimes there is as little as 48 hours notice for both competitors and spectators, although there is a frenzy of excitement for weeks as temperatures fall and the possibility of the race being staged rises.
Most of the country stay at home to watch the race, but the diehard enthusiasts flock to the start/finish town of Leeuwarden and all along the route to cheer on the skaters. To keep themselves warm during the race, spectators eat Snert or Dutch Pea Soup.
You need to start at least the day before you want to serve the soup with soaking the peas. The rest of the cooking can be completed on the following day, but this soup improves with keeping, so starting it even earlier is not a problem. This makes a large quantity of soup, easily enough for 8-10 people, but it freezes well.
I’ve adapted this recipe to ingredients available in the UK. If you’re planning any outdoor activities over the holiday period, then a flask of this soup will be a fantastic addition to the day.
Dutch Pea Soup
400g dried green peas
1.5 litres water
1 boneless pork chop
1 smoked ham hock or small smoked gammon joint
2 large carrots – sliced thickly and diced
1 large onion – chopped
1 celeriac – peeled and cubed
1 bunch celeriac leaves or celery leaves roughly chopped
2 leeks – rinsed and sliced
1 large potato – peeled and chopped
1 U-shaped smoked sausage
a handful of flat-leaf parsley – chopped
1 sharp apple – peeled and cubed
- The night before: Put the peas into a large bowl and cover with water. Leave to soak overnight.
- The next day:
- Drain the peas.
- Put the water, peas, pork, ham hock, celeriac, carrots and onion into large saucepan and simmer gently for 3 hours.
- Add the peppercorns and bayleaf, leeks, potato and celery leaves.
- Simmer for a further 1 hour.
- Remove from the heat.
- Remove the bayleaf and fish out the peppercorns (optional, most of the time I leave them in).
- Fish out the meat.
- Trim away all fat and discard. Shred the pork and ham/gammon and return to the saucepan.
- Slice and dice the smoked sausage and add to the saucepan.
- Warm the soup gently until heated through.
- Using a potato masher, gently crush the vegetables a few times – you’re not aiming for a smooth puree, just a comforting, thickened mix.
- To serve: Spoon into bowls and stir through the chopped parsley and the apple – it really lifts the flavour and makes what might be a rather heavy soup, light and fresh.